By Susan J. Fleck. November, 2001.
I have a prodigious
quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week sometimes to make it up. – Mark
The mind does not
create what it perceives, any more than the eye creates the rose. – Ralph Waldo
The mind is like the
stomach. It is not how much you put into
it that counts, but how much it digests. – Albert Jay Nock.
One machine can do the
work of fifty ordinary men. No machine
can do the work of one extraordinary man. – Elbert Hubbard.
Imagination disposes of
everything, it creates beauty, justice, and happiness, which are everything in
this world. – Blaise Pascal.
What do we mean when we talk about the human mind? The first three definitions of “mind” in my dictionary suggest that we commonly think that the mind is not simply synonymous with the brain, although the second definition comes close to that premise: (1) The human consciousness that originates in the brain and is manifested especially in thought, perception, feeling, will, memory, or imagination; (2) The totality of conscious and unconscious processes of the brain and central nervous system that directs the mental and physical behavior of a sentient organism; (3) The principle of intelligence; the spirit of consciousness regarded as an aspect of reality: mind over matter (American Heritage). If we say “she has a mind of her own,” does this mean something further than saying “she has a brain of her own”?
This paper will defend the proposition that the mind is a ‘further fact.” By further fact I mean something in addition to the physio-chemical processes in the brain. A further fact also means something in addition to psychological continuity in comprising the essence of personal identity. While expanding on the concept of what a further fact is, I intend to show that holding this view does not violate Occam’s razor in a causal explanation of human activity such as thinking. Also, holding this view does not necessarily support a dual nature view of the universe: one of matter and spirit. Finally, this view does not support the dichotomy of mind and body. I will defend my proposition by guiding the reader through ideas expressed in most of the papers presented in the “Mind and Body” section of our Burr and Goldinger text (402-462). We will briefly review some tenets of materialism, interactionism, idealism, and Objectivism. Next, we will look at one instance of personal identity: that it is bound by the concept of surviving. Lastly, there will be a short discussion contrasting the nature of computers with that of human thinking. By exposing the weaknesses and strengths in these authors’ arguments, I intend to weave them together into a common theme to support the idea that the mind is a further fact.
Hugh Elliot describes the three main principles which defend the doctrine of materialism: (1) The uniformity of law; (2) The denial of teleology (purpose); and (3) Monism, i.e.: “The denial of any form of existence other than those envisaged by physics and chemistry [. . .]” (403). The third principle may be restated to say that everything that exists has some kinds of material characteristics and qualities.
For Elliot, every event in the Universe, including things like human thinking, daydreaming, imagining, intending, “are expressible purely in terms of matter and motion.” (Note: he admits that science can not yet describe and explain how this works in our brains, but ex hypothesi this must be so.) I suppose that Elliot is thinking of either the Big Bang theory or a never-ending Expanding and Contracting Universe theory when he states: “The existing Universe and all things and events therein may be theoretically expressed in terms of matter and energy, undergoing continuous redistribution in accordance with the ordinary laws of physics and chemistry.” He claims that men of science have long believed that all manifestations within our experience can be attributed to these laws. Moreover, he avers that it would be a violation of William of Occam’s razor to introduce either consciousness or mind as a separate entity—that would be superfluous in determining an explanation of mental processes. (404)
Is there not something special about feeling the sublime in a beautiful sunset? Is there not something special about you being you and me being me? Are the experienced sunset, and you, and I, and everything we think, say, and do, all determined by matter and energy that all started awhirl eons ago? Can there be no purpose to our actions? If so, why bother with anything? Are these questions merely the musings—the anxieties and heartbreak of existentialists? Was it really determined that I would interject these questions at this time, or, rather, could I have freely chosen other words, or omitted this paragraph entirely?
Regarding purposive and voluntary actions, Elliott states:
belong to the category in which the immediate stimulus is in the brain itself,
and is to be regarded as consisting of rearrangements of the matter and energy
contained in the nervous substance of the brain. The brain during consciousness
can never be still, and its unceasing activities supply the stimulus, not only
for purposive, but for all actions of an intellectual character. Now this permanent cerebral activity can be
divided into a number of different types, known psychologically by such names
as memory, imagination, reason, etc. Although nervous physiology has not yet
advanced far enough to enable us to say what are the different kinds of
material processes in the brain corresponding to these psychical processes, yet
there is no doubt that the psychical distinction is based upon some actual
distinction in the corresponding activities occurring in the brain. (406-7)
Elliot’s argument to dismiss purposiveness, especially in individual human activity, is weak. Although it may be true that the brain can never be still during consciousness, this by itself does not explain away purposiveness: it is not philosophically significant. Elliot admits that we are as yet unable to define material-energy processes in the brain corresponding with different types of mental activity. It seems that he is trying to make a truth claim where one is not yet proved: an appearance of purposive activity is merely the result of brain-energy with an antecedent physical-energy cause. Lest we derive pleasure from any purposive activity we have engaged in, let us be reminded of Elliot’s conclusion: “By this name [purposive] we designate the majority of those redistributions which issue from the little whirlpools of matter and energy called organisms, and those factors in particular by which the immediate continuance of such whirlpools is ensured” (407).
Elliot provides this example: “You move your arm by an act of will, or what seems to be a non- material cause, and yet it is conclusively established that the movement of the arm is due to definite material changes occurring in the brain, and caused by the fixed laws of physics and chemistry in the most determinist fashion” (409). He has explicitly stated that strict materialism, as he describes, entails strict determinism. It is noteworthy that his view of materialism reduces everything to the laws of physics and chemistry, but leaves no room for differences in biology—the science of living things. Let us agree that the actual movement of the arm can be explained by purely material, physical and chemical forces in the brain and body. This still does not explain the ‘willing’ of the arm to move; the thought that produced the desire for some future outcome.
Some philosophers posit a separate entity, a mind, as the explanation for our various mental “events.” Elliot is sure that he has convinced us that the only plausible hypothesis for a mind separate from the brain itself is that of epiphenomenalism. According to the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, epiphenomenalism “is the doctrine that physical states cause mental states, but mental states do not cause anything. [. . .] there is only one-way psychophysical action—from the physical to the mental” (598). One would have to agree with Elliot that this view of the mind does not provide us with a reason to believe in a separate mind entity, since this kind of entity can not provide any cause of action, purpose or any sense of agency. However, I am not convinced that epiphenomenalism is the only theory of mind to be considered: he would be correct only if one accepts all of the preceding premises in his argument.
Furthermore, Elliot has painted with too broad of a stroke to simply brush off all non-material entities if he can prove that there is no non-material mind: “[. . .] for if mind can be identified with matter, all other kinds of non-material entities must lapse, even those described by religious systems . . .” (408). One can certainly speculate that there is a Prime Mover, say, in the Aristotelian sense, from which all matter and energy and universal laws came. If such a Being exists, then It existed before the possibility of any human mind existed. By sweeping away the human mind, one does not necessarily account for the non-existence of all non-material entities. Materialists and scientists must all agree that there is no where to turn to for proof for or against a God who may have created all of this matter and energy; or, if the Universe is simply eternal without a Creator or a beginning, then, how to prove that.
Elliot gives us another false either/or possibility to explain away the mind. Given that we accept the general processes by which all things living and non-living evolved over time, he claims that in order to accept the proposition of minds separate from brains, we must therefore believe one of only two possibilities: “either that inorganic matter has a psychical accompaniment, or else that, in the course of evolution, there was a sudden leap: mind was suddenly intruded at some period of Man’s past history” (410). I propose a third possibility: mind, per se, as with most of our advanced biological human systems, did not suddenly appear in the course of evolution. Rather, it was developed through various emergent biological properties over a long course of evolutionary time.
Cyril Joad is one author who finds materialism to be an unsatisfactory explanation of psychology and biology. He thinks that in human beings there is “this principle of life [that] expresses itself at the level of what is called mind, that this mind is distinct from both body and brain, and, so far from being a mere register of bodily occurrences, is able, acting on its own volition, to produce such occurrences [. . .]” (411). I think Elliot’s weakest argument is in refuting purposive thinking and resulting behavior. It seems that one can only accept materialism if one accepts strict determinism. In that case, there is no free will. But Joad does not accept this account: “]. . .] the capacity to be influenced by events which lie in the future seems inexplicable on the stimulus-response basis; the thought of what does not exist may be allowed to influence the mind, but it is difficult to see how the non-existent can stimulate the body . . . .” (413).
Joad presents a strong argument for a mind that apprehends and comprehends meaning as opposed to mere stimuli of marks on a paper (words and sentences), or sounds of someone speaking. Meaning, per se, is immaterial and can be grasped only by a mind. Similarly, only a mind can synthesize isolated sensations, say from various musical instruments, and apprehend and appreciate the whole of a symphony. Although the brain may be stimulated and it may be producing physical responses, only an individual mind can perceive the sum of the parts. “This faculty of combining or putting together seems to involve the existence not only of a mind,” Joad exclaims, “but of a mind of an active, creative type which is able to go out beyond the raw material afforded by our bodily sensations, and to apprehend ideal objects as wholes [. . .]” (415).
If the mind is an active, dynamic, synthesizing, and creative force, as Joad claims, how does he deal with the problem of the relationship of the mind to the brain? After all, this is THE problem philosophers have been trying to solve ever since Descartes sliced us into separate minds and bodies. I like the analogy of a play that Joad provides to describe this concept:
were to observe a man’s brain you would know just as much of his thoughts as
found vent in gestures. You would know, in
other words, all that his thoughts imply in the way of actions or the
beginnings of actions, but the thoughts themselves would escape you just as the
words and meaning of the play would escape the deaf spectator. This is what is meant by saying that the mind
overflows the brain. (416)
We have discussed Elliot’s material-only universe; Joad’s mind-material interactive universe; now we move on to examine Arthur Luce’s mind-only universe.
Luce is clearly carrying on George Berkeley’s “primacy of consciousness” view of the universe as opposed to a “primacy of existence” view. Without naming Plato, Kant, or Berkeley in his paper “Sense Without Matter,” these philosophers are lurking between the lines. He does discuss Aristotle’s theory of sense-perception explicitly. Luce is arguing from false dichotomies in support of the idea that there is no such thing as matter.
An extremely short review of this
topic may shed light on Luce’s argument.
With Aristotle’s theory, when we perceive some existent thing, there is
both the sense-data that we actually perceive and the material substance that
is itself unperceived and unperceivable.
With Plato, things we perceive are not real; they are merely copies of
the real ideal of whatever it is (table, lamp, etc.): the “real” thing is
located in the “real” world, while we live only in the unreal world of shadows.
With Kant, what we perceive is not the “thing in itself,” but our
perceptions are the product of whatever categories our pre-wired brain has
imposed upon the “thing in itself.”
qualities we perceive are not on the objects: that we must not believe our
senses: that we know nothing of the real nature of things, and can never be
assured even of their existence: that real colours and sounds are nothing but
certain unknown figures and motions: [. . .] these are the strange notions
which [. . .] embarrass the mind with endless doubts and difficulties. And it is against these [. . .] I endeavor to
vindicate common sense. (287)
Luce is carrying on
We have reviewed the materialist, “all-is-matter,” and the opposing idealist, “all-is-ideas,” viewpoints. Let us now turn to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism to learn how her “object-as-perceived” interactionist position supplements Joad’s approach, and how it gets rid of the “in the object” or “in the mind” either/or dichotomy. I will only summarize a few points from this philosophy that address the subjects of matter and human sensing.
As far as discovering the fundamental
attributes of matter, there is no philosophical method, but rather only
scientists' methods of specialized observation, experimentation, and inductive
inference. Whatever such attributes turn
out to be, they have no philosophical
significance - not to metaphysics and not to epistemology (Peikoff 44).
Skeptics who condemn human knowledge as invalid because it rests on sensory data imply that knowledge should have depended on a 'direct', non-sensory illumination. "Are they saying, ‘If I had created reality, I would have chosen a different cause for knowledge.'?" Knowledge does rest on sensory data in the real world (Qtd. in Peikoff 27). At the human level, sensory perception is conceptual in nature. It is not automatic or infallible. It can err, distort, and depart from reality (through ignorance or evasion). Man, therefore, must learn how to use his mind to distinguish truth from falsehood and how to validate our conclusions. We start off with a tabula rasa, a blank tablet, and all of our conceptual content is derived from the evidence of the senses. If senses are not valid and do not provide a knowledge of reality, then the resultant concepts are nonsensical, and the whole cognitive process is terminated (Peikoff 38).
Entities constitute the content of
the world men perceive. We observe (some
of) their attributes. The byproduct of
the process of conceptual identification is the philosophers' inventory of
categories of being: qualities (red,
hard); quantities (five inches, six pounds); relationships (to the right of);
actions (walking). None of these
Those condemning the senses as deceptive because sense qualities are merely effects seem to be saying "I demand that the senses give me not effects, but irreducible primaries." Perception is a necessary process of interaction and knowledge: there is no way to perceive an object that does not somehow impinge on one's body. Therefore, sense qualities must be effects. "To reject the senses for this reason is to reject them for existing” (Qtd. in Peikoff 47).
Of course, erkeley would be horrified
about this line of thinking and the whole system of Objectivism, which is as
anti-religious as it is anti-idealist, anti-materialist, and a whole lot of
other 'antis'. But Objectivism has one
goal in common with
. . .
Objectivists reject the key skeptic claim: that man perceives not reality, but
only its effects on his cognitive faculty.
Man perceives reality directly, not some kind of effects different from
it. He perceives reality by means of its effects on his organs of perception. Nor can one reply that man's perception of
reality, since it is mediated by the senses, in only "indirect." What then would "direct perception"
denote? It would have to denote a grasp
of reality attained without benefit of any means. (Peikoff 51)
Before we make up our “minds” about
“minds,” let us look at an additional aspect, one of personal identity that
Derek Parfit brings to this discussion. Godfrey
Vesey, in his dialogue with Parfit, summarizes the common belief about personal
identity as this: “whatever happens
between now and some future time either I shall still exist or I shan’t. And any future experience will either be my
experience or it won’t. In other words,
personal identity is an all or nothing matter: either I survive or I don’t”
(435). Parfit claims that this view is
false because we can imagine several cases where we can not answer the
question, “Will the future person be me—or someone else” (435)? He argues that personal identity is bound up
in psychological continuity and there is no
Tis viewpoint has enormous impact for ethics. For example, because one undergoes radical [psychological] change over time, one should be less liable for crimes committed in the distant past, compared to crimes committed in the recent past (Parfit 440). Another implication is that, with possible branching into two or more people, we should recognize our psychological connections with all persons past and in the future. Therefore, because of this closer relationship, we must hold altruism in the highest regard as a principle of living in relationship with other persons.
The weakness in Parfit’s argument is
that highly dubious science fiction is necessary in all of his cases he uses to
knock down the common notion of personal identity. He is subverting the law of identity with
regard to what a human being is, in
describing what a human being might be
in some futuristic possible world. Even
though it is cited that there was a successful transplant of one monkey’s head
on to another monkey’s body, it is a long stretch of the imagination to imply
that one could divide a person’s brain in two and have complete psychological
continuity in two resulting persons. In
cases where Parfit describes replicating brain cells and subsequent gradual
replacement, or duplication, of such cells, he is assuming that there is no
I may be more easily persuaded to give up the notion of a further fact in order to explain a mind as something more complex than a reduction to materialism, if I were led to believe that computer-machines can really think. By “think,” I mean in virtually all respects that humans think. Christopher Evans provides us with his solutions to most arguments and objections to the idea that machines can, or ever could, think (442-454). Although Evans counters them to some degree, three of the objections that he cites are strong arguments against the notion that computers can think. Let us briefly examine these.
(1) “The Personal Consciousness Objection” claims that, for example, machines can not create and write concertos on their own, and, furthermore, if they could, they would not feel the pleasure of their successes, nor could they know that they had written them (Evans 445). This claim is hard to prove or disprove for the same reason that John Hospers explains in his paper “The Problem of Other Minds:” I can not feel someone else’s pleasure, and I can not know someone else’s pleasure (427-433). We would only have the machine’s “reporting” to judge whether or not it passes this test. One could at least design a credible set of questions to pose, a.k.a. “a Turing Test” (Evans 445-6), to form an opinion about the level of thinking ability—that is, after the machine advanced to a stage where it could create concertos.
(2) The “It Is Not Biological Objection” supposes that our human, biological central nervous system may be more than having basic “on/off” units of communication. Therefore, computers, being digital in nature, may become extremely intelligent (have a vast data base of knowledge), but they would never be able to think. Evans acknowledges that there is not enough evidence, or knowledge, about how humans think at this time to refute this objection, even though, he claims, “there is no shred of evidence to suppose that only non-digital systems can think” (447).
(3) The “It Can Not Be Creative Objection:” Evans proposes that to overcome this objection, a computer must demonstrate “a skill which has never been demonstrated before and which was not specifically taught to [it] by someone else, or in the intellectual domain provides an entirely novel solution to a problem [. . .]” He claims that this has been accomplished and he gives two examples—when a computer solved the “four color problem,” and when a computer generated a totally new proof in geometry (450-1). Although these examples clearly demonstrate creativity as Evans has defined creativity, I would want to tag the concept of “purposiveness” onto “creativity,” for a more comprehensive notion of a machine’s ability to think. One can imagine such a computer as “HAL,” in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” to envision a machine with [evil] intentions. (It is interesting to note that the letters “HAL” are the ones before the letters “IBM.”) Well, 2001 has almost come and gone, and HAL is no where to be seen or heard from—yet!
Evans admits as much when he states: “[. . .] computers have quite a way to go before they jump the hurdle so cleverly laid out for them by Turning [in order to pass the “thinking” test].” However, Evans claims that he has presented a compelling case for us to believe “[. . .] that the difference, in intellectual terms, between a human being and a computer is one of degree and not of kind” (454). I disagree. The kind of difference lies in the fact that humans are living, biological beings, with minds comprised of a further fact: minds that have evolved, over long periods of time, with such emergent properties to give us the ability to think, feel, imagine, intend, and create. I agree with Jenny Teichman who maintains “there are good reasons for believing that a correct analysis of human thinking has to mention human life.” She knows the danger of reducing human thinking to resemble the processes of sophisticated machines: this leads one to ask, if human thinking is like that of a machine, then what is so [philosophically/ethically] important about living things? Why should we then have respect for human life (455-6)?
In order for humans to think, they must use language. Computers deal with codes and languages. But, as Teichman points out, “it is commonly said that [computers] do not really think because they have syntax without semantics. [. . .] that computers use linguistic rules but don’t know the meanings, the contents, of the strings of symbols which the [programmed] rules generate.” Computers do not have the ability, like humans do, for abstraction, for making connections between words and things in the world that the words refer to. Humans take in, via the senses, the physical inputs of, e.g., photons and sound waves, which are purely physical phenomena. Through the process of abstraction and differentiation, we learn how these sense inputs represent the world outside of our minds. With computers, all inputs (programs, facts, etc.) have been given content by humans: “The semantic function, the content, enters the system indirectly, via the human designer” (458).
In addition to merely processing information, Wittgenstein reminds us that human thinking “is a collection of processes, states, and dispositions such as hoping, day-dreaming, imagining, predicting, concentration, worry, fear, belief and expectation” (Teichman 459). I agree with Teichman:
significance of this is that only a holistic theory which allows for
connections between the varieties of thought can give an adequate account of
human (paradigm) thinking. [. . .] although machine-states have electrical
connections (of course), these could not mimic the links between human beliefs
and desires and emotions because machines don’t have any desires and emotions
in the first place. (460-1)
The all-is-matter and all-is-ideas view of the world is not tenable for reasons argued above. Teichman points out: “Reductive theories, whether ontological, epistemological or ethical, often turn out to be inadequate. The unwise use of Occam’s Razor cuts off too much” (455). Parfit has not presented a compelling reason to give up the notion of a further fact in our identity. While it might be claimed that machines can think, in so far as they meet a “Turing’s test,” there are aspects of human minds that machines will not be able to duplicate. For now, I will adopt the world view as discussed by Rand, Joad, and Teichman: that there is interaction between my mind and the outer world of existence. Their arguments support the notion of a further fact of a mind without imposing a dualistic structure on the universe, and without hanging onto a false dichotomy of mind and body. One can still hold the opinion that the mind is the brain (and no more), while still recognizing that the brain is the product of eons of evolutionary processes: the brain is of the biological, living world, and it now possesses amazing properties (a further fact over and above merely physical-chemical processes) that have emerged to give us the ability to think, create, and be individual humans—individuals that cannot be divided, or branched because of the very nature of what it means to be a human.
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