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A Materialist Theory of Mind

 
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Thu 17 Jun, 2010 09:04 pm
D.M. Armstrong's Materialist Theory of Mind was written in the 1960's and contains the following claim:

Quote:
It seems increasingly likely that biology is completely reducible to chemistry which is, in turn, completely reducible to physics. That is to say, it seems increasingly likely that all chemical and biological happenings are explicable in principle as particular applications of the laws of physics that govern non-chemical and non-biological phenomena.


A Materialist Theory of Mind, D. M. Armstrong, 1993, Page 52.

My question is: is this true? Has any progress been made, since the time this book was written, to reduce biology, to chemistry, to physics? It is plausible?
 
Thomas
 
  4  
Reply Thu 17 Jun, 2010 10:33 pm
@jeeprs,
The claim contains a weasel world: "in principle". In principle, by keeping score of every atom on Earth, you can make a precise global weather forecast for your birthday 10 years from now. In practice, this requires an immense amount of computing power---so immense that you can no longer distinguish meaningfully between that practical impossibility an impossibility in principle.

Predicting a biological event---say the time of my last heartbeat---by solving the Schroedinger equation for my body is in the same class of problem. It may be possible "in principle", by a philosopher's pollyannic usage of the term "in principle", but it just won't happen.

I agree with the broader point though. To the extent that phenomena of the mind can be explained at all, they can be explained in material terms, without the invocation of supernatural miracle-stuff. Daniel Dennet: Freedom Evolves (2004) contains a good overview over the current state of research.
Jackofalltrades phil
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 12:44 am
I read A book titled 'Man, the Unknown' by dr Alexis Carroll perhaps published in 70s.......... Mind in Science preceded that,......... later we have Peter singer, danial dennett all more or less dealt with Mind and its aspects. There could be more whom i am not aware of.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 12:59 am
@Thomas,
Quote:
In principle, by keeping score of every atom on Earth


In principle, it is not even thinkable, because those things of which atoms are composed, cannot be counted.

If biology cannot be reduced to chemistry, and chemistry cannot be reduced to physics, how can Dennett, or Armstrong, make a case for materialism? In other words, the whole argument, no matter who makes it, amounts to the claim that matter is the basis of reality.

I maintain that matter is not the cause of anything. It does not 'give rise to life' or 'become intelligent'. So, naturally, I think Dennett is mistaken. I think Armstrong's argument is fallacious, and if you can't make a philosophical case for a materialist basis for mind, it is hard for D to mount an argument.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 01:11 am
anyway, Thomas, you seem a real nice guy and very knowledgeable but if you like Dennett, we're never going to get on. I am wondering whether to debate it or just concede it and call it quits.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 04:22 am
In fact I regret having started this thread. Background: when I went to University, Armstrong was Professor. I was a Sixties child, peace, love and Dharma, and the very last thing in the world I wanted anything to do with, was Materialism. So the Professor of Philosophy's claim to fame was 'a materialist theory of mind'. I was hostile and opposed from the outset, still am, always will be, so really it was not useful of me to put up this topic. Anway, I finally had a look at his book, thirty years later, and that sentence was the first thing I read. And, as I always thought it would be, it is a crock.
0 Replies
 
Khethil
 
  2  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 04:29 am
@Thomas,
Nice Reply, Thomas,

Thomas wrote:
Predicting a biological event---say the time of my last heartbeat---by solving the Schroedinger equation for my body is in the same class of problem. It may be possible "in principle", by a philosopher's pollyannic usage of the term "in principle", but it just won't happen.


I think this is precisely true. The factors, variables and sheer number of what would have to be known and accounted for is just too vast, too overwhelming to ever practically happen.

Thanks
0 Replies
 
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 06:43 am
@jeeprs,
Since what we call chemistry, physics etc are themselves "products of the mind" the materialist claim seems to be vacuous, whether or not "the mind" is isomorphic to a biological substrate.
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 09:12 am
@fresco,
Perhaps for "vacuous" put "circular" ?
0 Replies
 
Huxley
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 04:24 pm
Well there is (what I take to be) a very exciting sub-field of physical science called biophysics which attempts to model biological systems with chemical models, which in turn are informed by physics. There's also the field of biochemistry that's trying to do much of the same (depending on where you work in the biochemical field, of course).
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 10:11 pm
Actually one thing that should drive a stake through materialist theories of mind is the existence of any kind of telepathy, remote viewing, thought transference, and the like. There is no way to account for the direct mind-to-mind transmission of information under any materialist scenario, unless, I suppose, some mechanism could be discovered whereby this information was transmitted via electro-magnetic waves. And even if it were so, it would require that we have an extra-sensory ability for which this phenomena would be the sole evidence, and for which no physiological basis has ever been detected.

Now as it happens, I believe psychic incidents occur. I don't place a great deal of significance on these phenomena, but I am sure they happen; I have experienced them (as many have). But I do note there is a virtual cottage industry devoted to debunking any possible evidence that such things might happen, and also that any scientist brave enough to say that they should be investigated faces virtual ostracism from the scientific establishment (e.g.Prof Brian Josephson. )

Hence the following statement concerning quite solid evidence that 'remote viewing' actually does occur in controlled experiments:
Quote:
Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, refuses to believe in remote viewing.

He says: "I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do.

"If I said that there is a red car outside my house, you would probably believe me.

"But if I said that a UFO had just landed, you'd probably want a lot more evidence.

"Because remote viewing is such an outlandish claim that will revolutionise the world, we need overwhelming evidence before we draw any conclusions. Right now we don't have that evidence."

Source


A couple of observations about this statement. The evidence he refers to does not 'beg the question'. 'Begging the question' means 'assuming what you set out to prove'. In fact, the evidence he was referring to does provide a proof which he acknowledges would be acceptable in any other area of science. So he is saying that normal scientific standards cannot be applied to something which he implicitly believes is out of bounds for serious science. It simply demonstrates a basic prejudice against any such idea. I would presume that this is precisely because such evidence discredits materialism, which provides the theoretical framework for many scientists.

Furthermore, if it was proven, why would this be 'revolutionary' or 'outlandish'? I mean, there have always been psychics and seers around, since the beginning of recorded history. But it might turn out that such abilities are very difficult to exploit or control. There was a film out recently, Men who Stare at Goats (which I didn't see) about a US Army unit whose whole purpose was to try and exploit psychic ability for military purposes. I don't know if they got anywhere, but the Daily Mail article I quoted above does say that a US Army trial definitely established proof for remote viewing. The simple fact is that in 'a scientific age', anything like this is regarded as magic and witchcraft and not the kind of thing a sensible person will take seriously. It is cultural as much as scientific.

Anyway, the fact that psychic phenomena occur is no big deal; not, that is, unless you have invested your whole career in trying to demonstrate that 'the mind is just the activity of neural circuits'.

Then it might be a very big deal indeed.
Thomas
 
  2  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 10:27 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:
Actually one thing that should drive a stake through materialist theories of mind is the existence of any kind of telepathy, remote viewing, thought transference, and the like.

Fair enough. Once you demonstrate any of the above under controlled laboratory conditions, we can talk. (Not to mention, you can claim the million-dollar James Randi Prize for demonstrating a paranormal phenomenon.) But until then, don't count your supernatural chicken until they are hedged.
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 11:44 pm
@Thomas,
I have looked into James Randi. I think he lacks credibility, but it is not something I would argue about. Apart from the cottage industry that is devoted to debunking paranormal phenomena, there is another cottage industry devoted to debunking the skeptics. It is not pretty and I don't think I want to get involved. All I will say is that from a philosophical perspective, and on the basis of all we know, it is not credible that no single instance of paranormal perception has ever occurred. The fact that Randi and CISOP goes to such lengths to deny it says more about them, in my view. What is at stake in all this?
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 11:48 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:
All I will say is that from a philosophical perspective, and on the basis of all we know, it is not credible that no single instance of paranormal perception has ever occurred.

Why not?

"From a philosophical perspective, and on the basis of all we know, it is not credible that no single instance of a witch killing someone through her witchcraft has ever occurred."

How is my statement any less credible than yours?
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Jun, 2010 11:58 pm
@Thomas,
I am sure it has happened many times. There are documented cases of ritual killings of aboriginals which occurred through the 'pointing of the bone'. The shaman will point the bone at someone who has broken the tribal law, and tell them that they will die. And they often did. White doctors were never able to determine a cause of death. It hardly happens any more, because it tended only to occur in the tribes where the traditional culture was predominant. But it definitely did happen on a number of cases. I would call that 'witchcraft'. Wouldn't you?
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Jun, 2010 12:07 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:
I would call that 'witchcraft'. Wouldn't you?

If I believed it actually happened, I would. But until I see it demonstrated in placebo-controlled double-blind tests, I won't believe it actually happened.
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Jun, 2010 12:16 am
@Thomas,
Fair enough. That is one style of argument that can be used to defend your sense of the Right and True. I am sure it is very effective too.

0 Replies
 
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Jun, 2010 12:20 am
@jeeprs,
I think you are touching on "mind" as an aspect of "social reality" here. There is no doubt that "curses" have drastic psychological consequences in some cultures. (see Evans-Pritchard).

If what we mean by mind does have social aspects then it is hard to see how a bottom up reductionist argument from physics can ever be valid.
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Jun, 2010 12:26 am
@fresco,
quite true. Mind is a collective phenomenon. The kinds of things that we see and in fact our whole sense of what is real, is very much a product of the collective consciousness into which we were born. That is one of the fascinating insights of anthropology.
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Jun, 2010 01:04 am
@jeeprs,
I don't know whether Armstrong covers recent developments in physics, but for those wishing to hold on to "physics" per se, albeit losing out on "materialism", this reference is interesting:
http://www.fdavidpeat.com/bibliography/essays/nat-cog.htm
 

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