Friday, July 17, 2009

Quick notes on mind and will…

As John Broughton's surveys show, physicalism and dual-aspect theory of mind are as naively intuitive (i.e., in the child psyche) as dualism. Cf. Rieber, Body and Mind, pp. 188ff.

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One man, call him Johann, stands before another man, call him Gunther. Johann shouts repeatedly at Gunther's legs, "Walk now! Go on, move! Walk forward!" But Gunther remains standing.

Johann's then shifts his gaze to Gunther's face and tries shouting again. "Go on, move! Hurry up! Walk past me, over there!" But Gunther remains motionless as before.

Finally Johann leans towards Gunther and shouts directly at his forehead, "I'm ordering you, walk away now!" After a moment or two of this, Gunther does walk away. Johann appears relieved.

What can we learn from this?

The brain is a physical organ of the human body. The legs are also human bodily organs (i.e, organoi somatikein (Greek?), tools of the body). According to some, it is the brain itself that perceives, grasps, computes, analyzes, and responds to stimuli, such as Johann's shrill orders. If this were so, however, why does shouting at a man's legs seem any more (or less) bizarre than shouting at his brain to compel action? It is the man, not his legs or brain, that initiates motion. Presumably the brain is wired "correctly" to grasp linguistic cues, while the legs lack sufficient complexity or neural sensitivity to "grasps" language. But if the legs are so dumb (or should I say deaf?), then how does the brain, ex hypothesi, "communicate" with them? Presumably, the same auditory "signals" sent by our words to a man's brain are but coded differently as electrical "impulses" applied to the legs. (Again, though, do we really want to say the legs 'have', or perhaps 'resist', 'impulses' to 'action'??) If so, this is just a vindication of hylopmorphism, insofar as the same formal order can dematierialize various tracts and levels of matter in the same way.

If the brain "causes" human action based on human signs and orders, how do the legs "respond to" such elevated things as speech and volition? Legs are but bone, nerves, and muscle stitched together, and we all know bones, nerves, and muscle are anything but cognizant. Yet, if I can "talk to" a man's brain, and his brain can "talk to" his legs, why can't I talk to his legs directly? (Is speech really just an electrical emisiion??) Do we really want to attribute such 'translation' skills to the brain, as one organic clump of matter among many?

Meaning is neither reducible to nor deducible from its constituent elements, not any more than a triangle is reducible to or deducible from its constituent elements. In the same, but metaphysically inverse, way that the phoneme "c" cannot and does not convey "cat", the single neurons in the parietal auditory cerebral regions cannot and do not grasp the meaning of "cat." Since neurons can only grasp distinct auditory inputs in spacetime input (viz., "c…a…t"), they cannot grasp "cat" without there being a synthetic organ of cognition. Presumably this is the brain itself, but even then, grasping what "cat" refers to is not the same as grasping what "cat" means. Otherwise, every time we heard "cat" we would look around for a small animal to feed, pet, or disdain. Words are not indices of objects, like bleeding holes are indices of gunshots, but rather signs (Gk., semeia, wonders) which possess an irreducibly intentional and immaterial dimension in which meaning exists––exists as neither a neural nor a cerebral, but rather a whole-person, phenomenon.

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I would also like to note how the title of Ted Honderich's book How Free Are You? in and of itself seems to vitiate his thesis, namely, that determinism is true and humans lack free will. Free will is predicated on, among other things, the ability to grasp rational directives and truly deliberate between possible rational alternatives and options. In the very act of asking "How free are you?" Honderich presupposes a human capacity for deliberation––which makes no sense on determinism qua lack of a libero arbitrio. My ability to ponder just how free I am itself unveils my theletic dynamism as an agent susceptible to alternative replies to that question. As, I believe, Grisez, Finnis, anfd Boyle argue, the effort to convince non-determinists of determinism performatively undermines determinism. If it's not up to the readers, or anyone else, to come to an answer on their own, freely and rationally, why bother asking the reader––or, indeed, oneself––how free we are? Why 'ought' a determinist get pissed at me, as a metaphysical libertarian, if, according to his own position, there is nothing I can do about my beliefs?


UnBeguiled said...

the effort to convince non-determinists of determinism performatively undermines determinism.

A determinist thinks that thoughts and beliefs are caused. So, a determinist arguing with a non-determinist in order to change his mind is entirely consistent with determinism.

My words are the cause, the changes in your brain are the effect.

What makes no sense at all is for a non-determinist to try to change my mind with an argument. If my thoughts and beliefs are not caused, but are contra-causal free floating wonder-stuff, what effect could your argument possibly have?

UnBeguiled said...

"Free will is predicated on the ability to . . . truly deliberate between possible rational alternatives and options."

No. Determinism is predicated on the ability deliberate between alternatives. The outcome of the deliberation, the choice, is caused by all the competing factors considered.

Free Will is predicated on the ability to make a choice un-influenced by any factors whatsoever. Free will is predicted on an agent having "first cause" ability.

A "first cause" is by definition un-influenced. So by acknowledging that human agents deliberate, you are stealing the concept of determinism.

Anonymous said...

What caca. No philosophical advocate of free will believes that the will is utterly and completely unrestrained.

What's more, you're sweeping the nasty little truth about determinism under the rug. For the materialist, what "causes" beliefs are mindless interactions. Atoms and particles bouncing around following laws without purpose, guidance, or reason. Someone who is a determinist yet rejects naturalism and materialism is on a completely different plane from the materialist determinist. Your "words" are not "the cause" unless you're rejecting materialism and therefore naturalism. By all means, do so. It's kind of a jackass' philosophy.

So no, a determinist of that variety who thinks that thoughts and beliefs are caused attributes said causes to mindless matter. Of course, they can always magic themselves up some emergence, but at that point they're just immaterialists in drag. Yet if they don't do that, then attempting to persuade the non-determinist with "ideas" and "beliefs" is inane.

Mike Flynn said...

The "words" do not "cause" the effect. Otherwise, the same words would cause the same effect each time they were spoken. A falling rock behaves deterministically. Brine when electrocuted will behave deterministically.

Oh, but there are many other factors that affect the context of the words! You have to take that one cause as part of a totality of causes.

But when you have a large number of causes, no one of which is determinate, the result is a random distribution of responses. [The Normal Distribution, if the many causes are additive in their effects; the Extreme Value Distribution, if they combine polynomially.]

But human behavior is neither random nor deterministic. It is not deterministic to say that actions are decided on for reasons. Free will does not mean one acts at random or for no particular reason. A motive is not quite the same thing as a cause.

UnBeguiled said...

"the same words would cause the same effect each time they were spoken."

It is my contention that identical words spoken in an identical context will always have the same effect.

Oh, but there are many other factors that affect the context of the words! You have to take that one cause as part of a totality of causes.

I agree.

But when you have a large number of causes, no one of which is determinate, the result is a random distribution of responses.

They are all determinate. So where does randomness come from? Also, introducing randomness is no support for free will. It supports random will, which if that is the case, we are all screwed.

"It is not deterministic to say that actions are decided on for reasons."

That is determinism, by definition.

A motive is not quite the same thing as a cause.

A motive is a type of cause.

The Cogitator said...


I've rarely seen a more horrendous mangling of the actual historical debate over free will than in your replies so far. Further, even if it weren't a betrayal of the historical course of this debate, your argument about reasons determining action would still be fatal to your own case. Sure, dude, you can SAY determinism is predicated on reasoning, but, hey, who am I to stop you from changing the meanings technical terms? Libertarianism is based on deliberating between alternatives according to rational values. Determinism can only code that claim as an organism being triggered to mobilize one course of action based entirely on external causes.

Now, the reason your line of defense for determinism is so perilous is this: if reasons are just a species of causes, there is nothing that separates a rational from an irrational persuasion. Both are simply variant forms of ineluctable causation impinged upon an 'object' from without. As I made clear in my post a few months ago about the "neurolator", if we cannot BUT respond in a certain way to certain stimuli, whether they are construed as chemical injections or sound waves "in the shape of" arguments, then there is nothing irrational about responding to irrational stimuli. Nor, however, is there anything rational about it, either. That's the problem: if we reduce reasons to causes, and deliberation to being-effected-by, then no argument is more rational than any other one, since, metaphysically, they are equivalent qua perfectly determined stimulus-response phenomena. Freedom of the will is rooted in our rational capacities, not in the "free-floating" straw man you foist upon the debate. It is only because certain dimensions of rationality include immaterial objects that we posit (i.e., deduce) an immaterial power in rational creatures.

You claim it is all of a piece for determinists to employ reasons to convince their opponents… but what if they don't want to? What enables them to deliberate between a range of reasons and options, including the choice to defend determinism or not? A determinist may say he cannot but defend his view, but a non-determinist can just as easily shrug his arguments off by saying she cannot but disbelieve them. Neither is being irrational–– since neither is being rational. "Cannot" is not the same as "can not".