Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Unity of Consciousness (again)

V. The Argument from the Unity of Consciousness
Consider once again the inference “All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal.” Now if there is one entity, namely me, that has all these thoughts, then it might be supposed that we have a rational inference here. If Bill has the thought “All men are mortal,” and Dennis has the thought “Socrates is a man,” and I have the thought “Socrates is mortal,” then we have a problem. No one person has actually performed the inference, and so the inference has not been performed at all.
Hasker, who has been both one of the chief proponents of the Argument from the Unity of Consciousness and the Argument from Reason, nevertheless thinks that there are separate arguments, and that the argument from the unity of consciousness should not be counted among the arguments from reason. Carrier thinks the argument is really an argument from consciousness rather than an argument from reason, and he thinks that in the last analysis what is plausible in the arguments from reason is simply the argument from consciousness. As Hasker put it, “The issue of unity of consciousness, after all, applies to conscious states that are in no way concerned with reasoning, including the states of sentient beings incapable of reason.”
True enough. But some people, confronted with the problem of the unity of consciousness, attempt to show that this unity is an illusion of some kind. I have in mind Dennett’s “multiple drafts” model from Consciousness Explained, and other theories like it. According to Susan Blackmore,
Each illusory self is a construct of the memetic world in which it successfully competes. Each selfplex gives rise to ordinary human consciousness based on the false idea that there is something inside who is in charge.
Or Steven Pinker, who writes,
There’s considerable evidence that the unified self is a fiction—that the mind is a congeries of parts acting a synchronously, and that it is only an illusion that there’s a president in the Oval Office of the brain who oversees the activity of everything.
Now if this is really true, if there is really no one individual who thinks the thoughts we think, then it follows straightforwardly that no one performs any rational inferences, including the rational inferences that have been used to reach the conclusion that the unified self is a fiction.
Now a philosophical naturalist can be a fictionalist about all sorts of things, but he cannot be a fictionalist about the sorts of inferences scientists make. So the Argument from Reason comes to the aid of the Argument from the Unity of Consciousness, and block the "eliminativist" response with respect to the unity of consciousness.
Kant argued, in the Second Paralogism
Every composite substance is an aggregate of several substances, and the action of a composite, or whatever inheres in it as thus composite, is an aggregate of several actions or accidents, distributed among the plurality of substances. Now an effect which arises from the concurrence of many acting substances is indeed possible, namely, when this effect is external only (as, for instance, the motion of a body is the combined motion of all it parts). But with thoughts, as internal accidents belonging to a thinking being, it is different. For suppose it be the composite that thinks: then every part of it would be part of the thought, and only all of them taken together would be the whole thought. But this cannot be consistently maintained. For representations (for instance, the single words of a verse) distributed among different beings, never make up a whole thought (a verse) and it is therefore impossible that a thought should inhere in what is essentially composite. It is therefore possible only in a single substance, which, not being an aggregate of many, is absolutely simple.
A formalization of the argument, which is developed in William Hasker’s The Emergent Self, goes as follows:
1. I am aware of my present visual field as a unity; in other words, the various components of the field are experienced by a single subject simultaneously.
2. Only something that functions as a whole rather than as a system of parts could experience a visual field as a unity.
3. Therefore, the subject functions as a whole rather than as a system of parts.
4. The brain and nervous system, and the entire body, is nothing more than a collection of physical parts organized in a certain way. (In other words, holism is false).
5. Therefore, the brain and nervous system cannot function as a whole; it must function as a system of parts.
6. Therefore, the subject is not the brain and nervous system (or the body, etc).
7. If the subject is not the brain and nervous system then it is (or contains as a proper part) a non-physical mind or “soul”, that is, a mind that is not ontologically reducible to the sorts of entities studied in the physical sciences. Such a mind, even if it is extended in space, could function as a whole rather than as a system of parts and so could be aware of my present visual field as a unity.
8. Therefore the subject is a soul, or contains a soul as part of itself.
Hasker’s example is the synchronic unity of being aware of my visual field, but in rational inference we find a diachronic unity; the inferring subject, who holds the premises of the argument in mind and draws the conclusion from them.
Now it will not do to simply point out that the brain is a highly complex system that is interconnected functionally and has billions of neurons. A genuine physical system is a system whose properties must be “summative” properties of its proper parts. If that is what a brain is, then no matter how complex it is, it is a set of parts.
A braking system of a car, a nutcracker, and even a chess-playing computer are all systems whose operations are the sums of the operations of their proper parts. Sometimes human beings are able to provide a framework of meaning for these objects that, if taken literally, would attribute to the system characteristics that they lack individually. But in human consciousness we find a subjective unity.
Carrier responds to this argument by sayingBut the point is the same: just as a collection of cells can organize and cooperate into a body that can walk—even though no one of those cells can walk at all or even has legs, much less the other needed organs, like hearts and lungs—so also can a collection of brain systems organize and cooperate into a mind that can think. And it does this by producing the virtual appearance of a singularity of consciousness, just as it produces the mere appearance that unified patches of color exist—when in fact only streams of various distinct particles exist.
But I am not talking about a unity of function that can exist in a braking system, I am talking about a unity of perspective experienced by the thinking agent itself. When a person infers “Socrates is mortal” from “All men are mortal” and “Socrates is a man,” that person infers the conclusion from his own perspective. There are truths that we know from a first-person perspective that cannot be known from any other perspective. For example, the truth that “I am Victor Reppert” is significant from my own perspective that cannot be discovered from a physical perspective. By taking an outside, third-person point of view, something is invariably lost.
It seems to me that Carrier, like Blackmore and Pinker, has fallen back on the fictionalist view of the unity of consciousness. But this position, I maintain, undermines rational inference.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Lycan's four objections to substance dualism

Josh Hickok, on Pretentious Apologetics, responds to four objections to substance dualism by William Lycan. Interestingly enough, Lycan himself seems to have moved away from a strong commitments to the objections to substance dualism, now claiming that they are overrated. However, Keith Parsons gave those arguments against dualism in our Philosophia Christi exchange in 2003, and I responded to those objections as follows: "Some Supernatural Reasons Why My Critics are Wrong", Philosophia Christi vol. 5. no. 1 (2003).

Lycan argues that Cartesian minds do not fit with out otherwise physical and scientific picture of the world and that they are not needed to explain any known phenomenon. But this argument seems to assume that my argument to the contrary is incorrect; if my argument is successful then we need something inherently rational to explain the existence of reason in the world. So simply to assert that we do not need souls to explain any known phenomenon is to beg the question against my argument, since my argument maintains that something nonmechanistic must explain our capacity to reason. And it is not the case that we know nothing about such a soul. We know, as a consequence of the argument, both that it is governed by reason and that reason reason can be a basic explanation for what it does.

Second, Lycan says that since human beings evolved over aeons by purely physical processes of random mutation and natural selection, it is anomalous to suppose that Mother Nature created Cartesian minds in addition to cells and physical organs. Again, this assumes a strong version of evolutionary imperialism that is certainly open to dispute. If my argument is successful, then the human mind could not have arisen through a purely physical process of mutation and natural selection, for, if it had, we would not have been able to discover that we arose through a purely physical process of mutation and natural selection. On the other hand, if theism is true, then it is hardly beyond the powers of Omnipotence to create souls or to give matter the capacity to generate souls.

Third, Lycan says that if minds are nonspatial, how can they interact with physical objects in space? First, I never said that souls were not in space, so I do not see why I have to take this objection seriously (unlike Descartes, who explicitly denied the spatiality of souls). Second, I have never heard anyone argue that since God is not in space, God could not create the world (a causal interaction if there ever was one). So if this is a good argument against dualism, the atheists have been missing out on a good argument for atheism. But it certainly seems logically possible for something that is not in space to interact with something that is in space; the claim that it is impossible is all too often made as a bald assertion, without argumentative support.

The violation of conservation laws does not strike me as a serious problem either, because the laws of nature tell you what happens when nothing outside the system interferes with it. If we are thinking of the soul as outside the physical order, and conservation laws tell us what will happen within the physical order, then it does not violate those laws if something from the outside that order causes something to occur that would not have happened otherwise. The argument works only if physicalism is true, and thus begs the question.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

A formalization of the argument from mental causation

1. Physical states are indeterminate with respect to intentional content. Given the state of the physical, there is a plurality of intentional states that are logically compatible with the state of the physical. In fact, any set of physical facts is logically compatible with the complete nonexistence of intentional states whatsoever.
2. If a broadly materialist world-view is correct, then the physical is causally closed. Nothing over and above the physical state of the world can be responsible for a subsequent physical or mental state.
3. Therefore, if there are mental states, and those mental states have determinate mental content, then that determinate mental content is causally irrelevant to the future course of nature.


Monday, June 02, 2008

This is an encyclopedia piece on the philosophy of perception


Vallicella on the Scientific Objection to Direct Realism

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