Wednesday, April 06, 2005

On the philosophy of mind and consensus

I responded to a comment on Bibliocracy from an anonymous commentator, in the context of a discussion of Kim's work in the philosophy of mind:

Matthew Anderson: "a fourth to a third of scholars are theists (and hence, dualists of some sort)."
Anonymous: That doesn't follow. Significant numbers of academic theists are also physicalists.
Consider Nancey Murphy's _Whatever Happened to the Soul_. Peter van Inwagen and I believe William Alston are also physicalists. In his debates William Lane Craig always points out that theists aren't necessarily dualists as they can believe in resurrection alone.
I think the obvious fact that a lobotomy can destroy your intellect and moral inhibitions is such compelling evidence against dualism that about the only remaining motivation for defending dualism is a religious agenda rather than a genuine philosophical or scientific consideration.
I think Kim's point was that among philosophers of mind whose opinions are shaped solely by considerations having to do with the philosophy of mind, who don't bring any particular religious prejudices they feel compelled to defend to the table, there is nearly a consensus that substance dualism is false.
The "consensus" is among the remainder of philosophers of mind, those who are not a priori bound to restrict their reasoning only to those ideas which conform to religious doctrines. And that is as it should be, since the only justification for specific religious dogmas, after all, is tradition.
Even among theists, J. P. Moreland, William Hasker, and Victor Reppert are the only theistic defenders of dualism that I'm aware of. The neuroscientific
evidence for some form of physicalism has left them little wiggle room unless they want to go the way of creationists and dismiss legitimate scientific data altogether.
The NEAR-consensus lies with those who publish almost exclusively in the philosophy of mind. Those whose primary focus is in the philosophy of religion are the die-hard holdouts. That's why you are hard pressed to find enough nontheistic substance dualists to count on one hand.
4:28 PM

Victor Reppert said...
There are a significant number of other defenders of dualism besides Moreland, Hasker and myself. Geoffrey Madell's Mind and Materialism is a book that came out way back in 1988 with no explicit religion backing it up, Charles Taliaferro's Consciousness and the Mind of God came out in 1996, Swinburne's Evolution of the Soul came out in 1986, I know Plantinga has defended substance dualism, John Foster and Howard Robinson are defenders of dualism as well. Some of these people have religious commitments that have something to do with it, and some do not.
One's broader metaphysics invariably has a great deal to do with what one accepts in the philosophy of mind, and this makes sense. If you are an atheist, if you think that we started off with a physical universe and everything else got here by evolution, then you are hard pressed to find any way that a non-physical soul could possibly emerge. This is why many people in the philosophy of mind are convinced that they have to be physicalists no matter what the difficulties with physicalism are, and many of them, like Kim, McGinn, Nagel, (who isn't really a physicalist) and Searle, are prepared to acknowledge massive difficulties for physicalism. No one starts doing philosophy from a neutral position; everyone who has a world view, to some extent at least, uses the faith seeking understanding principle. See this discussion by Maverick Philosopher William Vallicella.

The arguments that Anonymous is providing show a close interconnectedness between mind and brain, but these discoveries seem to me to be quite compatible with dualism, as even Richard Carrier concedes.
You also seem to be underestimating the influence of intellecutal peer pressure, which pushes pretty strongly in favor of physicalism. At least it did back when I was in grad school!


Edward T. Babinski said...

How DOES a physicalist Christian make sense of the Chalcedonian creedal affirmation that Jesus was both "fully God and fully man" at the same time in the same body? There is in effect a dualistic necessity in Christianity of having to believe in both God's "spirit" and human "flesh" dwelling in some sense together in Jesus's case, no?

Not having labeled myself as either a Christian or an atheist, I also do not choose to label myself as a dualist or a physicalist. Though rationally speaking, relying on supernatural explanations seems a bit facile, since they tell you nothing about "how things work."

The Intelligent Design movement is a case in point. They don't even hypothesize at what "levels" or by what means the supernatural designing took place. Heck, they can even claim that the Designer simply moves around natural mutagens inside the cell, like directing the paths of bullets to hit specific points on targets, i.e., nudging them here and there so that these natural mutagens may induce specific mutations at different times and places, i.e., utilizing nature's alerady present and active mutagentic chemicals and radiation waves that normally are in the cell or penetrate it from outside, but directing those mutagens a bit more precisely over time. Talk about the hiddeness of God, even God's existence relying on an unfalsifiable theory that proves nothing and gains no one any actual knowledge.

In terms of actual ideas that might provide a few interesting experiments vis a vis the physicalist/dualist exchange, I was intrigued recently by Robin Hanson's
Fourteen Wild Ideas
Five Of Which Might Be True!

1st Wild Idea:

If we keep writing down common sense datums until 2100, we can make computers as smart as people.

We learn more about brains and making smart computers, but we seem to have run out of major architectural innovations -- better ones won't make a huge difference. The big stumbling block seems to be how much "common sense" a system knows, like that things tend to fall
down when you bump them. One group has been writing these down for fifteen years with moderate success; a century more effort may be plenty.

(And an algorithm that allows a machine to learn by observations and sensations of the world could of course be the key to a machine that creates its own list of commonsense datums over time, based on experience. See the sci fi novel, Roderick by John Sladek--E.T.B.)

2nd Wild Idea:

Many times each day, your mind permanently splits into different versions that live in different worlds.

The startling prediction of the "many worlds" interpretation of
quantum mechanics is that when systems like your mind interact with small quantum systems, every possible quantum outcome actually
happens in a different "world." Quantum mechanics is our most basic
theory of physics, and surveys of prominent physicists reportedly
find majorities favoring this interpretation. (More here.)

3rd Wild Idea:

If your head is cryogenically frozen today, you will be alive in

Your mind is a pattern of activity in your brain. The ability to induce that pattern is encoded primarily in your neurons -- in which neurons are of which type, and which neurons are connected together. Freezing a brain today in liquid nitrogen destroys many things, but
seems to preserve this type/connection info. By 2100 we should be able to scan this info from a frozen brain. If we scan your brain and then build and run a computer simulation of it, someone who remembers being you would wake up and feel alive. (More here.)

4th Wild Idea:

By 2100, the vast majority of "people" will be immortal computers
running brain simulations.

Simulated brains are potentially immortal, just as all computer data
is. And the ability to cheaply simulate brains will revolutionize
labor economics; wages should fall to near the cost of making brain
simulators. The population of such "uploads" should expand very rapidly, allowing huge increases in both economic growth rates and inequality. (More here and here.)

5th Wild Idea:

There's a five percent chance I live in a "future" computer simulation as I write this.

Some uploads could have robot bodies, while others could live in simulated computer worlds. Our descendants may place some of them in historical simulations, with simulated people who do not realize that they are simulated. How sure can I be now that I do not live in a future historical simulation? The more such future simulations there will be of this era, the higher a chance I must assign to this
possibility. (More here.)


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