Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Persistence of Mental Attitudes: Folk Psychological Concepts vs Eliminative Materialism

Introduction and Context
With eliminative materialism, we saw a reaction to dualism. Since folk psychological theories of mind got it so wrong (i.e., dualism), eliminative materialists argued we need to abandon everything related to folk psychology--including the concepts of belief and desire--and develop entirely new concepts that arise organically from modern scientific observations about the brain.  It simply doesn't make sense to try to force millennia old pre-scientific concepts onto the findings of modern brain science.  We should let the science develop from scratch--not impose old concepts onto its observations.  

Responses to Eliminative Materialism
There have been several responses to eliminative materialism:  The main one we're going to look at comes from Jerry Fodor, considered to be one of the most important living philosophers of science (and he doesn't even wear a labcoat!).

He uses 3 main arguments to make his case:
(A)  Beliefs and brain-states are independent levels of analysis;
(B)  Mental states should not be defined in terms of underlying physical structures instead they should be functionally defined.  Defining mental states functionally means
          (i)  they are not reducible to physical structures
          (ii) they can be instantiated by many different types of physical structures.
(C)  There is no theory that can explain and predict behavior better than one that uses the concepts of belief and desire.

Ok, lets check out Fodor's arguments...

Different Levels of Analysis
His argument goes something like this: folk psychology and neuroscience/cognitive science are giving an account of the phenomenon (behaviour) at different levels of analysis:  Just as we wouldn't study what characters are on a computer screen from the level of electrical impulses in computer's circuits, we shouldn't try to discover what beliefs are by looking at electro-chemical signals in the brain.  Doing so is too fine grained for the purpose of a behavior-of-organisms level of analysis.  

Another example would be geology.  We wouldn't study tectonic plate movements at the atomic level.  Furthermore, the concept of tectonic plates can't be reduced to one defining atomic structure.  Many non-fundamental sciences require independent (non-reducible) levels of analysis.  It follows that the concepts used in these sciences won't necessarily be reducible to particular atomic structures.

Folk concepts are at a much higher level of abstraction than neuroscience or some other fine-grained brain science.  So, just because we can't find one to one "matches" between the concept of beliefs and what's happening at the neurological level doesn't mean there's no such thing as beliefs, it only means that the distance between the levels of abstraction is too great for any meaningful matching to occur.

Functionalism:  How to Define Mental States
The Eliminativist Attack:  Non-Reducibility
One of the arguments eliminative materialists (EM) use against the concepts of folk psychology such as beliefs and desires, is that they can't be reduced to basic physics--or at least physical states--and therefore should be eliminated from a scientific theory of mind.  The idea is that, in science, things only exist if they can be reduced to physical phenomena.  But it seems that this can't be done with folk psychological concepts.

Before we see why reduction might not work for folk psychological concepts, lets revisit an example of reductionism that does work in science.  The classic example is that the concept "water" reduces to the physical structure "H20".  There is a one to one correspondence with the concept "water" and the physical structure "H20".  Any time someone refers to water, we can reduce that concept down to an underlying physical structure and that physical structure will always be the same.  If you use the concept "water" for something that doesn't have the physical structure "H20", then you are misusing the concept.

Now lets think about a belief.  Does a belief reduce down to a uniform physical structure that is the same across all brains?  Very unlikely given that everyone's brain is slightly different and the vast number of types of beliefs one can have.  What is it that every belief has in common in terms of the physical brain state that underlies it?  

When you have the beliefs "it's raining", "apples are crunchy", and "judo is a great sport" what could the underlying structure of all these beliefs have in common? Probably nothing.  

Given what we know about neuro-plasticity, there are many different ways the same belief, behavioral state, or cognitive process can be underpinned by a brain structure.  Water, on the other hand, will always reduce down to two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.

Consider another example: pain.  Is there something common to the underlying physical structures of all types of pain that we can reduce the concept down to? Given that there are so many different types of pain (stubbing your toe, biting your tongue, burning your finger, heartbreak, etc...) it's hard to say that they can all be reduced down to one common element in the physical state of the brain--again, especially when you consider that everyone's brain is structurally a bit different and that we also attribute the concept "pain" to animals whose brain structures are different from out own.

Fodor's Response
Mental concepts such as beliefs and desires aren't defined in terms of their physical structures, they are defined in terms of their function.  Check it:  We don't say of mouse traps that they are defined in terms of a particular physical structure and anything that doesn't have this particular structure isn't a mouse trap.  A mouse trap can be made of plastic, wood, metal and it can have many different shapes. The technical term for this is, mouse traps are multiply realizable; that is, mouse traps can take many forms yet perform the same function. What makes a mouse trap a mouse trap is not it's particular structure or what it's made of, what makes a mouse trap a mouse trap is that it traps mice! (now say that 5 times fast).

The same goes for beliefs and desires.  What makes a belief that ice cream is a delicious treat a belief is its functional role in behavior.  Someone who has this belief is very likely to eat ice cream when it's presented to them.  The underlying physical structure of having this belief isn't important.

Consider another example: The belief that the assignment is due on Tuesday isn't a matter of having a particular brain state, it is a matter of how that belief functions.  Having that belief functions to make people complete their assignment by Tuesday.

Just as the concept "mouse trap" can't be reduced down to a particular physical structure (a la water to H20), the same goes for the psychological concepts of belief and desire--they are non-reducible concepts.

To summarize so far, Fodor argues that the folk psychological concepts of belief and desire are independent, non-reducible, functionally defined, and multiply-realizable. (If your brain just exploded, that's ok.)

The Rumors of the Death of Folk Psychological Concepts Has Been Greatly Exaggerated
Fodor's third argument is that not only does eliminative materialism greatly exaggerates the folk psychology's short comings, but it ignores the fact that there is no theory that doesn't use the concepts of belief and desire that explains and predicts behavior as well as a theory that uses those concepts.

Suppose I call my friend and tell him to meet me at 8pm at a bar.  He shows up at 8.  Now, how the heck would you explain his behavior without appealing to the fact that he had a belief that I'd also be showing up at 8 to meet him. 

Talking about neurological states, or electro-chemical reactions in certain parts of the brain cannot explain why he showed up at 8.  You need the concept of belief to explain behavior.

Not only does the concept of belief explain behavior but it allows you to make very accurate predictions about behavior.  I also could have predicted in advance (after I sent the invitation) that he'd show up at 8.  Magic!  We successfully predict the behavior of others all the time using (implicitly) the concept of belief.  This is how everyone operates and they do so because the results are often correct.

So, the concepts of belief and desire have the hallmark properties of any good scientific theory: they allow tremendous explanatory and predictive power.  So, there eliminative materialists!  In your face

One Last Thing:  Ontology and a Dualism 2.0
The next thing Fodor argues is that since the concepts of belief and desire allow tremendous explanatory and predictive power, they must exist;  that is, they must refer to something real in the world.

So, it seems like in a way, we have a kind of property dualism:  there are mental objects called beliefs and desires that aren't reducible to physical stuff.  Of course, Fodor isn't saying that there are dis-embodied souls that have these properties, only that these mental properties properties of brains.

There's a philosophy of science/epistemology objection to Fodor's ascription of ontological status to beliefs and desires.  Simply because a concept gives explanatory and predictive power isn't enough evidence for ontological status.  There is a wasteland of failed scientific concepts that at one time had good explanatory and predictive power given the empirical observations at that point in history.

One of the most famous examples is phlogiston theory.  Scientists of the day postulated an invisible substance called phlogiston to explain heat transfer.  It had excellent explanatory and predictive power until someone came up with an experiment that falsified the hypothesis.  So, the story goes, explanatory and predictive power aren't enough to justify ontological existence.

Objection 2: Vs Non-Reductionism
Property dualists want to say that mental properties arise out of the complexity of physical structures.  That is to say, over evolutionary time, when physical structures reached a certain level of complexity, mental properties arose.  

At the same time property dualists want to say that these properties aren't reducible to any particular structure.  How can you say on the one hand that mental properties arise out of particular physical structures yet mental properties aren't reducible to particular structures. It seems like the property dualist is having their cake and eating it too.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Eliminative Materialism Vs Folk Psychological Concepts

Introduction and Context:
Up until now we've been looking at substance dualism and its problems.  For most people, the interaction problems and the account of brain damage are insurmountable, particularly since dualism seems to conflict with our best scientific theories of mind. So, if dualism is so wrong, how did we end up with it in the first place?

Simply put--contra Descartes--you can't do a priori science.  In other words, we can't rely on our intuitions to tell us about the physical world.  This is why many of the ancient Greek physics are so spectacularly wrong.  It might make intuitive sense that everything is made of fire, earth, wind, and water...or whatever combination, but you simply can't make conclusions about nature based on intuition alone.  You need empirical observation.  If you want to know about the world you have to examine it, make observations, and form theories that account for those empirical observations.

Many contemporary philosophers of mind attribute the failure of dualism to people trying to do science of mind using a priori reasoning.  The hodge-podge collection intuitive concepts of how the mind works are called folk psychology and include concepts like beliefs, attitudes, and desires.  

Because folk psychology seems to fail in explaining the mind, Paul Churchland argues that we should instead adopt eliminative materialism:  This is the idea that we should eliminate folk psychological terms like belief, attitude, and desire from our theory of mind and talk only about physical brain states.  Underpinning the eliminative approach is a skepticism about introspection and as a means of developing scientific theories of the mind as well as an opposition to trying to fit centuries old concepts to modern observations.

Main Arguments for Eliminative Materialism
Eliminative materialist give three main reasons for rejecting folk psychological terms from (contemporary) theories of mind:
(1)  the theory has not meaningly progressed for a long time;
(2)  the concepts don't integrate well with promising up and coming approaches to mind (cognitive science and neuroscience);
(3) the concepts don't refer to anything real.

Regarding point (1), we have seen tremendous progress in explaining how the mind works by using the modern paradigms of neuroscience and cognitive science.  Folk psychological explanations haven't contributed much in comparison to these other frameworks.   Given the relative discrepancy in the rate explanatory progress between modern frameworks and folk psychological framework, it's time to abandon the latter.

Point (2) is that it doesn't make sense to try to force millennia old pre-scientific concepts onto modern theories of mind (e.g., cog sci and neuroscience).  What we need to do is let the new fields adopt whatever concepts best reflect the empirical findings they produce.  Just as it doesn't make sense to apply the pre-scientific concepts of the elements of earth, wind, fire, and water to our modern physics, it doesn't make sense to do this with modern theories of mind.  If fact, it is very likely that trying to force these pre-scientific folk psychological concepts onto modern theories of mind will hamper their progress and force poor interpretations of empirical findings.

Lets quickly expand on point (3):  But before doing that, we need to know something about what philosophers (and linguists) call "theories of reference." 

Theories of Reference
Some philosophers of science say that scientific concepts, in order to be "real", must refer to something that is underpinned by/reducible to physical structure.  For example, anytime I use the concept "water" it refers to H20.  Because "water" picks out (i.e., refers to) something real in the world, it is a legitimate scientific concept.  If I point to something that doesn't have the structure H20 and call it "water", I'm misapplying the concept.

Now lets look at the concept of "belief."  Does it pick out any real physical structure in the world? When I say "I believe that ice cream tastes good" and "I belief Joe Biden is the VP of America", what are the underlying physical structures that these two things have in common?

Think of all the different possible beliefs you can have.  In terms of their underlying physical structure (i.e., brain states/neurological states), what do all of them share?  Especially when you consider that everyone's brain is a little bit different. 

Unlike the case of water and H20, it doesn't seem like this collection of things which are all called beliefs share anything in common in terms of underlying physical structure.  While there may be overlap between the brain structures underpinning some beliefs, there will be other beliefs that don't have any meaningful overlapping physical structures.

The idea here is that scientific theories should postulate entities that can be observed, quantified, and studied and for this to happen the concept has to refer to something that has uniform underlying structure across all cases.  But what is the underlying physical structure of a belief?  How do you measure it? It doesn't seem to have any properties that we can measure scientifically. They don't seem to "exist" in any way which allows them to be studied.

Folk psychological concepts don't actually refer to any"thing" in the "real" world.  There is no thing in the world that satisfies the description of "belief".  Scientific terms should refer to things that exist and can be studied, and since we can't do this with folk psychological terms, we should eliminate them from theories of mind.

Interestingly, dualism and eliminative materialism do agree on one point:  you can't reduce mental states to physical states; however, the reasons for this shared conclusion are very different! As we saw with dualism, mental states can't be reduced to physical states because each are properties of a different respective substance:  mental states are properties of minds and brain states are properties of brains.

Eliminative materials say you can't reduce mental states to brain states because mental states don't really exist! There are only physical brain states because they say we should eliminate folk psychological terms.  We can think of it this way:  some very folk theories of mind say that people act loco because they are possessed by a demon.  The eliminativist says not only can we not readjust our notion of loco to fit what was previously meant by demonic possession, we should only talk about the brain states that occur concurrent with certain behaviours.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Critical Thinking Reboot

This is the email I'm sending all my critical thinking students.  The class is getting stale and I need to try a different approach.  

Subject: Dear Respected Ones,

Dear Respected Ones,


Permit me to inform you of my desire of going into business relationship with you. I got your contact from the International web site directory. I prayed over it and selected your name among other names due to it's esteeming nature and the recommendations given to me as a reputable and trust worthy person I can do business with and by the recommendations I must not hesitate to confide in you for this simple and sincere business.

I am Wumi Abdul; the only Daughter of late Mr and Mrs George Abdul. My father was a very wealthy cocoa merchant in Abidjan,the economic capital of Ivory Coast before he was poisoned to death by his business associates on one of their outing to discus on a business deal. When my mother died on the 21st October 1984, my father took me and my younger brother HASSAN special because we are motherless. Before the death of my father on 30th June 2002 in a private hospital here in Abidjan. He secretly called me on his bedside and told me that he has a sum of $12.500.000 (Twelve Million, five hundred thousand dollars) left in a suspense account in a local Bank here in Abidjan, that he used my name as his first Daughter for the next of kin in deposit of the fund. 

He also explained to me that it was because of this wealth and some huge amount of money his business associates supposed to balance his from the deal they had that he was poisoned by his business associates, that I should seek for a God fearing foreign partner in a country of my choice where I will transfer this money and use it for investment purpose, (such as real estate management). 

On his death bed my father also revealed one more secret to me: He told me that he had purchased the small island nation of Wutduland and beginning Jan. 1, 2014 I am to become the ruler!

The truth is, the cocao business has been booming and so money is not a problem for me.  But I do have one very big problem:  I will have to rule a small country in just a few months and I've never ruled a country before.  I am have no idea what types of policies I should put in place.  

Should I have privatized healthcare or not?  What kinds of medicine work and which don't?  Should I make everyone get vaccinated?  Should I allow GMO crops?  If I do, should I require labels?  Should I impose restrictions of greenhouse gas emissions?  Or is global warming a conspiracy?  What kind of gun control policies should I have, if any?  Which god should I choose?  Do I have to choose just one?  Is Chipotle as committed to animal welfare and the environment as they say they are?  There's too much to decide for just one person.

I did some research on the interwebs on these issues but I find what appear to be good arguments for contradictory positions on all these issues.  Maybe if I were a good critical thinker, I could figure out what to believe and why, but unfortunately our university doesn't have a critical thinking class.  

This is where you come in.  I have heard that the students in Critical Thinking 102 sec. 1005 are some of the best critical thinkers in the world--even better than my uncle Thomos Dah.  I also read on the interwebs that his lordship, Ami Palmer, is most proficient at making good critical thinkers even better.  If you and his lordship can form a special committee on these issues and others to tell me which position I should take on the aforementioned policy problems, I will be happy to share with you most of my inheritance.  Specifically, here is what I'd like you to do:

1) Each week, I will send you information about a controversial issue and in groups I want you to do some critical thinking and research to figure out what position I should take.   This way, when I rule my country, my citizens will have the best country in the world (except 'Merika, of course).  

2)  After completing your research, you should present your findings to me in the following form:
(a)  Clearly outline what one side argues;
(b)  Decide if their premises are true;
(c)  Decide if their premises have a strong logical connection to the conclusion (relevance, sufficiency)
(d)  Identify any logical fallacies and cognitive biases.
(e)   Evaluate some of the counter-arguments and possible replies to the counter-arguments
(f)  Construct an argument for which side has the stronger case and why.

For each successful policy recommendation I will reward you with GOLD!!

To show you that I am sincere and that this is for real, I have already sent to his lordship, Ami Palmer, a small taste of what you can expect for doing good work.

please feel free to contact ,me via this email address

Anticipating to hear from you soon.
Thanks and God Bless.
Best regards.
Miss Wumi Abdul


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Brain Damage, Mind Damage, and Dualism (Phelan, Mandelbaum, and Nichols)

Introduction and Context:
In describing what philosophy does, I've heard Prof. Todd Jones (of UNLV) say "philosophy is usually about one of two things:  Things that are so abstract and obscure that most people wouldn't bother to think about them, and things that are so obvious that most people wouldn't bother to think about them."  Substance dualism falls into the latter category.  For most people, that humans have an immaterial mind/soul that is independent from their body is so obvious, it's not even something to question...but this is a philosophy class!

Up until now we've looked at what substance dualism is, how Descartes argued for it, and one of it's main problems--the interaction problem.  Now we're going to look at another argument against substance dualism: the communication problem (aka argument from brain damage).  The communication problem is that substance dualism gives a very poor account of why brain damage (i.e., damage to a physical system) has an effect on the mind (i.e., an independent non-physical system). That is, if the brain and the mind are two distinct entities, and the immaterial mind can exist intact and fully functional for eternity without a body (i.e., brain), why should brain damage matter to mental abilities now--when we have a brain?

Essentially, the argument is that the physicalist model give a comparatively better account:  it says certain parts of the brain are responsible for certain functions. If you damage those parts, you'll diminish or lose those functions.

Brain Damage:  The Case of Clive Wearing
 The communication problem becomes apparent when we consider how substance dualism would account for loss of mental capacities caused by brain damage.

Consider the famous case of Clive Wearing (CW) who, after having a normal life for 50 years, contracted viral encephalitis.  The end result of the encephalitis was anterograde and fairly severe retrograde amnesia.  The former is when you can no longer form new memories, the latter is when one cannot recall events from before the brain damage occurred.  Brain scans on CW showed that the areas associated with memory had, for the most part, been destroyed by the virus.

It's a Communication Problem:  The Dualist Account of Brain Damage
The dualist account of brain damage cannot imply that damage to the brain would cause damage to the mind.  Since the mind isn't the brain and the mind can persist eternally regardless of whether we have a physical brain or not, they have to explain why brain damage apparently causes loss or diminishment of mental functions.  I emphasize "apparent" because the dualist cannot answer that damage to the mind can actually occur as a consequence of damage to the brain. Otherwise, how do you explain how the soul function and exist eternally once the brain is worm food?  For this reason, the dualist instead has to argue that the mental damage is only apparent.

The dualist has to argue that the mind remains perfectly intact but something's gone wrong with the mind-brain interface.  We can think of it like this:  the brain has within it a "modem" or "router" that transmits stuff about the body to the mind and also receives information from the mind (to be converted into physical movements).   In the case of brain damage, what has gone wrong is not that the mind doesn't function perfectly (it still does), it's that the modem/router isn't working for certain types of operations.  In short, for the dualist, brain damage is a communication problem between a damaged physical system and an undamaged non-physical system.

Two Possible Dualist Replies
There are two possible dualist accounts of why the communication between mind and body fail.  The first is that the perfectly intact mind sends information to the brain, but upon receiving the information, the brain messes it up somehow.  The second is that the brain, because it's broken, sends the mind distorted information and so that's why new memories can't be formed.  Lets flesh these out...

Option 1:  Distorted Input
Think back to CW with his anterograde and retrograde amnesia:  When he is asked if he remembers his wedding, he replies he doesn't.  The dualist has to say that this memory is perfectly preserved in his undamaged immaterial mind.  When someone asks him, "How was your wedding?" in his immaterial mind he perceives it perfectly but the receiver in the brain somehow mistranslates his intended answer (the description of the memory) to "I don't remember." The receiver in the brain takes the mind's input of clear coherent memories and garbles it, thereby causing the output "I don't remember."  

On this account, poor CW has total access to the memories.  They are as vivid and clear to him as they were pre-brain damage.  He just can't express them to people.

This, on it's own, seems quite implausible but it gets worse.  CW's retrograde amnesia doesn't apply to all his memories, it's not complete.  If you ask him if he is married, he will say "yes."   Why is it that for some memories the "modem" garbles the input from the mind and in other cases it doesn't?  Does each memory have a separate modem?  That doesn't seem very plausible...

The other difficulty is to explain why, when the modem garbles the mind's input, is the output always "I don't know"?  Why not  "gjkdajfopjoqwjfoa[jfo[asj[fj'ljkd!"  or "I like ice cream"?  And why does it garble in these ways for memories about the wedding but not for memories about whether he's married?

Although the physicalist model is still a work in progress, its account (brain equals the mind, damage to brain equals damage to mind) seems much more plausible and in line with our best current scientific knowledge.

Option 2:  Distorted Output
The other possible response the dualist can give to explain why damage to the brain is only apparent (but not real) damage to the immaterial mind is to say the communication problem is from the brain to the mind.  

In the case of anterograde amnesia, the brain is trying to send new memories to the mind for storage, but the modem is down, and so they never arrive.  Kind of like if you tried to upload something to the cloud but your modem is down.  The information can't get to where it needs to go to get stored and so it is never encoded.  So far this sounds plausible...except 2 things.

The first problem is that it seems to presume new memory formation requires having a physical brain. The dualist, in essence is saying, he can't form new memories because the part of the brain that sends experiences to the mind isn't working.  The implicit assumption here is that memory formation requires having a brain!  This is something the dualist cannot abide.   On the other hand, if your mind can form new memories without a material brain, then why is the brain damage a problem in the first place?
If the immaterial mind can't acquire new memories except through the intermediary of the physical brain, how's this going to play out in the "ever after."  Will you never be able to form any new memories once your body has decayed?  Are you stuck for all eternity with only the memories you acquired in your brief stint on earth?  Eternity is a long time.  That might suck for more than a few people.  It's certainly motivation to do some crazy shit in your life.  Maybe Drake should have said "YOFMO":  You Only Form Memories Once...

The second problem is this:  Suppose we ask CW, "do you remember your wedding?"  The sound waves enter his auditory system and get converted into a neural signal which gets sent to the brain.   But since the modem that sends signals from his brain to his immaterial mind isn't working right, the message "do you remember your wedding" comes out as gibberish.   The mind never receives the right question even though it contains the information to answer the question.

Up to this point, it's still a moderately plausible account.  However, if the mind is receiving gibberish, why does CW respond "I don't remember" rather than "I don't understand a damn word you're saying!" 

Understanding the question doesn't seem to be the real problem.  That signal is getting through just fine: he just doesn't know the answer to it because he doesn't have that information.

Additional Arguments Against Dualism
Argument from Phylogenesis
At what point in the evolutionary process the organisms get "souls"?  Most people (except maybe Leibniz) would say that one celled organisms don't have souls.  So how about 2 celled organisms?  No? What about 3? ...4?   100? 

Recall that for the dualist you can't have partial souls, so the dualist can't say that mental capacities gradually evolved along with complexity.  Either you have a complete functioning soul or you don't.  This means that at a certain point in evolutionary development a parent didn't have a soul while the offspring did.  The metaphysical commitment to the existence of metaphysically independent immaterial souls makes the existence of souls difficult to square with our best scientific knowledge of the development of life.

Argument from Ontogenesis
The argument from ontogenesis is similar to the previous argument but applies at the level of the individual organism.  Consider how an individual human develops.  Most people, including dualists, will say that neither the sperm or the egg has a soul.  When the two touch to form a single cell, does a soul appear too?  If so from where? How do we know?  Does a single cell have a soul?  If not, then how about when that cell divides and becomes 2 cells.  Now does it have a soul?  What about after there are 4 cells?  

The idea that "poof" a soul appears after a certain number of cell divisions is going to be difficult to defend.  It's just as problematic as defending the idea that a soul appears for a single cell the moment the sperm penetrates the egg. 

To a certain extent, defending against the arguments from phylogenesis and ontogenesis require to dualist to make empirically defensible claims about when the soul appears. This will be tough. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How Can Souls Move Bodies? Descartes and Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia

Introduction and Context:
In the previous post we got a quick introduction to substance dualism (aka Cartesian dualism), the idea that the mind/soul and the body are not one and the same and are therefore fundamentally distinct substances.  That is, your brain is not your mind and your mind is not your brain.  We looked at two of the arguments that Descartes gave for the position and some of the objections.  Whether we find the arguments convincing or not, most psychological studies show that most people are dualists (but few philosophers and neurologists are).  There are also some contemporary arguments for different types of dualism which we'll look at in later posts but for now we're going to focus on substance dualism.

Setting all that aside, supposing we are convinced that dualism is true, it's interesting to consider what difficulties this position might give rise to.  Descartes' contemporary, Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia (who's momma didn't raise no fool) brought up some of these problems to Descartes himself in their written correspondence.

The Interaction Problem
At the heart of the problem with dualism is the interaction problem:  how is it that something that doesn't have any physical properties (i.e., doesn't exist in space, has no extension, and has no mass) can interact causally with something that is physically extended and has mass? and vice versa...  

So, how is it that thoughts in the mind (which have absolutely no physical properties) can causally bring about actions in a physical body?  Or that something happening to the body (e.g., stimulation of our perceptual organs or being poked by a needle) can bring about perceptual experiences and thoughts (e.g., "I see a red chair" or "ouch! that freakin' hurt!")  It would seem that for anything to causally affect a physical body it too must be physical or at least have some minimal physical properties like mass and extension (unless you want to invoke magic).

To see how Descartes responds to the interaction problem, Lets take a look at the back and forth in the letters between the two and see if he gives a satisfactory response.

May 21, 1643:  Descartes' First Attempt
The reason it seems like there's an interaction problem between mind and body is because I haven't explained how they interact yet!  The goal of the Meditations was only to give the notions of body and soul that explained why they are 2 distinct substances--not to explain how they interact.  But now that you're asking...

Also, although I only discussed the notions of body and mind that allows us to distinguish them, it doesn't mean that there aren't additional notions we can appeal to that explain how the two interact.

The confusion arises because you are using the notions that allow us to distinguish between the two to try to explain how the two interact.  But this obviously won't work because we're missing the relevant explanatory notions!

He then gives Elizabeth an analogy to illustrate his point:
The scholastics (the tradition of philosophy that Descartes opposed) believed that there was a "thing" called "heaviness" that caused objects to fall to the ground.  But they were misunderstanding the notion of heaviness.  Yes, having "heaviness" is why objects fall to the earth, but the scholastics misunderstand "heaviness" as being an actual thing that physically causes the object to fall.  They were misapplying concepts, this is why they were confused.

Something along the same lines is happening when we talk about the properties we attribute to our bodies and minds to account for how they interact.  We are mis-conceptualizing and misusing the properties, and this is the cause of our confusion.

To summarize, he avoids giving an answer to the interaction problem.

June 10, 1643:  Elizabeth's Reply
Before I begin, I just want to point out that Elisabeth's writing is a stunning example of the principle of charity Elizabeth's. Descartes' initial reply was unconvincing at best and totally side-steps the problem at worst. But look how Elizabeth replies

Now the interests of my house, which I must not neglect, now some conversations and social obligations which I cannot avoid, beat down so heavily on this weak mind with annoyance or boredom, that it is rendered useless for anything else at all for a long time afterward:  this will serve, I hope, as an excuse for my stupidity in being unable to comprehend [the "heaviness" example that Descartes gives to explain why the interaction problem isn't really a problem, but simply the result of not having or misunderstanding the notions for explaining how interaction occurs].

Ah! If only facebook and youtube disputes had this much civility....(meh...they wouldn't nearly be as much fun).

Ok, on to her reply...
In short she says, even with the "heaviness" example, I still don't understand how an immaterial thing that doesn't exist in space or have mass or extension can causally interact (via contact) with a physical thing (i.e., the body).   I cannot conceive of an immaterial thing as anything but the negation of matter, and in order for matter to move, it must be acted upon by physical force and contact (none of which are possible for an immaterial substance to do).

In fact, it would be easier for me to think of the soul as being material than to conceive of how something non-material could causally interact with something material.

Always the helpful one, Elisabeth offers Descartes a possible solution:  One possibility would be that the soul moves the body by communicating information to it, however, the information can only be interpreted and understood by the body if the body possesses intelligence...and Descartes denies that matter can be intelligent..Doh!   So, that's not going to work...

June 28, 1643: Descartes Second Reply
In short, Descartes still doesn't offer a direct answer.  He says that since it is easier for her Highness "to attribute matter and extension to the soul than to attribute to it the capacity to move a body and to be moved by one without having matter" she should feel free to attribute the matter and extension to the soul.  By doing so she will be able to conceive of the union of soul and body, even though in reality they are two distinct things.

This reply is quite unsatisfactory because (a) if the soul is not extended (as Descartes maintains) how will conceiving it as such explain away the interaction problem?  Also, (b) if we are to conceive of the union of body and soul as Descartes instructs us, presumably this would involve conceiving of some sort of causal connection, but that's precisely the thing that Elizabeth is not able to conceive of!

Clearly irritated by the fact that he can't come up with a good answer, Descartes ends his letter by admonishing Elizabeth for being too philosophical!

Finally, though I believe it is very necessary to have understood well once in one's life the principles of metaphysics, since it is these that give us knowledge of God and of our soul, I also believe that it would be very harmful to occupy one's understanding often in meditating on them [...]


Now, we're getting into facebook-fight territory!  At this point I think Descartes would have blocked her...

Sept. 13, 1645:  Elisabeth's Reply
Up until now, Elisabeth was primarily focused on asking how the immaterial mind could causally influence the actions of the material body.  Now, she asks for clarification on the other side of the interaction problem:  How is it that the "passions" (i.e., bodily feelings like hunger or physical pleasure) can interact with the non-material mind to influence our thoughts?

The Passions of the Soul  (Not of particular philosophical import)
Descartes wrote The Passions of the Soul largely as a response to Elisabeth's request for more information on the interaction between the passion and the immaterial mind.

First he lays the groundwork for how to distinguish between things that pertain to the soul and things that pertain to the body: 
(1) Anything that we can experience as being in us and which we see as existing in wholly inanimate bodies must be attributed to our body; 
(2)  Anything that we cannot conceive of as belonging to a body must belong to the soul.

From (2) it follows that thoughts belong to the soul.  From (1) it follows that heat and movement belong to the body.

17C Physiology and Anatomy 101:  How the animal spirits (the stuff that causes bodies to move) cause movement:
The animal spirits (tiny particles that 17C physicians believe to be responsible for animation) are contained in the blood.  They are very very fine particles.  The heart pumps them up to the brain where they enter cavities and go through pores thereby coming in contact with the nerves and then the muscles.  That's how bodies moves...(!)

How does the body move without the soul?
Sometimes the animal spirits can cause some pores to open or close more than others, which in turn causes a muscle to contract more or less.  The sensory nerves can cause the pores to be opened more or less than usual, which in turn causes the animal spirits to change direction and go to the muscles in such a way that causes the body part to move as it usually does for such an occasion.

In short, our bodies are self-sufficient robots.  Our sensors cause the animal spirits to open and close pores which in turn direct the animal spirits to the correct muscles for the appropriate movements.

The function of the soul:  In this mechanistic framework you may be asking where our soul/mind is in all this.  The soul is the "place" where we have our thoughts of which there are 2 main kinds:  actions of the soul and passions of the soul.  Actions of the soul are our volitions since we experience them as coming from our soul.   The passions of our soul are the various perceptions we have since they are externally caused.

How do the soul and body interact?  Through the pineal gland in the brain.

How do we know the pineal gland is the "seat of the soul"?  All of the organs for our external senses come in twos (eyes, hands, ears, and so on...)  (Ignore that you only have one tongue and one mouth, 10 fingers, etc..!)  There must be a place where the two images coming in the two eyes or the double organs of any other sense converge to form a single image or impression before reaching the soul--otherwise the soul would see two of the image!  That's science!  ...well, 17C science anyway...

Monday, September 16, 2013

Descartes and Philosophy of Mind: The Conceivability Argument and the Divisibility Argument

Introduction and Context:
Watch the Video first:
So, is the brain the mind?  Is the mind the brain?  Are they separate things?  If so, are you your brain or your mind?  Or are you somehow both but they aren't the same thing?  Are you confused?

Poor Karl.  Lets try to help him clear up his confusion.  Fortunately, we have philosophy at our disposal to provide some answers in our time of need (where else could you possibly go?).  To get at some kind of an answer lets start with Descartes who thought he had a solution to this problem.  The short answer, as you should know by now, is that you are a mind, not a body.  

Descartes proposed 3 main arguments for what is called substance dualism which is the position that the mind and the body (i.e., brain) are two completely different types of things (i.e, substances).   Because my main goal is simply to present the general position, for our purposes we'll only look at two of the arguments.

The Conceivability Argument (6th Meditation)
The conceivability argument rests upon two similar principles: (a) The doctrine of clear and distinct is that anything that can be clearly and distinctly conceived of is possible and therefore can, in the "real world" correspond perfectly with one's understanding of it.  Lets not worry too much about this part...The other principle plays a more important role:  Hume's law is that if we can conceive of something then it is logically possible.

Ok, with those principles in "mind" lets take a look at a stripped down version of the argument: 

(P1)  I conceive that I, a thinking thing, can exist without my extended (i.e., physical) body existing.
(P2)  Anything that I can conceive of is logically possible.
(P3)  If it is logically possible that X (mind) exists without Y (body), then X (mind) is not identical to Y (body).
(C)   Therefore, I, a thinking thing, am not identical with my extended body.

Recall from the 1st meditation where Descartes shows that we can doubt everything, including the existence of our own physical body, except that we think and that we exist. Because we can conceive of ourselves as existing without having a body, we must not be identical to our body.  Since we are not identical to our body, our minds and our bodies must be 2 completely different sorts of things (he calls them "substances").

Most philosophers reject this argument because it relies on Hume's law (P2) which most contemporary philosophers also reject.  Conceivability is not sufficient for logical possibility. 

Another reason for rejecting the argument is that while Descartes may be correct in that thought is essential to mind and extension is essential to bodies, it doesn't follow that this is all there is to each.  He argues that since the essence of mind is thought, he "can infer correctly that my essence consists solely in the fact that I am a thinking thing."  But just because thought is an essential property of mind it doesn't necessarily follow that this is the only property of mind.  In other words, he can't make that inference. 

Alright, for our purposes, this should suffice...

Next argument:
The Divisibility Argument
We can present it simply like this:

(P1)  All extended things are divisible. (It's possible to divide the body or matter into parts) 
(P2)  Minds are not divisible.  (When you introspect, you can't distinguish parts of the mind within yourself).
(P3)   Although it appears as though my mind and body are united, if I were to remove body parts, "nothing would have been taken away from the mind", thus, minds are not extended. 
(C)  Therefore, it follows that the minds are distinct substances from bodies.

Most contemporary philosophers (and brain scientists) reject (P3).  We know that if we remove parts of the brain, part of our "mind" will also be removed.  Also, when the corpus callosum (the bundle of nerves connecting the two hemispheres) is removed, the "mind" seems to divide into two separate consciousnesses. 

While it's interesting to dissect what when wrong in Descartes arguments, the more interesting philosophical area is to look at the problems that arise if we accept (or reject) dualism.  Recent psychological studies show that most people are natural dualists (i.e., they believe in a non-material mind/soul/spirit/etc...).  Not that it matters what the unwashed masses think (I kid! I kid!) but it's interesting to inquire what sorts of problems come about from accepting dualism.  Very early on, the very astute Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia noticed some of these problems and presented them to Descartes in written correspondence...which is the topic of the next post...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Gettier: The Challenge to the Traditional Conception of Knowledge

Introduction and Context
Gettier's "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?" is considered to be one of--if not the most--important articles of 20th Century philosophy.  Pre-Gettier, the standard definition of knowledge (since at least Aristotle) was "justified true belief".  Pretty much everyone we've studied so far held this account of knowledge to be correct (with the exception of Goldman who wrote post-Gettier and was focused only on justification).  In his groundbreaking article, G-money provides several counter-examples to the long-standing traditional account.  Let check it aus...

The Traditional (JTB) Account of Knowledge
At its core the traditional account of knowledge has 3 necessary and sufficient conditions:

S knows that p if and only if
(a)  p is true,
(b)  S believes that p, and
(c)  S is justified in believing that p.

(Recall from the previous post that 'S' stands for 'any subject/person' and 'p' stands for 'any proposition/assertion that can be true or false, but not both.)

Gettier's Objective
Gettier's main objective is to show that the traditional conditions for knowledge in the JTB model aren't sufficient (aren't enough).  In other words, in some cases, meeting the 3 conditions isn't enough for something to count as knowledge--there need to be additional conditions.

The Set Up:  Why Gettier Cases Happen
Before looking at Gettier's actual examples, lets take a look at the general structure that will underpin his attack: Gettier cases (i.e. counter-examples to the JTB model) work against the traditional account of knowledge because of the interaction between 2 widely accepted epistemological principles.  So long as we accept both principles, we'll end up with Gettier counter-examples to the JTB model. 

The first principle is that (A) it's possible to have a justified belief that is false.  Most people accept this.  Often we have very good reasons for believing things that at some later point we learn to be false.  The only way to reject this is to say that the only justified beliefs you can have are ones that, under no possible circumstances, will ever turn out to be false.  Since all sorts of unexpected things can happen in life, this bar is too high for all but Descartes and his followers.

The second part of the set up involves an assent to logical inference.  That is, most of us believe that (B) some beliefs can be justified by prior beliefs.  A classic example would be 

If I have good evidence for the belief that (p) it's raining, then I can infer that (q) there are clouds.
Or If if have good evidence for the belief that (p) Jill drives a Ford, then I can infer (q) that Jill drives an American car.

In cases where I know p, I can also be justified in knowing q. In other words,  every time I have good reason to think p is true, I can legitimately infer that q will also be true.  So, if I'm justified in believing p, and q obviously follows from p, then it seems I am also justified in believing q. 

Let me repeat that cuz it's super important: If q clearly follows from p, and I'm justified in believing p, then it follows that I'm also justified in believing q.

The traditional account along with just about everyone, professional philosopher or not accepts that we can make legitimate inferences.  What the Gettier cases show is that accepting both (A) and (B) gets us into trouble if we also want to hold on to the tradition definition of knowledge. 

Case 1:  The Oasis
Suppose we're walking in the desert.  Up in the distance I see an oasis (this is the 'p').  I turn to you and say "there's an oasis over there."  Now, since (p) I see an oasis, I make the inference from believing that I see an oasis to (q) there is an oasis "over there."

(If I see something, then I reasonably infer that it exists).

As it turns out, I'm actually seeing a mirage not an oasis.  Now, here's the crazy part: just behind the dune I'm pointing at there is an actual oasis.  So our situation is that I've met all the criteria for the traditional definition but I don't seem to have knowledge!  Most people would say that I don't know there is an oasis over there.  Consider

(i)   I have a true belief (there really is an oasis "over there"--it's just not the one I think I'm seeing);
(ii)  I believe that there is an oasis "over there" (I inferred it from the fact that I see an oasis which is actually a mirage);
(iii) I'm justified in believing there is an oasis "over there" (I don't know that I'm seeing a mirage rather than an actual oasis)

In this case, it looks like I have a bonafide justified true belief but we probably don't want to say that I know that there is an oasis over there.  Oh! Snap!

Case 2:  The Job and the Coins
Suppose Smith and Jones have applied for a certain job.  Suppose also that Smith has strong evidence for the following proposition:

(d) Jones is the man who will get the job and Jones has 10 coins in his pocket. (This is the p)

Maybe Smith's evidence is that the owner of the company (who is also in charge of hiring) told him Jones would get the job.  Also, Smith, himself, counted the coins in Jones' pocket while they were in the waiting room.

The next assertion (e) follows logically from (d) (in philosophy we say "it is logically entailed by d")

(e)  The man who will get the job has 10 coins in his pocket. (This is the q.  We can say that e obviously follows from d)

I don't think anyone would disagree that if we have strong justification for believing that is true then we can also be justified in believing that e is true.  Smith believes (e) and is justified in believing (e).

Now here's where it gets crazy again.  Suppose that contrary to all the evidence that Smith had for Jones getting the job, Smith himself ends up getting the job.  And, to top it off, Smith, unbeknownst to himself, (because he never bothered to count) also has ten coins in his pocket.  This means that (e) is true (the man who got the job--Smith--has 10 coins in his pocket) even though (d) (from which (e) was inferred) is false!

How does this affect the traditional theory of knowledge?  Well, it looks like

(i)    Smith has a true belief (e)
(ii)   Smith believes (e)
(iii)  Smith is justified in believing (e) is true.

Even though all the conditions are met for the traditional definition of knowledge, we probably don't want to say that Smith knows.  Why?  Are intuitions tell us that well, the belief is only true by accident and so it shouldn't count Smith was justified in believing (e) because it obviously follows from (d), but that's not why (e) turns out to be true! But the traditional theory only stipulate that the 3 conditions be met--it doesn't say anything about how.  So, this example seems to show that the traditional theory fails because we don't want to say that Smith really knew that the successful job applicant would have ten coins in his pocket.

Case 3:  The Ford and Mr. Brown
Suppose that for the last 5 years, every workday, Jones has picked up Smith in a Ford to go to work. Most of us would agree that Smith is justified is believing that

(f)  Jones owes a Ford.

Now suppose Smith has another friend named Mr. Brown.  At random Smith selects 3 place names and constructs the following propositions:

(g)  Either Jones owns a Ford, or Brown is in Boston;
(h)  Either Jones owns a Ford, or Brown is in Barcelona;
(i)   Either Jones owns a Ford, or Brown is in Brest-Litovsk.

All of these (g, h, i) are entailed by (i.e., follow from) (f).

Wut?  Hold the do (g, h, i) follow from (f)?...

Aside:  Formal Logic
This particular examples requires a little bit of knowledge about formal logic.  Don't be scurd.  It's not as bad as you think.  At first it seems weird to say that g, h, i are all follow from (f), but they do, and I'll explain.

Consider the following example:

I have 2 legs.  It's true right?  Now consider this next proposition:

I have 2 legs or I have 2 horns.  Also true, right?  Why?

In an "or"-statement (called a "disjunction" in fancy philosophy-talk), so long as one part is true, the whole statement is true.  So, in this case, so long as it's true that I have 2 legs, it doesn't matter what I put on the other side of the "or" because the entire disjunction will still be true.  For example, I can say "either the earth is a sphere or unicorns that fart rainbows exist".  Because the first part of the disjunction is true, it doesn't matter if the second half is false (or true), the net result is the same; the entire disjunct is true.  In a disjunction, only one side needs to be true for the entire disjunction to be true.

Ok, that should be enough to get us through the rest of this Gettier case...

Case 3 Continued
Now where were we?  Oh, yes.  We were saying that the disjunctions (g, h, and i) all obviously follow from (f).  That is, if (f) is true, we can also infer that (g, h, and i) are also true because we know that one side of the disjunct is true (and that's all that's needed for the whole disjunction to be true).  So long as we know that "Jones owns a Ford," it doesn't matter one hoot what we add to it in an "or" statement.

Smith could have said "Jones owns a Ford or sharktopus will eat every UNLV student."  Since the "Jones owns a Ford" part is true, it doesn't matter about the truth of the sharktopus part--the entire disjunctive clause is still true as a whole.

The bottom line so far is that since Smith has strong evidence for (f), he can infer (g, h, i) and be justified in believing (g, h, i).   Finally, we should note that Smith has no idea where Brown is.  He just randomly picked places for (g, h, i).

Here comes the tricky part.  Who needs the quickee-mart?  Imagine two further conditions for our little situation.  First, it turns out that Jones doesn't own a Ford!  Unbeknownst to Smith, Jones sold his Ford yesterday and now drives a Prius.  Second, it turns out that Brown is actually in Barcelona (the place in h)!  It follows that (h) is true!  (But not for the reasons that Jones thinks it is).

If these two new conditions are true then
(i)  (h) is true (because Brown is in Barcelona not because Jones owns a Ford),
(ii)  Smith believes (h) is true (but for the wrong reason--because he believes Jones owns a Ford),
(iii) Smith is justified in believing that (h) is true (because he had good evidence to believe that (f) Jones owns a Ford and (h) follows from (f)).

Again we have an example where someone has met the 3 traditional criteria for knowledge, yet we would not want to say that Jones knows that (h) either Jones owns a Ford or Brown is in Barcelona.

Possible Objections
One attempt to rescue the traditional model is to add a fourth stipulation.  Notice that in Gettier's examples the problem seemed to be that an inference was being made from a false belief.  So, in Case 1, we inferred "there's an oasis over there" from the false belief "I see an oasis."  In case 2, we inferred that the man who got the job would have 10 coins in his pocket from the false belief that Jones, who has ten coins in his pocket, would get the job.  In case 3, we inferred that either Jones owns a Ford or Brown is in Barcelona from the false belief that Jones owned a ford.  In order to correct that problem, it seems we should add a fourth condition to the traditional model of knowledge:

(iv)  S does not infer a truth from a falsehood.

Problem solved right?  HA!  This is philosophy!

Gettier Reply
Suppose I run an annual event and for planning purposes I need to know how many people attended this year so I can rent a room for next year.  I really only care if there were more or less than 40 people.  If it's more than 40 then I need to rent a big room, if it's less, then the standard room will do.  I ask one of my co-organizers how many people attended the event.  He says there were 78 people.

At this point it seems that I can legitimately make the inference from "there were 78 people" to "there were more than 40 people at the event"; i.e., I know there were more that 40 people.  As it turns out, my co-organizer got it wrong, in fact, there were only 77 people.  It still seems, however, that I am able to legitimately say that I know there were more than 40 people.

So?  Well, this example shows that, contra (iv), you can make an inference from a falsehood and still have that inferred belief count as knowledge.  Doh!

But not so fast.  When you inferred that there were over 40 people based on the co-organizer's assertion about 78 people, there's an implied probability judgment.  You know that the probability of someone miscounting by about 35% is virtually impossible.  You know that even if they're off by a few, there will still be more than 40 people and so the number the co-organizer cites doesn't have to be exact for you to make the inference.  A proposition just has to have a high probability of being true.  So, we add a fifth condition:

(v)  has to have a sufficiently high probability of truth.

Now we've got it! Right?

Getter Reply 2:  Lottery Paradox
Suppose a billion ticket lottery.  Of ticket number 0000000000 there's a 1 in a billion chance that it will win.  So, you say (reasonably) that you believe it won't win.  You can say the same of ticket 0000000001 that you believe it won't win either.  In fact, you can say of every ticket that you believe it won't win.  But if you bought a ticket and said I know this ticket won't win, people would say, no, you don't know that.  One of the tickets will win.  You have a very high probability belief that the ticket won't win, but you don't know that it won't win.  This proves that, contra (v), you don't need to have a sufficiently high probability of truth for knowledge.

Anyhow, this back and forth can go on for a while, but in the end, philosophers have given up on trying to rescue the traditional model from Gettier by using extra conditions.

Conclusion: Why the Gettier Problem Can't be Overcome
As I said near the beginning (in the set up section), the production of Gettier cases relies on the acceptance of two principles: (A) You can be justified in believing something that turns out to be false, and (B) the justification of some beliefs can be other justified beliefs (i.e., we can make logical inferences).

Lets Try (A)
Any solution to the Gettier problem will involve rejecting one of these principles.  Suppose, for example, to get out of the "oasis" problem, we reject (A).  But now, if we actually see a real oasis, we can't say we know there's an oasis because there's always a chance (no matter how small) that it is a mirage or that we are hallucinating.  

As the lottery paradox shows, it doesn't matter how small the chance is, we still can't say we know it's an oasis so long as there's an infinitesimal chance that we could be wrong.  Well, rejecting (A) isn't going to about (B)?

Lets Try (B)
Suppose, in order to escape the Gettier problems we reject (B).  Recall, the problem arose because we made the inference from a false believe.  Well, now we're just going to ban inferences.  But if we do this, then if I actually do see a mirage I'm not allowed to make the inference that "there's a mirage over there"!  And if Jones actually does get the job, Smith can't make the inference that "the man who gets the job will have 10 coins in his pocket."  Well, that's gonna suck! 

Because no one (except very extreme skeptics a la Descartes) wants to abandon either (A) or (B) philosophers have given up trying to rescue the traditional model of knowledge. 

Holy crap!  Progress in philosophy! (If you count discarding a theory as progress).