Friday, May 25, 2007

Consciousness: Do headache have themselves?

Philosopher Jerry Fodor, reviewing Galen Strawon’s Consciousness and its place in nature thinks about why materialist explanations for states of mind do not work:
So, then, if everything is made of the same sort of stuff as tables and chairs (as per monism), and if at least some of the things made of that sort of stuff are conscious (there is no doubt that we are), and if there is no way of assembling stuff that isn't conscious that produces stuff that is (there's no emergence), it follows that the stuff that tables, chairs and the bodies of animals (and, indeed, everything else) is made of must itself be conscious. Strawson, having wrestled his angel to a draw, stands revealed as a panpsychist: basic things (protons, for example) are loci of conscious experience. You don't find that plausible? Well, I warned you.

Nor, having swallowed this really enormous camel, does Strawson propose to strain at the gnats. Consider, for example: he thinks (quite rightly) that there are no experiences without subjects of experience; if there's a pain, it must be somebody or something's pain; somebody or something must be in it. What, then, could it be that has the experiences that panpsychists attribute to ultimate things? Nothing purely material, surely, since that would just raise the hard problem all over again. So maybe something immaterial? But monism is in force; since the constituents of tables and chairs are made of matter, so too is everything else. So, Strawson is strongly inclined to conclude, the subjects of the experiences that basic things have must be the experiences themselves. Part of the surcharge that we pay for panpsychism (not, after all, itself an immediately plausible ontology) is that we must give up on the commonsense distinction between the experience and the experiencer. At the basic level, headaches have themselves.

We all know headaches do not have themselves, but if materialists are running the shop we may need to pretend that that is so.

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Evolutionary psychology: The very latest on the origins of morality

It turns out that you can’t help behaving badly because it is programmed into your genes. According to Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia,
"Putting these three principles together forces us to re-evaluate many of our most cherished notions about ourselves," says Haidt, whose own research demonstrates that people generally follow their gut feelings and make up moral reasons afterwards. "Since the time of the Enlightenment," Haidt says, "many philosophers have celebrated the power and virtue of cool, dispassionate reasoning. Unfortunately, few people other than philosophers can engage in such cool, honest reasoning when moral issues are at stake. The rest of us behave more like lawyers, using any arguments we can find to make our case, rather than like judges or scientists searching for the truth. This doesn't mean we are doomed to be immoral; it just means that we should look for the roots of our considerable virtue elsewhere -- in the emotions and intuitions that make us so generally decent and cooperative, yet also sometimes willing to hurt or kill in defense of a principle, a person or a place."

Well then, what is the origin of those emotions or intuitions and why should we heed them? Either they come from a reliable source or they are - as materialists are constrained to believe - the accidental firings of neurons.

This sort of things helps us understand why reasoned religion is catching on on campus.

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Religion: Top universities promoting religion studies Why?

There are two ways you can look at this (Colgate University) or this (Harvard):

Either all these academics are “inta da sauce!!” ( ... say it ain’t so ... )


they recognize, based on evidence, that the human being has a spiritual dimension that cannot be suppressed.

How about this from Alan Finder’s May 2 2007 Times article:
Across the country, on secular campuses as varied as Colgate University, the University of Wisconsin and the University of California, Berkeley, chaplains, professors and administrators say students are drawn to religion and spirituality with more fervor than at any time they can remember.

University officials explained the surge of interest in religion as partly a result of the rise of the religious right in politics, which they said has made questions of faith more talked about generally. In addition, they said, the attacks of Sept. 11 underscored for many the influence of religion on world affairs. And an influx of evangelical students at secular universities, along with an increasing number of international students, means students arrive with a broader array of religious experiences.

Aw, come on! We don’t need either the religious right or 9-11 to explain what has always been true about human beings. Yes, an experience like 9-11 might focus one’s attention, just as the recent East Asian tsunami did. But it is not the cause of the spiritual experiences. Disasters warn people to pay attention to spiritual experiences. They do not cause them.

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Consciousness: Consciousness is more than the impact of billiard balls thwacking each other?

For now, you have to pay for Christoph C. Adami’s review of Douglas Hofstadter’s I am a strange loop
The nature of human consciousness has been debated through the centuries, at least since Descartes posited that a special substance, the res cogitans, conferred upon humans (and only humans) the ability to think and feel; have ideas, wishes, and concerns; display empathy, dislikes, or wonder. This dualist view of the world--dual because it presupposes the existence of two radically different substances, one to make the mind, and another to make everything else in the world--still, in one form or another, informs the thinking of a surprising (to me) number of philosophers of the mind. Hofstadter is not one of those. His approach is decidedly materialistic, that is, he seeks an explanation of the phenomenon of consciousness using physical law only. However, he is not interested in a neurobiological explanation (even though he is fully convinced that consciousness must be explainable within neurobiology) because he believes that as our consciousness is perceived at the level of symbols and thoughts, our explanation of it should occur at this level of description also.

Adami ends up defending materialism. Hofstadter needs to just give up on materialism.

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Actors, writers, and their selves: Public and private

Here’s what I wrote to Carlin Romano, in response to his interesting comments on current biographies of Shakespeare, who is as enigmatic as every great artist must finally be.
Thank you for your lovely comments on Shakespeare. Yes, perfect. He was channeler, not a source, of wisdom. I think, myself, that a great writer must be like that.

Any doctrine the writer seeks to directly propound, no matter how deep and true, must surely distract because it is an abstraction, and we want people.

Incidentally, my lead author Mario Beauregard (The Spiritual Brain, Harper 2007) studied, using neuroimaging techniques, the brains of actors while they were preparing for a role. He discovered (it will not surprise you) that whatever circuits the actors used for channeling feelings for their actual life were the ones they used when recalling the events (as technique for getting into the role they assume.

Thus, when an actor speaks of "getting into" the character, the character is also getting into him for a while. In that curious sense, a dramatist's imaginary characters become real while they are being performed.

When I was young, back in the Ordovician era when everything was, like, totally and completely dull, people used to make fun of actors because they had highly emotional private lives. Looking back on all that from nigh on fifty years, I think they didn’t understand that the actor must take on basic archetypes of the self for the audience - and still find some private time and space for a personal self! Perhaps it is no wonder that the artist’s life is crowded with emotions ... so many possible selves, so little time ... Maybe ... Anyway, Romano’s review is great. Read it.
My other blog is the Post-Darwinist, detailing events of interest in the intelligent design controversy.

Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary ( is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), anoverview of the intelligent design controversy, and of Faith@Science. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).

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