Friday, June 15, 2007

Swinburne of "siphoning off"--is dualism the foundation of natural science?

This is an extremely important argument, and explains to a large extent how I reply to people who say that the progress of science is evidently going to push in favor of materialism with respect to the philosophy of mind. It's my claim that modern science is grounded, in a important sense, in dualism. That is, science at the time of Galileo was able to treat the physical world as a machine because it could dump all the qualitative stuff into the mind. But if the mind is supposed to be physical, how did that work back then?

No one replied when I put this up before, so I am putting it up again.

I was motivated to do so by noticing what looked to me to be an argument from scientific progress for materialist reductionism in Doctor Logic's comments. He wrote:

Well, every scientific regularity we discover is like a 'heads'. Every reductionist flip is like another 'heads'. After hundreds of these, it is not rational to conclude that mind is likely to be non-physical. In order to conclude that, the supernatural model would need to accurately predict some experience that's as improbable as heads-up fair coin tosses in a row. Of course, supernatural claims make no predictions that can make this kind of come-back.

It seems to me, however, that the success of scientific discoveries do not show that materialist reduction of the mind is inevitable, and that whatever difficulties we might encounter along the way (say, in dealing with consciousness), are "bumps in the road" to be smoothed out in the inevitable advance of science onward and upward on its road to a complete reductionist account of everything. If I am right, that advance of science was grounded, at its outset, by a cleavage between mind and matter. Science was free to analyze what was quantitatively analyzable through mechanistic analysis and treat everything else as mental. These successes are reasons to suppose that we won't be able to provide a mechanistic analysis of the mental, not that we will.

From Richard Swinburne’s The Evolution of the Soul (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986) p. 191.

There is a crucial difference between these two cases. All other integrations into a super-science, or sciences dealing with entities and properties apparently qualitatively distinct, was achieved by saying that really some of the entities and properties were not as they appeared to be; by making a distinction between the underlying (not immediately observable) entities and properties and the phenomenal properties to which they give rise. Thermodynamics was conceived with the laws of temperature exchange; and temperature was supposed to be a property inherent in an object. The felt hotness of a hot body is indeed qualitatively distinct from particle velocities and collisions. The reduction was achieved by distinguishing between the underlying cause of the hotness (the motion of the molecules) and the sensations which the motion of molecules cause in observers. The former falls naturally within the scope of statistical mechanic—for molecules are particles’ the entities and properties are not of distinct kinds. But this reduction has been achieved at the price of separating off the phenomenal from its causes, and only explaining the latter. All reduction from one science to another dealing with apparently very disparate properties has been achieved by this device of denying that the apparent properties (i. e. the ‘secondary qualities” of colour, heat, sound, taste, etc.) with which one science dealt belonged to the physical world at all. It siphoned them off to the world of the mental. But then, but when you come to face the problem of the sensations themselves, you cannot do this. If you are to explain the sensations themselves, you cannot distinguish between them and their underlying causes and only explain the latter. In fact the enormous success of science in producing an integrated physico-chemistry has been achieved at the expense of separating off from the physical world colours, smells, and tastes, and regarding them as purely private sensory phenomena. The very success of science in achieving its vast integrations in physics and chemistry is the very thing which has made apparently impossible any final success in integrating the world of the mind with the world of physics.



At 6/16/2007 12:37:00 AM , Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

Have you heard of Paul Bloom, author of Descartes' Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human and How Children Learn the Meanings of Words. Basic Books. NY, 2004.

His essay in Atlantic Monthly, Dec. 2005, asked whether or not the idea of "God" was an "accident," viz., of human development and dualstic perceptions that arose during the process of evolution. His essay in the Atlantic was incorporated into The Year's Best Science Writing 2006. His article is also online here and here.

Another fascinating article in The Year's Best Science Writing was We're all Machiavellians by Frans B.M. de Waal* See also de Waal's interview, The Two Apes Within Us.

*The Dutch zoologist Frans de Waal, 57, has been researching the behavior of primates since the beginning of the 1970s. Dozens of chimpanzees and bonobos in the Arnheim zoo in Holland and the San Diego zoo know him almost as well as their own clan mates. De Waal now leads the Living Links Center in the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta. The Center has some 3,400 primates including around 100 chimps. He is the author of "Our Inner Ape," published in 2005 and co- author of "Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved."

At 6/16/2007 12:01:00 PM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...


Unfortunately I just do not have time to pursue this subject at length, but Bloom's article reminded me of Shermer's book Why We Believe. It has a basic coherence problem. Shermer says that human beings tend to see patterns even when none exist and relates this to psychological theories of religiosity. But Shermer's own hypothesis is grounded in of a perceived pattern in human behavior, and so requires a bold-faced asterisk next to it. It must find some non-question-begging way of distinguishing itself.

Likewise, Bloom's article says:

Sometimes there really are signs of nonrandom and functional design. We are not being unreasonable when we observe that the eye seems to be crafted for seeing, or that the leaf insect seems colored with the goal of looking very much like a leaf. The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins begins The Blind Watchmaker by conceding this point: "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose."

We cannot give Bloom and Dawkins more than half a point here. If humans were not designed for purpose, then it is necessarily the case that nothing humans produce is actually designed for a purpose either. One problem it raises, then, is how purposes can exist at all, and if they fail to exist how we can conceive of their existence. Are computers that model natural selection actually designed for a purpose, or do they merely appear to be so designed? If the human brain was not designed for a purpose, then nothing produced by the brain can be credited to a purpose such as the quest for scientific understanding.

So Swinburne's point is not the only one to be made on behalf of dualism in the context of science.

At 6/17/2007 07:50:00 PM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...


It seems to me, however, that the success of scientific discoveries do not show that materialist reduction of the mind is inevitable...

I agree that it is not inevitable, but that doesn't mean it's not more probable.

Suppose I have a shuffled deck and a sorted deck of cards, and I start dealing off the top of a deck at random. If I deal out 1, 2, 3, 4, then it is much more likely that I am dealing from the sorted deck than from the shuffled one. This is because in 4 trials I am dealing what must be the case for the sorted deck, but merely what can be the case for the shuffled deck. So my claim is not that it is impossible that mind is non-material, but that it isn't likely to be the case.

On to your main argument...

Science was free to analyze what was quantitatively analyzable through mechanistic analysis and treat everything else as mental.

I think the distinction that was made was between the objective and the subjective, not between mind and matter. I wrote a long response about this, but I think I can summarize it very briefly.

Science is about isolating properties of things from biases of observers. That is, isolating properties are part of the thing itself rather than accidental side-effects of interactions with particular observers.

An objective property of a system is a property that inheres in the system itself, independent of knowing anything about the external observer.

I cannot say that music is objectively pleasant until I specify who is listening to it (i.e., put an observer in the system). So, I could say that Beethoven's 6th is objectively pleasant to me but not objectely pleasant in and of itself. Hence, pleasantness of music is subjective.

However, by using instrumentation and external verifiers, we can show that sodium is objectively explosive in contact with water. We don't need to know anything about the experimenter to state this fact.

Now, historically, it may be the case that some regarded the objective-subjective distinction as a mind-matter distinction (I don't know if it is or isn't the case). However, that's not necessary to the success of reductionist science. What's necessary is an objective-subjective distinction for systems.

This would be my answer to your question "how did that work back then?"

At 6/24/2007 01:05:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

I wouldn't say it is a foundation, but it is true science has tended to avoid conscious experiences. Now it is finally starting to try to bring them back in. In the 1970s, for instance, even discussing it in psychology was considered fringey and strange: there were a handful of people that explicitly discussed it. Nowadays its almost fashionable to discuss consciousness in psychology, and sometimes even neuroscience.

At 7/03/2007 07:11:00 PM , Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

Darek, What exactly is your own "non-question-begging way of distinguishing" your own hypotheses? At what point do non-question begging authoritarian pronouncements take over for you in matters both metaphysical and moral?

And what exactly is the purpose of the "human brain?" Has it only a single purpose? For that matter, what is the purpose of the chimpanzee brain, and the lemur brain, and the four-footed mammal brain, and the mammal-like reptile brain, and so forth, going back evolutionarily speaking, till we reach creatures with the simplest of nervous systems, and then single-celled amoeba with no nervous systems at all, yet still able to perceive enough about their environment as to seek, corner and trap free-swimming dinoflagellates?


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