Monday, March 11, 2013

The whole man


My recent review of Michael Gazzaniga’s Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain is now available online at the Claremont Review of Books website.  And while you’re on the subject of philosophical anthropology, you might also take a look at William Carroll’s recent Public Discourse article “Who Am I? The Building of Bionic Man.”
 
Like my review of Gazzaniga but from a very different angle, Bill’s piece emphasizes the Aristotelian point that the parts of a human being are intelligible only by reference to the whole.  Scientism as applied to human beings -- whether inspired by a misreading of neuroscience, as I describe in my review, or a misreading of robotics, as discussed in Bill’s article -- typically proceeds from the opposite, false assumption.  It abstracts parts of human beings from the whole, reifies them, and then tries either to reduce the whole to these freakishly re-described parts or to eliminate it altogether and replace it with the parts. 

I have discussed this reifying tendency in an earlier post, here.  I’ve commented on some of the erroneous claims about free will, perception, “mindreading,” etc. commonly made in the name of neuroscience here, here, and here.  Biological reductionism is addressed in a couple of further earlier posts, here and here.  And I discussed bionics here.

71 comments:

John Moore said...

In your review on the Claremont site, you wrote, "Scientism is not itself a scientific thesis but a philosophical one. That it is therefore self-defeating is one well-known problem with the view."

Is every philosophical thesis self-defeating? That's what you seemed to imply.

Anonymous said...

Is every philosophical thesis self-defeating? That's what you seemed to imply.

No, since the reason for scientism being self-defeating is that it's supposed to rely on science to reach its conclusions.

Ismael said...

@ John Moore

No.

Scientism states basically that science is the only tool we have to investigate the truth an reality, i.e. only through science we can say something meaningful about reality.

This is however NOT a scientific position, it's a metaphysical one. It cannot be tested scientifically. So the very statement of scientism goes against the statement itself.

Hence scientism contradicts itself.


Scientism basically is a self-contradicting just like logical positivism.

---

So, NO, not every philosophical thesis is self-defeating, just philosophical theses that do indeed contradict themselves.

seanrobsville said...

The most obvious fatal weakness of scientism is that it is a circular argument that vanishes up its own nether orifice. Even the scientific establishment are now admitting it.

Susan said...

Nice, Professor. Excellent critique. I knew scientism is shortsighted but you put a finger on why.

Somehow that reflects where I think Thomism is sometimes shortsighted too - in failing to take the whole scenario into account when it comes to an unkind conclusion. I don't think all its conclusions are unkind btw. But when they are, there is a bigger whole that they don't take into account.

For instance, the wayfarer who steals from a cottage in order to eat and stay alive. I remember when I read your column on that I thought you were leaving out the actual reason that that is ok. The bigger picture tells me it is ok because an average person would want him to "steal" the food if they owned the food. Therefore it is not wrong or stealing. He can assume it is a gift.

The difference (because you did not come to a different outcome than I did) is that your way assumes an unkinder average man than my way of thinking does. When you stick to Thomism's logic only, you fail to just jump to the whole picture that on average, people are not evil. The owner of the cottage need not be seen as an enemy of the starving man. Their overall, celestial Good is the same.

And that overall celestial Good is the bigger picture, the whole. Logic is great, but it is only the interchangeable parts and needs flexibility.




Peter Escalante said...

There is of course a political background to scientism; things that stupid generally don't come to preeminence on their own. As I suggest here,

http://calvinistinternational.com/2013/03/11/the-science-of-dr-nagel/

scientism is the more or less official metaphysic, more or less officially enforced, of a particular politico-economic state of affairs, whose mode is what Foucault called "biopolitical".

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Ed,

Congrats for a good piece.

“Common sense tells us that a human being is by nature a thing that eats, sleeps, digests, grows, reproduces, moves, feels, perceives, thinks, remembers, and wills.”

More careful consideration though tells us that a human being is by nature a thing that experiences eating, sleeping, digesting, growing, reproducing, moving, feeling, perceiving, thinking, remembering, and willing. And, further, that part of a human being's experience is that of a physical environment, displaying obvious order, which deeper nature the physical sciences uncover. What I am driving at is that perhaps A-T theorists are also falling for their own version of the reification fallacy.

If you haven’t done so already, it would be nice if you would discuss idealism at some depth and explain what you find wrong with it.

James said...

Dr. Carroll’s essay seems to have a few gaps in it. In support of the proposition that humans aren’t machines, he draws a few comparisons between mechanical parts and natural organs, including:

1) Mechanical parts don’t develop in unison with the rest of the body, but are constructed separately and assembled only later.
2) Mechanical parts can function independently of the body; organs do not function when separated and will, in fact, quickly perish.
3) Machines are powered by an extrinsic source such as a battery. On the other hand, food consumed by an organism literally becomes (at least to some degree) a portion of that organism’s bodily material.
4) Living beings contain within themselves their reproductive principle, whereas new machines are constructed from previously-extant materials by an external agent. (Disclosure: I’m unsure my paraphrase for (4) is entirely accurate.)

But in principle, I don’t see how these distinctions must hold. An ingenious bio-engineer from the future (™) could surely design a mechanical heart, say, which: develops in unison with the body; doesn’t function outside of the body; is powered internally; and which alters the individual’s genetic code so that any child he fathers will carry the same modifications.

Or am I missing the point entirely? I fully and unsarcastically admit this may be the case.

(Apropos of very little, Blogger saddens me by putting a big “Publish” button on the preview window but still making me enter another captcha. To heck with the evidential problem of evil, let’s see some theodical defense of having to deal with stupid captchas everywhere. And why does everyone waste time talking about the Church's positions on married priests and the use of birth control? “Will the new pope change the Church’s stance on captchas?” That’s the sort of discussion I want to hear.)

Brian said...

Go Cardinal Arinze! Woo!

Glenn said...

Susan,

You wrote in a comment under an earlier post that, "Hart is saying (and I realize you don't agree exactly) that natural law theory is not as obvious to a regular good mind as you think it is. You can't just set it out as a whole dish and expect the public to know how to eat it. The public does not even know what the fork is for yet."

But now you write that, "The bigger picture tells me it is ok because an average person would want him to 'steal' the food if they owned the food. Therefore it is not wrong or stealing."

And in between, Mr. Green wrote that, People are instinctively natural lawyers. It just takes a lot of work for philosophers to spell out the details.

Details can be annoying, of course.

However, if there are legitimate situations, circumstances and/or conditions where natural law is to be deemed rightly and justifiably ascendant to statutory law, then it stands to reason that there needs to be something a little more stable and a bit less leaky than, "Well, I think the average person would think it would be okay, therefore it is."

(And don't forget--even if your taking of the food is justifiable under natural law, it isn't necessarily justifiable under statutory law.

(And regardless of whether the homeowner is one of your average persons or not, s/he may very well still have the right to seek to have you prosecuted under that latter law--and may even decide to exercise that right (perhaps you knocked over her china closet in your stumbling search for food).)

Scott said...

Please, folks, let's not let yet another thread be dragged off-topic by someone with an axe to grind. Feser's post isn't about hungry wayfarers stealing from cottages.

Glenn said...

Sure thing. My apologies.

James said...

"Feser's post isn't about hungry wayfarers stealing from cottages."

Okay, so. Given a gradual replacement of the cottage-owner's bodily organs by mechanical parts, at what point does he become no longer human — and thus no longer a bearer of rights against larder theft?

On a similar note, as a robot, can Oscar Pistorius really be charged with murder?

Anonymous said...

I think we need to lay down the substance/artifact distinction.

Scott said...

@James:

"Okay, so. Given a gradual replacement of the cottage-owner's bodily organs by mechanical parts, at what point does he become no longer human — and thus no longer a bearer of rights against larder theft?"

Dunno. But as Aquinas remarks somewhere, "a thing is wherever it operates"; in that sense prosthetics are extensions of oneself, as one acts causally though them. So without being able to say exactly at what point the change happens, I'd agree that it is at a "point"; there isn't, I think, any gradual ship-of-Theseus replacement going on, but at some "point" there will be a sudden, catastrophic change of nature from human to something else.

Modern science suggests, I suppose, that it would happen at some point during the replacement of the brain. But wherever it happens, it's at whatever point the whole stops being a whole and starts just being a pile of separate parts. We don't have to know precisely where that point is in order to be pretty sure there is one.

But I'm open to lots and lots of discussion on this.

Scott said...

Errata

For "though" read "through."

For "errata" read "erratum."

;-)

Scott said...

"On a similar note, as a robot, can Oscar Pistorius really be charged with murder?"

I know this is a joke, but the serious answer is yes—and would be even if he'd committed murder by stomping on someone with his artificial legs. "A thing is wherever it operates."

Scott said...

@Anon:

"I think we need to lay down the substance/artifact distinction."

"Lay down" in which sense? Do you mean that we need to assert it or that we need to do away with it?

rank sophist said...

Modern science suggests, I suppose, that it would happen at some point during the replacement of the brain. But wherever it happens, it's at whatever point the whole stops being a whole and starts just being a pile of separate parts. We don't have to know precisely where that point is in order to be pretty sure there is one.

In the case of a human, I'm pretty sure it would have to occur at the moment when the human is no longer alive, which is to say that it has ceased to be a rational animal. His body may be animated, but it is no longer a human substance. Up until that point, he would still count as a human. I think we would have to understand what an "animated corpse" was or even if it was possible before we could understand the point at which someone ceased to be human.

Anonymous said...

By lay down, I mean "establish" for the sake of future discussion. I know it's important to this discussion, but I'm still trying to understand the finer points of the distinction.

BLS said...

I have a question in regards to reductive materialism (RM).

When presented with the claim that "Speaking a language" can only be attributed to the whole (human) and not the parts (tongue, air molecules, atoms, etc), how would a RM respond?

Surely, they would not reply "Matter in a certain shape can speak," because according to RM, isn't a human = to matter in a certain shape? If true, that would be equivalent to saying "Humans can speak" or "Matter arranged in way that can speak, can speak."

seanrobsville said...

Maybe brains are machines that need to capture minds in order to acquire intentionality and qualia so they can perform their biological functions of preservation of the organism better.

The mind/brain relationship could be a form of symbiosis, or even parasitism, where the brain parasitizes the mind and uses it for its purposes.

Maybe the brain doesn't give rise to the mind but captures, restricts and exploits the mind.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"In the case of a human, I'm pretty sure it would have to occur at the moment when the human is no longer alive, which is to say that it has ceased to be a rational animal."

That seems plausible.

On a possibly related note, suppose that a Mad Scientist takes a human being and cuts his brain in half, then hooks each half up to a computer that perfectly simulates the neural activity of the other half. Supposing that both halves of the brain are still alive, has he just turned one human into two?

Scott said...

@Anon:

"By lay down, I mean 'establish' for the sake of future discussion."

Gotcha. Thanks for clarifying.

NoshPartitas said...

Hi Dianelos,

Just thought I'd mention (in my limited experience) that you won't find a better Thomist critique of Idealism then in Ettiene Gilson's works: 'Thomist Realism (And the Critique of Knowledge)' as well as 'Methodical Realism.'

These two books provide a fantastic analysis of Idealism as contrasted with Thomistic Realism, and also a critique of those Thomistic Realists who would wish to contaminate realism with the "critical method" or idealistic pretensions.

Oh, and on the "captchas" as termed previously...I typically get them wrong one or two times before I succeed. Annoying.

Scott said...

@seanrobsville:

"Maybe the brain doesn't give rise to the mind but captures, restricts and exploits the mind."

That reminds me of the argument that the brain might be like a "TV receiver" for mind. Some have argued that the mind must be "in" the brain because if we smash a brain, the mind goes away too. The counterargument is that if you smash a TV set, you don't get any more TV shows, but that doesn't mean the TV programming resides "in" the TV set.

rank sophist said...

On a possibly related note, suppose that a Mad Scientist takes a human being and cuts his brain in half, then hooks each half up to a computer that perfectly simulates the neural activity of the other half. Supposing that both halves of the brain are still alive, has he just turned one human into two?

I think that a Thomist would deny that this was metaphysically possible. Modal thought experiments are always a tricky subject for Thomism, though, so it's tough to say exactly.

Scott said...

@NoshPartitas:

"These two books provide a fantastic analysis of Idealism as contrasted with Thomistic Realism, and also a critique of those Thomistic Realists who would wish to contaminate realism with the 'critical method' or idealistic pretensions."

I think highly of Étienne Gilson, but be aware that the idealism he refutes in those two books is only the sort that contrasts with "realism" and effectively imprisons us within an iron ring of ideas, not the sort that contrasts with "materialism" and insists that there's an irreudicibly mental aspect to objective reality itself. They're two very different things.

Scott said...

"irreudicibly" = "irreducibly," of course.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"I think that a Thomist would deny that this was metaphysically possible. Modal thought experiments are always a tricky subject for Thomism, though, so it's tough to say exactly."

Yeah, and I'll be interested to read what some of the Aristotelian-Thomist folks have to say. (I don't know the answer myself, of course, and I'm not prejudging the issue. I'd genuinely like to see a solidly A-T response to the question.)

Anonymous said...

Dear Prof Feser

A C Grayling's new book (The God Argument) is out and I believe it is the first book where he addresses the arguments for the existence of God in a systematic fashion. Are you planning to review it anytime soon? I hope you do!

BLS said...

Anon, Feser focuses mostly on Thomistic arguments, and IIRC Grayling's new book doesn't cover them.

Anonymous said...

A C Grayling's new book (The God Argument) is out and I believe it is the first book where he addresses the arguments for the existence of God in a systematic fashion. Are you planning to review it anytime soon? I hope you do!

Also, another person on here mentioned that Grayling's treatment of what arguments he covers is exceptionally light and poorly argued. Nothing new to see there.

Anonymous said...

From the article: That [scientism] is therefore self-defeating is one well-known problem with the view. But its tendency to mistake abstractions for concrete reality—to commit what Alfred North Whitehead called the "Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness" and what is also often called the "Reification Fallacy"—is no less problematic.

Hm...scientists use abstractions, to be sure, but so does every known form of cognition. Science has ways to evaluate the relationship of its abstractions with empirical reality (that is pretty much what science is). It seems to me that Thomistic philosophers have their own abstractions, such as various kinds of causes, forms, potentials, actualities, powers, and whatnot, all of which are most certainly abstractions and whose relationship with the empirical are problematic at best.

Anonymous said...

Oh there's nothing wrong with abstractions themselves, the problem occurs when you try and "concretize" them in an effort to explain something.

monk68 said...

Scott,

"On a possibly related note, suppose that a Mad Scientist takes a human being and cuts his brain in half, then hooks each half up to a computer that perfectly simulates the neural activity of the other half. Supposing that both halves of the brain are still alive, has he just turned one human into two?"

From a Thomistic POV, I would want to deny that the human being in your scenario could be alive in any relevant sense, much less be regarded as two. Indeed, I would be inclined to deny that any brain per se remained alive. On Thomistic grounds, I would state the reason as follows: just as the generation of a new substance composed of form and matter requires that the matter which precedes substantial generation be disposed to receive or support the form by which it becomes a new substance; so too, corruption occurs when the underlying matter (whether through natural or volitional causes) is no longer capable of supporting the form in question.

Accordingly, since for the human substance, the soul is the form of the body and its substantial presence entails just what it means for a man to be “alive” (intrinsically animated); when the brain is physically split apart, this would entail an act of volitional violence to the underlying matter of the human substance such that it would no longer be capable of sustaining the human substantial form (i.e. the soul). Therefore, the man *as such* would be "dead" in the relevant A-T sense (as respecting a human substance), even if one of the organs previously belonging to that man (in this case the brain) is capable of existing in some fashion, according to its own form, after the death of the human substance.

For, during the time it is part of a human substance, the brain possesses its own form virtually and as ordered to the human substantial form. In this virtual state, the virtual substance of the brain requires for its continued existence, the coordinated relations of other organs and systems, which coordination (while a human substance exists) derives from the human substantial form. However, through artifice or techne it may be possible to simulate those coordinated relations such that the brain (its form no longer being virtual, but now substantial in the absence of a supervening human soul) may continue in existence in its own right. But it would no longer be the brain of a human being (a human substance). It would be the living brain formerly possessed by a man now dead. Something similar might be said with respect to hearts, livers, kidneys and other organs which are removed from either living human beings or dead bodies.

Of course, in your particular scenario, the question might arise if even the substantial form of a brain still exists, since in your account the brain is split in two, again causing corruption and degeneration of the brain *as a substance* (its matter no longer able to support its substantial form). My general response to that question would run along similar lines. Upon corruption of the brain per se (by its being split) there emerge natural substantial form(s) which were formerly virtual, and it is these, in fact, which are sustained as substantial through human artifice applied to the two sections of what had formerly been the substance of a brain (assuming this is even possible technically).

The driving ontological picture behind these sorts of answers involves a hierarchy of being which ascends and descends through natural generation and corruption according to a vast cascading network of forms at one time virtual, at another substantial, etc. And this picture, IMO, has great potential for assimilating evolutionary theory within a Thomistic framework both vertically according to being (running back and forth from the quantum flux to man), as well as horizontally according to becoming in time (running from the big bang to the state of being we now observe).

That, at any rate, is how I would parse your scenario.

Pax

Scott said...

Thanks, monk68. That's a very thorough and informative reply. (And I'm quite happy to acknowledge a hierarchy of being and network of forms.)

reighley said...

@monk68,
If, after the brain splitting procedure previously introduced, the two halves of the brain were reassembled :
would the person thus produced be the same person as before the procedure?

BLS said...

Say we have a super-being, who can manipulate matter, kind of like Dr. Manhattan. He takes a live cell from a test subject, and builds an exact, living clone of the cell from atoms. Is this cloned cell considered a natural substance or an artifact? I think Feser has gone over this, but I can't remember what the post was.

monk68 said...

reighley,

In these kinds of scenarios a lot has to do with the particular details. Whether or not the material dimension of a human substance can or cannot support the human substantial form depends upon just how far that material dimension has been altered. The issue, I think, has to be considered holistically, since the human substantial form is responsible for the holistic unicity and integration of the entire human substance.

For instance, the heart is an organ (not as complex as the brain, but an organ nonetheless); and it is possible to carefully maintain the overall bodily synthesis of the human substance through some combination of natural and artificial support during the removal of an old heart and the transplantation of a new one. The integral conditions necessary for the material support of the human substantial form are retained so that when the new heart is inserted, it stands a chance of becoming subsumed, ordered, and coordinated within the ambit of the dominant human substantial form (i.e. the heart organ’s formal dimension becomes virtualized by the human soul). This is what is entailed in asking the question “what are the odds that the transplant will ‘take’ or be successful”? In such a procedure, through nature and techne, the material dimension of the human substance is being carefully held within the necessary range of integrity so as to sustain the presence of the human substantial form until the repair, alteration, or transplant are complete and the substantial form can re-assume control of the organ and its own operations without need of artificial assistance.

Similarly, neurosurgeons can repair “brain damage” (to greater or lesser degrees) without the corruption of the human substance so long as very special care is taken to preserve the integrity of the overall substance during repair. The same applies for any repair, replacement, etc of an organ or part of a human substance. The precariousness of this interim sustaining effort is the basis for discussion of “risk” in major surgery, because sustaining substantial integrity through artifice is delicate and difficult. The more complex the surgery, the greater the risk that the substance, per se, will degenerate and the person will die.

If, in the brain-halving scenario, we are discussing a brain permanently removed from a body, where the body from which it is extracted is not carefully preserved in the absence of that organ; then we are dealing with something quite literally like a brain in a vat: a disembodied brain in a lab somewhere. In that case, splitting and reassembly of the two halves of the brain would not result in a new person at all. At best, it might result (given sufficient material rejoining/reconstruction) in the re-generation of the substance of a brain organ.

If, on the other hand (and supposing we had the technology to achieve this) the brain could be removed and split, or perhaps split while still within the skull cavity, or perhaps even replaced with a “brain organ transplant”, while at the same time carefully sustaining the underlying material dimension of the overall human substance until the repair, rejoining or transplantation were complete and reintroduced within the substance for (re)- assimilation and virtualization; *then* the splitting-rejoining (or conceivably even a transplant) would not result in a new person, since the original human substance would never have degenerated, but would rather have received an altered, repaired, or transplanted organ. What a brain transplant might mean for sensate memories, imagination, etc. is hard to tell, and would depend upon the nuanced interplay between the human intellectual power and the central sense. Of course, it is not clear that anything like a brain transplant could ever work surgically or technologically. It is hard enough to get the human substance to re-assimilate a new heart. A brain transplant may represent a re-integrative threshold which cannot be surmounted.

Pax

grodrigues said...

@BLS:

"Is this cloned cell considered a natural substance or an artifact?"

A natural substance. The division is not according to the mode of origin, but according to the intrinsic modes of operation. A cloned cell works in just about the same fashion as a cell produce from a chain of cell divisions in a human body.

BenYachov said...

LONG LIVE POPE FRANCIS THE FIRST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

seanrobsville said...

I was betting on Richard Dawkins at 666 to 1 http://www.creativeminorityreport.com/2013/03/bookmakers-for-richard-dawkins-becoming.html

Brian said...

Too bad about Cardinal Arinze. I miss Pope Benedict. But hooray for Pope Francis I!

Mr. Green said...

Scott: suppose that a Mad Scientist takes a human being and cuts his brain in half, then hooks each half up to a computer that perfectly simulates the neural activity of the other half. Supposing that both halves of the brain are still alive, has he just turned one human into two?

Monk68 gave a good and sober answer, but just for fun, let's suppose such a thing to be possible — technologically possible to support a brain like that, and for the person to stay alive through it all. If the computers simulate each separated half of the brain, then from the brain's point of view (so to speak), nothing has changed, and so any still-existing person would be the same.

Well, what if over time, the half-brains went their separate ways and experienced all sorts of different things, acting like two independent brains? I don't see why we shouldn't expect that be like an extreme version of split-brain patients (where the hemispheres of their brains are severed) — their experiences are somewhat separated, but there is still only one (perhaps confused) person. It's at least logically possible to have one person "running" multiple brains (adding multiple monitors to your computer doesn't make it multiple computers).

All right, what if we duplicated the whole person somehow? Could one human substance have two bodies? That seems unlikely, since the human form is ordered towards a single body, but then again, someone born with an extra finger can (though rarely!) be able to use that finger even though humans are supposed to have only ten fingers. More likely (well, "likely" for something that is of questionable physical possibility in the first place), a genetic "duplicate" would be another person, like an identical twin.

Of course, all sorts of crazy things are "logically possible", and God can create whatever laws He wants. One thing He apparently wanted to do is put limits on what is technologically possible. Lots of sci-fi gimmicks will no doubt turn out to be physically impossible, however much progress we make. All I would bet on is that the universe, no matter how much we learn about it, will continue to surprise us.

Anonymous said...

Yes

Anonymous said...

"All I would bet on is that the universe, no matter how much we learn about it, will continue to surprise us."

John Hopkins performs hemispherectomies, removing either half as needed:

Facts About Hemispherectomy -

http://hemifoundation.intuitwebsites.com/facts.html

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=strange-but-true-when-half-brain-better-than-whole

If this occurs early in life, the brain can adapt for most functions. So why isn't consciousness just another function performed / produced by the brain, and where is the immaterial soul during these brain repairs?

Eduardo said...

Errrrr... I don't get it.

1- someone with one brain hemisphere can have most brain functions if the surgery occured when he or she was young.

2- therefore, this seems to tell us that consciouness is produced by the brain and that the immaterial soul has no influence on the brain.

I think I get more or less what anon, is trying to say, but it is too vague, I might end up creating my own argument hahahah instead of guessing his.

Anonymous said...

It's thought that has immaterial aspects, whether that thought comes from a complete brain or half a brain. These are aspects which one cannot explain with just material and efficient causes, which is all materialism has access too.

This whole "where is the soul" thing seems like a version of the Phineas Gage type "brain damage" argument against Cartesian Dualism. Regardless, the objection misses the mark because it fails to take into account what Descartes actually formulated.

This has been discussed before:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/12/churchland-on-dualism-part-iii.html

Anonymous said...

To the whole idealism vs realism debate...

Personally I like both metaphysical systems but it must be noted that despite of all the detractors of idealism and their work no one has even come close to refuting idealism. I personally don't think it's even possible to undermine the idealistic thesis. Unlike materialism which can be refuted rather easily.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: So why isn't consciousness just another function performed / produced by the brain, and where is the immaterial soul during these brain repairs?

It's pacing back and forth in the waiting room.

c emerson said...

"I think I get more or less what anon, is trying to say, but it is too vague, I might end up creating my own argument hahahah instead of guessing his."

Hello, Eduardo, I am the 2:15 am 'Anonymous' - and, yes I was a bit vague. It was late at night and I was having a sudden thought, an intuition if you will, which came to me more in the form of a question than an answer. Scott created this sub-thread, when he posted about split brains. I immediately answered 'yes' to his question because I cannot think of a single scientific reason to answer 'no' - and a quick trip into Google Land got me to John Hopkins, innovators in hemispherectomy.

To state my position a bit clearer:

It's at least possible, is it not, that consciousness is physical? If a human can gain back most, if not all, of his/her functionality with just one half a brain (and most importantly: either half), then doesn't that (a) show in fact that either half of the brain would support the whole, (b) therefore, one brain could (theoretically) be split into two, and each half would thereafter support two separate whole persons, leaving us with (c) the very interesting question as to what this suggests for the immateriality of consciousness, immateriality of thought and the existence of a single immaterial soul per 'whole' human?

Meanwhile, best wishes for Pope Francis I. Does anyone know whether he took the name from Ignatius, Assisi, or both ? The poor of the world need him, I think. I wish him well. And a non-European Jesuit teacher to boot. Peace.

c emerson said...

>It's pacing back and forth in the waiting room.
@Mr. Green,

Yes, I like it. and what is it doing while it is pacing back and forth?

c emerson said...

Dianelos Georgoudis March 12, 2013 at 8:19 AM said,
> More careful consideration though tells us that a human being is by nature a thing that experiences eating, sleeping, digesting, growing, reproducing, moving, feeling, perceiving, thinking, remembering, and willing. And, further, that part of a human being's experience is that of a physical environment, displaying obvious order, which deeper nature the physical sciences uncover.

Georgoudis then says:
> What I am driving at is that perhaps A-T theorists are also falling for their own version of the reification fallacy.

It is my turn to ask what (in more detail) Georgoudis means by suggesting A-T theorists (as moderate realists, I presume) may be falling into their "own version" of the reification fallacy relied on, in part, by Prof Feser in his OP.

Elsewhere (for eg, here in the combox on Prosblogion) I have found Georgoudis' posts to raise interesting insights as to realism and idealism, a point (as it relates to the reification fallacy) that does not seem to have been picked up yet by any of the Thomists on this post.

A different Anonymous said:
> I personally don't think it's even possible to undermine the idealistic thesis. Unlike materialism which can be refuted rather easily.

How do you refute materialism 'easily'? If both halves of a human brain could power a. 'whole' human, how would you explain that with a non-material metaphysics?

Mr. Green said...

C emerson: It's at least possible, is it not, that consciousness is physical?

No.

(Depending what you mean by "consciousness", of course. Understanding and "conscious experience" are physical insofar as, being normal human operations, they occur in a hylomorphic whole; however, they cannot be reduced simply to matter.)

(b) therefore, one brain could (theoretically) be split into two, and each half would thereafter support two separate whole persons,

Theoretically? Sure — for example, in some future day it might be possible to split someone's brain and use half for a brain transplant to someone less fortunate. (Such an operation has many attendant dangers, of course... hence the saying, "If he had half a brain, he'd be dangerous!") But of course, the mere technological possibility is quite independent of the underlying metaphysical substances. We wouldn't expect a lung-transplant to result in "shared breathing" or anything like that, after all.

The argument has never been, "We can't think of a complex enough arrangement of matter to do the job, therefore the mind must be immaterial." The argument is, "Understanding is holding a form intentionally instead of entitatively, therefore the complexity of matter is, er, immaterial to the question in the first place." Thus details of what's possible in neuroscience, or what may some day become possible, are simply not relevant — any more than advances in measuring techniques could ever prove, say, that the diagonal of a unit square has a rational length.

Meanwhile, best wishes for Pope Francis I. Does anyone know whether he took the name from Ignatius, Assisi, or both ?

Given the challenges that the Church faces, I think he just wanted to be Frank.

Eduardo said...

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

A) Well in a sense... sort of..., I mean if half a brain can absolutely replace the whole thing, in another words, I can make a test of a whole brained person and a half brained person and they have statistically the same capabilities, then yeah I think we could no doubt conclude A as beyond true... or most likely true XD. But if not, the half brained is always inferior but viable (as I am guessing it is viable, otherwise XD there wouldn't be this surgery to solve certain problems); than I would say that the brain can rapidly adapt parts just not with the same efficiency, but wouldn't conclude that a part can take over the hole of the whole.

B) Welll ... sort of, if personhood is generated solely by a structure in the brain, then we would have a funny clone XD.

C) Well, sort of hard to answer this one, it depends on the definition, on the model of what we call soul.
But that said, I do see that the question becomes very interesting if the sould could be said to be a Kite attached to a peanut, the peanut being the brain XD. I mean you crack it in half, does the connection breaks when divide them, or the kite divides in 2, or maybe the connection divides but the two halves have the same soul XD.

I mean... Dunno, sort of hard, it all depends on what soul is suppose to perform, what "parts" it has, what is it's "nature", how it behaves within the system.

rank sophist said...

Does anyone know whether he took the name from Ignatius, Assisi, or both ?

I've heard conflicting information. A few places claim it's a reference to St. Francis Xavier (who founded the Jesuits with Ignatius), but others say it's St. Francis of Assisi. Who can say for sure.

c emerson said...

@rank
> A few places claim it's a reference to St. Francis Xavier (who founded the Jesuits with Ignatius)

Yes, Francis Xavier, not Ignatius of Loyola, but the co-founder of the Jesuits with him. Thanks for correcting me.

@Eduardo,
> B) Welll ... sort of, if personhood is generated solely by a structure in the brain, then we would have a funny clone XD.

Yes, exactly the problem, as developed below. Thanks.

@Mr. Green,
> No
and further,
> ... human operations ... occur in a hylomorphic whole; however, they cannot be reduced simply to matter.

I appreciate the frank (no pun intended) "No". Yes, the metaphysics of forms, matter and substances will continue, but will it continue abated or unabated as to what a whole human is?

I used the word "theoretically" because no brain has yet been split and embedded into two separate functioning bodies. Perhaps the experiences of single or unified split-brain patients might shed light here. I agree we would not expect to see "shared breathing" in cases of lung transplants (or with kidneys, part livers, and other organs). But that's the question, isn't it: is the brain just an organ (although a special one at that), or is the brain somehow the seat of the soul? And if the latter, then how? On the other hand, if the soul of a human is an immaterial substance, not composed of matter and form, is it unique to one earthly body? See New Advent, Question 76:

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1076.htm (Art. 2).

If the soul is unique to one earthly body, what happens if the theory above becomes practice? And, back to Eduardo, don't we get to the same problem when (not if) we gain the ability to actually clone the first human being? Any thoughts? I'm here to learn. Peace.

Tony said...

Accordingly, since for the human substance, the soul is the form of the body and its substantial presence entails just what it means for a man to be “alive” (intrinsically animated); when the brain is physically split apart, this would entail an act of volitional violence to the underlying matter of the human substance such that it would no longer be capable of sustaining the human substantial form (i.e. the soul). Therefore, the man *as such* would be "dead" in the relevant A-T sense (as respecting a human substance), even if one of the organs previously belonging to that man (in this case the brain) is capable of existing in some fashion, according to its own form, after the death of the human substance.

Quite right, quite right. Why, it's all in "That Hideous Strength"! What DO they teach young people these days?

Anonymous said...

The soul is a tricky thing in A-T philosophy. IIRC, it has more so to do with formal causation, rather than a completely separate immaterial thing that is "seated" in the brain. It all comes down to your conception of matter.

Tony said...

And, back to Eduardo, don't we get to the same problem when (not if) we gain the ability to actually clone the first human being?

I don't think there is any metaphysical problem here in the cloning question. When the cloned body is a complete, functioning body, it is operating as a unified, coordinated, integrated whole for its own sake, not that of the source of the cell. It is an independent substance, and therefore must have a distinct soul. Simple, straightforward. And it becomes still easier to accept when we point out that by making the clone body "from" a source cell, we are using that which has within itself a reproductive principle already operating.

If the soul is unique to one earthly body

This is one of the reasons we know that reincarnation is impossible: the soul is the animating principle of a whole integral unity, it is not the magician behind the curtain operating the machine. The soul informs the body, but equally the body is the seat of individuation by which the soul is a THIS soul.

c emerson said...

@Tony
> "That Hideous Strength"

I now see Monk68's posts at Mar 12, 6 pm and 9 pm. Missed that paragraph. Thanks. I don't know whether you agree or disagree, since I don't get the reference to "That Hideous Strength".

I don't agree that the cloning example is as metaphysically easy as you suggest. My thought experiment here is the complete replacement of the existing DNA in the "receiving" cell with the complete DNA of the "donor" or "cloned" person. Assuming the technology works (and I suspect it already does), then the resulting new organism would presumably mature into a physiologically "normal" human. If that is what you mean, then I agree with you as to the physical part.

But what would such a situation mean, metaphysically, with respect to the "A-T soul" of that human? Will it be the same soul it would have been? Or would the new human be without a soul? Consider Monk68's reference to brain surgery where such surgery might "entail an act of volitional violence to the underlying matter of the human substance such that it would no longer be capable of sustaining the human substantial form (i.e. the soul)." Wouldn't the replacement of 100% of the DNA of one cell with 100% of the DNA of another already functioning mature cell have A-T metaphysical consequences? How would this be different from the two half-brains = two whole persons situation? (Or is all of this just half-brained?)

(I trust I am not offending any metaphysical sensibilities, since I believe this discussion reflects legitimate metaphysical issues).

Off the subject, the BBC is reporting today that scientists "at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) the particle outlined in July 2012 looks increasingly to be a Higgs boson."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21785205

As Mr. Green said, a good bet is that the universe will continue to surprise us.

Susan said...

Great - now I can cross "be a troll" off my bucket list.

But before I do, did you know the new pope was trained to ... get ready for it ... lie? Yes he is Jesuit. I just came across this nugget in the news:
Jesuits take a vow of obedience to the pope – a famous Ignatian rule says if the church “shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black."

I feel rather vindicated. If it is good enough for our awesome Pope Francis I, then it is good enough for me.

Pronounce it to be black, no less. Not use mental reservations or distraction. Just pronounce it. Thank you, dear Jesuits.

Edward Feser said...

Oh brother. First of all, Susan, the statement you are citing (and misunderstanding, as so many people do) has nothing to do with lying. Quite the opposite: The claim is rather that if the Church says so, it must be true that white is black, not false, and thus not a lie.

But even that makes it sound like a recipe for irrationalism, and it is not that at all. Since I've written on this before, I'll just direct you to the relevant post:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/02/whats-black-and-white-and-misread-all.html

Brian said...

Susan, you misunderstand the vow.

When the Church exercises her full authority to define a revealed truth, we must give the assent of divine and Catholic faith to that truth, even if that truth is not personally evident to us. In other words, Ignatius was rejecting theological rationalism.

c emerson said...

Thanks, Prof F, for the post cite - it was good to read. Thanks, Susan, for continuing to raise gritty issues for subsequent discursive argument and discernment.

Let me throw St. Paul's 'fear and trembling' passage into the mix (I Cor.2:3) (without formal training), and, more particularly, his 'discernment' passage (I Cor.2:14 - KJV): "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."

The relationship between discursive and non-discursive knowledge is of great interest to me, so let me quote from a previous comment (Susan, re Hart, Mar 7, 4:33 pm):

> The traditional term “intuition” invites misunderstanding. When Aristotle claims that there is an immediate sort of knowledge that comes directly from the mind (nous) without discursive argument, he is not suggesting that knowledge can be accessed through vague feelings or hunches. He is referring to a capacity for intelligent appraisal that might be better described as discernment, comprehension, or insight. [Source not specified].

Of course, the process of discernment has to be carried out through some instrument. This supports Prof Feser's point that the Ignatius principle is not about lying, it is instead about whose process of discernment to accept. Some battles have been fought over that, but that seems to be where the issue rests.

Danielius said...

Okay, since the active discussion seems to be over, and after celebrating that the Sede Vacante period is over, I feel that its appropriate to engage in something very natural for us of the Dominican slant - cheap Jesuit jokes!


Vatican Gazette headline just after the election - "Conclave locates a Jesuit loyal to the Pope!"

(and funnily enough, this is somewhat relevant to the discussion above)

c emerson said...

Cheers. Dare I ask for an elaboration on your reification point? But I prefer to be taught, not preached at.

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Danielius said...

Hello emerson, you're mixing up a Greek realist with a Latin one. So I can't speak for Dianelos. However, I'm all for his suggestion of discussing Platonic realism vs. Aristotelian realism, but we need Prof. Feser to start us off with a post, otherwise it'd be hopelessly off-topic here.

c emerson said...

Yes, We Have No Bananas

Sorry, Danielius, my mistake. I didn't have my bifocals on, and my old iPhone screen is not as big as the new Samsung. But as you will often hear me say, it's all in the music:

- There's a fruit store on our street
It's run by a Greek.
And he keeps good things to eat
But you should hear him speak !
When you ask him anything,
he never answers "No".
He just "Yes"es you to death,
and as he takes your dough
He tells you
"Yes, we have no bananas
We have-a no bananas today." -

(Lyrics by Frank Silver, Irving Conn 1922).

Yes, I hope Prof Feser will do further postings in the future on this fascinating subject. I'd settle for half a banana. Ciao