Three Seas Forum

the archives

dusted off in read-only


Science disenchanting the world. posted 09 October 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionScience disenchanting the world. by TakLoufer, Candidate

It explains a lot about how romantic love happens at a biochemical level, excatly what is going on inside you when you get dumped, why people have less sex after a couple years in a relationship and more. It doesn't make love any less real than believing it's the effect of excesses of sanguine humor on the heart or caused by getting shot by flower-arrows from Kama's sugarcane bow.

Actually, there's a huge difference, one which has everything to do with 'disenchantment.' Love in these latter cases is something that possesses meaning in an objective order - it has a point. If love is simply neurophysiology, then it's simply functional, and taking pills that induce these states is no more or less 'genuine' than doing it the old fashioned way.

And it has no objective point whatsoever. It just happens to be the experiential apsect of behaviour-generating neural processes that happened to facilitate reproduction and the rearing of offspring to the age of reproduction, and so was selected for.

In neurophysiological accounts of different aspects of experience, you find this 'But it's still the same!' tactic all the time, but it really amounts to nothing more than hand-waving. Think of Copernicus. Sure, from our standpoint, the sun still sails across the sky while we stand still - the experience itself remains unchanged. But now we understand that experience is an illusion generated by the limitations of our perspective. We're the ones who are moving, not the sun.

The same seems to go for love, free-will, and so on. [/quote:2kqjv13s]

I agree, if all behavior were to be shown to be completely and indisputably determined by previous factors, much the same way rocks roll down hill or billiard balls ricochet off each other, this would prove that subjective experience is nothing but a casually impotent epiphenomena. In fact, this would, in my view, suggest a sort of one way dualism - blind atoms in the void on one side [the "movers"], colors, smells, sensations, etc, on the other [the "moved"]. It could not be any other way, as the atoms in void would not intrinsically have the qualia, the syntax, or semantics of subjective experience (syntax is observer relative, unless one allows a homunculus into the picture - [1]). This would just push the question back a level:

Where does this experience come from?

The matter of materialism does not logically entail experience, no matter (excuse the pun) what configuration the material is in. For example, imagine that a group of scientists are examining a brain in a vat. These scientists have super-advanced scanners that allow them to map out every ion that moves between every synapse, every internal movement of every neuron - they can follow the ballet of the brain to the minutest detail.

Now, let’s suppose that the person in the vat is having a very detailed lucid dream in which they are sailing in a boat on a purple ocean with three moons in the sky.

Can the scientists determine what the brain (or person) is experiencing? No, to them, the brain is perfectly explainable as a spatio-temporal system of interacting bits of matter. In fact, the more extreme eliminativists among the scientists may scoff at the very idea that their is a person experiencing something. Any experience would be "tacked on" and thus irrelevent.

This variation of the old brain-in-a-vat thought experiment is nothing new, but it does illustrate a valuable point, if the supposedly deterministic mass of atoms that is the brain has a "something-it-is-like" about it, it must originate outside the brain itself; either there is a little homunculus interpreting or determining which neural events produce which experience (and, in practice, it couldn't possibly matter, as the qualia is casually impotent anyway), or there is something wrong about our conception of reality.

Which is why we have to keep our fingers crossed and hope that science - which just happens to be the only instititution in history capable of generating anything remotely resembling theoretical knowledge - has got something really, really wrong somewhere along the line.

Your argument that science is "the only institution in history capable of generating . . . theoretical knowledge" is misleading, as the finding of science are metaphysically neutral. Science measures and predicts observed phenomena. Science can tell us what the movements of shadows are on the cave wall, but it is blind in telling us who or what is casting the shadows are. True, they can formulate theoretical knowledge, such as formulating the theory of gravity by measuring its effects, but it can not tell us what gravity is. The data, after all, has to be interpreted.

I remember your "Blind Brain" hypothesis, which is very similar to McGinn's mysterianism. Your argument seemed to be that our brains do not allow us to know how consciousness can arise from dead matter, that this knowledge was conceptually closed to us.

Basically, this view can be summed up as: "Materialism is correct, but I can't explain how."

This is a position that, like eliminativism and sophism, is hard to argue against because there is no way to disprove it, and the supporter of this view doesn't have to explain anything. What is most telling is McGinn's statement that we should accept the validity of materialism, even though we cannot explain how it can possibly work, based off an "article of metaphysical faith" [2] <!-- s:? --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_confused.gif" alt=":?" title="Confused" /><!-- s:? -->

I agree that we may be cognitively closed on the matter of consciousness, but this works against materialism, because this "blind spot" in our mental view implies that there is something missing from the picture, and any ontological additives to materialism that would account for consciousness would inevitably mean that the metaphysic could no longer be called materialism.

I maintain that one of these three models must (?) be true.

1) Idealism {{{Mind}}}

2) Panexperientalism {Experience [intrinsic to] Matter}

3) Dualism {Mind [interaction] Matter}

After doing some more thinking on the matter, I now lean a bit towards Whitehead's process ontology (which is a sort of compromise between "Mind Dust" Panpsychism and Idealism), though there is definitely something to be said for absolute idealism (I'm currently reading Sprigge's The Vindication of Absolute Idealism)

The most terrifying thing about the disenchantment of the world, which has primarily consisted in the wholesale replacement of our folk intentional explanations of the world with functional explanations, is that we humans are simply one more thing in that world.

Of course we are part of the world. But your unspoken implication is that we are just one more dead thing in the world. As in, we are composed of a bunch of little dead balls of stuff that bounce off each other and inexplicably (and, ultimately irrelevently) cause subjectivity.

I'm beginning to think that just as we are "alive" with experience, so too is the rest of the universe "alive" with experience. As for freewill, I see epiphenomenalism as an absurdity equal to parallelism or over-determinism. Any knowledge we contain about the outside world is, in effect, impotent. We "know" about the world, but this knowing couldn't make any difference, and even the self-realization of epiphenomenalism is contingent upon certain neural events that intrinsically have nothing to due with the knowledge of epiphenomenalism. Basically, epiphenomenalism is just too absurd to accept, as it makes the very act of arguing for it irrelevant. Because whether or not you would make the effort to do so, which would, in reality, be nothing more than pre-determined noises coming from the mouth (which in turn are caused by jiggling atoms in the skull), would have nothing to do with a desire for truth or curiosity or whatever.

One could argue that the "jiggling atoms" are these mental states, but Searle's (who, ironically, is a reluctant epiphenomenalist and a materialist) arguments show that any computational model of mind is incoherent and, since his "biological naturalism" has no explanatory value (it suffers all of the problems of identity theory/dualism), - Searle inadvertably supports the notion that dead jiggling atoms can't intrinsically produce syntax, semantics, or experience.

And I haven't even brought parapsychology into the picture (it's just too controversial, though I feel the evidence is much stronger than most would think.)

Good to be back. I've spent the last few months reading and pondering the mind-body problem, mainly focusing on Whitehead. Later, I'll post my thoughts on your books (which I think are on par with Martin)


[1] - [url:2kqjv13s]http&#58;//www&#46;ecs&#46;soton&#46;ac&#46;uk/~harnad/Papers/Py104/searle&#46;comp&#46;html[/url:2kqjv13s]

[2] The Problem of Consciousness pg 87 view post


The Three Seas Forum archives are hosted and maintained courtesy of Jack Brown