Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Does the Argument from Reason commit the fallacy of composition

Wakefield Tolbert: After all, he has a good point, and one that is seemingly obvious but some people (including myself!) often miss due to the old adage that the best way of hiding---so they say---is in plain sight. A drop of water an ocean does not make. And no, Jaws can't maneuver in a pail. Nonetheless, water molecules indeed comprise the greater part of oceans, and likewise by analogy atoms and their multitude of connections make for us a larger world, (in fact the Cosmos) and all its attributes. Very commonly, as AC points out in a way, we DO hear much of this "X" could not possibly lead to "Y" kind of argumentation about inanimate matter forming conscious things just as it was supposed before the 19th century that matter had to had a "living spark" or other attribute to form life. . Which as we now know it does not. All around us we see rather ordinary manifestations of matter doing extraordinary things. Like the photons from this laptop showing the pixelized images on the blog.

Same for life itself: It just has to be the right arrangement of compounds. Ammonia and nitrogen, for example, both help compose and are excrete by all organisms. So too the argument with other Composed items. One might as well argue that a single note does not give us the compiled works of Mozart. But notes he has a plenty. Now perhaps some will next argue this argues for Intention and Will in order to arrange these elements (notes or atoms). But in the case of materialism's claim that natural processes entirely account for the evolution of life on Earth (and thus the human mind) as well being an unforeseen but "emergent" property of matter (just as no one could foresee water as the merging of hydrogen and oxygen, but nevertheless has odd qualities that are difficult to explain in themselves), the Will or Intention is not needed, it would seem.

Wakefield: It seems to me in the cases you mentioned, in the supervenience base of "composed" qualities, there is no normativity, no subjectivity, no teleology, and no intentionality. You just have something having a "macro" or "system" property of a set of microphysical parts. In the case of the mind, it does have those four properties, and because of that, I have a lot of trouble seeing how some truth having to do with any of those things can possibly supervene necessarily (and it must be necessarily) from the physical states. It's something like the familiar problem in ethics of getting an ought from an is. It gets worse when you start seeing how attempts to account for the "mental" have over and over again either implicitly denied the mental or slipped it in through the back door.

You take all the physical descriptions and put them in the left-hand side of the equation. Add them together, and it looks as if they can't entail anything on the "mental" side of the equation. There is always room for indeterminacy, or, for that matter, room for zombies. The physical works just fine, but there's just no there there.



At 7/23/2008 11:26:00 AM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...


You wrote:

>>I have a lot of trouble seeing how some truth having to do with any of those things can possibly supervene necessarily (and it must be necessarily) from the physical states. It's something like the familiar problem in ethics of getting an ought from an is.<<

Perhaps the challenge for us on the AfR side of things is to demonstrate, simply and clearly, exactly why mental properties must supervene necessarily if they supervene at all. And, moreover, precisely why the the "ought" of reason must indeed be an "ought" and not an "is" in disguise, so to speak.

At 7/25/2008 04:20:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

DB: Chalmers attempted this in his book. Chapter 2 I think. His basic argument is that if zombies are logically possible, then materialism is false. He spends quite a bit of time arguing for the general argument style (if x exists and it is not logically fixed by the physical facts, then materialism is false).

At 7/26/2008 10:09:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You take all the physical descriptions and put them in the left-hand side of the equation. Add them together, and it looks as if they can't entail anything on the "mental" side of the equation."

If one starts off by placing physical concepts in one box and mental concepts in another box, is it any surprise that one cannot find any mental ones when rummaging through the box containing the physical ones?

Is a smile of disdain physical or mental? Is a shout of joy physical or mental? Is a cry of fear physical or mental?

Seems to me that the clear divide between mental and physical you make is of your own creation and others need not adhere to it.

At 7/29/2008 11:00:00 AM , Blogger Wakefield Tolbert said...

Anon. said, in part:

Seems to me that the clear divide between mental and physical you make is of your own creation and others need not adhere to it.

Yes, obviously the joy shout, the hoot, and the smile are combinations of mental and physical states, with the mental being the pretext and the encouragement/activation to the physical. I don't think anyone would disagree on the mix here. This is the issue of getting intentions to the nervous system and translating the feedback in turn.

But how then is the divide crossed, which certainly it must be at some point in some capacity, IF materialism is true and mental states are no more than a "natural" and "predictable" (so alleged, per some current models of the eon-long evolution of the mind? It is not REQUIRED, for example, except for the involutary human muscular movements like the heart, that intention come into play. And even if so it is NOT a requirement that one leads to another. Intention is also key here. You can always chose to frown and not smile.

Whether you leap across the Gulf, swim, or transverse it with tight rope, cross it you must.


Thanks for bringing this to the forefront of discussion. I think this is important as far as a form of critique. I'll get back later with some other observations of one type or another.

At 8/04/2008 08:13:00 PM , Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

I can't believe that naturalism makes so little sense to you. You're a philosopher and should be able to at least see the most obvious virtues of other people's arguments/hypotheses.

I think we agree that the brain is unlike an individual atom. It is also unlike all other organs in the body. It is hooked up to all the sensory organs of the eyes, ears, skin, and it turns whatever energies they receive into sensations that are stored and linked together in a complex ELECTRO-CHEMICAL matrix. This makes brains unique organs, unique compared with the whole rest of the cosmos in fact.

However brains themselves are not unique since we have such a wide spectrum of them to choose to study, and the complexities of their sensory organs and the complexities of their behavior patterns overlap along a spectrum.

Naturalists don't claim to know everything about HOW brains function, and yes, they don't have a technical language worked out that distinguishes the differences between experimental data about what is happening naturally in different parts of the brain, and the actual experience of such things in and of themselves. And in fact some argue that such a complete description of the brain-mind and how it works might be impossible even in a naturalistic cosmos. But experiments continue to reveal the standardized patterns of brain-mind's and how they function.

It was also thought a while back that experimental evidence of how memories functioned was strictly impossible. So I wouldn't count out consciousness studies just yet.

So all I can say is that I see no easy philophical way to simply cut the gordian knot between naturalism and supernaturalism as you propose via strictly philosophical argument.

For those who read your blog, my own responses to Lewis's ARF are online:

C. S. LEWIS’S “Argument From Reason,” vs. Christians Who Reject Mind-Body Dualism and Accept the Possibility of Artificial Intelligence, Even “Born Again” Machines!


At 8/04/2008 08:17:00 PM , Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8/04/2008 08:27:00 PM , Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...


If there is a FALLACY to the AFR it is this: Your argument presumes that atoms CAN only be atoms and act only as atoms and only in atomic ways. But how can you PROVE that? How can you prove that atoms once joined together into larger things called molecules may not acquire different interactive properties on a different level of cosmic interaction than the atomic level? How can you prove the same moving upward from molecules to chemical chain reactions to organelles to cells to tissues to organs, to unique organs like central nervous systems and brains that employ ELECTRO-CHEMICAL systems that are unique among organs, etc.? You can't. So your assumption is your assumption and your proofs are moot.

That is the whole fallacy of the AFR.

And for all your talk about how brain physiologists lack the right language and are "smuggling in" experiential terms, I'd say that smuggling in an AFR assumption as to what high orders of joined atoms can or cannot do at fuller wider higher levels of interaction, is just as much a smuggling operation.

Neither do I hold it against naturalists that they lack explanations and terms for the spectrum of conscious experience. I mean there's things going on while we sleep that we don't have words for, yet when we awake, our memories and performances of repeated tasks improve, day by day. Things are going on while we sleep, the brain is self-organizing itself in ways that we don't have all the data for, but it exhibits regular patterns.

I'd also add as I have in the past the question of just WHAT exact explanations does a substance dualist have when it comes to ANYTHING?

At 9/04/2008 06:52:00 PM , Blogger Wakefield Tolbert said...

Of course, then there is the very problem of WHAT consciousness is in and of itself.

Couldn't help it. No real plugs here, but an article I found intriguing.


At 9/04/2008 07:23:00 PM , Blogger Wakefield Tolbert said...

I meant to add, much earlier, that it is NOT entirely true that at the atomic level one cannot ascertain the color and movements and eventual collective habits (or "rules" of motion, etc) for atoms. We can. It's just very difficult. A nice gold ring, if viewed at the atomic level, CAN reveal WHY gold is yellow based on the interaction of light. Ditto for gold being heavy, etc, etc. All elements are like this. So I must admit your detractor, AC, is not quite correct that atoms don't often reveal at the atomic level what they turn out to be at the collective, or "composition" level.

Thus for example he claimed they could not be soon. Untrue. They are not seen by the NAKED HUMAN EYE due to the fact that a wavelength of light is larger than individual atoms, etc. But science can see them if we use the right equipment. We know they are there and know how they interact, for the most part. So the "Fallacy of Composition" has a comeback I should have thought of beforehand. So atoms have micro levels of color, or reasons why in the collective the wavelengths of gold vs. silver are distinct to our eyes or why irredescence makes hummingbirds shimmer. Right down to the atomic level. Difficult, but not impossible to find.

I admit this is not the same for human consciousness. There are evidently no "micro" bits of consciousness to be found in any kind of atom any more than notions of soul and love and for that matter the reasons we perceive patterns like melodies and constellations. So the very most we can say is these are apparently organizations at the collective level not evident at the micro level at all.


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