06 Dec 2012

An Example of Wishy-Washy Dualism versus Hardcore Scientific Materialism

Philosophy 89 Comments

In the comments of my post on materialism, Ken B. lives up to the stereotypical materialist better than anyone could have hoped. Among his other claims, he said that dualism offers not a single testable prediction, whereas materialism is falsifiable. (If I misread him, I will retract these statements, but I’m pretty sure that’s what he said.) So I first asked Ken to tell me what kind of evidence would convince him that materialism is wrong.

Think about that for a second. Right now, just about everybody agrees that the materialist approach doesn’t offer a satisfactory explanation for consciousness and free will, in the same way that reductive materialism has “explained” thunder and lightning in terms of more basic physical properties. Furthermore, as the Feser’s discussion of Nagel suggested, there is a very compelling reason to think that even in principle reductive materialism can’t be applied to conscious experience, since some of us at least think by its very nature, conscious experience isn’t a physical thing. For example, when you “explain” the color red by reference to photons, you’re not saying that the photons are red. Instead you’re replacing what we mean by “red” with something else. There is a definite sense in which this very approach might not work when it comes to conscious experience.

So, whether you find what I just said compelling or not, my point is this: If this current state of affairs–where materialists haven’t yet come up with a satisfactory theory of consciousness/mind, and there are philosophical arguments held by many brilliant thinkers that suggest in principle it can never be done–isn’t sufficient to make one abandon materialism, then what would? It would be ironic if the hardcore “scientific minds” out there, are adhering to a non-falsifiable worldview that they adopt because it just suits their prejudices more than dualism does.

As far as predictive power, I said this:

OK Ken, I predict that if the attorney general of New York moves his vocal chords to create sound waves that correspond to the frequencies that you would hear as “we will fine gas station retailers $10,000 if they charge above $2/gallon,” then within 24 hours there will be large masses of organic material in hulking objects that are powered by combustion engines queuing up near certain latitude/longitude coordinates that I will specify beforehand. These are genuine, falsifiable predictions I will make for you. I am thinking you can’t come up with the same thing by relying on neuroscience.
Oh wait, this is cheating. You don’t mean this kind of thing, because “we all know” about this stuff. You’re talking about seeing an electric signal telling my hand to twitch before I realize I am trying to give you the finger. That’s what “mind” is all about.

89 Responses to “An Example of Wishy-Washy Dualism versus Hardcore Scientific Materialism”

  1. joeftansey says:

    If you guys defined what “exists” meant, a lot of the disagreements would probably resolve.

    • Ken B says:

      Spoilsport!
      Let’s start with mind. I think mind exists, like I think blood circulation exists, like I think rainstorms exist, like I think Harvard exists I think you need mind and mental states; I am not a Skinnerian.
      I don’t believe mind exists apart from the operation of brains (or computers). (I am not wedded to the brain being meat but so far I think we only have meat examples. ) I believe that mind is a term we use to describe an aspect of brains and their functioning. I agree with that noted dimwit Francis Crick in other words. Reductionsim does not deny the phennomenn it reduces.
      Consider harvard. If i show you the studdeents studying, the TAs teaching, the buildings, the provosts meeting, the billing office busy, the tenured profs asleep, etc and then you say “But I wanted to see Harvard” I think you’re making a category mistake (Credit to Gilbert Ryle). If that’s Bob’s point — mind is like the missing Harvard — then I’m not much interested, that’s like saying “Yes Ken you can do everything you say and pass Christopher’s test but I want more I want Harv, er, mind.” In that case dualism would be devoid of testable predictions. But I think he ‘s saying consciousness exists apart from that, and brains and their workings are not minds because there is something else. I think he’s saying something that conflicts with the ability to reduce mind to brains and their doing.

      • joeftansey says:

        “I think mind exists, like I think blood circulation exists, like I think rainstorms exist, like I think Harvard exists I think you need mind and mental states; I am not a Skinnerian.”

        No, I demand you tell me what “exists” mean instead of rattling off things putatively assumed to exist. We wouldn’t have these kinds of philosophical problems if our “common” sense was sound.

        “I don’t believe mind exists apart from the operation of brains (or computers)”

        “I believe that mind is a term we use to describe an aspect of brains and their functioning.”

        So a running theme for you guys seems to be causality. But causality is not even empirical. See Hume’s billiard balls.

        • Ken B says:

          Yep. Because we’re looking for an explanation, and science uses causality a fair bit. And nope. Because the states of your brain just are your mind. “I believe that mind is a term we use to describe an aspect of brains and their functioning.”
          I didn’t say your brain reaches out and touches your mind like billiard balls, causing your mental states. I said mind is an aspect of brains at work. It’s not like the brain is the CPU drawing the mind on the screen of your consciousness. But that’s not really the point at issue. Bob says he wants a reduction, he used the word.

          • joeftansey says:

            “Yep. Because we’re looking for an explanation, and science uses causality a fair bit.”

            Well it’s a good thing that “science” and “ontology” are different things.

            “I said mind is an aspect of brains at work.”

            Exactly. And a “working” brain depends on you thinking in terms of causality. But causality can’t be observed.

            “. But that’s not really the point at issue. Bob says he wants a reduction, he used the word.”

            What does “exists” mean?

            • Ken B says:

              Remember the context Joe. This cancer started with jumped up monkeys and metastasized from Gene’s blog. The point at issue is can reductionism adequately explain mental things or do you need free-floating consciousness as a basic element of reality. Read Gene’s blog. Bo and Gene think you need special miind stuff. I say you don’t, because of reduction to brains. Whatever causalty you use in judging other expalantions. You wanna deny gunshots cause wounds feel free, but that’s the level at which I am debating Bob. If Bob wants to say “oh yes Ken, all that is right and you explain every aspect of mind and mental states except how they exist then its not a useful debate. I will have provided a reductionist explanation for everything we need mind for by that standard.

              • joeftansey says:

                I’m not saying you don’t win those points. I’m saying that what the OP and materialism depend on is a definition of “exists”.

              • Ken B says:

                As long as mind cannot exist absent a physical substrate, meat, silicon, chinese room, I am content. I take this as precisely what Murphahan, or at least the murph part, deny.
                I don’lt claim Bob’s hatred for Krugman exists, I deny it exists in a way not in principle explicable in terms of Bob’s brain. I concede this is not proven, Bob et al claim its false.

  2. P.S. Huff says:

    Many of the people who think they are arguing in favor of materialism seem to me to be arguing in favor of two weaker positions:

    a. Mental phenomena supervene on physical phenomena, so that there is never a difference in subjective experiences without a corresponding difference in physical events.

    b. All physical events can be explained without invoking non-reductionist mental causation.

    Those are both interesting positions, but they’re consistent with dualism. An epiphenomenalist will embrace both of those positions in a heart beat.

    In order to show that materialism is true, you have to show that the supervenience of mental upon physical events is logical rather than nomological—that it is not even logically coherent for certain physical processes to take place without giving rise to consciousness. Otherwise, an explanatory gap remains.

    • marris says:

      P.S. Huff,

      The linked definition of supervenes has: A set of properties A supervenes upon another set B just in case no two things can differ with respect to A-properties without also differing with respect to their B-properties. In slogan form, “there cannot be an A-difference without a B-difference”.

      From this definition, it seems that “A supervenes upon B” is synonymous with “A is a function of B.”

      If we apply this to the dualism question, shouldn’t we conclude that mental phenomena is a function of physical events? Is that not the materialist position? Or is the materialist position something more extreme like: A properties don’t exist. Only B properties do.

      • Ken B says:

        The reductionist position is that A is a function of B. It could be caused by B, it could be B by another name, it could be an aspect of B. I think a migraine headache is an aspect of certain events in the brain. I think the triangular shape on my desk is an aspect of the shadow cast by a book.

        • Gene Callahan says:

          “it could be B by another name, it could be an aspect of B”

          No, sorry, Ken, these last two are Russell’s “neutral monism,” and not reductionist materialism at all. I’m glad you acknowledge their plausibility, since Russell’s position is much more sensible than reductive materialism.

          • Ken B says:

            As I said Gene, that doesn’t have scientific implications though does it? I take Bob and you as denying that we can dispense with the need for souls for all our science. You’re saying,’ yes Ken you do all you claim and it still wouldn’t count.’ Not the issue I’m debating!

      • P.S. Huff says:

        The question is, why do mental phenomena supervene on physical phenomena?

        If this fact can be explained in material terms—that is, if it can be shown that the existence of mental phenomena is a logical consequence of certain physical states, just as the properties of a sheet of paper are a logical consequence of the properties of the parts that make it up—then materialism is vindicated.

        If instead this has to be taken as an irreducible principle of nature—if, in other words, there are just certain psychophysical laws, independent of the laws of physics, that say “when such-and-such material conditions prevail, such and such mental phenomena emerge”—then materialism fails.

    • marris says:

      I suppose another escape hatch from materialism may be the claim that A (a mental phenomenon) is a function with multiple inputs, and B (physical events) is just *one* of these inputs. Is this what the non-materialists contend?

      I guess it would be impossible to prove otherwise… This view probably conflicts with Occam’s Razor. It would almost certainly conflict with substrate independence.

      So even if I built an artificial intelligence, you could always counter that the AI is not conscious in the same way that *we* are conscious… and there’s no way that I could convince you otherwise since I can’t make you subjectively experience what the AI experiences.

      • P.S. Huff says:

        Dualism doesn’t take any stance on whether certain forms of artificial intelligence might be conscious in the same way that we are.

  3. Rick Hull says:

    Hi Bob,

    While I agree that Ken B has either missed the point or is attempting to dance around it, my own sense is that M’ism is a sort of axiom, and those who would deny it present themselves as a waste of time (etc.)

    Thoughts?

    • Ken B says:

      I do not deny Bob’s dualism can have empiriacl content. That is quite clear to anyone who reads all my comments on that thread. Bob omitted my helpful summary of what I actually believe:

      I believe all the following
      1. There is no need to posit a soul to do neuroscience or explain the mind.
      2. No-one has yet a good explanation of consciousness. ‘Soul;’ is just a label some resort to for the failure to explain it, not an explanation.
      3. Science will make progress under 2,. This progress will tie more and more mental characteristics to physical explanations.
      4. Some of these questions will never have definitive answers like we get in math or even in thermodynamics. We will have to rely on the usual crutches like Occam’s razor.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        Number 4 does not exclude non-materialist explanations.

        • Ken B says:

          Not a priori no. That’s sort of my whole point MF. The reduction of mental states to brain states is an ongoing scientific endeavour. I have emphasized it is not a given, it could fail. We have traded comments on that. That’s why Bob is so off base in this post. Because dualism COULD be justified by experience and experiment.

          • Rick Hull says:

            Ken B: If I am uncharitable to you, especially relative to Murphy, then I apologize. It’s hard to stay on top of everyones’ exact positions.

          • Major_Freedom says:

            The reduction of mental states to brain states is an ongoing scientific endeavour.

            So is the proof of God.

      • guest says:

        “Soul” is the label we give to that which is the source of first causes exemplified by our free will.

        Free will is an interference in the otherwise closed system of scientific determinism.

        I may not know how to describe the source of my free will, but I know it’s not deterministic.

  4. Egoist says:

    I think the “vulgar” style acceptance of materialism (i.e. everything can be explained in purely physical causal predictions), is at root a rejection of the unbridled Ego, which takes the form of either rejection of God as creator or rejection of Self as creator.

    You have those wanting to think of a world without God and without the Ego believing that Materialism is their only escape route, the only alternative. Many atheists believe that rejecting materialism means one has to believe in God, so better not reject materialism. Many altruists believe that rejecting materialism means one has to believe in Egoism, so better not reject materialism.

    —————————–

    It would be ironic if the hardcore “scientific minds” out there, are adhering to a non-falsifiable worldview that they adopt because it just suits their prejudices more than dualism does.

    All hard core scientific minds adhere to a non-falsifiable worldview. But that isn’t necessarily a problem. Positivists for example adhere to the non-falsifiable worldview that the truth of things does not change over time. That’s what saying a past posited theory being “falsified” or “confirmed” implies. For if truths did change, then no falsification or confirmation would be taking place, just disparate truths separated by time, where some past truths are no longer current truths, and current truths will not always be truths in the future.

    —————————

    I am I.

    This statement is a positing activity. It is not provable, it is not grounded in anything more fundamental, it simply is because it is. I am because I am. Tautological yes, but that doesn’t mean it is vacuous.

    Materialism cannot subsume this positing activity, precisely because all materialist endeavors require a self-positing (consciousness) as a part of the endeavor itself. No matter what I learn about my own mind, the self-positing can never be subsumed by further learning. If I acquired knowledge about my own mind for a trillion years hence, and knew every single location and trajectory of every single particle, there would still be a “me” that knows all of these particles, but is not those particles themselves. That is the Ego (the “I”) relentlessly transcending the non-ego (particles in body).

  5. Ken B says:

    Ken B:

    ” Because [brain scientists] can do and have done tests to see if the kind of theory of mind Gene and Bob favor holds up to detailed scrutiny and experiment” http://consultingbyrpm.com/blog/2012/12/materialism-is-not-obviously-correct.html#comment-52345

    Ken B to MF:

    “Yes, exactly right. See my answer to Bob on what would make me change my mind. This is a very good example MF. Say you proved that no sequence of brain states, or Murphy region states, could exhibit property X but minds do. That would certainly count.
    Hard to do with a full brain but maybe the theory can be sharpened and smaller regions tested. But in principle this is exactly on point.”

    That sounds like an acknowledgement dualism could have empirical content.

    And this comment clearly envisions dualism having predictions http://consultingbyrpm.com/blog/2012/12/materialism-is-not-obviously-correct.html#comment-52433 Excerpt:

    “A convincing example of a mental property consistently exhibited contrary to the predictions of all reputable neuroscience explanations that are otherwise very good for example. This is a high bar I concede, but what’s yours? And it’s not that high if you are right. You should be able to exhibit the ability, by volition, to cause some neuron to fire more than quantum physics says it should be able to, say, or to do something that violates my nasty predictions.

    Or, following Penrose, you can show that in working brains the usual quantum statistics get skewed, especially if you can do it on command. This ties in to MF’s point about reduction failing at the lower end. (I think this is your best bet myself.) ”

    Bob Murphy:

    ” Among his other claims, he said that dualism offers not a single testable prediction … If I misread him, I will retract these statements”

    I cited not a single testable prediction of Bob’s dualism because I don’t know he’s made any. But Ii have clearly proceded on the assumption he could.

  6. Ken B says:

    In response to Bob’s last para i responded this:

    I do not see how gas queues prove the mind cannot be reduced to the operations of the brain. You can explain the behaviour of your motorists in terms of metal states and mental contents. How does that prove that mental states and mental contents cannot be explained in terms of brains?

    Will any of those drivers be in fact ‘driverless’ cars? Because when the software gets good enough they could be. What will that do to your supposed counter example?

    Bob seems to think I *deny* mental states. I do not. Nor do I deny their relevance or the need to use them to analyse behavior. I only assert they are ultimately a manifestation of brain states.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      Would you agree that you cannot knowingly predict from a non-existing mental state?

      • Ken B says:

        I’m gonna pass here MF. My first reply to Bob on this thread is awaiting moderation. It shows quite clearly I do think dualism can make trestable predictions. You in fact made one and I praised it. So I’m gonna hol off until Bob approves that comment, hopefully with the formatting error fixed, and replies.
        Bob has completely misread me and I think I prove it.

        • Major_Freedom says:

          I can see the comment. The one where you said:

          “Bob seems to think I *deny* mental states. I do not. Nor do I deny their relevance or the need to use them to analyse behavior. I only assert they are ultimately a manifestation of brain states.”

          ???

          • Ken B says:

            No, that’s not it. I left one before that. It is being held. It begins with me quoting myself:

            ” Because [brain scientists] can do and have done tests to see if the kind of theory of mind Gene and Bob favor holds up to detailed scrutiny and experiment” which is a clear statement that the theory of mind I am arguing aginst can have testable predictions. Bob’s failed gotcha attempt where he says I claim ” dualism offers not a single testable prediction, whereas materialism is falsifiable.”

            • Major_Freedom says:

              Ah.

              But aren’t you again presupposing materialism is true by insisting that mind is reducible to brain activity, when that is the very thing under discussion?

              I mean, imagine you were debating a theist, and every test and every “in principle I would be wrong if…” argument they made, presupposes God is true?

              Both you and Murphy, for better or for worse, are going to have to start with a foundation that is able to transcend both of your presuppositions, if you’re ever going to agree.

              • Ken B says:

                No, i am saying that if dualism were true there would be consequences that you could in theory test because you wouldn’t be able to control and predict the mind by controlling and predicting the brain. Look at Christopher’s test of what would convince him, and my response. http://consultingbyrpm.com/blog/2012/12/materialism-is-not-obviously-correct.html#comment-52450

              • Matt Tanous says:

                Ken, that is also not really testable. To my mind (heh), what you are doing is on par with modified a few pipes, and saying that because you can predict some of the changes, this means there is no pump at the other end.

                All observations you could make are of the body. You could modify the brain state, and thus its control over the body, but have no effect on the mind. How would you detect if this was the case?

              • Ken B says:

                No Matt. If I could succeed perfectly I’d convince Christopher. But say no matter what I did I could not get you to agree murder is good. Then I’d fail. We’d probably argue over whether I’ve really run out of options or if my code had a bug give me another week, but eventually people would decide Ken B’s machine just doesn’t work.

              • Christopher says:

                Matt, you would have to be the one who’s being tested. Then you can tell whether it’s a mere effect over the body or whether your mind changed.

              • Christopher says:

                No Matt. If I could succeed perfectly I’d convince Christopher. But say no matter what I did I could not get you to agree murder is good. Then I’d fail.

                I think Matt’s argument was that even if your machine gets someone to agree murder is good, we don’t know whether you control his mind or just his lips and vocal cords.

              • Ken B says:

                Yeah but your test was to hook you up and convince you. I hook Matt up and then we ask him later. Now could he jsut be a robot with no control of his lips after that? Sure. But then he could now, denying he was convinced by what I did to you.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                No, i am saying that if dualism were true there would be consequences that you could in theory test because you wouldn’t be able to control and predict the mind by controlling and predicting the brain.

                So all heretofore evidence then?

              • Major_Freedom says:

                I control my own brain, and even I cannot predict what I will learn in the future.

  7. Ken B says:

    Oops. Left this in the wrong thread. Repeating here;

    Bob, in the other post: “The answer has to reduce consciousness to unconscious matter. Otherwise it doesn’t count as a real answer!”

    Agreed! Well put even. Perfectly right, that’s the burden.

    Now how might that happen? Well one way is to reduce mental states to brain states, and then reduce brain states to cells and their interactions. Wouldn’t that count? Well the position I have been arguing is just exactly that that plan of reduction is proceeding and I think will succeed. I have stipulated many times it has not succeeded yet and it might fail.

    Notice that this plan of attack does not deny mental states exist, or that they matter. Au contraire it embraces the importance of them for the first goal is to explicate them in terms of brains.
    And I have repeatedly said that’s the main open question: what can brains do?
    Christopher laid out a pretty stringent test for success. I agreed it was a good test (stricter than I’d demand but that’s just a matter of our priors). And I agreed that if dualism is right I must fail Christopher’s test.
    That’s an empirical prediction isn’t it, even if an impractical one?

    • Christopher says:

      Okay, here is another question:

      Do you believe that there is an infinite number of theoretically possible mental states? (Assuming that mental state A today is identical with mental state A tomorrow)

      • Ken B says:

        Nifty question. Never thought about it. For any given brain I would say no. Assuming brain states are digital, as seems to be the case. I see where you are going I bet: infinite number of numbers you could think of. Yes, but one at a time; you would need to encode the thought in memory, so absent a test you cannot say its possible.

        • Christopher says:

          I wasn’t thinking of anything specific. It just came to my mind when I thought about the question whether we should include the ability to create new mental states into the “experiment”. (I was trying to find a way to get around the Chinese room problem).

          But than I noticed that there is probably a finite number of possible brain states which seemed to be an argument against materialism, but I guess you gave the correct answer.

      • Tel says:

        It would have to be close to infinite, consider that we already know that overall levels of various neurotransmitters (e.g. dopamine) change the human brain behaviour. I mean this has been directly measured in plenty of situations.

        So suppose I add one single dopamine molecule, that would have to imply ever so slightly that the brain is in a different state now (probably not a big enough change to observe major behavioural changes), but then I could add two molecules, three molecules, etc. Same for serotonin or GABA or many others.

        There’s a very large number of discrete states right there, but might as well just regard it as a continuous field.

        That’s without even getting into the structural aspects.

    • P.S. Huff says:

      “Well one way is to reduce mental states to brain states…”

      Do you agree that reducing mental states to brain states involves much more than showing that mental states supervene on brain states?

      For reductivism to succeed, it must be shown that the brain states could not logically exist without giving rise to mental phenomena. It is that demonstration that seems hopeless.

      • Ken B says:

        No. I can imagine brain states with no mental state attached. I hope for the sake of all the dead brains out there I am right.

        I have to account for X in terms of Y. X is mind, Y is brains. That doesn’t make X and Y isomorphic.

        • P.S. Huff says:

          “I can imagine brain states with no mental state attached.”

          Not any brain states, but the brain states that are conceded to give rise to consciousness.

          “I have to account for X in terms of Y.”

          You have to do more than show that, in the world as it exists, Y gives rise to X. You have to show that X is a logical consequence of Y. Otherwise, an explanatory gap remains: instead of brain states explaining mental states, brain states plus a set of psychophysical laws, explain mental states. That is not materialism.

  8. Tel says:

    Wow I really got left behind on this.

    I would like to point out that materialism does not have to be reductionism. I suppose everyone knew that.

    For example, I can observe that my cat wakes me up demanding food each morning, and I can make predictions that probably she will keep doing that in future, and maybe other people’s cats do that as well. It’s an empirical approach, but you don’t need to know how cats work internally to be able to make an observation and a prediction.

    When you are talking about something like macro-economics, you don’t have the luxury of being able to repeat the test and collect a series of observations. You only have one world economy, and every day influences the next day. That’s the same problem with “Global Warming” and also with the fossil record and biological evolution. You don’t have repeatable tests, can run a control experiment, etc.

    I don’t think this represents any sort of disproof of materialism, it just represents a limitation in our current capabilities of observation.

    There’s no reason why materialism should deny other approaches. After all, if kneeling before a statue of the Virgin Mary for half an hour every morning makes you a whiz on the stock market, then the empirical observation is that it works, therefore the materialist would say it must be real. If you make good quality predictions by whatever method you like the materialists still have to accept it, because you are making predictions.

    The current problem with both the climate scientists and the macro-economists is that they tend NOT to make particularly good predictions. For example, the IPCC predicted endless drought for Australia and milder winters for the North, the CRU made the rather astounding prediction that UK snowfall was a thing of the past:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/snowfalls-are-now-just-a-thing-of-the-past-724017.html

    However, the warming is so far manifesting itself more in winters which are less cold than in much hotter summers. According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”.

    “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,” he said.

    The effects of snow-free winter in Britain are already becoming apparent. This year, for the first time ever, Hamleys, Britain’s biggest toyshop, had no sledges on display in its Regent Street store. “It was a bit of a first,” a spokesperson said.

    I probably don’t need to go into the vast an inconsistent array of macro-economic predictions that we hear every day…

    • Ken B says:

      “I would like to point out that materialism does not have to be reductionism. ”
      Right. Vitalism for example. Modern neuroscience is reductionist. That’s a stronger claim, as you observe.

      • Tel says:

        Modern neuroscience has a reductionist bent, but huge amounts of work has been done on neural network modelling on small scale and large scale. Lots of ongoing discussion on which neural network topologies are suitable for which purposes (and why).

        Also applications of graph theory, or various interconnectivity metrics — anything but reductionist.

        http://www-bmu.psychiatry.cam.ac.uk/publications/bassett06sma.pdf

        There’s one for example (just from a quick search).

        • Matt Tanous says:

          Can you clarify what you mean by “neural networks” here? Because the most fundamental thing – so fundamental it was oft repeated throughout the entire course I took on it – was that neural network computer systems do NOT function like a brain or simulate actual neural activity. It’s just a whole lot of f(x) = g(w* x), where f(x) is the output of each node and g(x) is a function applied by each one. (And w and x are arrays of weighted input variables.)

          • Tel says:

            From a topological point of view it doesn’t matter too much exactly what function the elements apply, my point is that people are interested in the gestalt properties of large networks rather than the detailed properties of the elements.

            I agree that most computer neural networks have a very simple exponential function that is at best a rough approximation of a biological neuron. That’s because the interest has been to achieve a certain stimulus/response and if you get that, then who cares if the mechanism is not a precise match to a biological system?

            However, some research is going the other way and trying to get the detailed elements as precise as possible, to build highly realistic networks.

            http://www.neuron.yale.edu/neuron/what_is_neuron

            The difficulty being that the more equations you build into each neuron, the less neurons you can have in your network. Some people are looking at a compromise there:

            http://apt.cs.manchester.ac.uk/projects/SpiNNaker/

            • Ken B says:

              Thanks for this Tel.
              This is all part of the program. Brains are complicated things. As you explain here even small networks simulating part of brains is very complex.
              Researchers try to understand how the brain does mental things and don’t worry much about what it implies fro the “mind-body problem”.

              • Bob Murphy says:

                Ken is your employer going to come after me for destroying your productivity?

              • Ken B says:

                Yes Bob. To save your from having your mind need to find a new brain to live in, I will pack it in here.
                Here’s my compromise I hope you accept. Materialism is not OBVIOUSLY true.
                reductionism may not succeed. There is a strong concensus amongst most scientifically literate folks that it is true. Its almost an axiom amongst biological researchers. A lot of people believe it out of groupthink and inertia. I think they’re right.

              • guest says:

                Materialism is not OBVIOUSLY true.
                reductionism may not succeed. There is a strong concensus amongst most scientifically literate folks that it is true. Its almost an axiom amongst biological researchers.

                In fact, it IS an axiom, rather than a conclusion.

                Richard Lewontin said:

                Question Evolution
                http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2012/02/question-evolution.html

                Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs…in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs…in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

              • guest says:

                Sorry for the bad pasting.

            • Matt Tanous says:

              Very interesting.

              I still would note that a major difference between a computer neural net, no matter how detailed, and a physical brain is that the neural net consists of uniform nodes. There can be, and often are, differences between one neuron and another in the brain.

          • Ken B says:

            They abstract and mirror in a toy way some aspects of how neurons work. Neurons are connected, have firing potentials etc. Neural nets csan be built physically to mimic some of this or the connections and thresholds can be simulated in software. Arrays and calculations. They are more valuable as computational devices on their own than as tools for understanding neurons.

      • Tel says:

        ‘Too interconnected to fail’ financial network of US CDS market: Topological fragility and systemic risk

        http://econpapers.repec.org/article/eeejeborg/v_3a83_3ay_3a2012_3ai_3a3_3ap_3a627-646.htm

        Again, that’s just off a quick search, but the same network topology concepts are being applied to financial markets as well.

        I mean to say, people are looking in that direction… beyond reductionism that is. Doesn’t prove this is great research, but knocking down the reductionism mindset purely because reduction is not adequate to be a complete philosophy is just knocking a silly strawman. People already well know the limits of reductionism and have already widened the search.

        The big culture shift in the physical sciences happened back when chaos theory hit the streets (slowly gaining momentum in the 1960′s but more mainstream in the 1980′s). Then they moved on to complexity theory, the Santa Fe Institute was publishing stuff in the 1990′s and I think they are still going.

        • Tel says:

          I’ve posted this before, but might as well throw it in with the examples of non-reductionist materialism:

          However, there has also been from its beginnings with Carl Menger, a vein within Austrian economics that has emphasized the spontaneous emergence of social orders out of dispersed processes. This view would culminate in the work of Hayek, who began with the more conventional approach, but influenced strongly by his studies of psychology and his consideration of the problems of dispersed knowledge, would move towards a complexity approach and would consciously pursue this perspective, including actively contacting many important individuals involved in its early development. Due largely to his influence, today, Austrian economics is much more oriented towards a complexity approach.

          http://cob.jmu.edu/rosserjb/HOW%20COMPLEX%20ARE%20THE%20AUSTRIANS.doc

  9. konst says:

    Reposted on this thread since the discussion has moved.

    One thing many of you don’t consider is that for consciousness, meaning free will and purposeful human action, to exist it has to not be bound to the laws of physics.

    For if it is bound to the laws of physics then a computer simulation can create the same “mind” (or whatever you want to call it). This simulation would determine that “mind’s” thought and actions and therefore it wouldn’t be free to make a choice but would be bound by the parameters of the program.

    Therefore consciousness and free will exist outside the universe.

  10. Lord Keynes says:

    “Right now, just about everybody agrees that the materialist approach doesn’t offer a satisfactory explanation for consciousness and free will, “

    “Just about everybody”!!

    I only had to read that to know this post is a joke. Yes, I am sure “just about everybody” includes vast numbers of neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists who have actually made progress on how the mind works – using materialism – in contrast to the mystical nonsense of thousands of years of dualism.

    “if this current state of affairs–where materialists haven’t yet come up with a satisfactory theory of consciousness/mind, and there are philosophical arguments held by many brilliant thinkers that suggest in principle it can never be done”

    In fact, year and after, materialist theories explain more and more about the mind. Every time a disease of the mind is explained in materialist terms, it is another nail in the dualist coffin.

    Has dualism ever explained Parkinson’s disease, or any other mental illness?

    If you admit that the known diseases of the mind have physical causes, you’ve already conceded that a great deal of ground.

    • konst says:

      Typical of a Keynesian to regard consciousness/minds as machines to be “stimulated”/manipulated into behaviour of the manipulators choosing.

      LK there may come a time in your adherence to your view of the mind as a manifestation of physical causes when it may be shown, even in the materialistic explanation of mind, that the actual whole mind causes the physical processes/brain-organization changes rather than the physical processes explaining the mind.

      • Lord Keynes says:

        “Typical of a Keynesian to regard consciousness/minds as machines to be “stimulated”/manipulated into behaviour of the manipulators choosing.”

        I have said or implied no such thing.

        Your laughable comments here are what we call the straw man fallacy.

        And if the mind is not caused by physical processes, then how is it that mind altering drugs/chemicals have any effect at all on human perception and states of consciousness?

        This is yet another straightforward fact never explained by the mystical nonsense of dualism.

        • konst says:

          “Typical of a Keynesian to regard consciousness/minds as machines to be “stimulated”/manipulated into behaviour of the manipulators choosing.”

          I have said or implied no such thing.

          You may not have said it but the fact is fundamentally Keynesian-like interventionist theories critically depend on the interventionists repressing the free will of their victims. Therefore, when presented with options of theories of individuals behaving as free individuals with free wills or individuals as acting like machines in response to stimuli, it’s likely the interventionists choose the theory of individuals that diminishes free will.

          Definition: In this case, interventionists means those individuals which in critical parts of the system use ever escalating degrees of force.

          • Lord Keynes says:

            “You may not have said it but the fact is fundamentally Keynesian-like interventionist theories critically depend on the interventionists repressing the free will of their victims.”

            When Austrianism descends into self-caricature! You deserve a prize.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              The truth hurts, doesn’t it?

        • Major_Freedom says:

          Notice how you said states of consciousness, not consciousness itself.

          • Lord Keynes says:

            “Notice how you said states of consciousness, not consciousness itself.”

            Given that states of consciousness are merely different aspects of the same underlying thing (consciousness in general), it comes to the same thing, idiot.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              Given that states of consciousness are merely different aspects of the same underlying thing (consciousness in general), it comes to the same thing

              No, it doesn’t. States of water (ice, liquid, vapor) are not the same thing as the water itself.

              States of something is not the same thing as that something.

              You can measure the state of someone’s brain and know the location and trajectory of every single particle and synapse, but that doesn’t mean you can know their future path of learning, i.e. their future states.

              Your philosophy is extremely sloppy.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      Parkinson’s disease and other mental illnesses are not consciousness, which is what the debate is all about: Materialism vis a vis consciousness.

      Year after year neuroscientists are making advances on the brain, but no materialist explanation has sufficed to explain consciousness.

      In fact, even the neuroscientists themselves presuppose dualism when they engage in their studies of the brain. They consider the brain to operate according to causality, and yet they consider their studies as teleological, and not only that, but by you and others who argue the neuroscientist are attempting to learn something, you too are presupposing their behavior to be teleological. That is how you are logically categorizing their behavior. For if the neuroscientist’s studying were to be categorized as causal, then it would not mean what you claim it means. Their behavior would be like that of robots who were pre-programmed to behave in that way, and are merely moving in accordance with their programming and they are not actually arguing anything. Then, you are just mistaking their behavior as intentionally proving something true, rather than false. For if humans were all pre-programmed robots, then everything we do would be caused, and thus nothing we do is “wrong.”

    • guest says:

      If you admit that the known diseases of the mind have physical causes, you’ve already conceded that a great deal of ground.

      Not necessarily.

      We can concede that a “soul” isn’t directly experiencing, say, physical contact, because when we sever the nerves which lead to the brain, we no longer experience sensations in that appendage.

      This does, indeed, prove that sensations are experienced via the brain; But it’s not necessary to concede that the brain is what is experiencing the sensations. It could be that the “soul” experiences sensations, and controls the body, THROUGH the brain.

      This is my view, and I would say that free will is proof of this. Free will is an interference in an otherwise closed, deterministic system.

      It would also show that “removing one neuron at a time” until someone no longer responds (this experiment was part of a thought experiment, in another post, I believe) wouldn’t prove anything.

      As for mental illnesses, if the brain is a conduit through which souls express themselves, physically, then we would expect that altering parts of that conduit would change the way the soul is capable of expressing itself; but it would leave the soul intact.

      Memory loss is more difficult to address for my view, since I must maintain that the sould is where memories are kept, such that altering of the brain would have no direct effect on them.

      But perhaps with the altering of the “soul’s conduit”, it also creates new sensations (or a pervasive sense of loss) which make it difficult to concentrate; It’s not that they have forgotten anything (like when we remember something after a long time), but that they have so much else going on in their altered experiences that make it difficult to recall certain memories.

  11. Andrew Keen says:

    Ken, can you please explain to me how materialism is falsifiable (or point me somewhere you already have)?

    Bob, can you please explain to me what you’re getting at with your prediction? As far as I can tell, many materialists would arrive at the same prediction. Is that your point? Are you saying that denying materialism doesn’t make your predictions any worse?

    Thanks!

    • Ken B says:

      I did so in a comment on the other thread replying to Bob and again in a comment replying to Christopher’s test. Search for Penrose and that will find the one to Bob.

    • Ken B says:

      Andrew, this, in response to Gene just above it, lays out what I am talking about as scientific reductionism.

    • Andrew Keen says:

      All right Ken, two more questions and I’ll give it a rest. I’m more interested in determining exactly what you believe that trying to rebut it.

      (1) Would I be correct to assume you would abandon materialism if you saw a ghost and truly believed it to be a ghost?

      (2) Would I be correct to say that if a machine were created that could perfectly simulate a human brain, you would claim without a doubt that it had consciousness?

      Thanks.

      • Ken B says:

        1) If I *believed* it to be a ghost? yes. But I’d search a lot of explanations first. But stipulating the belief kinda begs the question. Can I be convinced? A more credible example would be the kind of thing Bob speculated about years ago: the clouds spend hours forming messages I can read. They do this whenever I ask, and I can check for trickery. Say they tell me things no person is likely to know, and I verify them. That would probably do it.
        Now I could be wrong. it could be technology manipulated by martians or Bob, but I think it would convince me.

        2) Almost certainly yes. I say almost because sometimes when things that seem almost impossible happen you surprise yourself. I’d be sure enough to consider it a crime to switch the machine off or overload its pain circuits.

        I appreciate the serious attempt to get what I am saying correct.

  12. Ken B says:

    “[Ken B] said that dualism offers not a single testable prediction, whereas materialism is falsifiable. (If I misread him, I will retract these statements”

    I await a citation or a retraction. Am I wrong to expect neither?

    • guest says:

      Oops, I meant to post this here.

      Weighing a Chicken with a Yardstick
      http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5560

      This was my principle point in the comment quoted. He wrote “Contrary to your assertion, this is a metaphysical idea that, at least theoretically, can be disproved by science.” I disagree. Metaphysical arguments can’t be disproved by science, even theoretically, precisely because they’re meta-physical. They transcend the physical realm.

      It’s like trying to weigh a chicken with a yardstick. Yardsticks don’t give weight; they give length. If you said your chicken weighed 27 inches, you’d be speaking nonsense. It’s called a category error. Yardsticks simply weren’t made to do that sort of thing. That’s my point. Science, strictly speaking, is not even capable of testing for souls, so how can it disprove the existence of souls? It can’t.

      • Ken B says:

        How is that a citation proving I said what Bob said I said?

        • Major_Freedom says:

          Because China has a larger population than Germany. Duh.

        • guest says:

          Did I miss out on the context? I apologize.

          I got down to this part and though you were talking about something else.

          Please disregard that.

          • Ken B says:

            I’m too busy disregarding MF. I’ve reached my disregarding quota.
            :)

  13. guest says:

    Weighing a Chicken with a Yardstick
    http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5560

    This was my principle point in the comment quoted. He wrote “Contrary to your assertion, this is a metaphysical idea that, at least theoretically, can be disproved by science.” I disagree. Metaphysical arguments can’t be disproved by science, even theoretically, precisely because they’re meta-physical. They transcend the physical realm.

    It’s like trying to weigh a chicken with a yardstick. Yardsticks don’t give weight; they give length. If you said your chicken weighed 27 inches, you’d be speaking nonsense. It’s called a category error. Yardsticks simply weren’t made to do that sort of thing. That’s my point. Science, strictly speaking, is not even capable of testing for souls, so how can it disprove the existence of souls? It can’t.

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