• Wayfarer
    10.9k
    I take it that when you talk about contents, you are describing aspects or architectures of the mind, therein you are describing mental facultiesManuel

    No, I mean 'the contents of the book' - the story or other content. That comprises a set of ideas, or a narrative, or perhaps instructions. Sure, the book is physical, the ink is physical, the eyes which read the book are physical - they can be extracted and put in a jar - but what of the process of interpretation? What is it, that interprets a story, and discerns its meaning? Why is it you can translate all of the contents into different languages and even media, yet still tell the same story? The physical representation changes but the meaning does not. That's a hint for dualism right there!

    You might say, well, that's what 'the brain' does. But we can't see 'the brain' doing that. If you conduct minute analyses of the vast amount of neuro-biological activity that goes on in any brain, you will not see anything like inference or ideas as such. Furthermore, you will have to invoke these very capabilities of inference and reasoning to interpret the data you do have. So, I'm arguing those capacities of intepretation and reasoning are internal to the operations of thought. They are not physical in any sense.

    This ties back to the meaning of 'nous', that being 'the faculty which discerns truth.'

    In the Aristotelian scheme, nous is [the faculty] that allows human beings to think rationally. For Aristotle, this was distinct from the processing of sensory perception, including the use of imagination and memory, which other animals can do. This therefore connects discussion of nous to discussion of how the human mind sets definitions in a consistent and communicable way, and whether people must be born with some innate potential to understand the same universal categories in the same logical ways (which, I could argue, is close in meaning to Chomsky's 'universal grammar'). Deriving from this, it was also sometimes argued, especially in classical and medieval philosophy, that the individual nous must require help of a spiritual and divine type. By this type of account, it came to be argued that the human understanding (nous) somehow stems from this cosmic nous, which is however not just a recipient of order, but a creator of it. — Wikipedia

    This was actually the predecessor of Descartes' dualism, but Descartes transformed in such a way that it became untenable. Aspects of it are still maintained, however, in neo-Thomist philosophers, such as Maritain and others. That is the overall understanding I'm drawn to.

    But what I argue, along with Strawson and Chomsky, is that the mental is physical, you simply are choosing what aspect of physical reality you want to elucidate.Manuel

    I'm dubious that Chomsky would ever describe the mind as physical. He questions whether 'the physical' is even a coherent idea.

    There is no longer any definite conception of body. Rather, the material world is whatever we discover it to be, with whatever properties it must be assumed to have for the purposes of explanatory theory. Any intelligible theory that offers genuine explanations and that can be assimilated to the core notions of physics becomes part of the theory of the material world, part of our account of body. If we have such a theory in some domain, we seek to assimilate it to the core notions of physics, perhaps modifying these notions as we carry out this enterprise. — Chomsky, Language and the Problems of Knowledge

    But then, such a definition of physicalism falls prey to 'Hempel's dilemma':

    On the one hand, we may define 'the physical' as whatever is currently explained by our [current] physical theories...Though many would find this definition unsatisfactory, some would accept that we have at least a general understanding of the physical based on these theories, and can use them to assess what is physical and what is not. And therein lies the rub, as a worked-out explanation of mentality currently lies outside the scope of such theories [that being 'the hard problem'].

    On the other hand, if we say that some future, "ideal" physics is what is meant, then the claim is rather empty, for we have no idea of what this means. The "ideal" physics may even come to define what we think of as mental as part of the physical world. In effect, physicalism by this second account becomes the circular claim that all phenomena are explicable in terms of physics because physics properly defined is whatever explains all phenomena.

    I also found in this paper the following:

    [Chomsky] accepts the thesis that “human thought and action . . . are properties of
    organized matter,” but the indeterminacy of “matter” keeps that assertion from being a substantive metaphysical claim.

    meaning that Chomsky would not agree with the claim that 'everything is physical', on the basis that 'physical' is insufficiently defined. (Likewise, Chomsky says 'I'll tell you if I'm an atheist if you can tell me what it is I'm supposed to deny' :-) )

    Why introduce metaphysical differences, instead of talking about different aspects of the same reality?Manuel

    Because humans by and large have a false conception of the nature of reality. It is that, which philosophy is the antidote for.
  • Manuel
    66

    I entirely agree with most of the first portion of your analysis. It's evidently true that we can't see things like inferences, or abstractions or anything of the like when we see neurophysiological images of brains. That's completely true, and shouldn't be controversial. Where I do take issue is when you say:

    "So, I'm arguing those capacities of interpretation and reasoning are internal to the operations of thought. They are not physical in any sense".

    There's no doubt a massive explanatory gap exists between the data of science and the experience we have of it. But why isn't the process of the operations of thought "physical"? All it means is that physics, as we currently understand it, is radically incomplete and furthermore, will likely never be completed. I can't understand the idea that in between our brains doing something with data, and we experiencing that something as experiential phenomena, that there is something "non-physical" occurring. That would imply, or could be taken to imply, that something non-natural is taking place in between what my brain does, and what I experience.

    I think everything is natural, but we have substantive gaps in understanding, given the creatures that we are. I mean, I could say, something "nous-like" is happening with the operations of my thoughts, but I don't understand how to interpret that, other than taking it as meaning something in additional to the physical is happening when I interpret data. Why introduce something in addition to what we already know is radically incomplete on its own terms, namely the physical?

    As for Chomsky. Here I can speak with some confidence. You are correct about the "atheism" bit, I got to meet him too, he's really awesome. :) You are correct that he doesn't make metaphysical commitments outside of his "methodological naturalism", there is only one world, which we try to understand, theoretically, meaning scientifically, naturalistically, as we do with anything else we can more or less study in a systematic manner.

    On the other hand, if you take a look at Chomsky and his Critics, where in his "replies" section he talks about Strawson's argument of Real Materialistic Monism, as presented in Strawson's essay Real Materialism and Chomsky says that "RMM does "ontologize" the methodological stand, in a way that seems to me to be quite reasonable..." (2003, p.268).

    He also states in What Kind of Creatures Are We? that "Galen Strawson develops the first option in an important series of publications. Unlike many others, he does give a definition of "physical," so that it is possible to formulate a physical-nonphysical problem. The physical is "any sort of existent [that is] spatio-temporally (or at least temporally) located)." The physical includes "experiential events"(more generally mental events) and permits formulation of the question of how experiential phenomena can be physical phenomena-a "mind-body problem," in a post-Newtonian version." (p.120)

    But Strawson then argues that experience is physical, the problem is the non-experiential aspects of matter or stuff that has no experience (ordinary objects, the universe, etc.), that's the real mystery for him, until he went down the panpsychist direction.

    But you're correct, Chomsky prefers to speak of "methodological naturalism" and not "physicalism".

    Nevertheless, whether we use the word "physical" or "world", Chomsky would certainly say that there aren't any metaphysical distinctions, they made sense when Descartes proposed them, but that view collapsed with Newton
  • Janus
    9.7k
    The so-called "Hard Problem" just consists in the perceived difficulty, or impossibility, of explaining the mind in physicalist language. For me it simply appears to be a category error. We understand ourselves, our minds, in terms of reasons, and physicalist explanations are given in terms of causes. Reasons cannot be understood in terms of causes, and to try to do so is a category error which generates the Hard Problem. At least that's how I see it. Spinoza nailed this nearly 400 years ago in response to Descartes' dualism and the interaction problem it generates. I see the interaction problem as being basically the same problem as the hard problem; just in different dress, so to speak.
  • Janus
    9.7k
    Also, there seems to be this fear that any non-material conclusion leads to woo.Marchesk

    So called non-material explanations (explanations in terms of reasons) are only appropriate in regard to human, and some animal behavior. They only "lead to woo" if we try to apply them (as with teleological explanations for cosmic and biological evolution, for example) beyond their proper ambit..
  • Wayfarer
    10.9k
    why isn't the process of the operations of thought "physical"? All it means is that physics, as we currently understand it, is incomplete and furthermore, will likely never be completed. I can't understand the idea that in between our brains doing something with data, and we experiencing that something as experiential phenomena, that there is something "non-physical" occurring. That would imply, or could be taken to imply, that something non-natural is taking place in between what my brain does, and what I experience.Manuel

    But don’t you see how you’re in a self-reinforcing loop here? ‘We don’t really know what “physical” is, but everything must be physical, otherwise it’s not natural!’ What it says to me, is that you assume scientific naturalism to be the sole valid epistemology, whatever can’t be fitted into that methodology is to be rejected, probably because there’s no credible or coherent world-picture to associate it with. Therefore, you say, the mind itself must be physical - even if we don’t know what ‘physical’ is!

    And with respect to what is real being located in space and time: what about maths? Mathematics is also 'internal to the operation of thought' and yet it has been spectacularly successful in the arena of scientific discovery. Doesn't that say something?
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.9k
    I don't doubt the principle of natural selection, but I do question that it provides a basis for philosophy of mind, other than some species of utilitarianism.Wayfarer

    Natural selection itself doesn't need to. The point stands: the appearance of intention does not imply intention. Fool me once...
  • Manuel
    66

    I think science is the best founded knowledge we have, but it's far from the only knowledge we can have. Scientific enquiry if valid for theoretical understanding, but most aspects of life don't fit under this domain. History, international relations, ethics, aesthetics are not sciences, and it is far from clear than psychology and sociology are scientific in any relevant sense. I take it that philosophy is the study of mysteries, so it isn't a science per se.

    I think everything that exists is natural, and that the world around us is physical, including our brain/mind. It's a useful terminology to employ, but as soon as you interact with any object, you discover how little we know about the nature of the physical, or if you prefer, how little we know about the nature of the world. As for mathematics, I tend to agree with Russell and Strawson. Strawson says "A concrete phenomenon must be more than its purely formal or structural properties, because these considered just as such, have a purely abstract mathematical representation, and are, concretely nothing - nothing at all." So math is real, but abstract. Applied math, such as is used in physics, only describes the structure of things, not there intrinsic natures, which are left untouched.

    You've said that the operations of the mind cannot be physical, because they don't resemble anything in the physical sciences. What resembles something physical? Those things described by physical science, but not mental properties. That doesn't go very far either.

    At the end of the day, most of this is terminological. The biggest substantive difference here would be metaphysical dualism and emergence. Like I said a while ago, I don't think we are going to proceed much further along this path of talking about terminology.
  • Constance
    55
    But the easy problem has no merit in its explanatory explanatory basis. Such things do not touch ontology.
  • Constance
    55
    the world around us is physical,Manuel

    I have no idea what the term "physical" means. I take it to be a nonsense word, but a convenient place holder for as assumed stability.
  • Manuel
    66

    We don't really know what any word means, definitions only sketch there meaning, outside of natural numbers, which seem to be true by definition. Having said that, touch your computers or your keyboard, and you would say it is physical I presume. All I'm saying is that everything else is physical, including the brain which is where consciousness emanates from, and thus experience. This only means that what we ordinarily think of when we use the word physical, is much, much more than what we initially supposed. It includes our thoughts, dreams, ideas and so on.

    But, if that's not convincing for you, you can just as well call is "?-ist" and say everything is ?-ist. The main point is monist, there is only one fundamental kind of stuff. I'd like to see someone explain to me how metaphysical dualism can be articulated. How can there be two distinct but basic kind of substances in the universe. How do they interact at all? If they do interact, what the nature of the point of contact between two fundamentally different kinds of things, and so on. I'm not saying any more than that.
  • bert1
    610
    But the easy problem has no merit in its explanatory explanatory basis. Such things do not touch ontology.Constance

    I'm not sure I disagree. Which bit of what I said are you replying to? Sorry it's not obvious to me.
  • bongo fury
    817
    Yes, the "hard problem" presupposes epiphenomenalism, which took hold when brain science got in the habit of referring to the "neural correlates of consciousness". Thus placing the ball squarely in front of the goal it should perhaps have been guarding, and instead stepping graciously aside.
  • Wayfarer
    10.9k
    You've said that the operations of the mind cannot be physical, because they don't resemble anything in the physical sciences.Manuel

    I said that the elements of reason and logical inference are purely intellectual, they comprise the relationship of ideas. Physicalists will depict them in terms of neurological substances and activities, something that 'the brain does', and tie them back to the physical through that argument. I said that this can't be done as a matter of principle, to which I think you agreed. So there is something that is not physical, that we're all familiar with, namely, the operations of reason. And physicalism, or any coherent philosophical argument, relies on that faculty. Hence the fallaciousness of physicalism.
  • Manuel
    66

    I think we agree more than we disagree. Those physicalists you are talking about, tend to be people like Dennett, The Churchlands, the most extreme of them all being Alex Rosenberg. But there are scientists too, that attempt to take the physical roughly in that regard, Sean Carroll, Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson and so on.

    Yes, there is a definite explanatory gap between what goes on in the brain, and what we experience, which goes way beyond any sense data and gives us a rich, complex, multi-faceted world. I don't think the physical those people are referring to is the physical that actually exists, which would be the physical of, for example, Susan Haack and even C.S. Peirce, all the way back to Joseph Priestley. The physical they have in mind, is the physical that actually exists in nature, and it includes experience.

    What I should have made more explicit, is that, given the creatures that we are and the constitution we have as said creatures, there is no possible way any "theory of the physical", will ever explain to us how the "purely intellectual" works. If we can't understand gravity, as Newton admitted, I think it's a safe bet to say we won't be able to understand consciousness and the mental domain. Having said that, another highly intelligent creature, an alien somewhere, might be so built so as to understand how the brain works in such a way that we get the experience the way we do. Absent such a creature, I'd say, if such a being as God exists, it would be obvious to him. But it's a mystery to us, and will remain so.

    But let's say you are correct, and as a matter of metaphysical principle, the physical cannot, in any respect, explain the mind. That raises an additional problem, such as the interaction problem. Something "purely intellectual" then has some property or set of properties, that arise out of no discernable thing. Unless you have an explanation of some kind for that.
  • Wayfarer
    10.9k
    That raises an additional problem, such as the interaction problem. Something "purely intellectual" then has some property or set of properties, that arise out of no discernable thing. Unless you have an explanation of some kind for that.Manuel

    The 'interaction problem' arose from Cartesianism, because of the way Descartes conceived of mind as a 'thinking thing'.

    Husserl criticized Descartes for 'naturalising' res cogitans, treating it as a 'thing' - indeed, 'res' means 'thing'. Even though Husserl credits Descartes with the discovery of transcendental philosophy, and indeed emulates Descartes in many respects, he says that:

    Descartes himself had failed to understand the true significance of the cogito and misconstrued it as thinking substance (res cogitans), thus falling back into the old metaphysical habits, construing the ego as a “little tag-end of the world”, naturalising consciousness as just another region of the world, as indeed contemporary programmes in the philosophy of mind deliberately seek to do.

    This is what lead to the notion of a 'thinking substance'. This was further complicated by the conflation of the common word 'substance' (meaning 'a material with uniform properties') and the philosophical meaning of the term 'substance', derived from ouisia, meaning something nearer to 'subject' (as in 'a human subject') or 'being'.

    Anyway, this lead to the conception of mind as being something objectively existent. But the real problem is in that process of 'objectification'. After all, the natural sciences presume as an axiom the division of subject and object - the intelligent subject analyses the objective realm. ('Naturalism assumes nature', I like to say.) And surely 'mind' appears nowhere within that realm, save in the apparently-intelligent utterances and actions of other rational beings, and that is internal to their being, so to speak (hence the solipsism conundrum). So when you look at it from a naturalistic perspective - which is very much Daniel Dennett's perspective - then mind can't be considered real, as it's never an object of cognition, it is not a phenomenon at all. It is literally nowhere to be found. (And yet....!)

    That's why Husserl initiated an entirely new approach in philosophy, namely, phenomenological analysis. Won't go into that here, other than to say that the 'interaction problem' itself is a manifestation of a false conception of the nature of the mind, as an 'it', a 'something' which has to 'interact' with 'something else'. As Chomsky says, this is so utterly ill-defined as to be not worth considering. It leads to something which is plagues modern philosophy and indeed modern life generally, namely:

    Cartesian anxiety, which refers to the notion that, since René Descartes posited his influential form of body-mind dualism, Western civilization has suffered from a longing for ontological certainty, or feeling that scientific methods, and especially the study of the world as a thing separate from ourselves, should be able to lead us to a firm and unchanging knowledge of ourselves and the world around us. The term is named after Descartes because of his well-known emphasis on "mind" as different from "body", "self" as different from "other".

    Richard J. Bernstein coined the term in his 1983 book Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis. (Boring book, by the way!)

    Where mind plays a foundational role is not disclosed by treating it as something 'out there', but by discerning the way mind constructs or creates our world-picture. This requires a change of perspective from the assumed subject-object duality of naturalism. Embodied cognition is a good place to start - Embodied Mind, by Varela & Maturana et al, has a chapter on 'the Cartesian anxiety'. It integrates phenomenology (via Merleau Ponty) and also elements of Buddhist Abhidharma (philosophical psychology).
  • Manuel
    66

    I've read a bit about Husserl by scholars such as Dan Zahavi, who seems serious, but very little of what Husserl himself wrote about. Aside from his own quite obscure jargon, part of which seems useful I'll admit, he was constantly elaborating his views. So I've heard from different sources, people who know Husserl well, to begin with Ideas, others told me to do the Investigations first, yet another one told me that his Cartesian Meditations are his best book. I'm not interested enough to read all three honestly, there's too much stuff to look into on all topics outside philosophy too, so I don't know how to proceed with him, outside of reading some essays by scholars.

    I've read some more on embodied cognition, and although there are slight variants within this line of thought it seems to me, they remind me of Heidegger to some extent. And I know Husserl did not agree with Being and Time. I'll keep in mind that book you recommended, as I've already given you a few. Good to know that whatever differences we have, it's mostly terminological as I see it, and less about substance.

    And yeah, Dennett is the epitome of the most extreme irrationality possible, denying consciousness and then denying that he denies it. Kind of arguing with a person who insists that the sun is made of cotton or something like that, but worse, because if you need evidence for the existence of consciousness, you need some serious help. But Rosenberg is far worse. If you want a good laugh, try his Atheists Guide to Reality, it makes Dennett look like Einstein.
  • Wayfarer
    10.9k
    Good to know that whatever differences we have, it's mostly terminological as I see it, and less about substance.Manuel

    Actually, I would like to press the point a little, if only for my own edification.

    What I said was that there is no physical counterpart for the elements of rational judgement (is, is not, compared to, and so on.)

    So you asked the question,

    But let's say you are correct, and as a matter of metaphysical principle, the physical cannot, in any respect, explain the mind. That raises an additional problem, such as the interaction problem.Manuel

    To which I replied that the 'interaction problem' is really a product of Cartesian metaphysics.

    But the question still remains, how can an incorporeal mind influence physical bodies? And I think there's an answer to that is wholly consistent with the broader philosophical tradition (which is not generally materialist in orientation.) And that answer is, the rational intellect (nous) is able to discern principles which are themselves not visible to the corporeal senses*. That includes, for example, scientific laws and geometrical principles, such as the Pythagorean theorem. None of these are in themselves physical, although they may play a role in determining the behaviour of physical things.

    Look around you (presuming you're not ensconsed in some sylvan wilderness zone). Everything you see, every artifact, has been invented by humans 'peering into the realm of possibility', and then bringing back some invention, some discovery, some artefact, from that realm. Yet we can't seem to appreciate the power that makes it possible.

    In Greek philosophy, it was taken for granted that reason, the rational faculty, was what made h. sapiens, sapient. H. Sapiens can 'see' things that animals cannot see (even if bats can see moths by sonar and owls can see a kilometer by the light of a candle.) H. Sapiens can 'see' the causes of things, the relationships between phenomena, and so discern governing principles. This is where science began. Shame that many of its advocates have lost sight of it.

    --------------------------
    * This idea, I have discovered, is at the basis of the Medieval doctrine of the 'rational soul'. I'm still investigating this topic, which is a deep and difficult one, especially for those without a background in the classical literature of Western culture.
  • Manuel
    66
    I'll go on as much as necessary, I agree that arguments of this kind are good, if only to make us think about our views better, and hopefully catch a mistake in our reasoning.

    What you describe, even if you are referring to the ancient Greeks, can also be found in the Cambridge Neo-Platonists, specifically Ralph Cudworth, who Chomsky thinks is more interesting than Kant. And he might be correct, Cudworth is interesting, and it points to the kind of thing you are attempting to describe. I'd frame the issue slightly differently, which would be to say they everything we interact with, even in the wilderness too, can only be recognized as such, manifestly, as "given" to us, by the specific nature we have, which tends to assume a "naïve realism" of sorts.

    These types of ideas, of recognizing that things like BEDS or MOUNTAINS, are mental constructions and thus do not reside in the mind-independent world, is something that is awe-inducing. I mean, if all human beings disappeared over night, there would be something "out there", but it wouldn't be a BED or a MOUNTAIN because these are human concepts.

    But then I'd ask if it is even very coherent to think of senses absent the intellect. I mean, we could say that certain creatures might exhibit a behavior of this kind, say maybe a mosquito or some other simple animal, in which they have senses but probably no, or very little, intellect. I just don't see why you'd say that corporeal senses are physical in a way that mind is not.

    The traditional problem, as you pointed out, and as discussed after Descartes by Locke and especially Priestley (and others too) is the question: how the heck can matter think? How can this "dead and stupid matter" have properties associated with something as sublime as the mind? The mistake, I think, was to assume that matter is in its nature "dead and stupid", it isn't. As Priestley pointed out:

    "It is said that we can have no conception how sensation or thought can arise from matter, they being things so very different from it, and bearing no sort of resemblance to anything like figure or motion ; which is all that can result from any modification of matter, or any operation upon it.…this is an argument which derives all its force from our ignorance. Different as are the properties of sensation and thought, from such as are usually ascribed to matter, they may, nevertheless, inhere in the same substance, unless we can shew them to be absolutely incompatible with one another.”

    But they're not incompatible with one another, I think it's a mistake to assume they do. But you don't agree, because you think that "rational intellect (nous) is able to discern principles which are themselves not visible to the corporeal senses. That includes... scientific laws and geometical principles... None of these are in themselves physical, although they may play a role in determining the behaviour of physical things."

    That's a fine formulation, I don't see the problem, we just so happen to disagree on this point.
  • Wayfarer
    10.9k
    What you describe, even if you are referring to the ancient Greeks, can also be found in the Cambridge Neo-Platonists, specifically Ralph Cudworth, who Chomsky thinks is more interesting than Kant.Manuel

    Why thankyou! I hadn't thought of that connection, but it's a flattering comparison. (I've tried reading up on Cudworth but there doesn't seem to be a decent compendium of edited writings and the original text is very hard to follow.)

    "It is said that we can have no conception how sensation or thought can arise from matter, they being things so very different from it, and bearing no sort of resemblance to anything like figure or motion ; which is all that can result from any modification of matter, or any operation upon it.…this is an argument which derives all its force from our ignorance." (quoting Joseph Priestley)Manuel

    I believe that would be a reaction to Liebniz' remark:

    It must be confessed, moreover, that perception, and that which depends on it, are inexplicable by mechanical causes, that is, by figures and motions, And, supposing that there were a mechanism so constructed as to think, feel and have perception, we might enter it as into a mill. And this granted, we should only find on visiting it, pieces which push one against another, but never anything by which to explain a perception. This must be sought, therefore, in the simple substance, and not in the composite or in the machine. — Liebniz

    I don't put the explanatory gap down to ignorance, in the sense of 'lack of information', but because of a difference in kind between the properties of matter and the capabilities of reason. And indeed the first-person nature of consciousness generally (which brings us back to the 'hard problem'). That is what Liebniz means by 'simple substance' (where 'substance' means 'ousia', 'being'.)

    I just don't see why you'd say that corporeal senses are physical in a way that mind is not.Manuel

    I think this distinction recognised in both ancient and medieval philosophy. The senses are physical in that they receive physical signals from physical objects. Any sentient being, including animals, will sense objects by these means, whether by sight, smell, touch or hearing (and leaving aside the vast range of sensory ability). That process I take to be physical. All of the elements of that process can be studied through physiology, biology, cognitive science and so on.

    But in addition to physical sensing, there is, in the human, also the process of apperception, interpretation and judgement. Rational thought comprises that synthesis (in the Kantian sense) of both the sensory and intellectual elements. You also find a similar formulation in Aquinas. That is the intellectual process, taking place in the mind. It is that process which is not amenable to physical reduction, for many reasons; hence 'dualism' of, not of mind and matter, but matter and form (hylomorphism).

    Numbers, it would seem, are abstract objects, yet our intellects operate with them all the time. How does a physical brain interact with an abstract entity? A similar problem could be raised for concepts in general; they are abstract, general entities, not physical particulars, yet they are the meat and drink of thinking. For a dualist about intellect there does not appear to be the same problem. The immaterial intellect is precisely the sort of thing that can grasp abstract objects, such as numbers and universals – in the Aristotelian context, the immaterial intellect is the home of forms. — SEP, Dualism, 4.6 The Aristotelian Argument in Modern Form (d)

    That last sentence illustrates the point.

    These types of ideas, of recognizing that things like BEDS or MOUNTAINS, are mental constructions and thus do not reside in the mind-independent world, is something that is awe-inducing.Manuel

    Good thought. But consider this idea: Einstein said 'I believe, for instance, that the Pythagorean theorem in geometry states something that is approximately true, independent of the existence of man.' I also believe the theorem is there to be discovered by any rational intelligence. But the key point is, such a principle can only be recognised by a rational intelligence. So even though it's not dependent on your mind or mine - not 'mind dependent' in that sense- it is nonetheless an idea, so 'mind-dependent' in another sense, namely that only a rational mind can perceive it. So it's not as if with no humans about, the universe ceases to exist, but that any conception we have of 'existence' is 'constructed' around such principles. So the mind is bringing something to experience and reality is not apart from or outside of that. Very tricky idea, I know. I do understand I'm throwing a lot of ideas at you and really appreciate your responses. Thank you.
  • Manuel
    66

    Yes Cudworth is very hard to read. Which is why I suggest you take a look at his A Treatise Concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality. It's not too long, some 230-ish pages, and it was the appendix to Volume III of his True Intellectual System. Only the first 40 to 60 pages are about morality, the rest is epistemology, stating in essence what Kant said, using almost exactly the same phrase, but develops the idea in a different direction. It's easier to read by several orders of magnitude, compared to the main work.

    I am familiar with Leibniz passage, and he is entirely correct. The topic of "lack of information" is tricky. Some people, mostly scientists working in physics and some neuroscientists, treat information as "bits" of nature. But the type of information, in the scientific domain, is not the "information" we have, when we see any phenomenal object, at least not in the manifest side of things. This "explanatory gap", is epistemic in nature, a lack of a faculty that prevents us from seeing some aspects of the world. But without epistemic constraints, we would not be able to form any "picture" of the world at all. Thus, I do think it is lack of information, in terms of missing certain mental/brain faculties. So the issue would be "properties of matter" vs. the "capabilities of reason". I think the latter are "properties of matter", but we have no idea how matter does what it does, we only describe its effects, we don't know "internal causes", as it were. But I like the intuition, it's quite rational and I could be wrong about matter.

    As for the "abstract objects" part, Aquinas' general description is correct, in so far as thoughts are abstract. The problem might be in our natural insistence to pick out aspects of objects and claim they are things existing in nature. What I mean by this, is that, when we look at an ordinary apple, we pick out attributes such as REDNESS, SWEETNESS, ROUNDNESS and so on. And then we look for other objects that might also look red, be sweet and so on. This might be a mistake. But an object may just as well be the instantiation of all these properties (and more, including things-themselves, which might bind them together, and other aspects of object we can't easily discern)that we tend to take apart, so we may be "cutting" nature in the wrong place.

    I would entirely agree that reduction makes little sense. In fact, let's grant to Rosenberg his great insight, and say that "there's nothing but bosons and fermions", or whatever. That literally makes no sense, because, I'm speaking to you and we understand each other, more or less. If it were only bosons and fermions that really existed, we wouldn't be able to talk at all, much less make sense of anything.

    As for your last part, there's something I do find attractive. It could be the case, that things like the Pythagorean theory, are only accessible, only discloses themselves, to creatures who reach a certain level of sophistication, otherwise these things would remain true but unknown. And I'd go even further, I think there are other such truths, which must exist, which we have no access to.

    I'd only add that I should say thanks to you too, I'm learning things about Aristotle and Husserl which I had previously been ignorant of. :)
  • five G
    37
    We don't really know what any word means,Manuel

    Agreed. What I am agreeing to is therefore not exactly clear, but for me this is one of the bigger realizations that I associate with philosophy. We are sleeptalkers, taking the vague intelligibility of our grunts for granted. We don't meow what we are barking about. (This doesn't mean that we can't get things done nevertheless, but it may mean that certain things can't be done, whatever that's exactly supposed to mean.)
  • five G
    37
    In fact, let's grant to Rosenberg his great insight, and say that "there's nothing but bosons and fermions", or whatever. That literally makes no sense, because, I'm speaking to you and we understand each other, more or less. If it were only bosons and fermions that really existed, we wouldn't be able to talk at all, much less make sense of anything.Manuel

    Exactly. The talk of 'there's only X' is silly if taken at face value (or taken 'metaphysically.') An entire lifeworld-and-language is presupposed in any statement.

    Husserl was mentioned above, so I also link to a great & short online text: http://www.users.cloud9.net/~bradmcc/husserl_philcris.html
  • Wayfarer
    10.9k
    If it were only bosons and fermions that really existed, we wouldn't be able to talk at all, much less make sense of anything.Manuel

    Aristotle, in De Anima, argued that thinking in general (which includes knowledge as one kind of thinking) cannot be a property of a body; it cannot, as he put it, 'be blended with a body'. This is because in thinking, the intelligible object or form is present in the intellect, and thinking itself is the identification of the intellect with this intelligible. Among other things, this means that you could not think if materialism is true… . Thinking is not something that is, in principle, like sensing or perceiving; this is because thinking is a universalising activity. This is what this means: when you think, you see - mentally see - a form which could not, in principle, be identical with a particular - including a particular neurological element, a circuit, or a state of a circuit, or a synapse, and so on. This is so because the object of thinking is universal, or the mind is operating universally.

    ….the fact that in thinking, your mind is identical with the form that it thinks, means (for Aristotle and for all Platonists) that since the form 'thought' is detached from matter, 'mind' is immaterial too.
    — Lloyd Gerson, Platonism vs Naturalism
  • Manuel
    66

    "You could not think if materialism is true."

    Yes. If by matter, one is referencing the "matter" that was postulated to exist prior to Newton's discoveries.

    "...since the form 'thought' is detached from matter, 'mind' is immaterial too..."

    I doubt you could take thinking "out" of the brain, and have pure consciousness. It's a thought experiment we can do for fun, or as an exercise of some kind, but not something you could do in practice. You'd have to show how instances of consciousness absent brain, or matter.

    But if it helps, you could even think of matter as "immaterial", in a sense, as Strawson points out:

    "At first…one takes it that is simply solid stuff, non-particulate…Then…one learns that [this object] …is composed of distinct atoms - particles that cohere more or less closely together to make up objects...one [goes on] to learn that these atoms are themselves made up of tiny, separate particles, and full of empty space themselves...[o]ne learns that a physical object like the earth or a person is almost all empty space. One learns that matter is not at all what one thought."

    This is not even mentioning, all the weird aspects of quantum physics, fields and so forth. One should do away with the image of matter a "solid lump of mass", which remains as such the further down you go in to investigate it.

    So if matter is strange, why can't it have properties of thought?
  • Manuel
    66

    Thanks for sharing, these are quite helpful.

    Yeah, it's hard to comprehend how it is that we do all kinds of things, which we do not know well or even understand. It's almost as if this stuff is innate, waiting to be activated by nature. :)
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