Saturday, March 8, 2014

Gelernter on computationalism


People have asked me to comment on David Gelernter’s essay on minds and computers in the January issue of Commentary.  It’s written with Gelernter’s characteristic brio and clarity, and naturally I agree with the overall thrust of it.  But it seems to me that Gelernter does not quite get to the heart of the problem with the computer model of the mind.  What he identifies, I would argue, are rather symptoms of the deeper problems.  Those deeper problems are three, and longtime readers of this blog will recognize them.  The first two have more to do with the computationalist’s notion of matter than with his conception of mind.
 
As I have emphasized many times, most participants in the debate between materialism and dualism, on both sides, simply take for granted a conception of matter inherited from Galileo, Descartes, Newton, and the other early moderns.  On that conception, matter is essentially devoid both of teleology and of the qualitative features that common sense attributes to it.  That is to say, there is, on this view of matter, nothing inherent to it that corresponds to the “directedness” toward an end (or “finality,” to use the Scholastic jargon) that the Aristotelian attributes to all natural substances.  Nor are secondary qualities like color, sound, odor, etc. as common sense understands them (that is to say, as we “feel” them in conscious awareness) really out there in matter itself.  What is there, on this view, is only color as redefined for purposes of physics (in terms of the surface reflectance properties of objects), sound as redefined (in terms of compression waves), and so forth.  Matter on this conception is exhaustively describable in terms of the quantifiable categories to which physics confines itself. 

Now for the Aristotelian, the point isn’t that the moderns’ conception of matter is wrong so much as that it is incomplete.  The trouble is not with thinking of matter the way Galileo, Descartes, and their successors have, but with taking this to be an exhaustive conception, as something other than a mere abstraction from a much richer concrete reality.  And if it is taken as an exhaustive conception, then a Cartesian form of dualism is hard to avoid.  For to say that matter is essentially devoid of qualitative features like color, sound, taste, etc. and that these exist only as the qualia of conscious experience just is to make of qualia something essentially immaterial.  And to say that matter is essentially devoid of anything like “directedness” or “finality” is ipso facto to make of the “directedness” or “intentionality” of desires, fears, and other such states also something essentially immaterial.  Cartesian dualism was not a rearguard reaction against the early moderns’ new conception of matter, but on the contrary a direct consequence of that conception.  (I addressed this issue at length in my series of posts on the critics of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, and it is a point Nagel himself has also emphasized.) 

This brings us to the first of the three deep problems with computationalism.  Computationalists, like materialists in general but also like Cartesians (though unlike us Aristotelians), take for granted the broadly Galilean or Cartesian conception of matter.  Hence they will never in principle be able to fit the qualia definitive of consciousness into their account of the mind, since they are operating with a conception of matter that implicitly excludes the qualitative from material processes from the get go.  Their accounts of the qualitative will therefore always in effect either change the subject or amount to a disguised eliminativism.  This result can be avoided by giving up the assumption that the Galilean/Cartesian conception of matter really captures all there is to matter, but this would amount to abandoning materialism in favor of one of its rivals (if not Aristotelianism, then neutral monism, panpsychism, or the like). 

The second deep problem with computationalism is that on a Galilean/Cartesian conception of matter, there can be nothing inherent to the material world that corresponds to notions like “information,” “algorithm,” “symbols,” and the like.  For these notions smack of the “directedness” or intentionality that the Galilean/Cartesian conception denies to matter.  The notion of a material “symbol” could be relevant to explaining mental phenomena only if it is about something; the notion of “information” could be relevant to explaining thought only if it entails semantic content; and so forth.  Yet there can be no such thing as aboutness, semantic content, or the like in a material world utterly devoid of “directedness” or “finality.”  Hence the key notions of computationalism can on a Galilean/Cartesian conception of matter at best be regarded only as observer-relative features of the material world rather than intrinsic to the material world, and are, accordingly, not available as ingredients in a scientific account of the mind.  This is a point John Searle made in his 1990 article “Is the Brain a Digital Computer?” (in a line of argument that is distinct from, and deeper than, his better known “Chinese Room” argument).  Similar arguments have been made by Saul Kripke, Karl Popper, and others.  (I develop the point in The Last Superstition, and have discussed Searle’s and Popper’s arguments here, and Kripke’s argument here.) 

Here too the problem can be avoided by abandoning the Galilean/Cartesian conception of matter.  But to regard something like information and algorithmic processes as intrinsic to material substances is precisely to return to something like an Aristotelian conception of the world and its commitment to formal and final causes.  (Rightly understood, that is -- not the crude caricatures of formal and final causality usually attacked in discussions of these matters.)  As the neuroscientist Valentino Braitenberg once put it:

The concept of information, properly understood, is fully sufficient to do away with popular dualistic schemes invoking spiritual substances distinct from anything in physics. This is Aristotle redivivus, the concept of matter and form united in every object of this world, body and soul, where the latter is nothing but the formal aspect of the former. The very term ‘information’ clearly demonstrates its Aristotelian origin in its linguistic root.

Indeed, I would say that something at least like computationalism, if conjoined with an Aristotelian conception of matter, might shed considerable light on the mental lives of non-human animals.  However, this would still leave untouched what is distinctive about human beings -- our capacity to form abstract concepts (as when we form the concepts man and mortal), to put them together into judgments (as when we judge that all men are mortal), and to reason from one judgment to another in a logical way (as when we conclude from all men are mortal and Socrates is a man that Socrates is mortal).  This brings us to the third problem with computationalism, which is that the most a computational system can ever do is simulate conceptual thought, and never in principle actually carry it out. 

The reason is that material symbols and processes cannot in principle have the universality of reference and determinacy of content that are characteristic of concepts.  For example, the concept triangle of its nature applies to every single triangle without exception, whereas a material symbol either has no inherent connection to triangles at all (as in the case of the English word “triangle,” which applies to triangles merely by convention) or has an inherent connection but strictly applies only to some triangles but not all (as in a drawing of a triangle, which will always be either equilateral, isosceles, or scalene and thus strictly apply only to some of these but not all; will be of a specific color that not all triangles have; and so forth).  There is also nothing in the material properties of any symbol or system of symbols that entails any determinate or exact representational content.  For example, there is nothing in the symbol “triangle” that entails that it represents a specific triangle, or triangles in general, or the word “triangle” itself, or a person who calls himself “triangle,” or what have you.  And merely adding further material symbols as interpretations of the first just kicks the problem up to a higher level, since these symbols themselves are, qua purely material, as indeterminate in their representational content as the one we started out with.

The basic point is as old as Plato and Aristotle and has been in recent years developed by James Ross, and I develop and defend Ross’s argument at length in my American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly article “Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought.”  (I briefly sketched the argument in my review of Ray Kurzweil’s book How to Create a Mind in First Things, and had reason to discuss it in a recent series of blog posts, here, here, here, and here.)

Hence, from an Aristotelian point of view, even if qualia and some kinds of intentionality could be regarded as corporeal features of organisms on a “beefed up,” neo-Aristotelian conception of matter, conceptual thought could not be, and thus could not be captured even by a suitably updated computationalism.  Conceptual thought -- which is distinctive of our rational or intellectual powers as Aristotelians understand them -- is essentially incorporeal. 

When Gelernter rightly complains of the inability of computationalism to account for the subjectivity of conscious experience, then, I would argue that this inability is a symptom of the computationalist’s implicit commitment to a Galilean/Cartesian conception of matter, from which the qualitative has been extruded.  It isn’t computationalism per se that is the problem, at least if the computationalist categories could be reinterpreted (as perhaps Braitenberg would interpret them) in an Aristotelian fashion.  Subjectivity, in any case, isn’t for the Aristotelian the mark of the corporeal/incorporeal divide, since non-human animals (like Nagel’s famous bat) are entirely corporeal but nevertheless have subjective experiences of a sort.

Similarly, when Gelernter points out that “computers can be made to operate precisely as we choose; minds cannot,” I would argue that this is a consequence of the deeper point that the conceptual content of thought cannot be reduced to any set of relations between material symbols.  There can in principle never be anything more than a very rough and general correlation between, on the one hand, the structure of corporeal states (whether in the brain, the organism as a whole, or the organism together with its environment), and, on the other hand, the conceptual content of our thoughts.  Hence, even if we had total technological mastery of the relevant corporeal features of a human being, we would still never be able, even in principle, to predict and control the content of human thought with precision. 

Some of Gelernter’s other points (such as that “computers can be erased; minds cannot”) are also important and deserve closer analysis than I have time to provide here.  Still, they seem to me less fundamental than what I take to be the most basic problems with computationalism.

Gelernter also makes some suggestive remarks about emotions and experiences.  He writes, for example, that “feelings are not information!  Feelings are states of being… To experience is to be some way, not to do some thing.”  This cries out for elaboration, which he does not have space to give in the article.   What exactly does Gelernter have in mind here by the distinction between “being” and “doing”?

One way to read this might be in terms of what in recent analytic philosophy has been called the distinction between “categorical” and “dispositional” properties.  A dispositional property would be one that a thing has when a certain conditional statement is true of it, namely a statement to the effect that if a certain kind of stimulus is present to the thing, then a certain kind of manifestation will follow.  For example, brittleness is a dispositional property insofar as it involves the truth of a conditional to the effect that if a brittle thing is struck with a hard object, then it will shatter.  Categorical properties, by contrast, would be those a thing simply has, unconditionally as it were.  Shape is sometimes given as an example insofar as (it is sometimes held) a thing’s shape is something it simply has, unconditionally rather than merely as a manifestation in the presence of an appropriate stimulus. 

Now whether the distinction holds up -- as opposed to purported categorical properties being ultimately reducible to dispositional ones, or purportedly dispositional ones being reducible to categorical ones -- is a matter of controversy in recent analytic metaphysics.  (I discuss the controversy, and the relationship between the categorical/dispositional distinction and the Scholastic theory of act and potency, in Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction.)  But it is certainly relevant to the dispute in recent philosophy of mind over whether the qualia characteristic of emotional states and other conscious experiences can be explained in materialist terms.  Functionalism -- of which computationalism is a variety -- essentially takes all mental phenomena to be describable in dispositional terms.  The belief that it is raining or the experience of pain in one’s back, for example, would be characterized as internal states that will tend under appropriate conditions to manifest themselves by generating certain further internal states and/or certain kinds of overt behavior (grabbing an umbrella in the first case, say, or moaning in the second case).  The critic of functionalism then objects that the feel or “quale” of the pain is something that the person or animal having it has, or at least might have, categorically, apart from any associated disposition.  For the feel or quale of the pain could in principle exist (so the argument goes) even if it were associated instead with a disposition to laugh rather than moan, and the disposition to moan could exist even if it were associated with some quale other than the one we associate with pain, or indeed with no qualia at all (as in the case of a “zombie”). 

Yet from an Aristotelian-Scholastic point of view such arguments are deficient, both because the categorical/dispositional distinction is too crude and fails to capture all the nuances enshrined in the theory of act and potency (as I discuss in Scholastic Metaphysics), and because “zombies” and related notions are dubious insofar as they reflect a Galilean/Cartesian conception of matter of the sort the Aristotelian would reject (a topic I discussed in a recent post). 

But Gelernter might have something else in mind, and there may in any event be another way to elaborate his point.

158 comments:

Ty said...

Thoughts on qualia + mattter:

We know that sound comes from vibration. We're also good Aristotelians and know that sound is not reducible to said vibration.

What, then, is the relationship between them?

Are sound and vibration produced in tandem by the same efficient cause? Is "sound-making" a formal cause of vibration? Is "vibration" a formal cause of sound-making?

Gene Callahan said...

"We know that sound comes from vibration."

I don't think that is correct. I think that what we hear and the vibrations we measure are the same thing, just "viewed" from two different vantage points.

Quentin S Crisp said...

"I don't think that is correct. I think that what we hear and the vibrations we measure are the same thing, just 'viewed' from two different vantage points."

I'm just thinking out loud here, and maybe I haven't understood this point, but, in order for something to be viewed from two different vantage points, doesn't that imply that the vibrations and the sound are not actually the same thing, but two different 'views' of the same thing. In other words, if you take a photo of the Eiffel Tower from two different views, what you have are two photos, neither of which are closer to being the real Eiffel Tower than the other.

But perhaps that's what you meant, anyway. Otherwise you have the problem of justifying why one of these 'views' is more real than the other.

Step2 said...

Gelemter's list of five flaws looks very flawed to me.

1. You can transfer some programs from one mind to another, which is how education works. The brain is devastatingly complex; easily the most complex thing on the planet, so mind transference isn’t likely to ever be an option in addition to being morally questionable.
2. The brain is a massively parallel computational device, to suggest that only one program runs at a time is fantastically absurd. The trick is how the brain transitions seamlessly from one program to another depending on conditions.
3. Minds are opaque only to a degree. If or when nanotech is able to measure each signal as it is being processed we should be able to decipher the language that is unique to each brain. There has already been some limited success using fMRI’s but of course those are very imprecise.
4. He’s never heard of amnesia.
5. He’s never heard of brainwashing.

On the other hand, I agree with Gelemter that emotions play an important part in meaning, so if people are interested in strong AI (which I’m not) it will need to have some capacity to experience emotions and a way to integrate those into its sense of self.

Step2 said...

Oops, misread his name. Should be Gelernter.

Glenn said...

Gelernter: But the master analogy--between mind and software, brain and computer--is fatally flawed. It falls apart once you mull these simple facts: 1. You can transfer a program easily from one computer to another, but you can’t transfer a mind, ever, from one brain to another...

Oh, but there is a fatal flaw in this so-called fatal flaw. For, you see, the claim is not that it'll ever be possible to transfer a mind from one brain to another brain, but that it'll soon be possible to transfer a mind from a brain to a computer!

I know of that of which I speak. I wish I didn't, but I do.

A brother-in-law once said to me, "My goal in life is to be immortal." I don't recall whether this was said in response to a question or simply volunteered, but it was his home we were in at the time, so I chose my words carefully.

"That sounds like an interesting goal. If you don't mind my asking, how do you plan on achieving it?" I was then tutored on the subject of technology advancing at such a rate that it in only a few decades it would be possible to upload a mind to a computer.

However, though actuarial tables favored his living long enough to see the day when his mind could be uploaded to a computer, and his immortality thereby assured, he (being of a pragmatic bent, no doubt) did allow that it was possible, even if only remotely, that he might not live long enough to become immortal.

That was back in the early '90s, and the disease, alas, continues on -- in one strain or another:

Gelernter: At first, roboticism was just an intellectual school. Today it is a social disease. Some young people want to be robots (I’m serious); they eagerly await electronic chips to be implanted in their brains so they will be smarter and better informed than anyone else (except for all their friends who have had the same chips implanted).

What can one say?

Having in mind certain comments made under an earlier OP, perhaps one can say, "Here is a disease primitive societies did not have to contend with."

Or perhaps one can say that a young person who wants to be a robot is somewhat confused, if for no other reasons than that: a) he already has been roboticized -- to think of himself as a robot (a physical machine (body) controlled by computer (brain)); and, b) what he really wants is not to be a robot, but to be a better robot, i.e., a robot more powerful and capable than it already is.

Or perhaps one can say -- indeed, given the pesky nature of the persistent disease, perhaps one should say -- that any young person intractably desirous of being a (better) robot would do well by themselves and others in consulting Robert Shea's 1957 sci-fi short story, The Helpful Robots.

- - - - -

In other news... I appreciate Dr. Feser yet again calling attention to that which is responsible for the fatal nature of the kinds of flaws to which Gelernter himself calls attention to.

Thomas said...

Thanks for the great post! Very helpful.

Now, I might be missing something, but it is hard for me to see how Aristotelianism can avoid the problem of explaining the origin of subjective consciousness. What do I mean by this problem? This is essentially Nagel’s “historical question”: assuming that consciousness is irreducible, where did it come from? How can objective matter give rise to subjectivity? Panpsychists or those who have suggested it (Nagel, Strawson, Chalmers, Skrbina, etc.) argue that this kind of “brute emergence” should be rejected; therefore the subjective point of view has been there since the beginning.

It is true that this kind of an argument usually assumes the Galilean/Cartesian conception of matter. But how does Aristotelian conception of matter help? Sure, you have a much richer conception of matter now, but how does it help to explain the emergence of subjective consciousness? At some point there weren’t sentient beings; then there were; if consciousness is not inherent in matter, and if we reject brute emergence, where did it come from?

So, even if consciousness is a “corporeal feature of organisms” on an Aristotelian conception of matter, how did this this new feature emerge from previous, non-conscious processes?

Again, in other words: Nagel, Strawson and others have argued thus:

1. Consciousness is irreducible.
2. Brute emergence is impossible.
3. If 1 and 2 are true, consciousness is fundamental.
4. Therefore consciousness is fundamental.

My problem is to understand how Aristotelian conception of matter avoids the conclusion.

Scott said...

@Thomas:

Actually I'm not persuaded that Aristotelianism-Thomism needs to avoid panpsychism/panexperientialism. I'm in the early stages of writing an essay on this very question, so I'd be interested to hear why you think the two are incompatible (if you do).

Scott said...

Here, for example, is a post by Bill Vallicella calling attention to some striking similarities between consciousness and prime matter. My own suspicion (which I had entertained before seeing Vallicella's post) is that it may even be possible to identify the two. But I'm still thinking this through. What do you think?

Thomas said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Scott.

I do not think that Aristotelianism is incompatible with panpsychism! Actually your view about combining them sounds very interesting. I haven't thought this question before, so I cannot add anything else here.

The reason why I asked my question was not because I think that the two are incompatible, but because I haven’t seen many Aristotelians who are panpsychists. For example, if I understand Edward Feser right, he seems to think that the mind-body –problem is pretty much a product of the mechanistic conception of matter, and once we go for Aristotelianism, the main problems are solved. This seems to imply that the Aristotelian doesn’t need panpsychism; the right, Aristotelian conception of matter is all we need. This is at least how I have understood Feser’s views. But Aristotelianism itself (without some kind of panpsychism) seems to leave the historical question untouched; hence my question.

Scott said...

@Thomas:

Of course I won't claim to speak for Ed, but it seems to me from his Philosophy of Mind that he would attribute the introduction of consciousness/subjectivity to divine intervention (via form, not matter).

As far as I can see, though, that's not in and of itself incompatible with a sort of pan-proto-experientialism as regards prime matter; after all, one way or another, God is supposed to have created prime matter ex nihilo along with form, and it could well be that the introduction of higher-level forms via divine intervention is the correct solution of the "combination problem."

Thomas said...

Scott,

Theism of course has the resources to answer the historical question. If Ed thinks that God is ultimately needed to explain consciousness, that’s very interesting. I had the impression that for Ed God is not necessary here.

Theistic explanation for the origin of consciousness is, as you say, not incompatible with pan(proto)psychism. But it seems to me that once you have God in your ontology, the postulation of mental or proto-mental aspects to matter is not needed anymore. One of the main motivations behind panpsychism seems to be the goal of explaining the origin of mentality; but for theists divine intervention can explain the origin of subjectivity (and the combination-problem too, as you point out); why then go for panpsychism at all?

Scott said...

@Thomas:

"I had the impression that for Ed God is not necessary here."

You may be right. I'm not anywhere near 100% sure what he thinks on this point.

"[W]hy then go for panpsychism at all?"

That's a very good question, and I think the only plausible answer (if there is one at all) is that if we're to have any positive conception of what (created) reality is like, panpsychism (or pan-proto-experientialism) provides the only candidate. If you like Nagel, Strawson, Chalmers, and Skrbina (as I do as well), you might also like Sprigge (if you're not already familiar with him).

Jeremy Taylor said...

Glenn,

You should remind your brother in law he is talking about perpetual life, not eternal life.

Thomas said...

Scott,

“I think the only plausible answer (if there is one at all) is that if we're to have any positive conception of what (created) reality is like, panpsychism (or pan-proto-experientialism) provides the only candidate.”

That is what the theistic panpsychist would have to argue, yes. But I have some difficulties in seeing a justification for it. The case for non-theistic panpsychism is clear enough (as Nagel, Strawson, Chalmers, Skrbina, Seager, etc. have shown). But to repeat myself: if one is a theist, the need for mental or proto-mental conception of matter seems to disappear. (At least this is how it seems to me; I would be happy to be proved wrong though, since I am a theist who has great sympathies towards pan(proto)psychism.)

Thanks for the Sprigge-suggestion, I wasn’t familiar with him. Seems very interesting.

Anonymous said...

The reason we are so confused, misdirected, and un-Spiritual is that our consciousness has been made to adapt to the views of men who have not been Enlightened by the Realization of God.

We are a mind rather than intelligence. We do not openly commune with what Is, and the One Who Is. Therefore we must be liberated from false adaptation and the self-defense of our compulsive thinking, and we must be restored to the primal or ecstatic disposition of Divine Ignorance in the midst of all conditions.
Then we do not resort to un-illumined man and the thinking mind, but we are sensitive to conditions themselves, prior to speech and thought. The brain and nervous system can then Commune, or Abide in unobstructed continuity, with the Current and Process of Existence, and the Great Secret will be revealed to consciousness.

When nothing even in the slightest is experienced or known or presumed, then there is only the Infinite Light of Bliss, the same state in which you now exist but without the compartments of your atrocious thought, without even a parcel of it hanging out.
Now we are free. Then we are free. Then we were free. Then we will be free.
This space of time is only a figment of your imagination. The body here is the lie by which you are bound. Be willing to give up your body, even now, even now, even now. And your mind which is your body. Let it go. Let it go. Cling to nothing. Let it go.

Such Bliss is not heaven! It is nowhere, nowhere at all, not then, not now, not in the future. Such Bliss has never been experienced by beings at all except in their moment of vanishing when they slide upon the Light from which all forms are made.

dguller said...

Thomas:

My problem is to understand how Aristotelian conception of matter avoids the conclusion.

Perhaps the idea is that, in nature, all matter is necessarily enformed, and the presence of form includes the presents of final causality, and thus directedness. It is this fundamental directedness that is the origin of consciousness, whose paradigmatic property is intentionality, which is just a special kind of teleological directedness.

Anonymous said...

Mind is artificial intelligence. Mind is the first robot that human beings ever made. In the usual discussions of such matters, artificial intelligence is presumed to be something generated by computers. In actuality, however, LANGUAGE is the first form of artificial intelligence created by human beings.

There is no mind. Mind is a myth. There is language - which is programmed by brains, and which, in turn, programs brains. However there is no tangible existence to mind itself - absolutely none. Nevertheless, human beings identify mind AS "self", and thereby invent destiny for themselves, and even project that self-imagined destiny into an idea of time and space beyond the present physical lifetime.

Mind is an interior projection of a language-program that, in its imaginative elaboration of itself, conceives of purposes and ideas (in the realm of illusion) for which there are no corresponding physical data. Human beings are all living in a virtual world of mind. Human beings are, characteristically, self-identified with a robot, an artificial intelligence.

The human mind is a facsimile machine. This machine merely replicates language-forms in the illusion of mind. The machine feeds language into the computer of the illusion of mind with which people identify themselves. That illusion is who they mean when they refer to themselves - the body-mind complex, the mortal bio-form associated with the artificial intelligence of talk, of egoic constructs, of language, of language-based brain, and, altogether, of ego-based and brain based psycho-physical ideas and perceptual memories.

The mind has no substantial existence. The mind is simply stored as language-bits, or patterns of language and remembered perceptions in the brain. When a particular brain dies, other replicating machines carry on the language-mind, continuing it from one generation to the next.

Where is the God in that? Where is the Divine in that? When people are thinking and talking religion, they think that religion is about some kind of survival of mind, or even some kind of survival of body-mind somewhere. Such a notion is merely a mind based illusion. It is a self-idea, a mere and insubstantial self-reflection, the illusion of a substantial and separately existing ego.

There is no such thing as eternal mind. That notion is an absolute illusion. The mind is as mortal as the hardware, as mortal as the bodily machine. When the machine stops working, the mind likewise stops working. The only mind that exists afterwards is the mind carried on by other replicating machines. So what is their after death? The same as there was before birth - the Divine Self-Condition only. After death - as, also, during the physical lifetime - anything and everything of mind persists non-personally, as pattern patterning, without intrinsic self-consciousness.

If you were TRULY aware of mind, you would not want it to go on. It is a terrible, horrific source of bondage. It is a dreadful trap. Human beings are not only trapped in the mortality of their physical bodies, they are trapped in the absurdity of mind.
Some even pretend to construct profound metaphysics on the basis of such absurdity!

Thomas said...

dguller,

“Perhaps the idea is that, in nature, all matter is necessarily enformed, and the presence of form includes the presents of final causality, and thus directedness. It is this fundamental directedness that is the origin of consciousness, whose paradigmatic property is intentionality, which is just a special kind of teleological directedness.”

Yes, that is the view that I take Aristotelians to hold. But I still don’t see how that explains the origin of consciousness with regards to subjectivity. I can see how Aristotelianism explains the origin of intentionality, but subjectivity is another thing. Why is nature “enformed” and “directed” in such a way that it eventually produces subjective ontology from processes whose ontology is objective? Isn’t there brute emergence here, too? (Assuming that one doesn’t bring God in to the picture.)

Anonymous said...

I apologize for the rants at 2:42 and 3:24. I forgot to take my pills last night.

Greg said...

Rants? Or copy pasta?

Greg said...

For example, if I understand Edward Feser right, he seems to think that the mind-body –problem is pretty much a product of the mechanistic conception of matter, and once we go for Aristotelianism, the main problems are solved. This seems to imply that the Aristotelian doesn’t need panpsychism; the right, Aristotelian conception of matter is all we need.

I am not really sure about subjective consciousness. What I think Aristotelianism does better than mechanism is offer a metaphysics in which mind does not have to be such a "special case." As for the specifics, I don't know.

It seems to me like there is some disagreement among hylemorphists on such matters. William Jaworski, for instance, attempts to situate hylemorphism in contemporary idiom and stresses externalism and coherence with later Wittgenstein. I recall Haldane, on the other hand, saying that he thought Aquinas's theory of mind ran contrary to some of Wittgenstein's insights. There are a lot of thorny issues that I don't think have been completely sorted out.

Gene Callahan said...

@Quentin: "doesn't that imply that the vibrations and the sound are not actually the same thing, but two different 'views' of the same thing."

I didn't say the were the same thing, I said they were the same thing viewed from two vantage points. If you want to focus on the view, fine, clearly they are two different views... of the same thing.

"Otherwise you have the problem of justifying why one of these 'views' is more real than the other."

No, because I *wasn't* trying to say one was more real!

Gene Callahan said...

@Scott: "My own suspicion (which I had entertained before seeing Vallicella's post) is that it may even be possible to identify the two. "

Collingwood did, saying that, in the end, everything for Aristotle is Mind. (I cite from memory: I can look up the exact quote if you need it.)

Scott said...

@Gene:

Thanks for the information on Collingwood. Please don't trouble yourself for the exact quote, but if you happen to recall offhand where he said it, I'd like to know.

Scott said...

(He says something like it in Religion and Philosophy, but there he doesn't attribute the view in question to Aristotle so it's probably not the passage you have in mind.)

Scott said...

@Thomas:

Since you've expressed willingness to be persuaded, I'll see what I can do.

"[I]f one is a theist, the need for mental or proto-mental conception of matter seems to disappear."

Offhand I don't see why. If, independently of theism, there are good reasons (as Sprigge argues that there are) to regard our universe as consisting of innumerable finite centers of proto-experience, why would those reasons lose any force just because one is a theist? Theism doesn't alter the case for panpsychism one iota as far as I can see, any more than being able to invoke God as First Cause relieves a civil engineer of explaining why a bridge doesn't fall down.

Or suppose, as I may eventually be inclined to argue, that the parallels Bill Vallicella sees between prime matter and consciousness are more than coincidence and that prime matter is best understood as being (or at least including) a sort of proto-experience. In what sense would theism be an alternative to that account? Just on the grounds that God could have brought about subjectivity in some other way?

Prince Randoms said...

Here is a random question, which philosophy of the mind would be most conducive to transhumanist mind uploading. I can think of good reasons to want to avoid it.

Scott said...

@Prince Randoms:

To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure any current theory of mind would allow for any sort of "mind uploading" if the mind's "subject" is supposed to go along with it and be "the same person" in the usual sense of the words. The very idea seems to presume something like Cartesian dualism.

I think according to current theories, either (1) the original person would stay behind and the uploaded copy would be either (a) a new person or (b) no person at all, or (2) there's "nobody home" to upload in the first place, as on eliminativist and perhaps functionalist theories.

BenYachov said...

Good Call Scott,

Under Thomistic Dualism wouldn't it just create at best a sort of cloned mind from the original?

There is no way we can scientifically transfer our conscientiousness because either the spiritual can't be by nature manipulated by technology or under the reductionist view it doesn't really objectively exist it's "just an illusion".

Your thoughts?

BenYachov said...

OTOH I did read a Scifi book called THE LAST CHRISTIAN which involved uploading but here is the rub. If the person who has their mind upload into a Synthetic Brain is religious they notice that they have severed contact with God. That is religious intuition & feelings seem to disappear. It causes them great distress.

It's an interesting thriller.

Scott said...

@BenYachov:

I think you're right about Thomism. Your soul belongs with your body; a copy of your "mind" (never mind your soul!) in another body would be a different person—as you say, a sort of clone.

BenYachov said...

Thanks Scott.


QUOTE"Transhumanism is about how technology will eventually help us overcome the problems that have, up until now, been endemic to human nature. Cyberpunk is about how technology won't."
— Stephenls of RPG.Net, on the relation between transhumanism and cyberpunk.End Quote

Prince Randoms said...

I'm a big rpg fan, sci-fi or not (Infinite Worlds from GURPS is a great generic setting).

I wonder if emergence might work with transhumanism... I recall watching a talk with David Chalmers on Closer to the Truth where he talks about a certain thought experiment.

Replace the Neurons in your brain one at a time with a silicon replacement, is there a certain portion of the replacement at which your consciousness weakens? Disappears? I wonder if that what he was drifting towards...

http://www.closertotruth.com/video-profile/Why-is-Emergence-Significant-David-Chalmers-/97

Step2 said...

In Roger Zelazny's sci-fi fantasy Lord of Light, there is reincarnation through mind uploading into bodies grown for that purpose, but one thing the protagonist of the story remarks upon is how his mutant power is also transferred, slowly at first and accelerating over time. He finds out from Yama that there is something like an essence or pattern that tries to cure his new body into being like the original.

Neat factoid: The book's plot was used as the cover story by the CIA operation memorialized in the movie Argo.

Greg said...

This is unrelated to the OP, but: is anyone familiar with the work of Wolfgang Smith? Opinions?

Prince Randoms said...

@ Step2.

I love Zelanzy. Obviously ;)

Lord of Lights is one of those books I recommend to absolutely everyone.

Anonymous said...

Quick off-topic question: what is the flaw in this argument? Or is it sound and Einstein was wrong?

P1: An object that is pushed will moved faster than it's pre-pushed state.

P2: A ball is an object.

C: A ball moving at the speed of light will move faster than the speed of light if it is pushed.

Thomas said...

Scott:

“Offhand I don't see why. If, independently of theism, there are good reasons (as Sprigge argues that there are) to regard our universe as consisting of innumerable finite centers of proto-experience, why would those reasons lose any force just because one is a theist? Theism doesn't alter the case for panpsychism one iota as far as I can see, any more than being able to invoke God as First Cause relieves a civil engineer of explaining why a bridge doesn't fall down.”

Whether theism alters the case for panpsychism depends what one takes the case for panpsychism to be. I agree with you that if there are many good Spriggean reasons to be a panpsychist, then theism does not change that. But for me the best reason to be a panpsychist is the Nagel-Strawson –argument I gave above. That is, if reduction and brute emergence are ruled out, consciousness must be fundamental. This argument does lose its force if one is a theist, since on theism there isn’t any brute emergence: consciousness doesn’t come from non-consciousness, but from infinite Consciousness. So theism can explain the origin of mind without having to postulate proto-mental properties to matter. (This is why J.P. Moreland, for example, regards panpsychism as a rival for theism in the context of an “argument from consciousness” to the existence of God.)

So, when I said that if one is a theist, the need for mental or proto-mental conception of matter seems to disappear, I was thinking about the Nagel-Strawson –argument as the primary warrant for being a panpsychist in the first place – and that argument does lose its force if theism is true. But of course, if you think that you have other good arguments for panpsychism, then I agree with you on theistic panpsychism.

Gary Black said...

@Anony1:43AM
You added some more premises in your conclusion but the simplest one to reject is "A ball [is] moving at the speed of light". Nothing that has mass can move at the speed of light, so that implicit premise is false.

Scott said...

@Thomas:

Thanks for the reply, and I see your point.

Quentin S Crisp said...

@Gene Callahan

Sorry, I see that my comment was redundant.

William Dunkirk said...

We all enjoy lost arts.

It's over. Supporting Israel is a crime against humanity. Ed time for you to write a piece about the injustice of forcing innocent people to live in prison camps.

No more of North America's sons and daughters will die for lies.

Anonymous said...

I hope Ed blogs about Dillard's 'Ross Revisited' article (a response to Ed's 'Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought').

Edward Feser said...

Yes, I'll get to Dillard. There are a million things I've got to get to, but that's on the list.

Anonymous said...

That's great news. I can't wait for that.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Greg,

I have read Smith's works Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Belief and Science & Myth.

My knowledge of traditional philosophy is far from expert, and knowledge of science is even less, but I found these books very good examinations of the relationship between traditional Western philosophy, Platonic-Aristotelian-Christian, and modern science, as well as the flaws of scientism.

Jinzang said...

"Which philosophy of the mind would be most conducive to transhumanist mind uploading. I can think of good reasons to want to avoid it."

Functionalism

Greg said...

Thanks for the response, Jeremy. I am reading Smith's book The Quantum Enigma right now. His writing style is a bit odd (he seems to add more terminology than he needs to), but I think he makes a number of valuable distinctions (ie. between the "corporeal" and "physical" worlds). And he has, I think, a better grasp of philosophical matters than does, for instance, Anthony Rizzi (the other physicist/Thomist I've read). Rizzi argues for Thomism chiefly as a sort of "common sense" philosophy that the discoveries of physics do not dispense with, while Smith argues that the "residual Cartesianism" inherent in most interpretations of contemporary science is in some way inconsistent. (Though perhaps I'm not being entirely fair to Rizzi, whom I haven't read in a while.)

Prince Randoms said...

@Jinzang
Whoa. SEP really changed there look. Did that happen like this week? I was just there.

CCK said...

Since the discussion has turned to souls, I hope it's not going too far afield to ask about something I've been trying to grasp better. On A-T, how are we to understand the development of material souls, particularly in light of evolution? For example, when the first animal evolved from a plant, did it immediately "jump" to a sensitive soul and suddenly receive all these new faculties (sensation, imagination, instinct, etc.)? And similarly, from the first living thing appeared from inanimate things (assuming arguendo that it could happen in nature without God's direct intervention) -- did the vegetative soul simply appear with all its faculties (nourishment, growth, reproduction)?

Obviously we don't yet know the physical mechanism for this latter example, but I'm coming more from a philosophical perspective. I understand that for man the rational soul is formed directly by God, but how we are to account for the sudden appearance of new powers? I'm not a skeptic, just trying to learn. Thanks.

CCK said...

After reading the comments again more carefully I see that Thomas is getting at more or less the same thing here. It's interesting that the three biggest mysteries of biology, which have only become more mysterious the more we learn around them, map on pretty well to the three stages or types of soul: the origins of life (vegetative), consciousness (sensitive), and reason (rational).

Thomists seem willing to appeal to pure nature for the first two, but not the third. But how are we to understand this? If you don't hold that God's direct intervention was necessary at each of these stages, then they must have developed somehow from principles instrinsic to nature. If this happens by "emergence," some mysterious process that we don't really understand, then what's to prevent us from assuming the same of the rational soul? If we appeal instead to some panpsychism, what would this mean? If it's neither of these, how do we account for the origins of these distinct souls?

Scott said...

@CCK:

"If you don't hold that God's direct intervention was necessary at each of these stages, then they must have developed somehow from principles instrinsic to nature. If this happens by 'emergence,' some mysterious process that we don't really understand, then what's to prevent us from assuming the same of the rational soul?"

Primarily the fact that, on the A-T account of things, all the powers of the first two can be characterized as "material" but the intellect can't.

Scott said...

@CCK:

"If we appeal instead to some panpsychism, what would this mean?"

In this instance I don't think that's strictly an alternative. Panpsychism, all by itself and as it's usually understood, won't get us any further than consciousness, which A-T already regards as material. Intellect is (pun intended) another matter.

I'd even say that to whatever extent A-T regards consciousness as "emerging" from matter, its own account of causality commits it to a loose sort of "panpsychism" anyway, at least in the sense that it has to hold that consciousness/experience is "virtually" present in matter.

Greg said...

It could also be added that what the panpsychism gets you is essentially intentionality latent in the material world, which dovetails with Aristotelian finality. Consciousness is just a special case; since its objects are particulars, there exist material sensible forms toward which sensitive powers can be directed.

Since the intellect deals in universals rather than particulars, though, something more is needed. A sort of "material intentionality" would still require the objects of the intellect to be particulars, but intelligible forms are not.

CCK said...

Scott,

Thanks for the reply.

"Primarily the fact that, on the A-T account of things, all the powers of the first two can be characterized as "material" but the intellect can't."

I know this is the A-T line, but what that "materiality" is and means is precisely what I'm trying to understand. What is it about A-T's conception of matter that explains how the inaminate can generate the animate, and the non-sentient generate the sentient? I know that much more falls under the umbrella of "matter" in A-T than in the modern mechanistic definition, but I am still trying to grasp how these different dimensions of materiality relate to one another.

"I'd even say that to whatever extent A-T regards consciousness as "emerging" from matter, its own account of causality commits it to a loose sort of "panpsychism" anyway, at least in the sense that it has to hold that consciousness/experience is 'virtually' present in matter."

This is my intuition as well. It seems that, at the origin of life, the inaminate generates something animate. Putting the physics and biology aside, this looks a lot like the a cause giving something it doesn't have. The recourse then would be to say, as you do, that matter did always have this virtually. What I'm interested in, then, is a principled account of how these psychic potentialities can be present virtually and then later (somehow) realized strictly by nature, but those of the rational soul cannot.

CCK said...

To clarify: I understand and agree with the arguments for why the rational soul can't arise from matter. What I'm trying to get a better handle on is the principles by which the other souls can, and how this might work. I'm only positing "Why not the rational soul also?" with respect to a view that appeals to some emergent mystery: If the "matter" that gives rise to the first two souls can't account for how these transitions could happen, then one might in equal agnosticism conceive of reason as one more mystery of "matter."

dguller said...

CCK:

The general idea with matter is that matter always has form, and it is the form that provides the teleological directedness of material entities. And it is this intrinisic directedness that is the base upon which conscious intentionality is built. Hence, consciousness seems to follow from the teleological properties of form-matter composites.

So, vegetative and animal souls, being forms themselves that are necessarily present in matter, both have directedness towards the actualization of various ends. This is not mysterious on an A-T account, and only becomes mysterious if you endorse an ontology in which matter is stripped of all its formal and final causality. Then is becomes incoherent to possess directedness at all.

With regards to a rational soul, the problem is that a rational soul must involve an intellect, and intellect is by its nature immaterial, and thus distinct from the material activities of the material entity in question. It is because the rational soul fundamentally involves immaterial aspects that it cannot simply develop from purely material entities.

At least, that's how it seems to me.

Scott said...

@CCK:

"What I'm trying to get a better handle on is the principles by which the other souls can, and how this might work."

That's a good question, and I'll be interested to see some answers from people who know more about it than I do. In fact it seems that on the A-T account, even sensory perception can't be wholly material, for reasons explained by McInerny.

CCK said...

dguller,

"And it is this intrinisic directedness that is the base upon which conscious intentionality is built. Hence, consciousness seems to follow from the teleological properties of form-matter composites."

Thanks, I agree that the place of forms and the teleology of all nature are the important bases here. But we see in the different souls that this teleology happens on different levels. Consciousness certainly presupposes directedness but there is directness without consciousness (rocks, or plants). The "seems to follow from" is what requires disambiguation, because for all of plant history plant passed on their forms to new plants in the same way with same set of faculties, until one day an animal was generated with several new faculties and a new kind of directedness. How is the first animal able receive the form of a sensitive soul when up till then vegetative souls had only produced more vegitative souls?

"So, vegetative and animal souls, being forms themselves that are necessarily present in matter, both have directedness towards the actualization of various ends. This is not mysterious on an A-T account, and only becomes mysterious if you endorse an ontology in which matter is stripped of all its formal and final causality. Then is becomes incoherent to possess directedness at all."

I agree that plants and animals have directness with respect to the kind of form (soul) each has. What I'm trying to understand is how this new manifestation of directedness, with a new set of powers (faculties), can suddenly appear from the lower. In order to hold both A-T and evolution we need some principle or principles that make this continuity possible, and that is what I'm trying to understand.

CCK said...

Posting in a haste and I've got typos all over the place -- sorry about that.

Scott said...

@CCK:

"What I'm trying to understand is how this new manifestation of directedness, with a new set of powers (faculties), can suddenly appear from the lower."

And any such account will also have to explain either why sensory perception isn't purely material (even though it seems that in perception our sense organs acquire a form without creating a new instance of that form), or how it can "emerge" from a purely material ground even though it isn't purely material.

(I have little doubt that A-T has already addressed this; I'm simply not expert enough in the relevant portions of it to know. Someone else around here probably is, though.)

Scott said...

Oops. "[A]ny such account will also have to explain either why sensory perception is purely material . . . "

CCK said...

Scott,

"And any such account will also have to explain either why sensory perception isn't purely material (even though it seems that in perception our sense organs acquire a form without creating a new instance of that form), or how it can "emerge" from a purely material ground even though it isn't purely material."

Agreed. Based on considerations such as these it seems the levels of souls differ not just in degree but in kind. Appealing simply to "directedness in nature" doesn't help much because directedness happens in a linear way at each level, according to its kind. How we move from one kind to another is what's puzzling to me. But as with you I trust that this question has been addressed before, and I am not here to challenge but simply to learn.

David M said...

@CCK:
Interesting questions. I'll take a stab.

"What is it about A-T's conception of matter that explains how the inanimate can generate the animate, and the non-sentient generate the sentient?"

I would say it is nothing about the A-T conception of matter per se that explains this. Rather, ST I.71.1 ad 1: At the first beginning of the world the active principle was the Word of God, which produced animals from material elements, either in act, as some holy writers say, or virtually, as Augustine teaches. Not as though the power possessed by water or earth of producing all animals resides in the earth and the water themselves, as Avicenna held, but in the power originally given to the elements of producing them from elemental matter by the power of seed or the influence of the stars.

"I know that much more falls under the umbrella of "matter" in A-T than in the modern mechanistic definition, but I am still trying to grasp how these different dimensions of materiality relate to one another."

But in a sense perhaps much less falls under the umbrella of 'matter' (since much more falls under the umbrella of 'form') - or rather the concept is simply very different (rather than trying to talk about its more-or-less-ness).

"It seems that, at the origin of life, the inanimate generates something animate. [Not really.] Putting the physics and biology aside, this looks a lot like the a cause giving something it doesn't have. The recourse then would be to say, as you do, that matter did always have this virtually. What I'm interested in, then, is a principled account of how these psychic potentialities can be present virtually and then later (somehow) realized strictly by nature, but those of the rational soul cannot."

So there are intrinsic 'seminal' powers and transcendent 'stellar' powers which could account for the actual generation of animated beings. The rational soul cannot be produced by either of these (but relies on the Word of God as its active principle of production) because it is neither generated from an intrinsic material form (a seed), nor is it generated in virtue of such a (material) form being extrinsically imposed by 'stellar' influence.

Scott said...

@Jinzang:

I don't see how functionalism can accommodate "mind uploading" if this is supposed to involve an actual transfer of someone's mind. As far as I can see, the most it could in principle account for is the reproduction in one system of a set of the functional states in another.

CCK said...

David,

Thanks for your comment; this does start to address what I am getting at.

"But in a sense perhaps much less falls under the umbrella of 'matter' (since much more falls under the umbrella of 'form') - or rather the concept is simply very different (rather than trying to talk about its more-or-less-ness)."

Fair enough, but I was just speaking after the manner of Dr. Feser (the modern mechanistic conception of matter being "incomplete" and needing to be filled out with more -- qualia, etc.). I do recognize the priority of form.

"So there are intrinsic 'seminal' powers and transcendent 'stellar' powers which could account for the actual generation of animated beings. The rational soul cannot be produced by either of these (but relies on the Word of God as its active principle of production) because it is neither generated from an intrinsic material form (a seed), nor is it generated in virtue of such a (material) form being extrinsically imposed by 'stellar' influence."

So please let me know if I am understanding this correctly: God in his Word originally provided elemental matter with the power to produce animals not in itself, but through the power of seed or by stellar influence. In other words, matter has always had virtually this potential to take on the form of an animal and exercise animal faculties, which are activated either by the working out of an intrinsic development (seed) coming to fruition or by extrinsic imputation (stellar influence).

If this is a fair summary -- and please do correct me if it is not -- then the question becomes how we harmonize this with a gradual evolutionary history. In the transition from lifeless things to plants and plants to animals these new souls take on several new faculties all at once, do they not? But as Scott pointed out, the first animal with sense perception receives forms in a hitherto unprecedented way (which seems not entirely "material"). How are we to understand the origin of the the animal soul as a working out of the same material principles that preceded it, which till then had produced only plants?

I know the biology remains opaque, but if the animal principle is there virtually, how could it be suddenly activated? How in principle could Plants 1-1,000,000 pass on a vegatative soul to its offspring, while Plant 1,000,0001 generates an entirely new soul, the first animal? If the origin is in something exstrinsic (the "stellar influences"), what kind of material thing -- contact with another plant or inanimate body -- could bring about this new level of soul? Or are we left with saying that God intervened?

It seems to me that with each new type of soul there is a qualitative leap that requires explanation and it is hard for me to see what prior material principle could account for it.

Scott said...

@David M:

Thanks, that's a good and very helpful rundown.

Now, CCK's question, on this account, is just why the sensitive soul can be virtually present in creation (that is, why the "seminal" or "stellar" power to produce consciousness can be built in from the get-go) but the rational soul can't. (Or perhaps it could have been, even though it in fact wasn't?)

One possible reason is that the sensitive soul's power of perception is at least partly material, and there's no reason that a partly material power can't have immaterial aspects—whereas the intellect is purely immaterial. Another is that the sensitive soul's power of perception is not, contra McInerny, immaterial in any respect and so no explanation is called for.

Or perhaps, as I suggested parenthetically above, there's no reason (other than the divine plan) why the power to produce rational souls couldn't have been built in to creation; it just wasn't. Is there a metaphysical or natural-theological argument available here, or is the fact that rational souls require special creation something that can be known only through special revelation?

Scott said...

And CCK's other question becomes the one he posted while I was writing my own post. ;-)

CCK said...

Scott,

"One possible reason is that the sensitive soul's power of perception is at least partly material, and there's no reason that a partly material power can't have immaterial aspects—whereas the intellect is purely immaterial. Another is that the sensitive soul's power of perception is not, contra McInerny, immaterial in any respect and so no explanation is called for."

This is a good summary of what I've been driving at. But if there is even a slight part or aspect of the sensitive soul that is immaterial, and if we assume that God does not create the animals specially, then either (1) nature on its own can produce the immaterial from the material (an "emergence"), or (2) everything material has some immaterial aspect. In either case the immaterial can be subsumed into nature and it seems there'd be no necessary appeal to supernature for the origin man's soul.

But if, on the contrary, the vegetative and sensitive souls are entirely material, then I go back to my wish to understand better what this "materiality" could mean, how its different aspects relate, and how the evolutionary development of these different souls are merely the consistent and continuous application of this one material principle.

Scott said...

@CCK:

"In either case the immaterial can be subsumed into nature and it seems there'd be no necessary appeal to supernature for the origin man's soul."

Almost. In either case it could in principle still be argued (though I don't know whether it ever has been) that although nature can produce a soul with a power (like perception) that's partly immaterial, it still can't produce one with a power (like intellect) that's wholly immaterial. I have no idea what such an argument would look like, though.

NB said...

I'm curious as to what people mean here by "material". Is the implication that matter is somehow a feature of mind-independent reality? If so, I think that idea has been seriously undermined by quantum mechanics. What we call "matter" is very much a function of the nature of the observer. An electron, for example, exhibits what we call "material" behaviour only when it is observed; at all other times its nature is indeterminate, which is why it can perform apparently paradoxical feats like being in more than one place at the same time. It would be circular to consider something that only exists as an element of a model in the mind of the observer to be prior to that mind. At most we can say that matter is an experiential construct generated from "information" supplied (via observations) to the observer, apparently by some indeterminate and possibly ineffable "mind-independent reality". The "matter" in what we think of as the "real world" (our inter-subjective experiential reality), is no more a component of mind-independent reality than the "matter" you might encounter in a first-person multi-player computer adventure game is a component of the computer on which you play it (the patently superior immersive experience of the former notwithstanding).

David M said...

@CCK:

I'd just tweak your summary as follows: "matter [well, not necessarily matter as such, but elemental material reality] has [possibly (I don't think we know this)] always had virtually this potential to take on the form of an animal and exercise animal faculties, which are activated either by the working out of an intrinsic development [or rather perfection] (seed) coming to fruition or by extrinsic imputation [of a formal perfection] ([via] stellar influence [and how exactly to interpret 'stellar' here, esp. in a contemporary context, might be a bit tricky])."

@CCK and Scott, re. the activation of the sensitive soul's power of perception:

It seems to me that even if there is a (particular) 'immaterial' (i.e., not material-in-the-primary-sense-of-the-term) aspect to perception/sensation, perhaps it still makes sense to think that this aspect is supervenient on the material forms by which the sensory (as well as estimative) organs exist as such (as sensory organs) - so that the gradual, 'star'-influenced organization of matter may be sufficient to produce material souls naturally possessing sensory powers. The immateriality of the rational soul, on the other hand, is a subsistent immateriality, and as such must be created, whole-cloth so to speak (in/as the 'image of God'), a power which Thomas argues belongs to the first cause (God) alone.

David M said...

@NB:
"I'm curious as to what people mean here by "material"."

It depends on the context.

"Is the implication that matter is somehow a feature of mind-independent reality?"

Yes and no. QM, for example, as such, is mind-dependent - it (along with any concomitant concept of matter) is a theory constituted by mind-dependent universal concepts. But the (material) world of processes of change which QM describes (as well as the material realities described therein) are presumably mind-independent.

"An electron, for example, exhibits what we call "material" behaviour only when it is observed..."

If an electron is 'material,' then however it happens to behave (observed or not) is 'material behaviour.'

NB said...

@David M
Thanks for your reply which I’d be interested in exploring a little. It hinges I think on the matter of the electron (here just an avatar representing a general quantum system). QM identifies the electron phenomenologically, effectively as a probability function (of spatial coordinates) that gives the chances that a “particle” phenomenon will be observed at such and such a place and time, *if somebody looks*. If nobody looks, it remains just a probability function evolving in time according to the Schrodinger equation. Now I can see that one could choose to define such a function as “material” but it is not “material” in any normal sense of the word because it is a mathematical entity. So according to QM matter is just a collection of probability functions for predicting the results of future observations (should we choose to make them)?

Obviously a classically-oriented thinker will likely insist that there is some unseen “mechanism” (what a QM theorist would call a hidden variable theory) “bouncing around” un-observably, effectively generating the probabilities and their evolution; however quantum theory does not need any such mechanism and one must inevitably doubt if postulating it is just wishful thinking on the part of we humans, unable to relinquish the (illusory?) macroscopic solid world of our corporeal experience. According to the completeness postulate (which has never been proven wrong) no underlying mechanism can ever add any predictions which QM cannot make all by itself. Since QM can generate the whole of science from its predictions (in principle and with some anthropomorphising caveats to decide which ones to ignore as irrelevant detail) the mechanism would have to be invented arbitrarily. Also since no experiment can ever determine if any given postulated mechanism exists (several have been proposed), its introduction must be seen as unscientific by definition.

In short, quantum mechanics does not address independent reality (ontology) since it (and we) has no access to the latter. It addresses the observations (or experiences) which generate experiential reality and that is all it needs to do to give it all the power it needs to frame the whole of human science.

David M said...

@NB:

"QM identifies the electron phenomenologically, effectively as a probability function (of spatial coordinates) that gives the chances that a “particle” phenomenon will be observed at such and such a place and time, *if somebody looks*."

It sounds like you know more about QM than I do, but I think your explanation is very clear and sounds right to me.

"If nobody looks, it remains just a probability function evolving in time according to the Schrodinger equation."

Why not say: If nobody looks, it will not be observed, so it can only be referred to on the basis of a probability function evolving over time, etc.

"Now I can see that one could choose to define such a function as “material” but it is not “material” in any normal sense of the word because it is a mathematical entity."

I don't follow. It *is* a mathematical entity? Surely not. Mathematical entities are not (ever) observable as 'particle' phenomena.

"So according to QM matter is just a collection of probability functions for predicting the results of future observations (should we choose to make them)?"

Why not just say: So according to QM, the manifestations of certain material realities (like electrons) can be mathematically analysed using a collection of probability functions (that is, if we want to predict (probabilistically) the results of future observations, should we choose to make them).

Scott said...

@David M:

"It seems to me that even if there is a (particular) 'immaterial' (i.e., not material-in-the-primary-sense-of-the-term) aspect to perception/sensation, perhaps it still makes sense to think that this aspect is supervenient on the material forms by which the sensory (as well as estimative) organs exist as such (as sensory organs) - so that the gradual, 'star'-influenced organization of matter may be sufficient to produce material souls naturally possessing sensory powers. The immateriality of the rational soul, on the other hand, is a subsistent immateriality, and as such must be created, whole-cloth so to speak (in/as the 'image of God'), a power which Thomas argues belongs to the first cause (God) alone."

Very good; thanks. And now I do know what such an argument would look like! (Okay, it's not exactly what I was vaguely suggesting, but it's along somewhat the same lines.)

Prince Randoms said...

I wonder, is the uploading scenario a variation of the teleportation scenario? It seems similar in the consideration involved

Scott said...

@Prince Randoms:

"I wonder, is the uploading scenario a variation of the teleportation scenario?"

I'd say yes, although I think it depends on the precise method of teleportation. I can at least imagine methods (being shoved through a wormhole, for example) that don't involve the destruction-and-(re?)construction of one's body and therefore aren't subject to the problem I'm sure you're thinking of.

Hivemaker said...

@CCK "What is it about A-T's conception of matter that explains how the inanimate can generate the animate, and the non-sentient generate the sentient?"

It turns out the first part of this question has already been answered in exhaustive detail.

I don't doubt that ATites have some very interesting philosophical conclusions to draw about the explanation we've discovered. But I'd caution anyone, regardless of their metaphysics or even antipathy to metaphysics, not to look to philosophy as a first-resort explanation-provider.

It is still philosophically amazing to me that there is no observable difference between the carbon atom in an inanimate cheeseburger and that same the carbon atom in the animate young man some time later. In one very real sense, humanity is just "cheeseburgers plus time". But we never would have had this astounding fact to stand around and have fascinating philosophical discussions about if we hadn't actually tried looking for the fact.

Greg said...

@Hivemaker,
It is still philosophically amazing to me that there is no observable difference between the carbon atom in an inanimate cheeseburger and that same the carbon atom in the animate young man some time later.

Of course there is no observable difference between two such carbon atoms. That is a direct corollary of the fact that neither of those two carbon atoms are concretely observable.

reighley said...

@Greg, @Hivemaker
Isn't the phrase "concretely observable" objectively subjective?

Jesus H. Christ said...

And then Jesus came upon his disciples and said, "Brethren, what's this shit I've been hearing about me being a human sacrifice for your goddamn sins!!!??

Who in the holy Mother of fuck came up with that Cro-Magnon bullshit!!!!???!

Blood sacrifice!!!!!!!???? Are you all out of your mother fucking minds!!!!!!????"

Listen, brethren, as I tell you something of great importance.

The world is not about to end. That's all bullshit. And when I die, my carcass is going to rot in the ground and be eaten by maggots just like yours are. Dead people don't come back to life, you morons.

So start acting like adults and stop with your goddamn fairy tales about some coming kingdom!!!! You're embarrassing the Holy Fuck out of me!!!!

Oh, and where in the hell is that ass-wipe Judas!? It's his turn to suck my cock and he's no where to be found!!!"


----Jesus Christ, The Gospel of Sane Thought

Greg said...

@reighley,
Isn't the phrase "concretely observable" objectively subjective?

By "concretely" I mean "not abstractly". We know that carbon atoms are integral parts of both cheeseburgers and humans, so we can apply the same scientific conceptual apparatuses to the carbon atom in each case, but we are not "observing" the carbon atom in such a case.

What do you mean by "objectively subjective"?

CCK said...

Hivemaker,

"It turns out the first part of this question has already been answered in exhaustive detail."

That's not the question I'm asking though. *Given* the existence of a living thing, of course we can analyze the chemical processes in which, by its own power of nourishment, it coverts food, air, water, etc., into itself. What I'm asking is how inanimate things could suddenly produce a living being with this self-moving power to begin with. If this question were already answered, we would know how life began in history and would be able to make (or at least know how we might make) new living beings synthetically in the lab.

"I don't doubt that ATites have some very interesting philosophical conclusions to draw about the explanation we've discovered. But I'd caution anyone, regardless of their metaphysics or even antipathy to metaphysics, not to look to philosophy as a first-resort explanation-provider."

I probably wasn't clear in my previous posts, but I'm not doing this either. I'm not asking the philosophical question of life's origins as a "first-resort" explanation in preference to a biological explanation. Obviously the latter is still a big mystery but I'm not assuming that it will never come. What I am asking is what philosophical account the Thomist must hold for *any* biological explanation, whatever that may be. Really I'm appealing to nothing more than the principle of causality: Something can't cause something else if it doesn't have the power to do so. In my comments I've been trying to suss out the following: Assuming evolution, in what class of material thing, and in what sense, must we say this "power" lay dormant before it finally produced in history its effects (the first material souls)?

CCK said...

David,

"It seems to me that even if there is a (particular) 'immaterial' (i.e., not material-in-the-primary-sense-of-the-term) aspect to perception/sensation, perhaps it still makes sense to think that this aspect is supervenient on the material forms by which the sensory (as well as estimative) organs exist as such (as sensory organs) - so that the gradual, 'star'-influenced organization of matter may be sufficient to produce material souls naturally possessing sensory powers. The immateriality of the rational soul, on the other hand, is a subsistent immateriality, and as such must be created, whole-cloth so to speak (in/as the 'image of God'), a power which Thomas argues belongs to the first cause (God) alone."

Thanks for this. I think this is a pretty good explanation for why we must consider the human soul as set apart, so I'll grant that point. The idea of "supervenient" immateriality is still puzzling to me, though, especially when we try to get this from an evolutionary narrative.

Let's say that the power of sensation/perception in the first animal's soul is the first instance in history of supervenient immateriality. Up to that point, then, only the "purely" material had existed. How then could the material cause the immaterial (even if superveniently)? Per the principle of proportionate causality, the effect must be somehow in its cause. You've suggested that what "stellar influence" might be in contemporary terms is potentially tricky, and I agree -- but that's exactly what I'm trying to press. I don't expect you (or anyone here) to solve the biological riddle of how life began. But what kind or class of material thing in the universe could *in principle* have caused the powers of material souls? If the cause is not itself something ensouled, what does [unknown material cause] have in itself that a rock or a plant or all other material things prior to it in history could not do?

Step2 said...

But what kind or class of material thing in the universe could *in principle* have caused the powers of material souls?

Crystal growth seems to be a possible and/or partial answer to your question.

reighley said...

@Greg,

'What do you mean by "objectively subjective"?'

It seemed to me that the phrase "concretely observable" depends heavily on who is doing the observing of what and how. Which is to say that it is subjective.

I also think that this fact is known to all and a feature of the world, and so it (the fact) is objective.

The construction "concretely observable" just struck me as a little odd really. All observation is indirect and based on inference. All observation is underwritten by a theoretical model that we don't normally question. So "concretely" here doesn't really do much work. Honestly neither does "observable", I think @Hivemaker would have been better off just saying "there is no difference". It isn't quite true, of course, but dragging in the subject and the process of observation isn't going to solve anything.

Hivemaker said...

@reighley "I think @Hivemaker would have been better off just saying 'there is no difference'.

It was a very conscious, deliberate decision on my part not to say this, lest I invite the inevitable knee-jerk accusations of "positivism".

Rather, I chose the verbiage with the minimum amount of contested philosophical assumptions necessary to convey my point: an empirically adequate model of an "inanimate" carbon atom functions identically as an empirically adequate model of an "animate" carbon atom. This formulation is both true, and completely agnostic WRT whether "science tells us everything that legitimately counts as knowledge". Everyone should be able to agree to it.

If Thomism says that what is observed to happen can't happen, then Thomism is false, because the article on digestion is true. If Thomism does not say this, then you don't have to be a radical empiricist to legitimately ask, "in what possible, coherent sense of the terms 'account for' or 'explain' does any metaphysics have anything to say about how inanimate matter becomes animate matter, over and above what our best empirical model tells us?"

Greg said...

@reighley,
It seemed to me that the phrase "concretely observable" depends heavily on who is doing the observing of what and how. Which is to say that it is subjective.

Well, I used the term "observable" because Hivemaker used it. And I used "concretely" as opposed to "abstractly." We can view atoms with electron microscopes or conceive of them by way of visual models, but atoms are not actually visible, and both ways of "observing" them abstract away certain elements.

All observation is indirect and based on inference. All observation is underwritten by a theoretical model that we don't normally question.

If you mean that all of our perceptions are part of quasi-scientific theory (like "folk psychology"), then no, that is not a trivial thesis.

Greg said...

@Hivemaker,
an empirically adequate model of an "inanimate" carbon atom functions identically as an empirically adequate model of an "animate" carbon atom.

"Functions identically" in what respect? A carbon atom in an animate body, for instance, stands in a different set of relations with other atoms in the animate body. It may be incorporated into a macromolecule that is specific to humans and not to cows.

Perhaps we can model the carbon atom's valence shells in the same way regardless of whether it's in a human or a cow, but in what sense does it "function identically"?

If I seem to be misunderstanding you, please clarify. The issue may lie in the term "empirically adequate," as I'm not sure what sort of model that would be in the case of a carbon atom in a cheeseburger.

Hivemaker said...

It functions identically in the sense that it outputs identical descriptions of observations. The function of empirical models just is to spit out the most predictions with the least computational overhead. Call a theory empirically adequate to the degree it performs this function and is expected to continue to do so.

(I can't emphasize enough that I am in no way asserting here that empirical theories are the only valid form of explanation.)

An empirical theory is a set of rules (sometimes formal, sometimes informal) for taking a set of initial conditions and deriving consequent conditions at some other time. Of course if you vary the complexity of the initial conditions, the consequent observations will be different! But that doesn't mean the rules i.e. the model is different.

The physics of a roller coaster traveling in a straight line function identically to the physics of that coaster doing crazy complex loop-de-loops -- the context has changed, not the rules. Just as, once you understand how a NAND gate works, you can just look at the circuit diagram and tell how the whole system will behave, whether it is a simple analog oscillator or a giant Cray supercomputer. On the level of empirical explanation, there is nothing further left to be added to "explain" how oscillators come from non-oscillators, or how philosophy-blogger carbon comes from cheeseburger carbon.

You can ask a completely different empirical question, such as "under what conditions did non-earliest lifeform carbon become earliest-lifeform carbon". But 1) this is a different question, with different initial conditions and 2) it remains unclear why anyone with a burning curiosity to answer the question would ask a philosopher instead of asking the folks who build empirical models for a living.

reighley said...

@Greg,

"atoms are not actually visible, and both ways of "observing" them abstract away certain elements."

The thing I said about all observation being indirect amounts to this : what is so special about being visible?

The eye, to, is an instrument.

reighley said...

@Hivemaker,
I think the point @Greg is trying to make is that there is a world of difference between a single carbon atom in free space and one that is involved in any kind of structure.

In particular the NAND gate analogy is pretty weak. Atoms don't have inputs or outputs, and it is not generally true that you can reliably predict the behaviour of a circuit of NAND gates from its diagram. We don't build (on purpose) circuits that do stupid things, but nature has no such scruples.

Scott said...

@reighley:

OT and just FYI -- the "@" symbol indicates that your post is directed at the person whose screen name follows the symbol. You don't need to use it when you're just referring to another poster by name.

Hivemaker said...

@reighley No more than there is a "world of difference" in my roller coaster example. There are more complex conditions inputted to the model, but the rules themselves i.e. the model itself is unchanged. If your model is "x=y^2" there is a "world of difference" in output when you input the same value for y 100 times in a row as opposed to 100 wildly varying values of y. But there is no "world of difference" in the model, which is still "x=y^2".

And of course atoms, like any other system, have inputs. Or, more precisely, our models of them have inputs in the same way as our models of NAND gates have inputs. Once again, it's all about deriving the state of the system at time T+n from the state of the system at time T. To know whether current will come out of the gate my model needs to know whether current went into the gate in a certain configuration. To know whether carbon will form a diamond my model needs to know whether there was other carbon around and the temperature and pressure were a certain amount etc.

As to the assertion that we can't "generally" predict the behavior of a circuit from its diagram, I have no idea why you think that. How do you imagine circuits generally get designed? Trial and error? The circumstances in which one can't predict the behavior of such a system are when we 1) lack sufficient information about initial conditions or 2) lack sufficient processing power to run the calculations on our model. But at the macroscopic level, the behavior of these systems is fully determinate, even if we lack the smarts to, er, determine it.

David Brightly said...

In his second and third paragraphs Ed writes as if the early moderns had the option not to regard colour, etc, as appearance produced in us by matter. Is he claiming that it's a sustainable view that 'secondary qualities like color, sound, odor, etc. as common sense understands them (that is to say, as we “feel” them in conscious awareness) [are] really out there in matter itself'?

Scott said...

@David Brightly:

Yes, at the very least as virtually present in causal powers and potencies. That doesn't, however, exclude their also being "appearance[s] produced in us by matter"; the point is that that's not all they are. The apple that we see really is red, and red is also the way the apple appears to us.

reighley said...

@Hivemaker,
"As to the assertion that we can't "generally" predict the behavior of a circuit from its diagram, I have no idea why you think that. How do you imagine circuits generally get designed? Trial and error?"

First of all, yes trial and error. Electrical engineers usually build one and plug it in before they ship it, it's just sensible practice.

Second, we design diagrams for logic circuits specifically so that they have predictable behaviour. It does not follow that given an arbitrary diagram of a NAND circuit it has a predictable behaviour. Which is to say we make a point of writing down only those diagrams that work, as I said nature is not thus bound.

To convince myself that a diagram did not always have a predictable behaviour I imagined a ring of NAND gates in which the inputs of one were tied to the out puts of its neighbor. NAND gates with the inputs connected to the same place are NOT gates, so each output has the opposite state as the one before it. If there are an even number of gates in the loop (think of two, a good old fashioned flip-flop) then their are two steady states. Maybe that counts as predictable to you, it doesn't to me. What about a loop of an odd number of gates? In that case there is no steady state. Networks of logic gates are taken to be analogous to expressions in boolean algebra and an odd numbered loop is essentially x = ~x , which is a contradiction.

Actually building this what would happen? Well, our design software would probably try to save us from being stupid. But screw the CAD tools, forge ahead! It must depend on how we built our gates. It seems like it might oscillate, but what is its time constant? The diagram does not tell us but all the gates have some small resistance and some small capacitance. If we built it out of relays, in which the transition times involved are very long and the distinction between on and off quite sharp the system would probably do a very different thing than if we made it out of transistors for which the response is very quick and there is a long, more or less linear domain between "on" and "off", in which the transistor is not yet saturated but still lets some current through. In that case I suspect all the of the gates would end up in a "half true, half false" state.

The real answer is "well I don't know", lets build one and see. So anyway, now you should have an idea why I think that.

Anonymous said...

It takes animate matter for digestion to occur.

David Brightly said...

Thanks, Scott. Could you expand a bit on what you mean by The apple that we see really is red? A modern would say that the apple has some property that causes it to appear red to people with normal colour vision, but you would want to go further than this?

David M said...

@Scott:

"Very good; thanks. And now I do know what such an argument would look like!"

You're welcome. I'm not certain that it's either exegetically or metaphysically all there, but at least it's a start.

@CCK:

"How then could the material cause the immaterial (even if superveniently)? Per the principle of proportionate causality, the effect must be somehow in its cause. You've suggested that what "stellar influence" might be in contemporary terms is potentially tricky, and I agree -- but that's exactly what I'm trying to press."

I think you're raising the right issue here, and I think that by 'stellar' influence Thomas does not mean to refer to a merely material causal principle. I believe he is referring to the stars or celestial spheres as animated by intelligences (which in principle, I think, square us with the principle of proportionate causality, although it no doubt raises other questions).

David M said...

@ Hivermaker:
"What is it about A-T's conception of matter that explains how the inanimate can generate the animate, and the non-sentient generate the sentient?"

It turns out the first part of this question has already been answered in exhaustive detail.


I didn't notice any discussion of the A-T conception of matter in the wiki-article on Digestion, so unless I missed something, it turns out that the link to that article was not so apposite as Hivemaker would have led us to believe.

"In one very real sense, humanity is just "cheeseburgers plus time"."

I agree with this claim, except I would change the word "real" to "misleading" (and perhaps add another "very").

Scott said...

@David Brightly:

Yes, I would, just a bit. I'd also say something like the following: that the object of our sensory-perceptual experience is the apple itself (when I look at the apple, what I'm seeing is the apple); that the quale "red" is an abstraction from that object (I'm not seeing "redness," I'm seeing a red apple); and that at least the apple as seen (which, again, just is the apple; my "percept" of the apple is just the means by which I see it) is therefore itself red. The causal account you mention gives us a pretty good idea of how this can be the case.

Greg said...

@Hivemaker,
It functions identically in the sense that it outputs identical descriptions of observations. The function of empirical models just is to spit out the most predictions with the least computational overhead. Call a theory empirically adequate to the degree it performs this function and is expected to continue to do so.
[...]
Of course if you vary the complexity of the initial conditions, the consequent observations will be different! But that doesn't mean the rules i.e. the model is different.


But the point of restricting an empirical model to just a carbon atom is that that is the particular level of description at which the model churns out identical descriptions. At other levels of description (ie. the whole human organism vs. the cheeseburger), there is not an equivalent model. It doesn't seem like CCK originally had any interest in denying that both cheeseburgers and humans are composed in part of carbon atoms which at the atomic level of description are identical.

The physics of a roller coaster traveling in a straight line function identically to the physics of that coaster doing crazy complex loop-de-loops -- the context has changed, not the rules. Just as, once you understand how a NAND gate works, you can just look at the circuit diagram and tell how the whole system will behave, whether it is a simple analog oscillator or a giant Cray supercomputer. On the level of empirical explanation, there is nothing further left to be added to "explain" how oscillators come from non-oscillators, or how philosophy-blogger carbon comes from cheeseburger carbon.

This is an argument from analogy, so naturally it limps, but unfortunately it limps where it needs not to. A roller coaster in a straight line and a roller coaster doing loop-de-loops can be subsumed under the same level of description by a single model (say, Newtonian physics). It doesn't follow that the model is generally applicable. At some point (say, with a particle traveling near the speed of light), Newtonian physics breaks down and ceases to "function identically in the sense that it [ceases to] output identical descriptions of observations."

The same might be said of the NAND gates. NAND gates allow us to abstract away the details of circuits and to, in some sense, "embody" symbolic logic. But take an R-S latch. The behavior of an R-S latch depends on the medium in which the circuit is constructed; the logic of the NAND gates which compose it is not sufficient for determining its behavior, since it depends on other factors (ie. how quickly signals travel through the concrete circuit). It doesn't seem controversial to suggest that there is some medium in which the same model for an R-S latch would not work. So the circuit model may subsume an analog oscillator and a supercomputer, but again it doesn't follow that it explains any computing device.

You can ask a completely different empirical question, such as "under what conditions did non-earliest lifeform carbon become earliest-lifeform carbon". But 1) this is a different question, with different initial conditions and 2) it remains unclear why anyone with a burning curiosity to answer the question would ask a philosopher instead of asking the folks who build empirical models for a living.

It seems like that was more the point of CCK's question, ie. how animate life arose, rather than how a proper constituent of an inanimate object might become a proper constituent of an animate object. (As Anonymous at 8:14 PM points out, there is already animate life in the latter case.)

As to who someone should ask, I don't see why not both. While we're waiting for biologists to find an empirical model of biogenesis, there does not seem to be any need for a moratorium on philosophical discussion.

Greg said...

it doesn't follow that it explains any computing device

My bad, this should be "every" computing device.

David Brightly said...

Scott, I'm with you on not seeing 'redness', at least not in the same way as we see the red apple. But I'm interested in what you call your 'percept' of the apple. Does the percept come and go as you open and close your eyes? Is it red?

CCK said...

Prof. Feser's latest post and the older post on origins he linked to address pretty well some of the questions I've been asking here:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/03/stop-it-youre-killing-me.html
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/04/id-theory-aquinas-and-origin-of-life.html

Would this be a fair summary of the position?

1. For A-T, the fundamental divisions in nature are between the levels of souls: inanimate (no soul) and basic life (vegetative soul), basic life and animal life (sensitive soul), and animal life and human life (rational soul).
2. To each of these classes of ensouled beings belong powers and activities irreducible to those belonging formally to the lower class alone. In order for the lower to generate the higher, the cause(s) of the higher would have to exist in the lower virtually or eminently.
3. While nothing in A-T rules out this possibility in theory (given the right understanding of teleology), to claim virtual or eminent causality in something requires strong empirical backing and should not be inserted as a stop-gap explanation.
4. With regard to human souls, these are spiritual and therefore cannot be explained by material causes. With regard to vegetative and animal souls, the continued lack of evidence for any account of the origins of life or consciousness from the lower levels of materiality that proceed them makes the "present virtually" theory increasingly less probable as time goes on.
5. Therefore, the most reasonable position to hold regarding the development of these material souls in history would be . . . agnosticism about the natural causes? An affirmation of divine intervention (wherein God steps in at various stages to augment nature -- like the "days" of Genesis)? At the very least the narrative of a gradual and uninterrupted evolutionary history from the first organism to just before man -- when the spiritual soul comes in -- would be problematic, right?

David M said...

@CCK:
Sounds about right to me. A few comments:

"3. ...to claim virtual or eminent causality in something requires strong empirical backing"

...or just "empirical backing" - that is, I'm not sure what to make of an implied distinction between 'strong' and 'weak' empirical backing here.

"4. With regard to human souls, these are spiritual and therefore cannot be explained by material causes. With regard to vegetative and animal souls, the continued lack of evidence for any account of the [omit?] origins of life or consciousness from the lower levels of materiality that precede them makes the "present virtually" theory increasingly less probable as time goes on."

"5. Therefore, the most reasonable position to hold regarding the development of these material souls in history would be . . . agnosticism about the natural causes? An affirmation of divine [or angelic?] intervention (wherein God [or an angelic intelligence?] steps in at various stages to augment nature -- like the "days" of Genesis)? At the very least the narrative of a gradual and uninterrupted evolutionary history from the first organism to just before man -- when the spiritual soul comes in -- would be problematic, right?"

..."uninterrupted evolutionary history": meaning that all of the 'seeds' of every material form (and every kind of soul) have been present in the material world from the first moment of creation?

On this, while I take Feser's point that no one still accepts Thomas' view that spontaneous generation (e.g., maggots in cheese) is anything like a routine event, it remains true that Thomas thought that 'stellar influence' is an entirely metaphysically possible causal mechanism for explaining the generation of living things from non-living matter. So I wonder whether the belief specifically in spontaneous generation is somehow crucial to providing the motivation for positing the possibility of such influence. (I can't see how it is.) So I wonder if (1) and (2) should both still be considered equally live options:

ST I.65.4 ad 2: "Forms received into matter [or which are participated in matter] are to be referred [or are traceable], not to self-subsisting forms of the same type, as the Platonists held, but either (1) to intelligible forms of the angelic intellect, from which they proceed by movement, or, (2) still higher, to the types in the Divine intellect, by which the seeds of forms are implanted in created things, that they may be able to be brought by movement into act."

David M said...

...I guess the passage seems to suppose that angelic intelligences are *not* responsible for implanting the seeds of forms in created things (that only the Divine intellect is causative in this way), but I don't understand what the grounds for this supposition are.

Scott said...

@David Brightly:

"I'm interested in what you call your 'percept' of the apple. Does the percept come and go as you open and close your eyes?"

I suppose my "percept" of the apple probably comes and goes according to whether I am or am not actively perceiving the apple, so yes, it seems that it should go away when I close my eyes or turn my head away.

"Is it red?"

I don't think the "percept" itself is red; the apple is. The "percept" isn't what I perceive but that by which I perceive (whatever that really is).

But both of those statements are extremely tentative, and I'm aware in making them that I'm departing in some respects from both Aristotle's and Aquinas's accounts of sensory perception. (At the very least, I'm not identifying the "percept" with a mental image or "phantasm." I'm not denying that we have mental images, but I don't think perception is just the having of a mental image.)

By the way, this subject is also of interest for another current thread, where some of us have been trying to work out whether (among other things) sensory perception can "arise" or "emerge" from matter alone. It seems that in sensory perception, we receive the form of what we're perceiving without actually becoming it, so sensory perception appears to be partly immaterial (so says Ralph McInerny). But it's also possible to argue (as does e.g. Mortimer Adler) that sensory perception is entirely material. Obviously the resolution of that question will have some bearing on whether the "sensitive soul" can be a product of purely material evolution.

Scott said...

Oh, wait, that's not another thread, it's this one. [facepalm]

David Brightly said...

Hi Scott,

Can I change the sensory modality for a minute? Think of two grades of sandpaper, a coarse and a fine. We agree, I hope, that these are objective properties of the sandpaper, something to do with the sizes of the grains, that make the two grades more or less useful for different purposes? Now consider the sensations of roughness and smoothness we get by running our fingertips over the papers. Are these sensations also in the papers themselves, or are they in us as percepts that tell us something about the papers. Or both, perhaps?

Scott said...

Hmm, I think I'd have to say that the sensations are "in us" but that, as distinguishable features of our perceptual experience, they also tell us something about the sandpaper.

I also wouldn't say, though, that a sensation by itself is a "percept." A feeling of roughness is just that—a feeling. A "percept" is that by which we perceive; we don't perceive percepts themselves. Whatever precise role sensation plays in perception, our merely having a sensation doesn't mean that we're taking some real object to be before us. Something more is involved in our taking that feeling of roughness to indicate the physical presence of a piece of sandpaper.

Scott said...

And an afterthought: In another sense, the feeling of roughness is "in" the sandpaper at least virtually, because the sandpaper has the power to cause that feeling. In fact that's in some way part of what grounds our taking the feeling to tell us something about the sandpaper.

David Brightly said...

Scott, I'd certainly agree that the sandpaper has the power to cause a feeling of roughness. Is saying 'the feeling of roughness is in the sandpaper virtually' equivalent to the former?

Returning to colours, here is a case where 'objective colour', colour in the objects, seems to part company with 'subjective colour', colour in sensation.

Scott said...

"Scott, I'd certainly agree that the sandpaper has the power to cause a feeling of roughness. Is saying 'the feeling of roughness is in the sandpaper virtually' equivalent to the former?"

That's my understanding, yes.

"Returning to colours, here is a case where 'objective colour', colour in the objects, seems to part company with 'subjective colour', colour in sensation."

That's one of my favorite optical illusions, but I don't think it shows what some think it does.

If we were seeing a real checkerboard under the ambient light conditions simulated by that image, the two squares in question really would be different colors, and we'd be right to see them that way. (The real illusion in that image is that there's a three-dimensional, ordinarily-lit checkerboard there at all.)

So what I suspect this illusion really illustrates is that we should distinguish, along more or less the lines I've suggested, between the sensation of a color and the perception of a colored object. Even if our sensations of the colors of those two squares are the same (which I think is arguable), our perception of the squares as being two different colors would under ordinary circumstances be correct.

David Brightly said...

Could we also say that there is a power in us to feel the roughness in the sandpaper? The causal account does not lie wholly with the sandpaper, as it were.

I think the problem is to explain how, if colour is a genuine property of surfaces that we sense, it happens that the two regions A and B seemingly with the same property are sensed with distinct properties.

Scott said...

"Could we also say that there is a power in us to feel the roughness in the sandpaper? The causal account does not lie wholly with the sandpaper, as it were."

That seems right to me. I'd add that on an Aristotelian account of causation, the feeling of roughness isn't "in" us in the same sense in which it's "in" the sandpaper, though I'm not at this point trying to articulate the difference.

"I think the problem is to explain how, if colour is a genuine property of surfaces that we sense, it happens that the two regions A and B seemingly with the same property are sensed with distinct properties."

I agree. And I think that in general, though I don't have a thorough or detailed account to offer, the answer must be that one and the same object has causal powers to produce a range of "color sensations," but not all of these are equally indicative of what we might want to call its "real" color (presumably the color it appears to have under some set of standard conditions).

In whatever way this idea is cashed out (or replaced by a better alternative), it seems to me that what we can't do is flatly deny that the object has the causal power to produce color experiences at all, which to my mind would be to deny that it's in any way intrinsically "colored." I think I'd rather say, if it turns out to be necessary, that the object has more than one color than that it has none.

Scott said...

Also, I think we'd want to account for the fact that depending on conditions and context, one and the same surface property can give rise to two different perceptual experiences ("dark square" and "light square"). I suppose this is ultimately an empirical question having to do with the human sensory organs and brain, and how (by nature or nurture) our sensory apparatus interprets colors as indicative of mind-independent surface properties. At a very general and superficial level, this is the sort of thing I had in mind in distinguishing sensation from perception in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Hi all,

Just wondered if anyone would be prepared to share their thoughts on this:

http://www.simulation-argument.com/simulation.html

sorry it's slightly OT, but thought it was interesting, though false in its materialistic assumptions. And whether it in fact AT LEAST establishes the proposition that we are almost certainly living in a simulation.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: it was interesting, though false in its materialistic assumptions. And whether it in fact AT LEAST establishes the proposition that we are almost certainly living in a simulation.

I agree that Bostrom's scenario is really interesting; it's false because computers can't think, ergo we are not simulations... but if you're a materialist you can't appeal to an immaterial intellect, in which case there is no reason we might not be simulated. And though you could never actually know whether you were in a simulation or not, you could never be justified in assuming that you were probably at the top, "real" level: unless you can show that there could be no such simulations (or maybe at most one), then there are more possible simulations than realities, so the odds are against it. (Well, you couldn't disprove simulations without dropping materialism, anyway. Though maybe that's a good way to lead people into a more Aristotelian way of thinking... cf. the topic that has come up before of parallels between A-T and O-O programming.)

I'm surprised that this presentation doesn't get more attention — or maybe I'm not, because the conclusion that Intelligent Design doesn't even need to be argued for because it could never be disproved and is probabilistically true from the start is perhaps not that appealing to materialists for some reason.

Anonymous said...

Mr Green,

Thanks for replying. you write:

"computers can't think, ergo we are not simulations"

yes, you're correct that computers cant think (hey ask any programmer, even a recent novice like myself); but I wasn't aware that Bostrom was arguing even implicitly that this was the case. I thought the key problem with the argument was its assumption that thought is ultimately a material process which can be "run" on anything sophisticated enough- ie computationalism.

Quick question (clearly I'm a novice in more than one area): is computationalism a subset of functionalism? I'm pretty sure, but I could use some clarification.

Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Also, while I think of it, is it possible to prove that the external world as revealed to us by our senses actually exists? Or are we doomed forever to assume it, with Descartes' arguments for indirect realism proving irrefutable?

Thanks. It's a question that I've wondered about for a long time now.

Scott said...

"[I]is computationalism a subset of functionalism?"

It's sometimes been taken as one, but here's a dissenting view.

Scott said...

"yes, you're correct that computers cant think . . . but I wasn't aware that Bostrom was arguing even implicitly that this was the case."

I'm sure what Mr. Green has in mind is something more like this: computers can't think; therefore beings who are simulated by computers can't think; we can think; therefore we're not such beings.

It's true that Bostrom isn't arguing that computers can think, but in regarding it as possible for us to be computer-simulated beings, he's assuming it's possible for computer-simulated beings to think. That seems to be at least roughly equivalent to what you identify as the key problem with his argument, so I think you and Mr. Green are saying pretty much the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Scott,

Thanks for the help. Any chance you know anything about my second question? if not, no worries.

Can I just take the opportunity to thank you for your contributions to threads. In this regard, you are most like to Feser, who is erudite and concise (at least when he isn't ranting) without lacking depth; you give explanations that are possible for practically anyone to understand.

David Brightly said...

Hi Scott,

Does talk of 'real colour' make sense? I have a common form of colour blindness. The long wavelength receptor pigment in my retinas is not as sensitive as most people's. I have trouble seeing the red in pinks and purples and can discriminate fewer shades than normal folk. Suppose everyone to be like me. Would that mean there were fewer real colours? And then, if the now normal allele were to appear would that make more real colours? Humans are trichromats, but some bird species (and other non-mammals) are tetrachromats. Does this affect the number of real colours?

You say, and I agree, ..it seems to me that what we can't do is flatly deny that the object has the causal power to produce color experiences at all, which to my mind would be to deny that it's in any way intrinsically "colored." Abbreviating a little: has no causal power to ... --> is not intrinsically coloured. Ergo, is intrinsically coloured --> has causal power to ... Are we entitled to say that 'intrinsically coloured' means any more than just the latter?

An aporia: On a cloudless day the sky is blue. Colour is an intrinsic property of (the surfaces of) objects. But the sky is not an object and there is no surface in the sky to be blue.

David Brightly said...

Just spotted this: and how our sensory apparatus interprets colors as indicative of mind-independent surface properties. Beware: Homuncularism is contagious :-)

Scott said...

@Anonymous:

Thanks for your very kind remarks.

"[I]s it possible to prove that the external world as revealed to us by our senses actually exists?"

Well, there's sure as hell something happening, and I can tell by introspection that I'm not deliberately or consciously causing most of it. ;-)

In all seriousness I think that's sufficient to ground a belief in a world in some sense "external" to me, although the precise sense is yet to be determined. I also think that we can rationally conclude that our experiences must have some sufficient cause.

(And if that's not good enough: I can at least prove to my own satisfaction that there's a world "external" to you, because (a) I exist, and (b) I'm "external" to you. That proof may not be as persuasive to you, though, because for you it's step (a) that's at issue . . . )

@David Brightly:

"Suppose everyone to be like me. Would that mean there were fewer real colours?"

That's a good question. I'd be inclined to say, I think, that there would not in fact be fewer colors; it would still be the case that objects had the causal powers to bring about those sensations if the right sorts of being existed, although we wouldn't have any way to know that in the absence of such beings (just as there might in fact be colors that certain hypothetical beings would experience if they were able, say, to see far into the ultraviolet range). But I'm not sure about that.

"Are we entitled to say that 'intrinsically coloured' means any more than just the latter?"

That's a good question too, and I don't know the answer. What do you think?

"Beware: Homuncularism is contagious :-)"

Heh. True, but all I mean is that there seems to be some more or less automatic process by which our sensory apparatus (including not only the "sensory" organs but our brains as well) provides some sort of foundation for our perceptual experience, and that there's some sense in which we actively take a sensation as telling us something (or not) about a perceptual object. I don't mean to imply that there's a homunculus in there, separate from ourselves, doing the interpreting.

Scott said...

Oh, and as for your aporia:

"On a cloudless day the sky is blue. Colour is an intrinsic property of (the surfaces of) objects. But the sky is not an object and there is no surface in the sky to be blue."

That's true, but there are still physical things "out there" that have the causal power to produce that color-sensation. And there's a bit of equivocation[?] in the second statement: perhaps not all color-sensations are caused by the surface properties of objects.

Alternatively, we might say that the color blue really is a surface property of the very large number (or very complex arrangement) of physical objects that we really mean when refer to the sky even though "the sky" is not itself such an object.

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

"[U]nless you can show that there could be no such simulations (or maybe at most one), then there are more possible simulations than realities, so the odds are against it."

Especially once we take into account the possibility that the simulations themselves include further lower-level simulations. Even if there are only a small number of possible first-level simulations at the next-to-top level, there could be infinitely many altogether if there could be simulations-within-simulations without limit, and the odds of our being at the top level would be effectively zero.

(We might expect the number of simulation levels to bottom out somewhere owing to physical limitations on computing, but if we might ourselves be in a simulation, how would we know those physical limitations applied at the top level?)

David Brightly said...

Hello Scott, and thanks for engaging with this. I began with the thought that Ed's way of presenting the early modern take on secondary properties makes this seem a perverse move leading directly to the qualia problem and dualism. If only they had possessed the sense to stick with the pre-modern conception of matter, Ed sighs, we would not have suffered all this trouble! But this is just to ignore the problems Descartes etc found in pre-modern ideas. And subsequent investigations have hardly diminished these difficulties.

Regarding 'real colours', it would seem that the powers in the objects remain constant while the powers in sentient creatures can change, and the checkerboard illusion suggests it's the latter that do the greater 'causal work'.

Newton would have said there are indeed physical things out there that have the appropriate powers---they are the corpuscles of light itself.

Scott said...

@David Brightly:

Thank you as well. It's a fascinating subject and one to which I haven't had occasion to give any sustained attention for some years.

I must say that I think Ed is right to at least the following extent: Descartes and Locke landed us in some trouble when they effectively ascribed secondary qualities only and exclusively to sensing subjects and denied that they provided any real knowledge of external objects or were "in" those objects in any way (even "virtually"). I'd probably lay some of the blame at the feet of their concept of causation rather than just that of matter, but the former obviously affects the latter.

I also don't think Ed is claiming that a return to a pre-modern account would simply solve every problem associated with sensation and qualia. The real point, I take it, is that the modern account renders the solution of such problems impossible in principle rather than merely difficult in practice.

David Brightly said...

To the extent that the early moderns swing to the opposite pole from their predecessors I'd have to part company with them too. The fragment of analysis we have done here points towards a shared contribution between object and subject.

I would say that the modern account pushes all the bump of incomprehension into one salient place in the carpet. The pre-modern system spreads the bump out evenly so it can't be seen.

DavidM said...

@David Brightly:

"Suppose everyone to be like me. Would that mean there were fewer real colours?"

I feel inclined to say yes, fewer 'real colours': that is, fewer colours that are actually distinguished by us, since in relation to the concept of multiplicity, I don't see what other sense the notion of 'real colours' could have. (Colour is not primitively defined by reference to a specific spectrum of wavelengths/frequencies of EM radiation, but rather the 'colour spectrum' will refer to whatever range we can sense using our visual organs.) At the same time, it seems obvious enough that there is no such thing as the actual number of 'real colours' - obviously there will be some arbitrary conventionality involved in any such counting of the discrete kinds of a continuous spectrum of quality.

As for Ed ignoring problems Descartes found, could you be more specific about what you are referring to?

Scott said...

@DavidM:

"I feel inclined to say yes, fewer 'real colours': that is, fewer colours that are actually distinguished by us, since in relation to the concept of multiplicity, I don't see what other sense the notion of 'real colours' could have."

Well, it could mean colors that would be distinguished by beings with the right sort of sensory apparatus given the real existence of objects with the causal powers to produce the relevant sorts of sensory experience in such beings. But in that extreme case those colors would exist only virtually, in the causal powers of the objects, and so we might not want to say they were "real."

At the other extreme, though, I'm not sure I'm persuaded either. Suppose that at some moment in the history of the universe, no one was actually distinguishing some precise shade of red. Would that mean it was in no sense "real"? That somehow seems mistaken as well.

I think part of the problem here is the term "real," which in this context seems deucedly hard to apply unequivocally. On the one hand I'm inclined to think that all "possible" colors (along with their necessary relations to one another) subsist in the Divine Intellect and are thus "real" in some (quasi-)Platonic sense; on the other, I'm inclined to think that if nothing in the physical universe could possibly give rise to an experience of a color, then the color is not "real" in some other, more Aristotelian sense. And there seems to be a lot of room in between.

Mr. Green said...

Scott: I'm sure what Mr. Green has in mind is something more like this: computers can't think; therefore beings who are simulated by computers can't think; we can think; therefore we're not such beings.

Yup.

Of course, the way Bostrom phrases his conclusion that we almost certainly won't become 'posthumans who run ancestor-simulations, unless we are currently living in a simulation' still follows if it is already completely certain that we won't run such simulations because they are impossible.... Interestingly, you can run almost the same argument more soundly by supposing that "we" are real persons, but living in a simulated environment. In other words, even if you resort to accepting immaterial intellects but not God, there's still no way to argue that the world as we experience it was not designed.

We might expect the number of simulation levels to bottom out somewhere owing to physical limitations on computing, but if we might ourselves be in a simulation, how would we know those physical limitations applied at the top level?

Exactly. Dennett made that mistake claiming that computers weren't (yet) capable of simulating the world we experience around us... which is a bit like Super Mario protesting that he couldn't possibly be a computer character because it's physically impossible to build an eight-bit video game out of bricks and frowny mushrooms!

Mr. Green said...

David Brightly: But this is just to ignore the problems Descartes etc found in pre-modern ideas. And subsequent investigations have hardly diminished these difficulties.

I think it's more that the problems are not where they are commonly alleged to have been. It's not as though introducing problems about qualities and dualism actually ended up making any scientific or philosophical issues more tractable (other than in an eliminative sense).

Regarding 'real colours', it would seem that the powers in the objects remain constant while the powers in sentient creatures can change, and the checkerboard illusion suggests it's the latter that do the greater 'causal work'.

The illusion seems to me to be a matter of interpretation (as Scott mentioned earlier). We can understand what we're seeing better by being able to compensate for variations in light and shadow, and it's interesting from a psychological or neurological standpoint as to the different stages in this process, but I don't think we should read much back into the metaphysical aspect of the colours themselves.

DavidM: I feel inclined to say yes, fewer 'real colours': that is, fewer colours that are actually distinguished by us, since in relation to the concept of multiplicity, I don't see what other sense the notion of 'real colours' could have.

I'd think it just means that there is such a quality, whether any person or creature actually can see it. It doesn't seem strange to me to say that some animals can see colours that we cannot see — presumably animals are actually perceiving visually when they see colours that we can also see, so why would it be different when they (apparently) see things we cannot? And from there, I extrapolate to the possibility of colours that no creature ever sees (although one might argue that it would be pointless for God to create unseeable colours, but I don't think that's compelling).

David M said...

Scott: "At the other extreme, though, I'm not sure I'm persuaded either. Suppose that at some moment in the history of the universe, no one was actually distinguishing some precise shade of red. Would that mean it was in no sense "real"? That somehow seems mistaken as well."

Is this problem not answered by your initial proposal: it may be virtually real? In any case, it is also real in the actual colored thing, but my contention is that it is not identified as such, as a countable shade of color, in the actual colored thing. I.e., the enumeration of shades of color is a res rationis, and is not essential to the reality of the colored thing itself, or the sensing of it.

Mr. Green: "...I extrapolate to the possibility of colours that no creature ever sees..."

Well I take it that 'colour' is properly defined as the proper object of 'visual' sensory organs. I don't think there is any absolute definition of 'colour' as such, independently of the standard perceptual capacities of some actual colour-sensing organs (which are part of some colour-sensing organism).

Scott said...

@David M:

"Is this problem not answered by your initial proposal: it may be virtually real?"

Well, I think it is, but I wasn't sure you did, in view of what looked like your identification of "real colors" with "colors that are actually distinguished by us."

But your further explanation on that point settles my misgivings on that score. I think we're fine as long we distinguish—as you seem to be distinguishing—between, on the one hand, a color as a sensory quale (which can be in something "virtually") and, on the other, a color as identified as part of a spectrum or ordering scheme by a rational mind (which is a being of reason only). It's the latter you had in mind in saying that general color-blindness would mean fewer "real colors," yes?

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

"I'd think it just means that there is such a quality, whether any person or creature actually can see it."

That's my view as well, but I think both of us are thinking of sensory qualia rather than (like David M) of colors as enumerated in a conceptual scheme.

I think I'd be a bit more ontologically profligate than David M in one respect, though. He writes: I take it that 'colour' is properly defined as the proper object of 'visual' sensory organs. I don't think there is any absolute definition of 'colour' as such, independently of the standard perceptual capacities of some actual colour-sensing organs (which are part of some colour-sensing organism).

I certainly agree that colors, and sensory qualia generally, are best understood as the objects of certain sorts of sensory organs (possessed, by implication, by substances with sensitive souls). But I don't think I'd require the organs actually to exist, just to be in some way possible.

I'm comfortable, that is, with the possibility that there might[!] be qualia that no one will ever in fact have the organs to sense and yet that are virtually present in certain objects (even though we can never know it), so that the right sort of organ would see them if such an organ existed—in somewhat the same way that (in my view) a rock would still have the causal power to shatter glass even in a universe with no glass in it.

David M said...

@Scott:
"Well, I think it is, but I wasn't sure you did, in view of what looked like your identification of "real colors" with "colors that are actually distinguished by us.""

Well I did specify 'real colors' in relation to the concept of multiplicity...

"I certainly agree that colors, and sensory qualia generally, are best understood as the objects of certain sorts of sensory organs (possessed, by implication, by substances with sensitive souls). But I don't think I'd require the organs actually to exist, just to be in some way possible."

My understanding is that 'qualia' refers to intrinsically mental phenomena, and as such are different from sensibles, i.e., the actual objects (things-sensed) of the senses. So actual qualia do not exist apart from actual acts of sensation.

Regarding 'sensible qualities' which are never actually 'sensible' (since no organ will ever actually be able to sense them), that somehow smacks of contradiction to my mind. You might say, "there could have been more sensible qualities than there actually are," but I don't think you should say that such qualities are 'real' (or 'really sensible') or exist any more than you would say that about unicorns.

David M said...

that is: "...but I don't think you should say that such hypothetical qualities are 'real' (or 'really sensible') or exist..."

Scott said...

@David M:

"So actual qualia do not exist apart from actual acts of sensation."

Right, actual qualia don't, but virtual qualia do, in the causal powers of the things that have the power to cause them (just as heat exists virtually in a match that has the power to cause fire even if no one ever in fact lights it).

"You might say, 'there could have been more sensible qualities than there actually are,' but I don't think you should say that such qualities are 'real' (or 'really sensible') or exist any more than you would say that about unicorns."

The objects that existed in the universe before there were any eyes to see them still had the causal power to produce color-qualia in the experiences of beings who did have eyes; we know that because, once there were eyes, they did so. Likewise, there could be other causal powers to produce other qualia in the experiences of beings who have other sensory organs, even if no such organs in fact exist or ever in fact even come into existence. For that matter, perhaps there's a specific color that no one has in fact ever seen or ever in fact will see, but there's an object somewhere that would appear that color to someone who looked at it.

I would say in all of those cases that there are qualia that exist virtually in the objects capable of causing them (under the right conditions), while agreeing with you that they were not in fact actualized. In the latter sense, I concur, they would not be "real." I would also say, with you, that there could have been more sensible qualities than there actually are, but I'd add that some of them existed not "actually" but virtually.

And please note that this is different from a Platonic they-subsist-in-the-Divine-Intellect approach. I think that's true as well, but that would still be the case even if nothing in the universe had any causal powers to produce color-qualia at all. I'm speaking here of a universe in which there are such causal powers even if (some of) the qualia are never in fact actualized. In that sense, those qualia, though virtual, are more real than unicorns.[*]

It could also be that there are in the Divine Intellect colors for the production of which our universe does not include any causal powers. In that case I'd say that there could have been more sensible qualities than there actually are—and indeed even more than there virtually are.

----

[*] More real, that is, on the unstated assumption that the universe doesn't have any thus-far-unexercised causal power to produce unicorns!

David M said...

@Scott:

"The objects that existed in the universe before there were any eyes to see them still had the causal power to produce color-qualia in the experiences of beings who did have eyes; we know that because, once there were eyes, they did so."

Right. But supposing there never were any eyes? Then it would only have been a logical possibility that they might have produced color-qualia. But if we are to speak of the real powers of created things, then those powers must not reside wholly in counter-factual possibilities. We are only justified in speaking of real powers by reference to some actual exercise thereof. Act is (absolutely) prior to potency. Potencies have no being independently of act. And a created potency can't be grounded as 'real' (except by equivocation) by reference to the pure actuality of the creator.

David M said...

to clarify: "...by reference to (counterfactual possibilities inherent only within) the pure actuality of the creator (as opposed to the actual created order)."

Scott said...

@David M:

"But supposing there never were any eyes? Then it would only have been a logical possibility that they might have produced color-qualia."

I see your point but I think the causal powers in question are more firmly grounded than that. A rock that never in fact breaks a window still has a causal power to do so; a bit of thin glass is still fragile even if it's the only object in the universe; a gun still has the causal power to kill even if everybody is already dead. In each case the causal power seems to involve more than a hypothetical or conditional fact even if its actual exercise is only a logical possibility. I'm inclined to say likewise of the power to produce sensory qualia.

At the very least I'd say that even in a universe with no eyes in it, there's a significant difference between an object that would look red if there were eyes and an object that would look blue (and for that matter an object that would have no color at all), and that this difference is grounded in the respective causal powers they already have. It would seem wrong, I think, to say that they simply have no powers to produce such qualia at all.

David Brightly said...

Gentlemen, Forgive me but it looks to me as if you have conceded a great deal to the modern view. I read Ed's remark as saying that the traditional view was that 'secondary qualities like color, sound, odor, etc. as common sense understands them (that is to say, as we “feel” them in conscious awareness) really [are] out there in matter itself.' And this is explained as the form of the perceived thing informing the soul of the subject so that the self-same properties of the object are also in the subject. A London bus really is red and our senses are such as to bring us to direct awareness of this redness. But you now appear to be happy to contemplate and distinguish between actual qualia (ie, transient sensations) and virtual qualia (powers to produce the former). Surely you have lost the battle by conceding qualia? Shouldn't you rather reject talk of sensation altogether and talk only of knowledge of properties? For isn't that the common sense view: the bus really is red and the so-called 'sensation' is our awareness of it? Further, any theory that grants even the possibility of unseeable colours, unhearable sounds, odourless smells, textureless feels, etc, when these terms are understood in Ed's common-sense way, seems to have gone badly off the rails. Shouldn't these be metaphysical impossibilities?

David M said...

@Scott: "a gun still has the causal power to kill even if everybody is already dead"

Do you think, then, that guns have the causal power to shoot unicorns or dinosaurs? Say you walk in the gun store and the guy tells you, "Buy this one, it's special: with it you have the power to hunt unicorns." I'd tell him that until such time as unicorns exist, a gun can't possibly have the power to kill unicorns.

@DB: There is nothing anti-common sense about recognizing the difference between sensible and sensation. This distinction is thoroughly Aristotelian.

Scott said...

@David M:

"Do you think, then, that guns have the causal power to shoot unicorns or dinosaurs?"

I think they have causal powers sufficient to shoot unicorns if there were any, just as I think they have the causal power to shoot even if they're never in fact fired.

Or to put it the other way around, I don't think the inherent causal powers of guns change every time a new species—or even an individual animal—comes into existence. If I don't have a dog, do guns lack the causal power to kill my dog and then suddenly acquire it when I get one?

"I'd tell him that until such time as unicorns exist, a gun can't possibly have the power to kill unicorns."

I'd tell him that there aren't any unicorns, but accept his word that if there were any, the gun in question could kill them with no change to its present causal powers.

Scott said...

On the other hand, I also don't think unicorns exist virtually in guns just because guns have the power to shoot them if there are any; the gun just has the power to shoot, period. So that's arguably a disanalogy with the case of color.

As for color specifically, though, I think that if we deny that objects have the causal power to appear colored to observers even when there are no observers, then we're also denying that the objects are "really" colored.

David Brightly said...

Hi David, Please don't think that I'm claiming that the view you and Scott are developing is contrary to common sense. What I think I am claiming is that it cannot be the same view as the pre-modern picture from which Ed says that the modern diverges. For Ed claims that the pre-modern picture of matter, which he labels as common-sense, has the great advantage of escaping the slide towards dualism and immaterial qualia by virtue of its greater conceptual richness compared with the modern, and it's not clear to me how your view avoids this slide. To admit qualia is to step on the slope, I think. Ed has claimed this advantage in several posts, and I guess I am hoping that he or a commenter will explain how it comes about.

Scott said...

I don't think qualia pose any particular risk as long as we don't try to use them to argue for representationalism (or slide toward representationalism accidentally) by saying that the qualia themselves are the objects of our perception.

When we see a red ball, the object of our perception is the ball itself, even if a red quale is one of the means by which we perceive it. As I said a while back, the apple really is red, and "red" is also (part of) the way the apple appears to us.

I also don't see any reason why admitting qualia at all would commit us to their immateriality. On Feser's view, at least, if I understand him correctly, sensory qualia are entirely material in the A-T sense of that word.

Incidentally, for more on Feser's view of the place of the mind in the natural world (though having more to do with intellect than with sensory perception), see here.

Scott said...

I also don't see how a pre-modern, common-sense view of perception could escape (some version of) qualia anyway. Surely such a view would have to be able to accommodate such common-sensical statements as The apple looks brown in this light, but it's really red. (Of course that brings us back to the question of what it means to be "really" red, but that's another issue.)

So in the end I don't see qualia as any sort of threat to the advantages Feser claims for a pre-modern account of perception. Those advantages, again, are primarily that what we perceive is the object itself and not just some internal representation of it, and correspondingly that the object itself is in some sense really (e.g.) colored (and in general mind-directed in at least some suitable causal sense).

Whatever remains to be worked out in this account (and of course there's a lot), it really is a genuine alternative to the modern view and the problems associated with it, not the first step on a slippery slope back to it.

DavidM said...

@Scott:

"I think they have causal powers sufficient to shoot unicorns if there were any, just as I think they have the causal power to shoot even if they're never in fact fired."

It would be hard to deny either of those propositions.

"Or to put it the other way around, I don't think the inherent causal powers of guns change every time a new species—or even an individual animal—comes into existence."

Indeed.

"If I don't have a dog, do guns lack the causal power to kill my dog and then suddenly acquire it when I get one?"

Yes, they do. The (very specific) 'causal power to kill Scott's dog' is not a 'causal power' that is purely inherent to any gun. (It is a causal power that is extrinsically dependent on the existence of your dog.)

"I'd tell him that there aren't any unicorns, but accept his word that if there were any, the gun in question could kill them with no change to its present causal powers."

I also would accept as probable that if unicorns existed they could be killed by guns.

"On the other hand, I also don't think unicorns exist virtually in guns just because guns have the power to shoot them if there are any; the gun just has the power to shoot, period."

Agreed.

"So that's arguably a disanalogy with the case of color. - As for color specifically, though, I think that if we deny that objects have the causal power to appear colored to observers even when there are no observers, then we're also denying that the objects are "really" colored."

Hmm... So would you say that to be colored just means to have the causal power to appear colored to observers? IOW, colors have the causal power to appear colored to things which have the power to see colors? But in this case, which things actually are colored will be a matter of whichever things the things with the power to see colors are actually able to see (as colors).

Scott said...

@DavidM:

"Hmm... So would you say that to be colored just means to have the causal power to appear colored to observers?"

No, I wouldn't say that it just means that.

Let me unpack my statement a bit. I said this: I think that if we deny that objects have the causal power to appear colored to observers even when there are no observers, then we're also denying that the objects are "really" colored.

What I mean by this is not that being colored just is the power to appear colored to an observer. I mean that even in the absence of observers, an object has whatever inherent causal powers it has, and if these are such that it would appear colored to an observer if there were one, then some color is (at least) virtually present in those causal powers, even when no observers exist.

Let's return for a moment to something Mr. Green said earlier. I take it as read that God knows all possible colors (they subsist in the Divine Intellect) and could make an object that "has" any of those colors. If He makes an object that "has" color X, then—whatever "having" a color really consists of, internally to the object—that object "has" color X even if there's no one to observe it. No matter what we mean by "having" a color, this object really has color X, and therefore has the power to appear to be color X to a hypothetical observer.

I'm saying, then, that I think to deny that the object has any causal power to appear as color X to a hypothetical observer if no such observer exists is also to deny that it really "has" color X, whatever that turns out to mean.

That's a bit clumsy but I hope it's clear enough to explain my point.

Scott said...

In short, if there genuinely is such a thing as really having a color, it seems to me that it should be something intrinsic to a colored object and not just a relational property that vanishes when the other relatum happens not to exist.