Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


series
God is a necessary precondition for reason: Steve’s first rebuttal

Continued from my first rebuttal « Steve has now posted his first rebuttal. I am reproducing it here for ease of reference. It seems to me that the discussion is wandering away from the topic of the debate. The question is whether or not human reason requires the existence of God. It is not, I […]

Continued from my first rebuttal «

Steve has now posted his first rebuttal. I am reproducing it here for ease of reference.

It seems to me that the discussion is wandering away from the topic of the debate. The question is whether or not human reason requires the existence of God. It is not, I believe, a discussion about the nature of life, or of the existence or otherwise of purely subjective experiences (although I am happy to cover those matters, and I will). I mentioned those as illustrations of how our past notions of reality have been shown to be flawed, in the way that our “common sense” understanding of how our minds work, and what our minds consist of certainly is.

I also feel we need to stay focused on what human reasoning consists of, and not be tempted to abstract matters to ever higher levels so that they are always beyond whatever a materialistic view of the world can explain. One of the tools of reasoning is Occam’s Razor. We should stick with the simplest level at which we may be able to begin to explain things, and only move up from there if absolutely necessary. We also have to be careful about how we would justify moving to a different level. The history of science and reason has taught us that common sense, incredulity and ontological arguments are not good justifications.

So, let’s review what needs to be explained. I say that it is the ability of our minds to recognize truth, to reflect on it, and to draw correct conclusions.

I think this is an appropriate time to discuss where our connection with “truth” comes from. The philosopher Alvin Plantinga argues that evolution only tunes our minds to know what is necessary, but not truth. This implies that we may be living in some kind of mental fog of unreality, unable to correctly assess reality. This is a rather puzzling idea, because to survive, minds have to be able to detect and remember truths about the world. Even simple animals with minimal brains can have the ability to learn. Learning is based on reward and punishment. Eat the right kind of fruit and you get a full belly. Eat the wrong kind and you get sick. An animal living in a fog of delusion about the world is going to get sick much of the time, and won’t be as good at producing offspring as one that has better access to the truth. This is not to say that we always recognise truth. It can be useful for minds to over-detect certain patterns. It is better to mistake a stick for a snake than mistake a snake for a stick. However, even this is constrained, as too many “false positives” will result in a waste of energy. The tendency to false positives can also reduced by experience, and by discussion with others, and by research. In the end, when we carefully prod the stick, we find it is indeed just a stick.

There is a term used in computing – “bootstrapping”. This describes how a computer can “get going”. A computer needs to “know” facts about how to deal with its hardware: how to fetch information off the internal disk drive, for example. In the earliest machines the first few instructions had to be fed in manually, through switches. Then, this could get the machine starting to read what is now a barely remembered form of data storage – paper tape. The tape loaded up enough to start reading either a disk or a magnetic tape, and then the system was fully functional. Computer scientists knew that surely there had to be better a system. What was needed was some way that the computer could “pull itself up by its own bootstraps”; get itself going (in a way that seemed almost paradoxical, hence the metaphor) with no intervention. This was achieved using information stores that could be accessed directly by the central processor of the computer and which did not lose their information when the computer was unplugged. In older computers this was in the form of magnetic rings (core memory). In modern computers this is in ROMs (Read Only Memory). All the computer needs is to be hard-wired to always look in the same location in these stores for the first instruction to execute. I will come back to computers and their hardware again, as they provide an interesting parallel to brains in many respects, but for now, introducing the concept of bootstrapping has been important. Our brains have been “bootstrapped” into recognising and processing and analysing truths about the world by the survival value of interacting successfully (in terms of reproduction) with the world, and especially with the other living creatures within it.

One of the problems in discussing the mind is that most of us seem to think that we are experts about what goes on in our own heads, and what it feels like to have those processes going on. I need to re-iterate what I said at the start of this response, and I will do it as follows: If a process walks like reasoning, and it quacks like reasoning, then we have a reasoning duck! To look at the process and claim that it simply can’t be reasoning because it is physical is not acceptable. If a physical system is sufficiently powerful to give the appearance of reasoning, then it certainly is reasoning. If we were to try and argue otherwise, that would be begging the question about the nature of human reason. Evolution can produce solutions that we can find difficult to understand. It should not be surprising then that we haven’t yet sorted out in detail how brains give rise to minds. I would like to give an example of the power of evolution and how it can lead to effective yet mysterious results. To do this I am going to come back to computer hardware. In the 1990s Adrian Thompson of the Department of Infomatics at the University of Sussex performed an experiment. He wanted to see if he could evolve a computer circuit out of 100 components that could discriminate between two different signal frequencies – one and ten cycles per second. So, he varied parameters of the circuitry at random and selected from the results. It took thousands of cycles of mutation and selection, but in the end, he succeeded. The results were rather odd. They were nothing like anything designed by a human. After some analysis, redundant components were removed (removal was not part of the selection process). Various feedback loops were present in the circuitry, and strangely, some components were needed even though they were not connected to the others. They contributed to the electrical properties of adjacent circuits. To sum up, the circuit produced by evolution was, for a time, a mystery. It only worked in certain temperature changes, and the output of circuit changed if it was moved to a different area of silicon. One of the most significant aspects of this experiment was how efficient the result was in terms of components – only around 1/3 of the available components were used in the evolved design. The implications of this (and subsequent experiments) are that we should beware of invoking magic where there is mystery. There was no magic here, just evolution. We see similar mystery in the brain, only with trillions of components, not tens. So, it is not surprising that we aren’t yet close to understanding consciousness.

That example of the evolved circuit shows one way that complexity can arise – by the input of energy and resources combined with selection from variation. However, clearly, not all complexity is of the same nature, and it can arise in various ways. A watch is complex, but not in the same way as a tree. Brains are complex in ways that allow for intelligence. But, we need to be careful about definitions, otherwise we may end up calling intelligence “whatever a mind does”, and instead avoid considering its general nature. Although we have not achieved general intelligence in artificial systems, we have certainly achieved specific functions that are usually considered intelligent in nature – recognition of voices, faces and even handwriting, learning, planning, game-playing. We know of different kinds of complex systems that can achieve this level of functionality. One kind is a result of software engineering in the form of huge and carefully-written programs. Another kind is fuzzier, with a greater emphasis on hardware – neural networks. We may, for all we know, discover other kinds of complex system that exhibit this behaviour. What we have seen is behaviour from artificial systems that, if a human exhibited such behaviour, would certainly be called truth recognition and processing, in other words – reasoning.

Another matter raised in this debate is that of causations versus correlation in terms of the connection between brain and mind. I am afraid that attempting to explain things away using correlation just won’t wash. It is beyond anything we would accept in any other area of life. Above a certain level of correlation, we accept the likelihood of causation – that smoking is bad for you, that cars run by gas rather than magic. There is only so much “prodding” of a system and observing the results that needs to be done to get an idea that the prodding itself is having the effect. The alternative is absurd – that some non-physical process is constantly monitoring the state of all the neurons in the brain in order to figure out what is going on in order to manipulate the state of some non-physical mind. One would have to ask – what would the point be? It would surely be easier to just leave the mind fully working when the brain suffers a stroke.

Now I am going to return to some matters discussed in my previous contribution to clear up what I believe are misunderstandings. My discussion of the universals was meant to illustrate how misleading it can be to assume the actual existence of certain attributes of physical systems. In discussing redness, I showed that the assumption of an essence of redness as an extra physical or metaphysical property of something that appears red is mistaken. This was not to do with the experience of “redness”, but that “redness” does not have any independent existence from the physical world. I did not state that moral and propositional attitudes aren’t explicable to science in terms of the material world; I had rather hoped that my statement had shown that they were. What I stated was that there was still resistance to the idea that they are explicable in these terms, in a way that there is no longer for “redness”. There is no “essence of redness” that is present in the world, and there is no “essence of morality” or “essence of propositional attitude” that is present. They are simply terms that describe certain kinds of mental processing, and the experience of having such processing going on.

Regarding the issue of intentionality and modeling other minds, the actual mental state of a tiger that may attack us is of no relevance to the matter of how our minds can deal with this issue. Our ability to recognise intentions in other minds comes from the necessity to predict what the tiger will do. Our minds recognise the living nature of a tiger because we need to model what it may do, and we realise that sufficiently complex living creatures aren’t as predictable as, say, a rock. We usually tend not to assume that a rock is “out to get us” (although there is certainly some advantage to assuming the remote possibility it might be, as an enemy may be behind it, waiting to push). Our abilities to recognise and to deal with intentionality aren’t mysterious: they arise from having to share our world with both predictable events and the less predictable objects that are creatures with minds.

To conclude, I have dealt with the issue of how the ability to recognise and deal with supposed universals of reasoning, such as truth, can “bootstrap” into brains through selection – no metaphysical standards for these need to exist. There may be some issue about the fact that it is like something to have experiences, but there is nothing about that that implies anything non-physical. There are interesting discussions to be had, I feel, about the nature of experience – why it seems to feel like it is something to have neural processing going on in one’s head. There are fascinating times ahead in neuroscience. We are able to follow the activity of neurons to an ever-finer detail, and model that activity. At some point, we will be able to observe, and model, what happens in a brain when we reason. This modeling will be a consequence of the use of the scientific method to understand reasoning. Any explanation of how we reason must itself involve the use of reason, and must include both a description of mechanism and predictive power. Supernatural explanations don’t provide either mechanism or predictive power. They involve magic, and that really isn’t any kind of explanation at all. To pick up on one particular point, if it is proposed that some supernatural spirit follows the state and activity of nerve cells (so as to reproduce the effects of drugs, or brain lesions), then it is necessary to provide a description of the mechanism by which those nerve cells are monitored. The scientific approach will allow observation of the mind in action. It does not require such mechanism, as the patterns of activity of trillions of nerve cells is itself the mind. The results of that observation may be a million, or a billion, times more complicated and, initially, mysterious than the puzzling nature of the evolved frequency discriminator circuit described above, but we will get there in the end. The speed at which the human genome project was completed reveals the exponential rate of progress of science.

Continued in my second rebuttal »

22 comments

  1. Anonymous

    A question for anyone who would care to answer it. Steve suggested that there is not anything connected to the mind/brain that is non-physical.

    So if I picture an orange ball in my mind isn’t that picture non-pyhsical? It is orange, it has shape and texture yet if you open up my head you can not see it or touch it or measure it. There is no physical light projecting on a screen, etc…

    How is it physical?

    seer…

  2. Anonymous

    and…

    As far as Alvin Plantinga and true beliefs. The problem is that false beliefs may give survival advantage as well as true beliefs. I may run from the tiger because I have an irrationl fear of turning orange if I touch an organge tiger. I live, based on a false belief. And the evolutionary process could care less. True beliefs are not necessary for survival.

    Another point: the vast majority of humanlity for most of it’s recorded history have believed in a god or gods. That there was something out there that men were accountable to. But if you are an atheist you must hold that this belief is false.

    So this false, nearly universal belief confered advantage.

    seer

  3. Anonymous

    “So if I picture an orange ball in my mind isn’t that picture non-physical? It is orange, it has shape and texture yet if you open up my head you can not see it or touch it or measure it. There is no physical light projecting on a screen, etc…

    How is it physical? “

    -Perhaps you should research neurophysiology before you make such blatant assumptions. I have done extensive research in this field, and what you say is both factually wrong and beside the point (although it is belief held by quite a few people who don’t know the facts).

    In fact the geometrical shape of what you see is represented as a geometrical shape of the pattern of neural activity in the back of your head, where the visual information is processed. As for phenomenal colours, they are the output coding vectors of the Hurvich-Jameson network. If you research it, you will find that the output-vector space maps entirely to the phenomenal color-spiral – and that is all there is needed to coherently postulate identity. The Hurvich-Jameson model applied to the phenomenal colour space can even produce testable predictions – which turn out to be true.

    But even if that wasn’t so (it is) – that wouldn’t be a point, since the characteristics of phenomenal experience must not themselves be present in the brain – all that would be needed is that every quality of phenomenal experience can be mapped to a specific (kind of) pattern of neural activity given the specific state neural network.

    As for Plantinga – he simply is no biologist (as Dr. Zara is for example), he has it wrong. You have to get it right THAT there is something after you, and you have to have a drive to reproduce in evolution – which means a drive to survive at least until one has reproduced. Thus an animal with a working evolved nervous system automatically recognizes predators and flees because of this urge. Irrational fears can arise because of pattern over-detection, but this would be an error that will not be selected for, because it has energy and time cost additional to the working predator-detection and flight or fight impulses that do have to exist in evolution. Also it would detract from the ability to reproduce because it would have these additional costs, and will thus not be selected for.

    -Mike

  4. Anonymous

    A couple of points Mike. First how did you answer my question? I’m not arguing how the picture is produced in my brain/mind. It certainly may have a physical genesis. But the picture (or a thought for that matter) can not be reduced to the physical – you can not see, touch or measure my orange ball. You may map the neural activity, but you can not see the shape. I can.

    As far as Plantinga goes Mike. Would you agree that the evolutionary process produced, either directly or indirectly, the almost universal belief in a god or gods? And that this false belief offered some advantage?

    seer

  5. Anonymous

    “But the picture (or a thought for that matter) can not be reduced to the physical – you can not see, touch or measure my orange ball. You may map the neural activity, but you can not see the shape. I can.”

    – I answered the question by stating that this is no argument against materialism, because it is not required that the attributes of the experience are also attributes of the brain states and processes. All that is required is that every difference in the ‘mind’ maps uniquely to a difference in the brain. That is all there strictily has to be for identity. Imagine a neural network face recognition. The states and processes of/in this network do not have the property of “having a big nose”, yet it is face recognition. Similarly, the behaviour of the circuitry in your PC does not have the same attributes that the higher level prespective of the “execution of the program” picks out, yet the execution of the program is identical to the specific behaviour of that specific circuitry.

    And furthermore – look into “neural correlates of consciousness”, for example on scholarpedia. Given the data that is the input (in whatever form) and given the knowledge abuot the brain, one can determine what the phenomenal experience is.

    But the important part is the first one – what you state is not an argument against identity, because for that all that is needed is the factuality of every “mind”-state mapping to a specific state of the specific brain. This and the fact that there is no positive evidence for a nonphysical mind establishes that the identity-relation can be identified. Furthermore, any other position would be physically impossible, because of the conservation of energy and momentum and (in extension) the 1st law of thermodynamics. Something non-physical can neither monitor nor influence the physical – because that would violate these laws. But even if that wasn’t the case, the above would still be the case. The problems for dualism of any flavour are insurmountable – and the evidence for identity-theory / funtionalism incontrovertible.

    “Would you agree that the evolutionary process produced, either directly or indirectly, the almost universal belief in a god or gods? And that this false belief offered some advantage?”

    First, the belief is not universal in one deity or even sytem of deities. By far over 90 % of all humans that ever lived did not believe in the same God you do. There is a fundamental difference in attributes. And after all – things identify and thus differ because of different attributes.
    Second, the important part of your statement is “or indirectly”.

    Here I agree. This is what the evidence shows. However, indirectly means that it does not provide a selection advantage, but is an epiphenomenon of something that provides a selction advantage. With religion, one current and very substantiated theory is that it is an epiphenomenon of the propensity to false positives in detection of intentionality, the capacity to invent stories and the trust in what authority teaches you. None of those are absolute, but they all provide a selection advantage that has nothing to do with religion, yet they make the evolutionary survival of religion possible.

    Also, as Steve and I pointed out – the detection mechanisms being required to be generally reliable does not mean that there cannot be false positives or false negatives – but the detection mechanisms and their link to the behaviour-governing mechanisms generally (not universally) have to be reliably connected to the actually obtaining states of affairs in the world.

    Since the evolutionary stable features that allow for religion to survive fall within the constraints when it comes to social behaviour and if false do not contradict the description of truth-recognition in evolution, they do not have to be true… and when you regard all the other things we know about the world, interventionist non-physical deities are positively disproven (conservation of energy and momentum, 1st law of thermodynamics), and deistic deities are taken care of by Occam’s razor.

    As for the issue of the mind, and identity-theory and funtionalism – I can recommend the works of Paul and Patricia Churchland and Daniel C. Dennett (for example “Consciousness Explained”). They are highly interesting and imensely substantiated by the evidence, although of course not perfect… and therefore already revised.

    -Mike

  6. Anonymous

    Mike since I only have tempory use of a computer, now and again, and since you mentioned Pat Churchland, I was wondering – do you agree with her conclusion:

    “Boiled down to the essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F’s: feeding, fleeing fighting and reproducing. The principle chore of the nervous system is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism survive. … Improvement in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organism’s chance of survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindermost“.

    Given this, how do you know that your beliefs about the evolutionary process are true? These beliefs certainly would not be necessary for survival

  7. Anonymous

    Knowing the philosophy of the Churchlands as I do, I think the passage you quoted was meant to make the point I was making above:

    1. The evolutionary important thing (what is being selected for) is to be able to have representations that are dynamic, can be correct and that the system can correct these itself. This requires quite complex, high level self-monitoring and signal-manipulation of the system… and is required for the four F’s. Also, the more complex and detailed these representations, the behaviour-governing mechanisms and the stronger the connection between the two – the better will the four F’s work.

    2. The advanced capabality of truth-recognition, of constructing correct models or at least very good approximations is not selected for directly, thus it “takes the hindermost” in evolution. But it is an epiphenomenon of the “basic” capabilities selected for. For example these mentioned above, but also better communication through a grammatical language, which increases the possibility of cooperation, anticipation and thus planning, which in turn increases potential for having surviving to reproduce.

    Evolution is not teleological – this epiphenomenon was not “forseen” in any way, since it is evident from the facts (observed random mutation and natural selection) that there is no agency behind this. But this epiphenomenon, our capabiity for approximating to a high degree of detail the “way the world works”, has turned out to be hugely consequential for the group so that nowadays it shapes our world, and is thus kept by evolution.

    -Mike

  8. Anonymous

    Hey Mike, first let me say that since I’m a layman you are using terms and language that are a bit beyond me. So perhaps you can tone it down so that even I can understand. So…

    In your last response you basically told us why the evolutionary may produce the ability for true beliefs. But I think Churchland’s point was and I know it was Plantinga’s point – that the process would not care about true beliefs, they simply would not be necessary for survival.

    To keep it simple, so that even I can understand: Any number of irrational beliefs could keep us from danger. Rational beliefs simply would not be necessary.

    To a more important point: In your model do I have a choice in what I believe? If so how is that possible given materialism, if not what objective standard migigates between rational and irrational beliefs? How does one know if his beliefs are comporting with reality.

    Again, sorry if I don’t have the computer time to respond more fully…

    seer

  9. Anonymous

    “To keep it simple, so that even I can understand: Any number of irrational beliefs could keep us from danger. Rational beliefs simply would not be necessary.”

    Absolutely not. But I’ve covered this. You need true representations of the world around you – such as THAT there is something out to get you, or THAT what you are seeing there is a poisenous snake and not a stick. Without true representations of such, you die, quite simple. Irrational beliefs that are in some way connected to behaviour (that are consequential) cost time and energy, which makes for a disadvantage over individuals with true consequential beliefs about the world and its own states.

    You need a minimum of true representations about the world around you and the things in it even so that irrational beliefs could keep you from danger. But then you already have the means for having true beliefs. For the rest, re-read what I’ve written above.

    The Plantinga-challange is answered.

    I know that Churchland’s point was not that of Plantinga, who – as I already stated, has got evolution wrong. I’m sorry if I’ve used terms that are technical jargon… but you can look them up, for example by searching for a definition in Google (type in the field “define: epiphenomenon” for example).

    “In your model do I have a choice in what I believe? If so how is that possible given materialism, if not what objective standard migigates between rational and irrational beliefs? How does one know if his beliefs are comporting with reality.”

    That depends on what you mean by choice – I’m afraid no common sense definition works. Also, this isn’t about “free will”, but I can cover it shortly: The common sense views of free will do not work. Common sense free will would be uncaused, spontaneous caustation – that would still have to be connected to reason(s). This is a contradictory notion, and in addition to that incompatible with what we know about the world.

    I suggest you read the page about “Compatibilism” on the Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/

    You can also save or print the page for later reading.

    Also, standards for rationality or irrationality arise whether or not there is any form of free will. Maybe one could not have thought or done otherwise, but the thoughts and/or beliefs still fall under categories of being either true, false, neutral, rational, irrational etc, because it doesn’t matter if you “could have done otherwise”. What matters is that you as a system with a mind are responsive to reason and reasons. And this is how I define “free will”.

    Since the common-sense view is impossible, both because it is logically contradictory and because it contradicts our factual knowledge of the world – you might as well go with a definition that works :)

    -Mike

  10. Anonymous

    A couple of quick points Mike. First, you could avoid the snake for any number of irrational reasons and still survive.

    Second,it seems that in materialism my thoughts and conclusion are really the result of the non-rational forces of nature. What we see as evidence, or how we interpret said eveidence would be completely arbitrary – again at bottom – the result of non-rational forces…

    Ok, gotta run…

    seer

  11. Anonymous

    “A couple of quick points Mike. First, you could avoid the snake for any number of irrational reasons and still survive.”

    Oh boy – here we go again…
    I will restate this for the last time now: For every irrational reason to avoid it you first have to recognize it and believe it’s there, ie have a justified true belief… so you already have to have the means to learn truths.
    Irrational consequential beliefs when you have the means to learn truths are costly, and thus are not selected for.

    “,it seems that in materialism my thoughts and conclusion are really the result of the non-rational forces of nature. What we see as evidence, or how we interpret said eveidence would be completely arbitrary – again at bottom – the result of non-rational forces…”#

    Err… not quite. This already presupposes that physical processes cannot produce rationality, reason, intelligence or whatsoever.
    In the end, the brain is
    i)in its general shape the product of evolution, a “blind”, nonteleological force and
    ii) in its synaptic structure the product of how the general structure responds to conditioning… ie through learning, being trained by its environment.

    This includes the input your parents give you, learning in school and learning by your self (to walk, avoid things that approach you fast etc).

    The synaptic structure is a neural network. It is capable of doing logical processing, like a massively parallel computer – only even more complex. Every synapse is a logical juncture and has a synaptic weight that determines how the neuron processes the signal that comes in from this synapse.

    The whole neural net is just physical – but it does logical processing of signals (and, or, nand, xor – and whole strings of these, massively parallel) – ie it is rational.

    Now when you have such a system – and it interacts with other such systems (also agents capable of rationality), and learns from other such systems, it’s no wonder that it produces all the features we are capable of – at the basis of which is communication.

    Really, neural networks are the positive proof that a purely physical system that requires no previous software programming can produce rational behaviour. Neural networks aren’t programmed, they learn through conditioning. And the brain is a massive, dynamic neural network -immensely more complex than any we can model at the moment.

    -Mike

  12. Anonymous

    Ok Mike, now that I could understand. Thanks.

    Maybe I’m not making my point correctly. Do agree that we have both rational and irrational thoughts and conclusion? And since these thoughts and conclusion would rest on what we see as evidence and how we interpret the evidence – how do you know when your conclusions are rational (actually comport with reality)?

    And do you agree that a firing neuron (or neurons) that produce a thought are not rational in nature? A mere electro-chemical reaction?

    seer

  13. Anonymous

    “Do agree that we have both rational and irrational thoughts and conclusion? And since these thoughts and conclusion would rest on what we see as evidence and how we interpret the evidence – how do you know when your conclusions are rational (actually comport with reality)?”

    See, now that’s an interesting question. I know that a conclusion is rational if
    i)the conclusion follows from the premises
    and
    ii)the premises do not contradict other knowledge.

    Standards of evidence is another thing. Here, we tread into philosophy of science and epistemology – and it gets very technical.
    A short outlay:
    Direct observation – accesible to multiple subjects constitutes data. These data can be expressed in sentences. Combine several such data-sentences and you can make logical inferences – the conclusions and the data set is integrated into a framework of beliefs that themselves are supported by data. At the basis of the conceptual framework lie tacit assumptions, such as about the expressability of observation into grammatical sentences or that our senses can provide representations of reality, or that the rules of logic apply. Interestingly – even these can be investigated.

    Anyway – the standards of rationality rely on the standards of logic and these basic assumptions. These are however not universally applied – but it can be pointed out if they are not.

    Whether the laws of logic are “merely” the necessary laws of how the mind works or even the necessary laws of how things can be is interesting, but in the end it doesn’t matter, because even only the former were true – it would follow from this that we cannot speculate beyond the latter, so we cannot even think coherently that states of affairs could obtain which would violate the laws of logic.

    Then of course there’s the pragmatical, methodological perspective – which clearly shows that science is the single most testable, reliable and productive (for good or bad) way of investigating the world. An example:
    Every CD-player shows that quantum-theory cannot be that far off the mark – because LASER is a quantum-phenomenon that was predicted to be possible, and then the technology was invented based on that.

    “And do you agree that a firing neuron (or neurons) that produce a thought are not rational in nature? A mere electro-chemical reaction?”

    I really think you’re making a category mistake here. A neuron can no more be rational than an atom or a stone – only certain processes with certain signals (information) can be rational. And the processes of systematic, coordinated activity of neural nets of sufficient complexity can be and is rational.

    -Mike

  14. Anonymous

    Hello Mike, I pray that I’m not presuming on your kindness but I would like to go back to a previous point – that I’m having troubling understanding.

    Do we agree that a firing neuron is not a thought? No matter how many neurons it may take they are by nature mere eletro-chemical events. They may produce thoughts but thoughts, like my orange ball, are someting more or added.

    Now I did look up some of your references but I’m afraid that they did not help. So could you, in language that even I can understand, tell me what a thought is?

    Thanks, seer

  15. Anonymous

    No, I’m afraid we don’t agree here – I know it’s counter-intuitive, but the evidence points there:

    A neuronal firing patter of a certain kind in a certain context is identical to the thought.

    If thoughts were merely “produced” by them, that would mean that something physical, namely information/signal processing, somehow “gives off” the information it is to something nonphysical. There is no mechanism, no process imaginable by which this should happen – and what would be the point. Neuronal firing is already information processing – some of them are conscious thoughts, some unconscious body-regulation, some are emotional responses – dependend on where the firing takes place and what form it has.

    For example, the limbic system is the “center” of the primal, intuitive, emotional drives and responses – the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is responsible for logical thinking and planning, the visual cortex is where the seeing takes place etc.

    Neither is something additional needed, nor can we even imagine what this would be. Conscious activity (and unconscious activity) all comes down to signal processing – and this takes place in the substrate of the neural net.

    So, the activity of the brain is not produced by, but identical to the activity of the mind.

    For the rest, see above: The fact that there is nothing “orange” in your brain is beside the point. The strict identity is not violated if there is nothing orange in there, all that is needed is that we find that a certain activity in a certain context corresponds to the orange-sensation, the round-sensation etc, ie to the representation of the orange ball.

    Combine this with the evidence and arguments from above (and Steve’s posts), and what you get is that the logical conclusion is that the activity of the mind is identical to the activity of the brain – there is nothing “added”.

    I know this is counter-intuitive, because since descartes, dualism is entrenched in our language and cultural notions, and of course the religious concept of the soul is also entrenched so that there is resistence to the idea (understandably). But substance dualism would violate the laws of physics, and property dualism is unsubstantiated and based on a category error.

    The evidence is quite clearly on the side of broad functionalism (see e.g. Dennett) and identity-theory/eliminative materialism (see e.g. Paul Churchland).

    -Mike

  16. Anonymous

    Again Mike, I’m not saying (for now)that the thought is not fully dependent on the physical process. That would take care of the corresponding issue. But an electro chemical signal is not a thought. How can it be?

    You are correct, this is quite counter-intuitive, but not because of what Descartes concluded, but because of first person experience. I know I have thoughts, I know I can produce pictures in my mind, and I know neither can be seen or touched by you. And we know that an electro-chemical signal is not information per say – that process basically works on an on/off system. Electro-chemical signals do not, in themselves, “think.”

    Thanks for the reply, seer

  17. Anonymous

    Mike said:

    I really think you’re making a category mistake here. A neuron can no more be rational than an atom or a stone – only certain processes with certain signals (information) can be rational. And the processes of systematic, coordinated activity of neural nets of sufficient complexity can be and is rational.

    So one neuron is not rational. But a thousand are? Individually they are non-rational but collectively they become rational?

    seer

  18. Anonymous

    Mike said:

    See, now that’s an interesting question. I know that a conclusion is rational if
    i)the conclusion follows from the premises
    and
    ii)the premises do not contradict other knowledge.

    Of course this begs the question – how does one know for sure if the premise is true. Since you agree that humans are given to rational and irrational thought, on any given point, how does one know for sure when he is being rational?

    Then of course there’s the pragmatical, methodological perspective – which clearly shows that science is the single most testable, reliable and productive (for good or bad) way of investigating the world.

    This is an interesting point since I would ask who defines what science is. And we know that science mostly operates on induction (deduction/falsifiability at times)and you know Hume’s point on induction – it is an unjustifiable assumption.

    seer

  19. Anonymous

    1. Yes – certain types of electro-chemical processes are information processing. Just like the electronic processes in your computer are information processing.
    2. Thus, it is not the pack of neurons that are rational, it is information processing that goes on in the neural network that is rational (some parts of it, others are the emotions etc). That is to say the signal transduction.
    3. All you are doing is stating your incredulit – saying “it can’t be so”. I’m saying precisely that first person experience is identical to the activity of the neural net. And you are wrong – it is accessible from the outside. When I know how your brain processes information, and what information it gets from the outside, then I can predict the personal experience… this is already possible to a small degree, which is quite a feat, given that our technology is still far to crude to have sufficient resolution for observing the brain to a detail finer than 1mm – which is already a pack of thousands and thousands of synapses.

    I’m sorry, but the “argument” from incredulity is not an argument at all.

    _____________

    How does one know if the premises are true? Depends on what theory of knowledge one proposes – I know many, and not a single one that is absolutely without problems.
    But I favour (as explained in a previous comment) the approach that says that the premises can be argued for and analyzed themselves – through arguments the premises of which again can be analyzed and argued for, until you arrive at the basic, foundational assumptions that are so are immediately evident
    Premises that fulfill these conditions integrate coherently into the larger scheme of knowledge.
    ___________________
    Actually, Popper made the point that science works mostly on deduction and falsification. Furthermore, there is no pure induction, since every observation is already theory-laden.

    Also, all of these do not invalidate my points that we have nothing better than science, and that when we look at the pragmatic effects – science has demonstrated that it has a degree of veracity that nothing else has. As such, whatever position you take – it can only be more subject to criticism than science in this regard.

    Also, science acknowledges its imperfection and always seeks to find flaws in its theories and interpretations – through tests. The tests are constructed to be harder and harder to pass – and while we cannot positively know that a theory who passes them is true, we can know that it is the best interpretation-schema we have for the data with incredible predictive power.

    Nothing but science manages this.

    -Mike

  20. Anonymous

    Good morning Mike, you said

    1. Yes – certain types of electro-chemical processes are information processing. Just like the electronic processes in your computer are information processing.
    2. Thus, it is not the pack of neurons that are rational, it is information processing that goes on in the neural network that is rational (some parts of it, others are the emotions etc). That is to say the signal transduction.

    There is no “information” in computers per say. Just a series of interconnecting ons/offs. Those ons/offs have to be interperted by a mind. Or they are use less. And for that to happen we are adding some other than simple electrical highs or lows.

    3. All you are doing is stating your incredulit – saying “it can’t be so”. I’m saying precisely that first person experience is identical to the activity of the neural net. And you are wrong – it is accessible from the outside. When I know how your brain processes information, and what information it gets from the outside, then I can predict the personal experience… this is already possible to a small degree, which is quite a feat, given that our technology is still far to crude to have sufficient resolution for observing the brain to a detail finer than 1mm – which is already a pack of thousands and thousands of synapses.

    See Mike, I know I see the orange ball. As a matter of fact you know that you see your orange ball.And no matter how well you understand the electro-chemical process the orange ball does not exist in that physical process. Just as the orange ball does not exist in the ons/offs of the computer. For that orange ball to be manifest from a computer you need pyhsical light and a screen. There is no pyhsical light or screen in my brain.Yet I see it. And so do you.

    How does one know if the premises are true? Depends on what theory of knowledge one proposes – I know many, and not a single one that is absolutely without problems.
    But I favour (as explained in a previous comment) the approach that says that the premises can be argued for and analyzed themselves – through arguments the premises of which again can be analyzed and argued for, until you arrive at the basic, foundational assumptions that are so are immediately evident
    Premises that fulfill these conditions integrate coherently into the larger scheme of knowledge.

    Of course, on most any subject, we are ignorant of facts. Since we are finite there are always facts that escape us. Where one fact can overthrow the whole system. And there are no “brute facts” out there that are not filtered through the subjective mind.

    Actually, Popper made the point that science works mostly on deduction and falsification. Furthermore, there is no pure induction, since every observation is already theory-laden.

    Also, all of these do not invalidate my points that we have nothing better than science, and that when we look at the pragmatic effects – science has demonstrated that it has a degree of veracity that nothing else has. As such, whatever position you take – it can only be more subject to criticism than science in this regard.

    Also, science acknowledges its imperfection and always seeks to find flaws in its theories and interpretations – through tests. The tests are constructed to be harder and harder to pass – and while we cannot positively know that a theory who passes them is true, we can know that it is the best interpretation-schema we have for the data with incredible predictive power.

    1. Actually most of science at least begins with induction and repeatable conclusions. For instance water boils at about 212 degrees F at sea level. We hold this to be true because of repeated tests – but we can not know if it is true. As Hume said it is an unjustified assumption.

    2.Popper also said that science never actually gets to the truth. He quotes Einstein that he would never consider his theory true, perhaps a better approximation, but false nonetheless. Why? Because even false theories can make true predictions. Newton’s theory of gravity would be one example.

    3. So false theories can make true predictions. Another problem: Science does not always observe, it also measures. And measuring is key to most scientific conclusions. Yet what we decide to use as measurment is completely arbitrary. In other words we invent things like yards, inches, degrees, etc… So how do these completely arbitrary tools comport with reality?

    4. One other point Mike that I think you missed: Who defines what science is? Is science simply what scientists do?

    thanks, seer

  21. Anonymous

    “There is no “information” in computers per say. Just a series of interconnecting ons/offs. Those ons/offs have to be interperted by a mind. Or they are use less. And for that to happen we are adding some other than simple electrical highs or lows.”

    I’m sorry, but that’s simply wrong. What happens there is signal transduction, ie information processing. You dogmatically assume that information cannot be a property of physical systems. Ever heard of entropy?

    No matter what I say, you presuppose your position and say “it can’t be” – so all I can say furthermore is “You’re wrong”.

    Especially about this, information.

    You don’t have an orange ball in your mind either – you have a representation of an orange ball. And neuronal states can very well represent things in the outside world – see the face recognition neural networks. From your position you could say that such a neural networks face recognition has a nonphysical mind as well, because there is a representation of the face present as information in the system.

    It all comes down to representation and information. And contrary to what you think, signal processing and transduction (taking and input and computing an output that is not identical to the input) is information processing. Also, this is representation, since representation is the integration of information about a system in another system. All that is needed for that is systematicity and uniform causal connections.

    “Of course, on most any subject, we are ignorant of facts. Since we are finite there are always facts that escape us. Where one fact can overthrow the whole system. And there are no “brute facts” out there that are not filtered through the subjective mind.”

    That is largely true, but not contradictory to what I stated. If you accept that the CD player you have is a CD player, it is a fact that this is a development of quantum theory, this means that my points are valid also for you.

    “1. Actually most of science at least begins with induction and repeatable conclusions. For instance water boils at about 212 degrees F at sea level. We hold this to be true because of repeated tests – but we can not know if it is true. As Hume said it is an unjustified assumption.”

    This again overlooks that every observation is already theory laden, and thus there is never pure induction. The terms “Fahrenheit”, “Sea Level”, “Degrees” and “boiling” are already theory-laden.

    “2.Popper also said that science never actually gets to the truth.”

    Popper said that science approaches truth, and maybe even gets to it, but that we can never have the second order knowledge to know that we have it – yet he acknowledges corroboration, thus the approach of truth.

    Also, Popper is a little out of date when it comes to philosophy of science (though the above still holds true)

    “False theories can make true predictions”

    No, they can approximate true predictions. Newton’s theory provides approximations of the actual values. So if you only measure to a certain degree of detail, it will fit, but if you go beyond that, it won’t. Therefore, it is an approximation of a better theory.

    “Science does not always observe, it also measures. And measuring is key to most scientific conclusions.”

    Absolutely

    “Yet what we decide to use as measurment is completely arbitrary.”

    The standards of measurement, like “meter”, “yard”, “second” etc are in the end arbitrary. But that doesn’t matter – I suggest you look into “theory of measurement”.

    Something like meter is an arbitrary standard, but uniformly and systematically applied – it always refers to one specific length – that does obtain. Also, there is a difference between standards of measuring where the 0-point is also arbitrary, and such where it is not, such as measurements of length. These need a zero-reference and one standard unit. From there, everything else follows.

    The standards are arbitrary, sometimes completely (Fahrenheit), sometimes not (length, where the 0-point is fixed for all possible standards).

    And the fact that they refer to a real property that can be picked out through a uniform standard – that is how they conform to reality.

    “4. One other point Mike that I think you missed: Who defines what science is? Is science simply what scientists do? “

    That is the question of the demarcation criteria – which is a topic of philosophy of science.

    But you’re asking a loaded question here, which I will resolve by distinguishing between the pragmatic quesiton, namely “who actually does advance the demarcation criteria”, which are philosophers of science and scientists themselves.
    – and the question about justification, which I have already answered that they are arrived at through logical arguments based on pragmatic truths (methodological necessity) and based on the non-arbitrary theories of epistemology and philosophy of science, which have to be both logically valid (coherent) and consistent with the observations.

    The fact is that the standards are very well justified – and that this is a thing of logical expressive power of statements and observations.

    The statement “Someone who was sick bought a healing-stone and got better, and this is evidence for the healing power of stones” fails these criteria – and is a prime example on which one can show how the criteria are logical:

    Several things are not mentioned which we know can affect the outcome:

    1. What was the nature of the illness and what was the statistical likelyhood given the condition of the person that it would have gotten better anyway?
    2. Is the person gullible and credulous (placebo-effect)
    3. What were the additional factors that affected her system?
    4. What precautions were taken to elimintate other possible explanations?
    5. By what mechanism did the stone do this
    6. How can we investigate that supposed mechanism?

    The statement made was that the stone provided a sufficient cause for the remission. This is a very strong statement indeed – so you have to look for other possible sufficient causes. Also, as Steve correctly said – unless you can demonstrate that you have a model of the mechanism, the process by which the one causes the other, you are positing magic, and thus provide no explanation at all.

    However, all of this is really sidetracking what we were going on about initially.

    Sadly, I think our discussion is going nowhere. I have laid out my case and presented you with sufficient evidence for it. There is nothing more I can do. The evidence is overwhelming, and I think I have been able to lay it out sufficiently, but I’m afraid it will convince noone who is dogmatically entrenchend in the position that there “has to be” something else.

    I posit identity – and where there’s identity, there can be no systematic connections, because there are no distinct, separate things. So the question “what is the connection between the thought and the neural processes – please lay that out for me” is meaningless from the position of identity. There aren’t two different things that are connected – there is one thing – the brain process, which we know as the thought.

    And the more science progresses, the more we can positively identify the neural activity with the conscious activity.

    So, that shall be it from me.

    Bye,
    -Mike

  22. Anonymous

    Well Mike, that’s about it for me too since I won’t have use of a computer shortly.

    Just to recap, the fact that the scientific method has some real flaws, and the fact that all facts are subjectively interpreted, and the fact that on any given subject we may be ignorant of a host of related facts (this is certainly the case with brain/mind theories) precludes you from dogmatically stating that dualism is impossible. You really have no idea – just assertion

    Logical constructions are fine and necssary but they are only as good as their premises. But to offer a premise one must first deal with the short comings mentioned above.

    thanks again, seer

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