Earlier this month I gave a talk on “The Immateriality of the Intellect” at a conference on neuroscience and the soul held at the Angelicum in Rome. Video of the talk has now been posted at YouTube.
Links to other recent talks of mine can be found at my main website.
Links to other recent talks of mine can be found at my main website.
Parallelism is the view that the mind is immaterial in both the usual and the accounting sense.ReplyDelete
Wow that invitation to Rome sounds cool.ReplyDelete
Did you get to visit the Vatican?
By the way Ed, what do you think of Daniel De Haan's work? He seems to be unique in how he applies Thomistic philosophy to specific neuroscience issues. I don't know of anyone else in the current Thomist tradition that does thatReplyDelete
Speaking of De Haan, are there any plans to upload the other talks from the conference to youtube?ReplyDelete
Daniel De Haan has a talk on the Thomistic Institute site. We overlapped by a year in undergrad, and he was an impressive thinker back then.Delete
Yes... They will all be up in the next few days!Delete
Here it is:Delete
In order to adjudicate the issue with any authority in the first place, we must supervise all factors in a factor-immune way, including being immune to physical influences themselves. So that's already a transcension of the physical. So to be able to decide the issue already itself transcends matter. Hence mind is already by nature necessarily immaterial in necessarily functioning as an authoritative vantage point of judging and knowing.ReplyDelete
In fact, to deny the immateriality of mind is to assume it in the assumptions behind that denial itself as well as any matter-transcending high-horse arguments for it.
A year ago I wrote two posts, titled,
"The craniopagus twins from British Columbia: A test case for Thomistic dualism" (at http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/the-craniopagus-twins-from-british-columbia-a-test-case-for-thomistic-dualism/ ) and
"Craniopagus twins revisited: A response to Professor Egnor"
(at http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/craniopagus-twins-revisited-a-response-to-professor-egnor/ ).
I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter. I'd also like to hear what Daniel De Haan thinks, if anyone can get in touch.
Thank you for your input. Please see my response below.
“So if they can actually read each other’s thoughts, a Thomistic dualist would be unable to explain this surprising ability.”
I disagree. Although the shared mental images do not determine the conceptual content of each thought, they do provide the matter from which conceptual content can be abstracted. Essentially, this is a very exotic form of speech. Theoretically, it would be possible for the two twins to misunderstand each other (as people often do in speech). However, considering that they live extremely closely knit lives, it seems it would be very rare that they ever would misunderstand each other. Many people have had a friend or a family member who can finish your (conceptual) thoughts.
The fact that they “talk” in their heads implies that they are sharing either literal auditory or visual images of sentences or some other type of material content. They do not seem to be sharing propositional content. A Thomist would concede that it is hypothetically possible for an entire network of people to efficiently share mental images (like the Borg from Star Trek). While this shared content would not be determinate, it would easily be made determinate by a constant influx of mental images. For example, you may easily misunderstand a passage in Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, but imagine if you read Aquinas entire corpus align with that Aristotle, Augustine, the Church Fathers, and numerous Thomistic commentators. In that case it would be much easier to assign the correct propositional content to the material you receive from Aquinas.
For this reason, I find a major flaw in your proposed experiment. If the girls are allowed to share mental images, then it would be fairly easy to determine why they affirmed the proposition. For example, Krista could mentally (even if not verbally) ask “Why do you think angels are real?” To which Tatiana could mentally respond “Because the Bible says so.” But while that would give Krista the answer, it would not tell her if by “angels” Tatiana meant immaterial intellects, floating cherubs, the baseball team, or some other idea. To know that, Krista would have to ask for additional material from Tatiana to abstract from and draw a comparison.
Here is an alternate proposed experiment.
Provide Tatiana and Krista with a separate list of items. These items will be homographs that are materially the same, but differ in propositional content.
For example, Tatiana’s list would read:
TRIANGLE (three-sided figure)
TRIANGLE (a written word)
TRIANGLE (a spoken word)
TRIANGLE (Japanese pop band)
Tatiana will mentally “speak” a word to Krista by a controlled means (only visually share the letters TRIANGLE, for example) and assign a propositional content to the word. If Krista can consistently guess the propositional content of the word, and it can be certain that there is no cheating, then you can say Thomistic Dualism is refuted.
On the other hand, if either of them can recall a time where one understood something that the other did not (in any situation), that would leave Thomistic Dualism on the table. For example, “Mrs. Hogan, can you recount some instances where you were helping Krista and Tatiana with homework, and one easily understood while the other did not? Do they excel in different subjects or have different interests?” Personally, asking this of the mother would be my first choice because it is a simple question that treats them more like human beings than laboratory equipment. I am not saying you are suggesting they should be treated as such, but I could see how a sensitive (and rightfully so) mother could take offense to proposed experimentation on her daughters.
Finally, the fact that they have distinct wills implies to me that they have distinct propositional content. For how could they disagree on what to do if the goodness (and therefore the content) of the thing to be done was universally agreed upon? That could possibly be explained in some instances that are heavily dependent on material goods (such as eating versus going to the bathroom), but it does not seem like that could always be explained (especially in cases where the desire is of a very abstract nature, for example, to take one elective class over another).
Ironically, a few typos I made probably further illustrate my point. You probably were not thrown off by my saying, “...but imagine if you read Aquinas entire corpus align with that Aristotle, Augustine...”Delete
You probably took “align” to mean “along” without skipping a beat. That certainly illustrates how the determinacy of material content is dubious at best.
Not to mention the possibility of telepathy and immaterial communication. Even if Krista and Tatiana could guess what the propositional content of the various instances of "TRIANGLE" was supposed to be, that could just as well either be an instance where two intellects are so closely knit to each other that they habitually share propositional content, or where any additional propositional content to the word also requires forming mental imagery, which both share.
For example, to entertain "TRIANGLE" as a Japanese pop band would require mental imagery in the form of something visual or auditory. One of the girls would get images in her head of a bunch of pop-singers as a visual aid, or would entertain the auditory image of "pop band". Even if the girls attempted to shut out any further thinking on a certain proposition so as to not let the other know, the heavy dependence of the intellect on the senses would make it more likely than not that the other girl would know about the correct meaning too.
And even after all this there is still the obvious fact that the girls have two distinct minds. One of them could entertain the notion of triangularity in her intellect while the other could focus on squareness instead - otherwise there would be only one mind and thus only one person.
That fact alone tells us that they do not share unitary propositions like they do mental images.
Then there's the fact that the immateriality of propositions is something that can be demonstrated independently, meaning that whatever goes on inside the brain of these two girls, it's not anything Thomists should worry about.
Well yes that is why I said you would have to be certain that there is no cheating, which would be very difficult to do. It depends on how intimately united their qualia are.Delete
I think your point that they can both simultaneously entertain completely separate propositional content illustrates that they have distinct intellects. Could one human intellect simultaneously have two completely different conversations or read two completely different books? I would think not.
Quote:"Could one human intellect simultaneously have two completely different conversations or read two completely different books? "
Well, bilocation COULD in fact make such a thing possible. Given the intellect's immateriality, it could theoretically act and take in multiple things at the same time. But that may or may not require God's help to sustain, depending on whether or not such a thing could ever be a natural ability of the intellect or not.
Quote:"Well yes that is why I said you would have to be certain that there is no cheating, which would be very difficult to do. It depends on how intimately united their qualia are."
Well, any proposition requires a material representation to be understood by the intellect. This includes additional meanings added to "triangle" such as that it's a Japanese pop band rather than a three-sided geometrical figure.
If Tatiana mentally speaks the word "triangle" to Krista, and Krista knows that it's about a Japanese pop band, how would she know the precise meaning?
By mental imagery? This could be the case, especially since it's impossible to entertain a proposition without some material aid, so "triangle" understood as a Japanese band would have to include material mental images of "Japanese" or "band" in some way. But Tatiana is here supposed to hide any additional mental imagery that would hint at the meaning of the word. The only allowed mental image shared with Krista is supposed to be the word "triangle".
So if Krista somehow knew exactly what the "triangle" was supposed to be, how would she know it? Without any material image to help, she would basically have to guess. It's essentially the same as me speaking the word "triangle" to you and asking you to tell me what it means.
If there is no material image of any sort that indicated the meaning to her, then the only explanation would be that the meaning was communicated to her by immaterial means. We would basically have proof of telepathy then.
The only other option is to say that the additional propositional meaning is a material thing somehow present in the word "triangle". But that is impossible because we obviously know the word is indeterminate on it's own - the meaning is not to be identified with anything material.
Hi Scott Lynch and JoeD,Delete
Thank you both for your responses. Scott, you acknowledge that "the shared mental images do not determine the conceptual content of each thought," but then you suggest that Krista could mentally (even if not verbally) ask “Why do you think angels are real?” Are you suggesting that Krista could mentally transmit the words "Why ... do ... you ... think ... angels ... are ... real?" to Tatiana, inside her head, and that Tatiana would then hear them? Because if that's what you're suggesting, then what you're really saying is that shared sounds - namely, the sound of each word as Krista thinks it in her head - enable the twins to share their thoughts.
Personally, I'm doubtful that we actually think in words, most of the time. But let's say you're right. Then in that case, it becomes impossible in principle to design an experiment that would invalidate Thomistic dualism. A Thomist could explain the twins' ability to share any thought, however abstract it may be, simply by suggesting that what the twins are really sharing is the sounds of the words comprising that thought.
And I notice that JoeD has done precisely that, in relation to your proposed experiment. JoeD writes:
"For example, to entertain 'TRIANGLE' as a Japanese pop band would require mental imagery in the form of something visual or auditory. One of the girls would get images in her head of a bunch of pop-singers as a visual aid, or would entertain the auditory image of 'pop band'."
In other words, the Thomistic version of dualism appears to be scientifically unfalsifiable. That's a very big drawback, for any proposed solution to what's popularly known as the mind-body problem.
Having said that, I liked the experiment you proposed, Scott. I actually think it might yield interesting results.
Both of you seem to be setting the evidential bar too low, when evaluating the evidence for Thomism. JoeD thinks that the fact that the girls have two distinct minds shows that "they do not share unitary propositions like they do mental images," but it's not as simple as that. As I explained in my article, they don't share a single brain, but only part of their brains. Thus even a materialist could explain why one girl can have thoughts which the other girl doesn't.
The same goes for Scott's argument that the girls have distinct wills: a materialist could explain that, too, in the same way.
Scott, re your question, “Mrs. Hogan, can you recount some instances where you were helping Krista and Tatiana with homework, and one easily understood while the other did not?", I'd want to ask a follow-up question: "Was the one who easily understood able to make the other understand, without speaking aloud?
Hi Scott Lynch and JoeD,Delete
Finally, here's an interesting article by the philosopher Peter Carruthers which I just came across:
Carruthers argues that we are conscious of whatever we see, hear, smell, taste or touch, and we are also conscious of our mental images (such as inner speech or visual memory), but that we are not conscious of "nonsensory mental attitudes, such as judgments, decisions, intentions and goals." These, declares Carruthers, "are amodal, abstract events, meaning that they are not sensory experiences and are not tied to sensory experiences." For instance, they are not stored in our working memory. Carruthers holds that we only become aware of our thoughts INDIRECTLY, by hearing the words we say in our heads, or seeing the images that we visualize when we SUBCONSCIOUSLY think these thoughts. In other words, the inner workings of our minds are not transparent to us after all: we have to INFER them. Our impression that we know our own thoughts directly is an ILLUSION. However, Carruthers still thinks we're rational and free; it's just that we're not conscious of our thoughts when we reason. As he puts it, "my access to your mind, when I listen to you speak, is not different in any fundamental way from my access to my own mind when I am aware of my own inner speech." There's experimental evidence for his theory, too: "if introspection were fundamentally different from reading the minds of others, one would expect there to be disorders in which only one capacity was damaged but not the other." But this is not what we find. Damaging one capacity invariably damages the other.
After pondering Carruthers' new view, I'm inclined to think he's right, disturbing as his hypothesis might be. The mere fact that we're often not sure HOW we think (in images? in words? neither of the above?) ought to tell us something.
What's your take on Carruthers' proposal, Scott and JoeD? In a way, Carruthers comes across sounding rather Thomistic, as he carefully distinguishes thoughts from mental imagery.
I am sorry, I do not really have time to read the article, but I can make a few comments based off of your outline and replies.
If the Thomistic Dualistic thesis is not easily falsifiable (experimentally, at least), so much the worse for other theses. The Thomist has independent philosophical reasons for his commitment to dualism. If those reasons (such as the quaddition argument) are refuted philosophically, then Thomistic dualism has no leg to stand on, otherwise, you must accept the soundness of the argument. It is no good to say that it is inconvenient that the arguments are not experimentally falsifiable (and many other philosophical ideas such as the Law of Non-Contradiction are not empirically falsifiable either).
It is not the Thomist’s fault that mental images do not count as propositional content. It is not as if the Thomist is using that fact to come up with a scapegoat. Rather, the Thomist argues from this very evident fact for the immateriality of the intellect. In fact, I think the reasons for accepting the Thomistic position are thoroughly grounded in common sense and sound philosophy. Since matter corresponds to potency, anything changeable, such as a mental image, is bound to be considered as material. And since matter is by nature indeterminate (on the hylemorphist account), any material entity (such as a mental image) will be also indeterminate. And therefore we would not expect to require the immaterial soul to explain such entities or their communication. Thus Krista and Tatiana’s situation can be explained without reference to Divine or Angelic Illumination. (JoeD calls it telepathy, but I would consider transfer of mental images to be telepathy while transfer of concepts would be illumination).
You may be doubtful that we think in words most of the time. That may be the case for you, but I think in words nearly 100% of the time even when doing mathematics. For example, when looking at an equation that has dx/dt in it, it is very useful for me to say (mentally) “the change in x with respect to t” even though sometimes I can simply say “dx over dt”, or “dx dt”, or simply not say anything at all. But all of these mental images have the same propositional content. So if I can represent the same proposition with a myriad of different mental images and I can assign a myriad of different concepts to the same mental images (as in the case of TRIANGLE), why should I think that the two are equivalent?
JoeD said that any mental image of TRIANGLE will probably have additional mental imagery to correspond to the propositional content in question. That is no doubt likely (which is why this would be a difficult experiment to conduct), but it is not necessary. Since no amount of material can be determinate, no matter how much you add, you should be able to assign a proposition with any amount of material because it is your active intellect, not the matter itself, that is making the concept determinate.
For these reasons, I think Carruthers’ statements are ridiculous. I have direct access to my mind because I say so. I can determine the contents of my own thoughts (unless you are trying to say I may really be doing quaddition instead of addition). By contrast, I cannot determine the meaning of your words because I do not have direct access to the propositional content of your thoughts. This is the major problem with Sola Scriptura (and probably explains the existence of thousands of Christian denominations). The indeterminacy of communicated matter is even a problem in the Catholic Church in trying to determine the content of Papal Statements, etc. But at least with a living Church, you can narrow in on the propositional content by asking specific Yes-No questions that are much less ambiguous. This will make it much easier to infer the correct propositional content, but it is important to know that the content is always inferred and never determined.
My question to you (and Carruthers) is this: If we are not even conscious of our own conceptual thoughts (that is the propositional content of our thoughts), how can we make any logical arguments? For don’t all sound arguments require understanding the propositional content of each statement and affirming the objective truth of their content? This would include any argument to deny the determinacy of thought or claim that our conceptual knowledge is illusory.
You ask: "If we are not even conscious of our own conceptual thoughts (that is the propositional content of our thoughts), how can we make any logical arguments?"
Might I remind you of what I wrote above:
"Carruthers holds that we only become aware of our thoughts INDIRECTLY, by hearing the words we say in our heads, or seeing the images that we visualize when we SUBCONSCIOUSLY think these thoughts."
I see no reason why our indirect awareness of our own thoughts should prevent us from making rational arguments, so long as our knowledge of our own thoughts is reasonably reliable.
Here is why it prevents us from doing so:Delete
Any time we have a thought, say, 2 + 2 = 4, we then hear ourselves in our head saying “2 + 2 = 4” (or maybe we see the numbers). Then we have to think to ourselves, “Okay, what does that mean? Does it mean (say) addition or quaddition?” Well how do we determine one or the other? We have to appeal to more mental images and try to interpret those. If we cannot directly assign propositional content to those mental images (which would entail being conscious of them), we will have an infinite regress (unless you suggest that somehow propositional content is linked to mental images, which we have disproven). I don’t see how being indirectly aware of our own concepts can mean anything other than us not having an active intellect or admitting that mental images do in fact contain propositional content. The first option negates all use of reason, and the second option is manifestly false.
Of course, if your requirement for “consciousness” is undergoing a sensory or imaginative perception, then we are not “conscious” of our own concepts, but only in a trivial sense. We still directly understand them.
Well, if one decides to think of the Japanese pop band when thinking of "triangle", one will no doubt have to use mental images that clarify the additional propositional content.
Japanese and pop-band are the two key terms. Their propositional content can be further explained using further explanation which requires further mental images.
Eventually one reaches a level where the meaning of a word is founded upon it's association with a thing.
The regular meaning of "triangle" is an example of this, where the word is associated with a particular geometrical object.
The association of "triangle" and actual triangles comes about by naming, which is where the arguments about how intentionality develops begin - with materialists saying that it began as a natural function of living beings who associated natural signs with accidental things, while others disagree and would say that matter cannot have any association intrinsically and so cannot be a cause of intentionality.
The regular meaning of "triangle" is an example of this, where the word is associated with a particular geometrical object.Delete
No, the meaning is associated with general triangle-ness, not particulars. That is, it is not in virtue of my experiencing this particular triangle that is red, scalene, having one side length 3, and weighing in at 7 ounces, at 71 degrees F, that the meaning of "triangle" is understood by the intellect.
While the naming comes about after the experiences of several particular triangles
being sensed, the naming comes about in virtue of the mind grasping a something that is not particular in the particular experiences of the several particular triangles as material things. Animals also experiences the triangles, but don't name them. It is because we have a process of abstraction by which the intellect apprehends a universal present in the particular that we can say "triangle" of the red one and the green one, the large one and the small one, the scalene one and the isosceles one, which is what it means to "name" something but not as a proper noun, instead as a common noun. If names were wholly derived from materiality, and there were no "content" but materiality, they could only be proper names - and, indeed, humans would not engage in naming any more than the animals do.
These, declares Carruthers, "are amodal, abstract events, meaning that they are not sensory experiences and are not tied to sensory experiences." For instance, they are not stored in our working memory. Carruthers holds that we only become aware of our thoughts INDIRECTLY, by hearing the words we say in our heads, or seeing the images that we visualize when we SUBCONSCIOUSLY think these thoughts. In other words, the inner workings of our minds are not transparent to us after all: we have to INFER them.ReplyDelete
It does not follow from the fact that we are very aware of our sensory experiences (and our internal acts of similar type, such as imaginings and phantasms), that our awareness of our thoughts must be via inference from them. There is no good reason for demanding such a conclusion. In reality, since we are capable of intentionally distinguishing between the phantasm we construct of a triangle (red, scalene) when we say the word, and the concept of “triangle” we hold when we say the word, (we can acknowledge that it does not belong to “triangle” as such that it be red nor scalene), it is apparent that the concept is known not by inference from the phantasm. We have to be aware of the concept distinctly from the knowing of the phantasm in order to be able to distinguish them.
Other mental acts are still less attributable to inference from sensory input. When we assert the validity of the “BARBARA” syllogism form, and contrast it to an invalid form, (such as (1) “all A are B; (2) all A are C; (3) Therefore all B are C”) the awareness that the former is valid and the latter is invalid cannot possibly be laid at the door of sensory input as such. Certainly the mental imagery involved in saying the terms above (whether aloud or interiorly) cannot completely control the assignment of “validity” to one and “invalidity” to the other.
At least one mistake Carruthers is making is the mistake in noting that intellectual activity happens only when internal imagery (including sounds) happens leading to the conclusion that the latter determines the former and thus controls it completely. There is no foundation for such an assertion. That we employ mental imagery when we perform intellection does not imply that mental imagery completely informs the intellectual content. Just looking at it logically, it is at a minimum possible that the causality goes the other way: that the intellectual activity is what controls the phantasms. (It is also possible that neither the one nor the other is always and completely in domination over the other.) But in any case, it makes no sense to say that our AWARENESS of “validity” in the Barbara syllogism and of “invalidity” in the false syllogism is inferred from the phantasms involved in thinking the thoughts. The phantasms cannot provide the content for “valid” and “invalid” and certainly could not do so with the reliability we grant to true inference - nor could the phantasms be responsible for the internal assurance we hold for the conclusions. (Not to mention the problem with how we would be “aware” of such inferences as distinct from the phantasms from which we infer them: isn't "inference" going to have to be inferred?)
No, it is far more reasonable to allow that we have direct awareness of thought, even if thought often coincides with interior or exterior sensory experience such as words.
(I would also suggest being hesitant about asserting that intellection ALWAYS happens with appropriate sensible experience. Mystical experience (especially, mystical union with God as St. Teresa of Avila describes it) is a case where Godbypasses the normal modes in which the human mind thinks, and infuses experience without reference to anything sensible - indeed, the senses (including the interior ones like imagination) just get in the way. It is one of the reasons this kind of experience is NEVER adequately describable in detail to another.)
Quote:"We have to be aware of the concept distinctly from the knowing of the phantasm in order to be able to distinguish them. "
But we still only know and are aware of the concept via the phantasm, even though we can distinguish them.
But we still only know and are aware of the concept via the phantasm, even though we can distinguish them.ReplyDelete
Joe, your terminology is ambiguous and confusing (at least to me, if not to others). While it is usually the case that at the moment we think a concept, we also have a phantasm in the imagination, it does not follow that the we are "thinking the concept via imagining the phantasm" in a specific, causal way, i.e. where it is the imagining the phantasm that is responsible for thinking the concept.
To be more general, though, it is NOT TRUE that we never think the concept except via "the phantasm". When we discover a brand new universal, a brand new kind, a brand new principle, the awareness of the new concept comes before the naming of the concept. When a child realizes that it is NOT true that all animals are dogs, and some are this other kind of thing that has 4 legs and tail, but are sinous and quiet rather than bouncy and noisy, and he needs a name for this new kind of thing, he does not think the concept in virtue of imagining the name, quite the opposite.
That's a naming of a kind of material things, so maybe you will think the material things themselves are the predecessor. But what if the "thing" being named from recognizing it as a new kind or principle is not material? What about when Aristotle names "distributive justice" as a kind distinct from "commutative justice" - there is no material example of which the senses have an example. There are, in mathematics, scads of abstract entities, and abstract principles that are named: the "commutative property" is named but not because there are instances of "commutatives" running around that are objects of senses.
My second objection is that while we usually think a concept in association with imagining a phantasm, it is by no means necessary that we use the SAME phantasm to think the same concept, each time. A person might think the concept "triangle" and, at various times in his life, imagine an equilateral triangle, or a scalene triangle, or a green one, or a clear one, or merely the sound of the spoken word "triangle" or the visual cue of the written word "triangle" in English, or in Greek. All of these can be the image used at various times by the same person in thinking the same thought, "triangle. Hence it is apparent that the concept is not thought in its full intentionality in virtue of the image associated with any one instance of thinking it. Hence not every aspect of thinking the thought is given "via" the image, nor in virtue of the image. Being aware of that aspect that is distinct from what is present in virtue of the image is not directly through the image - at most, it can only be said to be indirectly through the image.
I would propose a correction to Scott: we don't "think in words" so much as we "think in concepts" and "employ words to express the concepts". The words - the sensible manifestations - never capture every aspect of what is intended in the conceptual content.
I would agree with your correction (and the rest of what you said). We do typically think in concepts and express it through the most convenient material means (which for most people I think is auditory mental images). I would maybe concede that small children can potentially genuinely “think” in words via mental images only, especially when their “thoughts” are triggered by physical stimuli and are not expressing genuine concepts. I feel like this may be the case when my son first started saying “triangle”. But before long, conceptualization predominates human thought. I have never heard a fully worked out development of a Thomistic Dualist account of learning starting from the “tabula rasa”. Do you have any suggestions as to any authors on this specific subject?
Dr. De Haan's talk is up, for those interested (others will be up in the near future):ReplyDelete
Hi Scott, Tony and JoeD,ReplyDelete
I've been reading your responses, and I'd like to make a few brief comments.
Re the addition/quaddition case: suppose (purely for argument's sake) that scientists did a psychological experiment on the Hogan twins, and it turned out that when Krista entertained one of these two concepts, Tatiana could reliably discern which one Krista was thinking about, would you then accept that Thomistic dualism was falsified?
The reason why I'm asking is that you seem to be at variance on this issue. On the one hand, Scott insists that the mental images and inner words we employ when we entertain a concept do NOT determine the concept in question. On the other hand, JoeD writes:
"Well, if one decides to think of the Japanese pop band when thinking of 'triangle', one will no doubt have to use mental images that clarify the additional propositional content...
Eventually one reaches a level where the meaning of a word is founded upon its association with a thing."
For his part, Carruthers maintains that "nonsensory mental attitudes, such as judgments, decisions, intentions and goals... are amodal, abstract events, meaning that they are not sensory experiences and are not tied to sensory experiences." While this passage clearly implies that concepts are distinct from sensory images and inner words, it leaves open the question of whether two distinct concepts could employ identical imagery and inner words. Re "plus" and "quus": it seems obvious to me that the latter concept is always associated with an image of "57," while the former is not. The sensory content of the image may vary from person to person, but it will still be there. Thus two people will employ different phantasms when thinking of "plus" and "quus," but nobody will employ identical phantasms for both concepts.
Scott maintains that each of us determines the contents of our own thoughts - otherwise we could never be sure if we were doing quaddition instead of addition. I've already argued that the imagery is different in these cases, but I would ask: how do you account for the empirical finding that people who have difficulty interpreting the thoughts of others also turn out to lack self-awareness, and vice versa, suggesting that there's a single mind-reading mechanism underlying both?
Tony argues that sensory imagery cannot account for our ability to grasp the validity of the “BARBARA” syllogism form, and contrast it with an invalid form. But in fact we can use sensory imagery to illustrate this fact, and most of us do in fact employ mental visualization when trying to figure out is a syllogism is valid or not:
Anyway, I'm not trying to be dogmatic. I'm just tossing these ideas around, because I'm still trying to sort out the issues for myself.
A merry Christmas to you all. Cheers.
I think that JoeD, Tony, and I are all saying essentially the same thing, although we may be having different emphases.
I would agree with the statement by JoeD.
"Eventually one reaches a level where the meaning of a word is founded upon its association with a thing."
I do disagree that a person always and in every instance has to use additional mental imagery to specify the conceptual content of a word, even though this is often what happens. Furthermore, SOME sensory or imaginative input is, under normal circumstances, necessary for conceptualization. But this is simply because of the Aristotelian principle that “Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses.” Because of this principle, we should expect it to be necessary for some matter to be present during any conceptual thought. This matter does not determine the concept, but it does provide something for the intellect to abstract from or apply a concept to.
“...it leaves open the question of whether two distinct concepts could employ identical imagery and inner words. Re "plus" and "quus": it seems obvious to me that the latter concept is always associated with an image of "57," while the former is not. The sensory content of the image may vary from person to person, but it will still be there. Thus two people will employ different phantasms when thinking of "plus" and "quus," but nobody will employ identical phantasms for both concepts.”
I disagree. I do not think of the number “57” every time I hear the word quus. Although I at least have the word quus (as opposed to plus) as a means of distinction. But to use my “dx/dt” example. When I am talking about “dx/dt”, the mental imagery I employ is so similar (if not identical) regardless of whether I am talking about vastly different concepts (such as rate of change versus the letters “dx/dt”) that the only person that could possibly distinguish the concepts (based on the material) would be me. Now you can argue that deep down in my subconscious, I am really experiencing mental images of graphs and equations of derivatives and such, but I feel like the speed at which our intellects work and our general lack of need for ultra-specific mental images is evidence against this. You could also argue that the context of a general conversation will determine the content of our concepts, but I feel like that merely pushes the problem back a stage (to interpreting the conceptual content of the context of a conversation about a particular concept).
I think the main problem for materialism is this: material entities have no meaning or truth value. Material entities (such as sense perceptions and mental images) just are what they are. It makes no sense to say that my recollection that a^2 + b^2 = c^2 (Pythagorean Theorem) is “true” or “false”. It is merely a pattern of neurons firing in my brain some time after a similar pattern of neurons fired in my brain on account of a certain set of photons hitting my optic nerve on account of those photons bouncing off of paper and ink blots that look like a^2 + b^2 = c^2. A similar story could be told for every time I have experienced the words “true” and “false”. Without an immaterial intellect to abstract and apply those universal concepts from and to material entities (words, mental images, etc.), it does not seem clear how we can know any truth at all, much less syllogize and make arguments. As Dr. Feser has reiterated, this applies to the materialist’s arguments for materialism as much as it applies to anything else. It seems that the best the materialist could do is say that certain mental images (due to neural firing patterns) correlate in some way with certain real features of the world. But it seems that the best we could ever achieve with this is some type of inductive reasoning (if we ignore the problem of trying to interpret “correlation” in terms of mental images and such). This does not give us the deductive universal reasoning that we often employ in philosophy, logic, and mathematics.
So how do we account for true universal knowledge (the kind we need to establish materialism) on the materialist account? I would be interested to hear a worked out hypothesis.
And a Merry Christmas to you! I sincerely enjoy your thoughtful and sober-minded critiques.
I do not understand Dr. Feser's answer to the first question. He claims that the intellect is intimately tied to the brain; that our intellect needs the assistance of the brain. Hence we wouldn't be able to think when in a disembodied state.ReplyDelete
I'm unclear as to how this conclusion is reached. I do not believe the mind-body correlations establish any such thing. To use a quick analogy. When a man is in a house, in order to see the sky the house has to have windows, the windows need to be clean, the curtains open etc. So the house needs to be in a certain state in order to make it possible for the man to see the sky. However, the house plays no role in *creating* the man's vision. After all, the man can simply go outside and have a unrestricted view of the sky.
So it needs to be established that the mind-brain relationship is unlike this analogy; that the brain somehow plays a crucial role in actually *creating* our ability to think, not merely either allowing or suppressing such an ability.
His argument appears to be parasitic on the notion that psi (telepathy etc) doesn't exist -- hence we need our bodies to sense anything. I think though this is question-begging. In order to have a disembodied existence it seems to me that we all have to have a psi ability, but the brain suppresses this faculty in a comparable manner to how the state of the house might suppress the man's ability to see the sky. He provides no reasons for supposing the non-existence of psi and the rejection of it runs counter to the collective experience of humankind across virtually all cultures and throughout history as well as the parapsychological research. Indeed, the outright rejection of any psi or or other "supernatural" aspects of reality appear to be more or less an aberration of modern western culture.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but your analogy is about sight - seeing out windows - not thought. Dr. Feser is obviously talking about thought. I don't see how the analogy can be stretched to make sense of thought myself. You could have thoughts even if you had no percepts at all. Why would "psi" have anything to do with what he's talking about?ReplyDelete
Do you have an analogy that isn't based on perception?
As I say in my post, I don't understand how one can conclude that brain somehow plays a crucial role in actually *creating* our ability to think. What is the argument that establishes this?Delete
If psi doesn't exist, then we need our bodies to sense anything. So that appears to make his position somewhat more plausible. But we simply have no reason to disbelieve in the existence of psi.
Just to clarify. Even though one's vision might be intrinsic to the "soul", you have no problem in supposing the state of one's brain and eyes can negatively impact one's vision so that one's vision might be perfect in the out-of-body state?Delete
But you're saying that a similar scenario cannot apply to thought? That is, if brain states negatively affect our ability to think, then thought cannot be intrinsic to the soul and the brain therefore must *create* thoughts?
If that is your position, then I do not understand how you (and almost everyone else - materialists, Thomists etc) reaches this conclusion.
His argument appears to be parasitic on the notion that psi (telepathy etc) doesn't exist -- hence we need our bodies to sense anything. I think though this is question-begging. In order to have a disembodied existence it seems to me that we all have to have a psi ability, but the brain suppresses this facultyDelete
It is not at all clear that the mind can function if the person never had ANY sensible percepts of any sort whatsoever. If All forms of sensation and other outside phenomena were blocked. According to Aristotle-Thomas, the process by which ideas are first generated requires some percepts on which the intellect operates. There is no scientific body of evidence examining the matter to disprove it.
While Feser may seem to merely assume there is no psi faculty, merely assuming there IS such a faculty is no better as an argument. The "collective experience" of humanity remains undecided on the issue. But EVEN IF THERE IS such a faculty (or several of them, as seems more probable), these could then be nothing more than additional pathways for percepts to become fodder for the intellect to operate upon to function. It would not establish that the intellect can operate without having first such material from external sources upon which to operate.
Feser never says here, and states quite explicitly elsewhere, that it is not intrinsically impossible for the human intellect to operate without the brain: Catholic teaching is quite clear that the saints, who are dead and who do not have the use of a brain, are able to function by God's intervention. We don't have to be able to explain in detail how it is that God intervenes, it is enough to note that somehow God supplies for the lack that exists because the intellect then has no brain to use for its standard mode of operating.
But the standard mode of operating consists in the intellect conceiving a thought while the imagination holds a phantasm that "helps" to conceive that thought. The phantasm may be like a visual image (a picture) of the thing, or a sound or any sensible, or any conglomerate of them. Under A-T philosophy, the activity of imagining that phantasm takes a faculty that is similar in many fundamentals to sense, since its product is like to sense experience, and therefore is presumed to subsist in a physical organ like senses do: most probably, the brain. The standard A-T thesis, though, is that while the intellect uses the faculty of forming phantasms, its product (concepts, propositions, arguments) is distinct and cannot be the product of a purely material organ.
If the brain's functioning normally in presenting phantasms is the standard, normal way in which we use the intellect, then any impediment to such brain function could result in being an impediment to thinking as well ... though not an ABSOLUTE impediment (as my comment above makes clear.)
Lots wrong with this.Delete
First of all you're shifting the burden of proof as people tend to do. If people make an assertion that an afterlife (in the sense of a disembodied self inhabiting some afterlife realm) is impossible, then it is no defence of that position to say that I haven't proved that there *is* an afterlife.
Secondly, in an afterlife realm, one would have "percepts", why would you assume otherwise? What do you think we would experience? A black nothingness? If so, that's question begging.
Thirdly, I do not *assume* the existence of psi. Rather I *infer* its existence since it has been experienced virtually throughout history and across all cultures, and I too have experienced it on rare occasions.
I can't really make any sense of your paragraph about "phantasms". Not sure what a "phantasm" is and why a brain is necessary for its existence?
Let's get back to fundamentals. I am genuinely interested if someone can produce arguments showing a disembodied self cannot think. Thus far I'm just not getting it. It still seems to me like arguing that windows are essential for seeing the sky. How does it differ from that argument? Maybe because you subscribe to the A-T metaphysics, where as I am kinda sympathetic to something like subjective idealism, so we're talking past each other?
I've written a blog post about whether we can be sure there is no afterlife (in the sense of a self "inhabiting" some afterlife realm) http://ian-wardell.blogspot.com/2018/11/can-we-really-be-so-certain-theres-no.html
If you could point out anything I'm not getting that would be good. I'm not being funny about this. I think there's probably an afterlife in the sense of a soul in an afterlife realm; oh yes, and reincarnation. But I'm far from 100% sure. So any thoughts that people could give are welcome.