Some quick notes on TGD

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Over at http://www.infidels.org they are having “the great debate” which is a discussion between naturalists and theists on a host of issues. Some of the biggest names are participating, so this is very exciting. I am especially looking forward to the Smith vs. Collins debate, which will probably be nuts.

Anyways, my friend Brett mentioned some things about the responses of Taliafero and Goetz to Melynk on the case for physicalism. I thought I would quickly post my reply to what Brett told me. So this is kind of an informal note. Part of my motivation for posting it on this blog is that it was originally part of a myspace comment that became WAY too long and not very audience-appropriate for the rest of Brett’s myspace friends, who would probably cringe at my phrases like “localized sensation” and “functional unity”. 🙂

The points you brought up are very interesting; there are some issues about the location of subjective experience that I have not read enough about. For instance, I haven’t read any in-depth dualist (OR physicalist) treatments of the issue of localized sensation (how to understand “pain in my arm” etc. if my mind is not located in space) and I don’t understand what to make of it entirely. I don’t know how our experiences of localized sensations would really square with the self not being located in a physical place (so I’m actually bringing up an issue that I see with this argument for dualism). But on the other hand I think that its clear that we can’t literally observe the felt-quality of certain experiences when we examine a person’s anatomy, which seems to call into question the adequacy of saying our experiences are physically located, or at least identical to physical states (even if they are mental states that are spatially located) which is required by materialism (in the forms I’m familiar with). And besides, even on materialism if we identify the self with the brain (which is how its always done…) the issue of localized sensation is still there. After all, why do I get the impression that my self (mind/brain) is the possessor of the experience of pain in my arm if the sensation is a physical state occurring in a different part of my body? So I think the spatial localization aspect is mysterious, but because I think sensations have an intrinsic, felt quality and they (including their felt quality) are not observable physical events, it seems that what we DO know about them favors a form of dualism (at least property-dualism, if not substance dualism).

Regarding the issue of the unity of consciousness, yes, that’s a big motive for dualism about the mind. I think the suggestion you made about neurons is not very plausible. After all, if the brain-events are spread out like that in separate locations, then what is the common entity which links and synthesizes them and experiences them simultaneously? This nexus of experience should be a physical object if physicalism is true, but I can’t think of what it could be. The brain as a whole?

But this raises problems. The brain seems to be unified mereologically (it is a bunch of connected parts that compose a whole). There is an enormous cluster of various particles united through chemical bonds (if you want to reduce it all the way down). The brain is also unified functionally, ie. it works as a whole. But both of these are true of almost any piece of matter. It seems dubious to say that functional unity is sufficient for a unified consciousness. It also seems dubious to say that mereological unity is adequate to ground a unified consciousness. After all, the kind of unity postulated has to be [a] without spatial extension (because our consciousness does not seem to have spatial extension when we introspect–even if it does have spatial location), [b] numerically the same through change (because otherwise we would not be enduring objects, and hence not able to even to consider arguments because the particles that compose our brain are constantly shifting and relocating, and cells are dying and being spawned, so that the brain is constantly replacing itself with new material, which means we would have a totally new self frequently). This seems to rule out the adequacy of the mereological unity of the brain as a grounding for consciousness. As for functional unity, because the brain is a physical object that changes and the particles that compose it are frequently replaced, and because functional unity seems to be dependent on the physical unity of the brain as an object, it is difficult to see why functional unity would be an adequate ground for psychological unity; it raises the same problem of “what is the enduring self that is the possessor of experiences, if the entity that is functionally unified is constantly having its basic parts replaced?”.

The Taliafferro/Goetz argument in their own section is very interesting, especially in respect to introspection and the implications it. I think they might have a decent argument for libertarian freewill that doesn’t assume the objectivity of morality and the fact of moral responsibility or anything like that. And the way that they argue that “dualism, if true, supports theism” is not adequately dealt with, I don’t think, by Melynk. His way of responding (there are laws of mental causation…) seems to be problemmatic because it is [a] an ad hoc revision to the naturalistic hypothesis; [b] it still doesn’t situate the origination of mind adequately in a materialistic framework; [c] a similar line of reasoning could be used to encompass anything that would otherwise require an explanation so that it doesn’t have to be explained and is simply accepted as some kind of “necessary truth”; and [d] Melynk’s suggestion would not work on many construals of the ontology of laws of nature (and I think the ones that it could work on are the less-reputable construals).

So thats just an initial reaction to (some parts of) the debate and to your statements. Hopefully that all made sense.

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2 Responses to “Some quick notes on TGD”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    (this is Brett) yeah, those are some good points I will think about, there are some points i do not apprehend becuase of the terminology involved. I think that is a good point to be brough up that the basic parts of the brain are being replaced often, even though I would surmise tht the majority of nuerons are more-or-less contsant and unchanging unless needed to be replaced . . .

  2. MG Says:

    Sorry for the excessive terminology. What specifically can I clarify?

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