Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Darek Barefoot replies to Richard Carrier

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14 Comments:

At 6/28/2007 02:04:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

“Granted that there is an argument for mental affects, what would a physical event caused by a mental event look like? It would look like an event for which sufficient physical cause is lacking. The mental cause would be invisible to sensory observation. The only way to "see" the mental event would be to experience it from the perspective of the mind in which it occurs. We do, as it happens, experience causally effective mental events. And physical effects for which physical causes are inadequate, though strange to contemplate, are not beyond reason.”

Never experienced a a causally effective mental event myself. What does it feel like to you?
It really shouldn’t be that hard to devise an experiement in which a sufficient physical cause is lacking and a mental cause can be used to explain the outcome. For instance, lifting a ball into the air with one’s thoughts only, or bending spoons without touching them. I think Duke University back in the 60’s and 70’s ran numerous such experiements with dismal results.

 
At 6/29/2007 06:44:00 AM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...

Anonymous

How about lifting one's arm in the air with one's thoughts only? Or to be more specific, how about sending a motor neural impulse to one's arm muscles with one's thoughts only, thereby causing the arm to lift? Suppose you conclude that you need to reach for an object at arm's length. Does that thought have nothing to do with causing your arm, which is physical, to move toward the object?

Those who are willing to read the excerpt you quote in the context of my essay as a whole can judge whether research of the kind you refer to has any relevance. But readers don't need to limit themselves to that. Someone who peruses the Stanford online encyclopedia's article on mental causation will not come away with the impression that the question of the casual efficacy of mental versus physical events/states is easily resolved in favor of physicalism.

 
At 6/29/2007 08:33:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"How about lifting one's arm in the air with one's thoughts only? Or to be more specific, how about sending a motor neural impulse to one's arm muscles with one's thoughts only, thereby causing the arm to lift? Suppose you conclude that you need to reach for an object at arm's length. Does that thought have nothing to do with causing your arm, which is physical, to move toward the object?"

But I don't lift my arm with my thoughts only! What on earth makes you think that is possible? We know that we lift are arms with the nerves, musceles and tendons in the arms.
It is just as likely that I could lift my arm (or sending a mortor neural impulse) with my thoughts alone as lifting the paperweight on my desk with my thoughts alone. I'd be interested in learning why you think it is more likely for this so-called mental substance to be able to excite a neural pathway or bring about a chemical change in the brain than it is for it to be able to bend a spoon or lift a paperweight.


Sure our thughts may have somethig to do with lifing my arm or not lifting it. For example, my desire to get a bottle of beer out of the fridge my explain why I lifted my arm. But you too quickly assume that you can shoehorn that desire into a cause and effect relationship.

 
At 6/29/2007 08:40:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, my typing skills are really deteriorating with age. Apologies!

"We know that we lift our arms with the nerves, muscles and tendons ine arm." Is the corrected version of the original, mangeled sentence:-)

 
At 6/29/2007 10:01:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

" Those who are willing to read the excerpt you quote in the context of my essay as a whole can judge whether research of the kind you refer to has any relevance."


Right before the section I quoted you spent a couple of lengthy paragraphs discussing why it would be unlikely for science to be able to detect this hypothetical mental substance causing physical changes in the brain: in a nutshell, this activity would likely be undetected because of the extreme compexity of the brain. That is true. But the question of the detection of such mental causation and the question of the ability of this mental substance to effect physical changes are separate. The lack of detection makes it no more likely that this mental substance could do what you are claiming it could.
In fact, the huge complexity of the brain would seem to make it even more difficult for the mind to be able to bring about all the physical changes you are proposing. For instance, how does the mind know which of the billions of neural networks to change in order for a person to come to the awareness that he believes in a proposition such as “Socrates is mortal”? And apparently the mind is doing all this causation without any conscious awareness at all. I know that I have never consciously activated a particular neuron.
How does this mental substance have the unconscious ability to know exactly which neural networks in the brain are responsible for which particular behaviors? How does it know which physical representations go with which concepts that arae being represented?

I’m sorry, but you appear to be asking me to believe that this mental substance can’t do something simple like bend a hairpin, but it can manipulate and keep track of the billions of neuronal and chemical reactions taking place in the brain.

You do make some good critiques of Cariier’s postion. But your position does not appear to me to be any more attractive than his.

 
At 6/29/2007 12:02:00 PM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...

>>For instance, how does the mind know which of the billions of neural networks to change in order for a person to come to the awareness that he believes in a proposition such as “Socrates is mortal”?<<

Well, I this is just as much a problem for physicalism as for idealism or dualism. If your brain is "you" and it is necessary for your brain to know which networks it is employing in order to know a proposition, then "you" must know all that information in order to know the proposition. I suggest that you do not know such information (meaning your brain does not know it, at least not in the usual sense of the word "know") and yet somehow you do know the proposition.

Note also that it is possible to know that something occurs without knowing precisely how it occurs. For example, in the early days of research into AIDS, critics of the viral theory kept saying that because it is difficult to explain how the virus destroys the immune system we have no reason to believe that it does so. But this was faulty reasoning. There was no conceptual basis for disallowing the virus as a cause of immune system pathology, it was just a matter of filling in technical details.

We know that by thinking different thoughts we can cause physical changes outside the body, such as changes in MRI scans of the brain. This is because of subtle changes in electromangetic fields. These subtle changes presumably produce very small changes in electron activity in objects in close proximity to the brain--even electron activity in the atoms of a spoon in front of a subject. These changes are simply too small to detect in ordinary objects. So the issue is just on what scale the physical effects occur, not that thought has physical effects.

The question, more properly, is whether mental events such as thoughts are really just physical events in fancy dress. Thoughts have peculiar characteristics that, at the very least, are difficult to recast in terms of physical properties. One of the points of my paper is that this is a deep conceptual challenge, not a technical one. But again, I invite anyone who is interested to review a sampling of available literature on intentionality, mental causation, mental imagery and related subjects to verify that naturalistic physicalism does not have easy, consensus solution to these conceptual problems.

 
At 6/29/2007 01:12:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We know that by thinking different thoughts we can cause physical changes outside the body, such as changes in MRI scans of the brain."
The only thing we know is that it is physical changes in the brain itself that causes those changes in the MRI scans. Why are you making the assumption that some non-physical, mental substance is causing the change in the MRI scan?

" This is because of subtle changes in electromangetic fields."

Yes, subtle, physical changes.

"These subtle changes presumably produce very small changes in electron activity in objects in close proximity to the brain--even electron activity in the atoms of a spoon in front of a subject. These changes are simply too small to detect in ordinary objects. So the issue is just on what scale the physical effects occur, not that thought has physical effects."

All you've laid out here is a chain of physical cause and effect. Changes in electormagnetic field producing changes in electron activity.
Simply because it is possible to say "The brain is thinking" when these physical changes occur does not entitle you to claim that there is a mental substance producing these physical changes. I don't see any argument on your part to subtantiate such a claim. I'm afraid it looks like you are just begging the question here.
Even worse, it appears that you are making this mental stuff behave in a most mechanical way in order to cauuse all these subtle physical changes in the brain.

"The question, more properly, is whether mental events such as thoughts are really just physical events in fancy dress."

Perhaps you should examine the underlying assumptions you are making by even asking such a question.

Thoughts have peculiar characteristics that, at the very least, are difficult to recast in terms of physical properties. One of the points of my paper is that this is a deep conceptual challenge, not a technical one. But again, I invite anyone who is interested to review a sampling of available literature on intentionality, mental causation, mental imagery and related subjects to verify that naturalistic physicalism does not have easy, consensus solution to these conceptual problems."

What I'm trying to point out here is that you have not solved these conceptual problems by positing a mind/brain dualism in which some kind of mental substance interacts with the physical substance of the brain.
From where I am sitting it looks like you want to identify the mind with some kind of mental stuff that interacts with the physical elements of the brain and Carrier wants to identify the mind with some physical stuff that interacts with other parts of the brain. So the core of your disagreement is really over the composition of the mind: whether it is mental stuff or physical stuff.

 
At 6/29/2007 01:55:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"These changes are simply too small to detect in ordinary objects. So the issue is just on what scale the physical effects occur, not that thought has physical effects."

I don't agree. You are making a rather extraordinary claim: that a mental substance of some kind is able to produce a physical effect. It's not enough to claim that this mental causation is possible simply because it occurs on a small scale.
Moving an electron around with a mental thought is no more credible than moving a hairpin around with a mental thought.

 
At 6/29/2007 09:46:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

There are obviously tight correlations between mental events and neural events. Nobody can disagree with this, dualist or not. The question is, what explains this correlation? Two variables can be correlated for many reasons: they can be identical (lightning correlated with electrostatic discharge in the clouds), they can have a common cause (brown fingers and lung cancer are correlated b/c they are both caused by smoking), one can supervene on the other (animal movement supervenes on musculoskeletal environmental facts), they can be in a more complicated bidirectional coupling with one another (e.g., heater and thermostat) etc..

This is the starting point of any responsible philosophy of mind. Clearly, just because the vocabulary or concepts used to understand one domain are radically different than the other, this doesn't imply anything interesting metaphysically (e.g., we had a pretheoretic understanding of lightning well before we understood electricity (similarly with water and H20)). So one should be very careful in drawing metaphysical conclusions from conceptual facts.

To the point, even though I see a conceptual gap between the mental and biologial facts, I don't put much stock in it. They could be coextensional. Nobody thinks we need to make ontological concessions to explain the behavior more simple species with nervous systems (e.g., the leech, honeybee, the mouse (?)), and given that there is no evidence that humans aren't simply products of evolution acting on biological stuff, I would put my money on the biocentric theories of mental representation and even consciousness.

That said, Carrier's theory is fraught with problems, one of which I pointed out here. These aren't killer problems, but he has far from addressed them.

 
At 7/03/2007 06:59:00 PM , Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

On Barefoot's paper,

I'd like to count up all the bald assertions and/or arguments based on analogy (which prove nothing).

Or the way mysteries and questions are never left as mysteries and questions but resolved in a theistic manner, or even a substance dualistic manner.

But then, there are also physicalist Christian philosophers who would disagree with many of Barefoot's assertions and arguments as much as Carrier does.

Isn't philosophy wonderful?

Let me just ask whether or not anyone here can tell me where memories are stored. Are they stored in the brain? Or in a supernatural sphere? Or both? (Please feel free to email me.)

There is a lot of research going on concerning how memories function in the brain.

As for Platonism, it seems at odds with a scientific view of the world. Take the electromagnetic spectrum. The colors of light lay along a continuum, as do all other forms of measurable energy. The world in that sense, does not consist of easily defined archetypes, but of a spectrum of energies and sensations of an extremely wide range. And it would appear that the brains of different organisms perceive such energies and place them (in "Platonic" fashion) into discrete categories based on each species' brains and perception apparatuses, i.e., honeybees see the ultra-violent range and we do not.

Or take the word, "chair." Is it a Platonic category? I can imagine a continuous series running from chairs to sofas to divans to tables. I can also imagine chairs with three, two and even one leg, or even no legs, such as a swing, or a cushion of air jets, or simply a rock to lean most of your rump up against and support at least 50% of your weight. What is a "chair" then in Platonism?

And have you read David Stove's _The Plato Cult_?


Edward T. Babinski

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

Darek Barefoot is also the author of a paper on the Secular Web, "The Riddle of the Four Faces: Solving an Ancient Mystery" in which he argued that the four faces of the cherbim in Ezekiel (human, lion, ox/bull, eagle), not only presaged the four Christian Gospels, but that those faces correspond to the Christian Gospels in such a way that only God could have preordained such correspondence. My what a mystery solver Darek is! And what a marvelous proof he has come up with of the Bible's inspiration. Or not. Since faces contain a plethora of possible points of correspondence with other things.

Richard Burridge, dean of King's College in London (and author of Four Gospels, One Jesus?) wrote an entire book about the traditional Christian ascription of each cherubim's face to represent each Gospel's picture of Jesus, though he did not press his sermon-like analogical approach so far as to make it an argument or proof of divine foresight.

In fact he mentions in his book that Ezekiel would have known of images and statues of semi-divine animals in the ancient Near East, especially from Babylon, where the god Nergal was a "winged lion," Marduk a "winged bull," Nabu a human being, and Ninurta an "eagle." What Ezekiel appears to be doing is simply discounting the Babylonian worship of such creatures as gods in themselves, making them rather, servants of HIS God.

Lions have been known proverbially then as king of the beasts, bulls as king of the domestic beasts, eagles as king of the birds, and human beings as rulers and hunters of those animals. That explains the creatures held for the ancients as well.

Lions, oxen and cherubim were even on the basin stands in the Hebrew Temple, though no eagle.

So Ezekiel's "vision" has plenty of direct associations suited to his own day and interests to promote his god, contrasting it with that of the creatures worshiped as gods by the Babylonians.

Rev. 4 drew upon Ezekiel's four face-symbols as well. Christians later took them up as symbols of the four Evangelists, and as "visual teaching aids" (Burridge's words), though Christians didn't necessarily all agree on which symbol should be used to best represent which Gospel. *smile*

A firmer form of distinguishing the four Gospels from one another would be to study them first, and notice what they each emphasize, like Mark's Suffering Servant Jesus whose life and miracles parallel those of Elijah, John's Heavenly Son of Man, Matthew's comparison of Jesus with Moses, and Luke's emphasis on Jesus as prophet.

I would therefore suggest books to Darek like The Changing Faces of Jesus by Geza Vermes.

Or, The Teaching Company's lectures on The New Testament that note the themes (mentioned above) of each Gospel, the lecturer being Luke Timothy Johnson (a Catholic biblical scholar), and the recognition of such themes does not involve having to link either a human or three animal faces with each Gospel.

I think it much liklier than Darek's hypothesis can be explained via the plethora of possible associations of each type of face, human and animal. Thus someone seeking correspondences might easily be fooled by one's own imaginative proclivities into thinking one had "solved" some great mystery--like seeing faces in clouds, or like playing an ingenious dispensationalist game of "match the latest newspaper headline with the end-time-related-verse from Revelation or Ezekiel."

Johnson's course on the New Testament Gospels at The Teaching Company explains what the themes of each Gospel are, in and of themselves, without having to relate them to a human or animal face.

 
At 7/03/2007 07:22:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Babinksky: that is a red herring at best, ad hominem at worst.

 
At 7/05/2007 11:21:00 AM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

I agree with BDK. This is irrelevant stuff. You are attempting to embarrass Darek about something he wrote on a completely different topic, implying that we shouldn't listen to what he said about the Carrier-Reppert debate based on what he said about biblical scholarship. That is the ad hominem fallacy, and if you do something like this again you'll be banned. It's one thing to be long-winded, its another thing to be long-winded and irrelevant.

Also please put that canard abaout physicalist Christian philosophers to be permanently. My first metaphysics teacher at Arizona State University, Dr. Theodore Guleserian, was an atheist and a Cartesian Dualist. We Christian philosophers have lots of disagreements. If we didn't, Society of Christian Philosophers' meetings would be dull and boring.

 
At 7/05/2007 09:31:00 PM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

I meant put it to bed permanently.

 

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