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Dualism and its Problems 1 The Distinct Substances Problem
The fact that an individual is composed by two distinct substances runs against all contemporary neuroscience and cognitive sciences. It is hard to accept the noncorporeality of the mind. 2 The Causality and Interaction Problem
How can a nonbodily substance cause bodily movements? How can our thoughts/desires/… (qua nonextended substance) cause bodily movements? Since the mind is spaceless how can it influence the body? Descartes’ answer is that the soul is united with the body. Hence the mind/body unison problem.
3 I think that I have clearly established that the part of the body in which the soul directly exercises its functions is not the heart at all, or the whole brain. It is rather the innermost part of the brain, which is a certain very small gland in the middle of the brain’s substance and above the passage through which the spirits in the brain’s anterior cavities communicate with those in its posterior cavities. (Passions 1; CSM I: 340) A phantom limb shows, according to Descartes, that a nerve is agitated and goes to the brain producing in the soul residing in the brain a pain sensation.
4 The MentalorPhysical Dilemma
Either we are dealing with purely physical (mechanical) or purely mental events, i.e. the perception of an incorporeal spirit.
What about psychoneural phenomena such as vision which seems to be neither purely physical nor purely mental? 5 Imagination vs. Perception
They are special modes of thinking (as such they differ from thinking, willing, doubting, …) insofar as they requires physiological activity.
The difference between senseperception and imagination is really just this, that in senseperception the images are imprinted on the brain by external objects which are actually present, while in the case of imagination the images are imprinted by the mind without any external object, and with the windows shut, as it were. (Descartes Conversation with Burman: 27)
Sensations such as imagination and perception cannot be captured by Descartes’ dualism insofar as they are neither purely physical nor mental.
They’re somewhat between the mental and the physical. 7 ‘Trialism’
Descartes recognises tree primitive categories in terms of what we think about the world: the res cogitans, the res extensa and the psychophysical interaction (e.g. sensations and passions). The latter is somewhat derivative of the former but it is nonetheless primitive insofar as it cannot be classified either as purely mental or purely physical Cf. the analogy of the mule which derives from a horse and a donkey and yet it cannot be classified as either equine or asinine.
8 E.g. hunger has tree aspects:
1. the purely physical events such as the shortage of nourishment (this would also appear in a zombie or a comatose individual); 2. the purely mental events such as the qualialess judgement such as “my body needs food” and 3. the feeling of hunger (the qualia). Senseperception is the property of an embodied being: thus a noncorporeal being (e.g.: God, angels) lacks it.
9 Even if physicalism is correct, it remains that there are three distinct ways to characterise a human being: 1. There are his bodily/physical events which do not require any form of consciousness; 2. There are the thinking events peculiar of language user beings (e.g. belief, desires, …). 3. There are the qualia which are conditions/ sensations of the body produced by effect of the external world and cannot be fully described in language.
10 Perception and Reality
While reason can tells us about ourselves and our experiences, our experience does not teach us much about reality. Sensoryexperience does not teach us what really exists in the things themselves. That is, the sensoryqualities such as color, taste, etc. (the qualia) are silent on what external bodies are like in themselves.
But in all these there need be no resemblance between the idea which the soul conceives and the movement which causes these ideas. (Optics; CSM 1: 167)
11 Descartes takes our ideas of sensory qualities to be like internal sensations such as the sensation of pain. While it makes sense to say that a sensation of pain is not in the object causing it (e.g. is not in the bullet hitting one’s leg), it is more difficult to claim that redness or heat is not in the object causing it. 12 We attribute redness to roses and heat to real objects, (e.g. roses and radiators). Descartes rules out this view because of his conception of causation (the Causal Similarity Principle) that there is nothing in the effect that is not in the cause, i.e. the cause is like the effect.
If this is the case a quality like redness (which is in a rose) could not cause my sensation of redness since the latter (the qualia) is so different from the former. 13 The creator, God, has chosen that some events are “marked” in the mind in a specific way, but God could have chose to mark them in a completely different way (qualia are arbitrary).
Cases of color qualiainversion could be invoked in favour of this idea. It would be harder to think of painsensation as arbitrary, though, for natural selection would not help one who does not feel pain the way we actually do (e.g. if sex was painful, reproduction and thus the survival of the species would be endangered).
14 Essence vs. appearance
Descartes distinguishes between the world as it is (in itself, i.e. as God does perceives it) and the world as it appears to us.
This rests on the very idea that there is a subjectivity involved in our perception of reality. Since God implanted in us the seeds of truth about the universe, in our abstract, mathematical concepts we can take God’s viewpoint and perceive the universe as it is.
15 Chomsky on the Mind/Body Problem Chomsky vs. Descartes
Chomsky’s Cartesianism does not mean that he accepts all the Cartesian views. Chomsky rejects Descartes view concerning the privilege access of our own mind. No scientific study of the mind could accept this thesis (cf. linguistics).
16 In rejecting Descartes’ mechanism Chomsky rejects the idea that in order to act one upon each other, things must be in contact (a dead horse since Newton’s law of gravitation). This parallels the rejection of Descartes’ view of matter or substance. This in turn entails the rejection of Descartes’ mind/body substance dualism. 17 Once forces such as gravitation (which Descartes would have characterized as mysterious) enter the real world there is no reason to exclude mental features from the physical realm.
Hence there is also no reason to make a coherent distinction between the physical and the mental. The mindbody problem should no longer be taken seriously.
18 The Cartesians observed that certain phenomena of nature (notably, the normal use of language) did not seem to fall within the mechanical philosophy, postulating a new principle to account for them. Given their metaphysics, they postulated a second substance (res cogitans, mind), for other reasons as well. Implementation aside, the move was not unreasonable, in fact, not unlike Newton’s reasoning when he discovered the inadequacy of the mechanical philosophy. Postulating of something that lies beyond the mechanical philosophy gives rise to two tasks: to develop the theory and to solve the unification problem; in the Cartesian case, the “mindbody problem.” All of this is normal science; wrong, but that is also the norm. (Chomsky 2000: 83
The mindbody problem made sense in terms of the mechanical philosophy that Newton undermined, and has not been coherently posed since. (Chomsky 2000: 86)
19 Biological Rationalism
No place for a mechanism called “reason” doing reasoning.
Unlike the syntactic process involved in language production, reason is not a mechanism with fixed operations.
As such reason cannot be the subject matter of science and cannot have a place in a scientific rationalist study of the mind. 20 Reason can be seen as a human attribute provided by common sense understanding. As such it can be seen as something guiding our (scientific) enterprise; it cannot be the subject of scientific inquiry. Reason is a kind of social practice, hence quite different from linguistics which is more closed to chemistry and physics.
It is a normative process carried out by persons. It is not confined to a dedicated part of one’s mind/brain. Reason rests on the domain of human freedom, while the language faculty does not. The former is normative, the latter, like vision, is not. Linguistic processes and vision, unlike reasoning, are unconscious and cannot be modified by the community. They are innately configured faculties which operate automatically and blindly.
22 Philosophical challenge
No science can eliminate persons and their mental life.
No science can eliminate intentionality. Any correct description and explanation of the human species and what happens in their head must deal with persons and their intentions.
23 Chomsky has a dismissive answer. He does not deny that our understanding of persons relies upon common sense concepts or that these understanding can be dismissed.
E.g.: we learn more about people from arts and poetry than from psychology or philosophy. 24 If the concept of person is found in the domain of common sense it can be inquired trough arts and history. From the common sense viewpoint this inquiry is more fruitful than an enterprise, such as linguistics or biology, committed to a formal description. Science is not suited to the way in which the concept of a person is dealt with in common sense understanding.
Common sense concepts have been useful for millennia and there is no reason they should be eliminated by a scientific study of the mind/brain. We have different explanations serving different purposes. We cannot make science continuous with common sense. They are different universes which do not intrude each other.
26 Suppose I say, “the rock drop from the skies, rolled down the hill, and hit the ground.” The statement cannot be translated into the theories that have been developed to describe and explain the world, nor is there any interesting weaker relation; the terms belong to different intellectual universes. But no one takes this to constitute a bodybody problem. Nor do the natural sciences aspire to distinguish this description from the statement that the rock fell down a crevice, which could be the same event viewed from a different perspective. (Chomsky 2000: 88) 27 Common Sense Concept of the World
A scientific conception of the world cannot play a role when we come to apprehend the real world. A three year old apprehends the real world in much the same way as a tree year old Greek apprehended it thousands years ago. 28 The empiricists cannot rely on science (a recent invention which is constantly changing) to explain how we commonly apprehend the world. The sole concept of the physical world that we can possibly imagine to be unchangeable over time and/or cultures is the one understood in common sense (folk physics). 29 The rationalist explains our apprehension of the world claiming that the basic concepts used to explain the physical world are innately specified, they are part of a fixed human nature. The correct explanation of a fixed common sense (including folk physics and folk psychology) does not rely, pace the empiricist’s credo, on scientific explanations, but in a fixed human nature. The relevant concepts are provided at birth and need only an experiential trigger to activate (see poverty of the stimulus argument).
30 Folk Psychology
It must be convenient across people and time. And for it to be so convenient we must posit a basic human nature with fixed concepts and basic needs that makes the use of these concepts convenient. Cf. The evolutionary psychology enterprise. 31 This is not an explanation that the empiricist doctrine welcomes, for according to the latter convenient concepts can change across time and cultures. And they must insofar as empiricists claim that they depend on experience. In short, how can one explain folk psychology stability without appealing to stable and universal concepts? To posit the stability of folk psychology on the fact that there subsists a similarity across cultures would be a circular explanation.
32 Chomsky’s AntiReductionism
There is no convincing reason to expect that the mental can be reduced to the physical as currently conceived. Physics keeps evolving and, thus any reduction the current/contemporary physics could propose would be unsatisfactory regarding the physics as it will be developed in the future (see Lycan 2003. In Chomsky and His Critics).
33 I have not been concerned with the question of “reduction of mind to matter,” and do not even understand what the question is. … I use the term “mind” with no ontological import: rather, as an informal way of referring to the “study of the body—specifically the brain—conducted at a certain level of abstraction. … I also see no reason to question the general conclusion reached long ago that thought is “a little agitation of the brain” (Hume) or “a secretion of the brain” that should be considered no “more wonderful than gravity, a property of matter” (Darwin) … From this point of view, there is no place for Lycan’s problem about “reduction of mind to matter.” (Chomsky 2003. Reply to Lycan: 2578) 34 Physical vs. Mental
The distinction between mental and physical or material can have only a descriptive content. It cannot be scientifically sustained and it has no metaphysical import.
What does “merely physical” mean? Are “mental things” the only things that are not “merely physical”? How about magnets? Stable molecules? Insects? What is the import of the word “things”? (Chomsky 2003. Reply to Lycan: 259) 35 There is an intrinsic error among materialists who persist in talking about the difference between the mental and the physical: they perpetrate a kind of dualism they aim to reject (see Strawson 2003). We should turn to experiential vs. nonexperiential terminology.
By “mind,” I mean the mental aspect of the world, with no concern for defining the notion more closely and no expectation that we will find some interesting kind of unity or boundaries, any more than elsewhere; no one cares to sharpen the boundaries of “the chemical.” (Chomsky 2000: 75)
36 Since the brain, or elements of it, are critically involved in linguistic and other mental phenomena, we may use the term “mind”—loosely but adequately—in speaking of the brain, viewed from a particular perspective developed in the course of inquiry into certain aspects of human nature and its manifestation. (Chomsky 2000: 76) 37 Methodological Naturalism
[A] “naturalistic approach” to the mind investigates mental aspects of the world … seeking to construct intelligible explanatory theories, with the hope of eventual integration with the “core” natural sciences. Such “methodological naturalism” can be counterposed to what might be called “methodological dualism,” the view that we must abandon scientific rationality when we study humans “above the neck” (metaphorically speaking), becoming mystic in this unique domain, imposing arbitrary stipulations and a priori demands of a sort that would never be contemplated in the sciences, or in other ways departing from normal canons of inquiry. (Chomsky 2000: 76) Naturalistic inquiries onto the mind yield theories about the brain, its state and properties: UG, for example. (Chomsky 2000: 103) 38 Physics
Epistemological characterisation: The domain of the physical is what we come more or less to understand and hope to assimilate to the core natural sciences.
Yet we distinguish between physical things that represent the world from physical things that do not. We thus seem to rely to some distinctions between the mental and the physical.
39 For naturalistic inquiry, there is no interest in taking “mental types” to be nonbiological … The computer analogy can be useful as a stimulus to the imagination, much as mechanical automata were for seventeenth and eighteenth
century scientists. (Chomsky; Reply to Lycan: 261) 40 Physicalism
The term “physical” has no definite content. Thus physicalist thesis turn out to be meaningless, they lack a definite content (and thus truthvalue). They are not empirical hypothesis and cannot play a serious role in enquiry. 41 This rests on the fact that there is no a priori conception of the physical grounded in natural language, folk science or metaphysics, which provides the required content. Given the character of scientific inquiry (in particular in physics) physicalists cannot hope to identify a definite meaning for the term “physical” from a consideration of physical theory.
42 Problems vs. Mysteries
Problems are questions that can be formulates in such a way that they allows us to proceed with serious inquiry. Mysteries are problems which cannot be (scientifically) inquired, because they escape our capacities, i.e. because we are ill equipped to solve them (e.g.: as a mouse is ill equipped to deal with prime numbers). This rests on the limits and power of the human 43
intellect/mind. Descartes’s dualism was not abandoned because he could not solve “the interaction problem,” but because his problem could not be posed; Functionalism did not repair a meaningful flaw in the Identity Theory… Computational theories of language, insect navigation, etc., require no Identity Theory. They are theories about the nature of the organism (mostly its brain) that have to be judged on their merits as explanatory theories, like others. Prior to unification with core physics, chemistry needed no Identity Theory, surely not one that linked it to the physics of the day, which had to be radically revised to be unified with chemistry … these lesson apply to the study of the mental aspects of the world. (Chomsky; Reply to Lycan: 2601)
44 [I]t is unknown whether aspects of the theory of mind—
say, questions about consciousness—are problems or mysteries for humans, though in principle we could discover the answer, even discover that they are mysteries. (Chomsky 2000: 83) 45 Dualism
Many problems linked to philosophy of mind/language are driven by a dualist conception. It is often claimed that the mental must be characterized in terms of access to consciousness, awareness, and the like. Thus faculties like LAD (Language Acquisition Device) or UG posited by the Chomskian school cannot be characterized as mental or psychological (see Nagel) insofar as they escape a subject awareness. They do not differ from physical properties. 46 Some also claims (see Quine) that one cannot follow these rules; at best one’s action fits these rules, for we can talk of rules guiding actions only insofar as they are consciously applied to cause behaviour. All these “philosophical” worries rest on an implicit dualism at work. That is, on the distinction between the mind and the body and the view that a naturalistic account remains silent on the nature of the former. Thus while some philosophers engage themselves in some form of reductionism and/or eliminativism, others accept a form of behaviourism.
47 Quine’s behaviorism is a variant of this form of dualism . He argues that “the behaviorist approach is mandatory” (Quine 1990: 37) for the study of language because, in acquiring language, “we depend strictly on overt behavior in observable situations (p. 38). By similar argument, the nutritionist approach is mandatory in embryology because, in the passage from embryo to mature state, the organism depends strictly on nutrition provided from outside; just as linguists must be behaviorists, so biologist must be nutritionists, restricting themselves to observation of nutritional inputs. The fallacy in the latter argument is apparent; the same fallacy undermines the former. Only radical dualist assumptions allow the matter even to be discussed. (Chomsky 2000: 101)
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- Fall '07
- purely mental events, common sense concepts