A criticism of supervenience-based physicalism

  • Thread starter pftest
  • Start date
  • #26
243
0
It is observed that something that resembles a mind can emerge from brains. Observations count as evidence.
What observation?

All we know is that minds exist in brains. It doesnt follow that it emerged in them. Electrons exist in skyscrapers, but they did not emerge in them.
 
Last edited:
  • #27
243
0
But this is not valid reasoning. A physicalist believes all that exists is the physical, so it's dubious that a hardcore physicalist would ever use a loaded word like 'mind'. And no, mind is a particular state, not an object, so it cannot be physical in the traditional sense of the word. And yes, i agree, if mind is not physical but is yet supervenient on physical brains, physicalism would be in trouble exlaining the interaction between the physical and the non-physical.
In your previous post you said that we can only give examples of observed behaviour, and that is exactly what im looking for: observed cases of supervenience that occur in physical systems. I dont know any such examples. The same goes for strong emergence. Ive looked at the physicalist position for a while, and i havent found any phenomena in the natural world that behave the way consciousness behaves according to physicalists. Simply put, that makes the physicalist position unnatural by the very definition of that word. That is why such examples are important. If someone can show that supervenience happens in rocks, it makes the idea of supervenience in brains natural.
 
  • #28
Pythagorean
Gold Member
4,193
258
Im not sure i follow, but if you mean that i use the word "mind" in different ways, it may be so. This is because i consider mind a container term that encompasses a lot of different abilities: seeing, thinking, abstracting, predicting, emotions, etc. (and im adding supervenience to the list in this topic) Whenever one of those things is taking place, it implies mind is present. So te position that mind (which includes all of those things) supervenes on brain, is like the position that minds dream.
Now you appear to be starting your assumption with your conclusion ("I'm adding supervenience to the list"). Supervenience isn't an event "taking place". It's a declaration about how sets relate


What would such a position be like?
Pessimstic induction
 
Last edited:
  • #29
706
2
What observation?

All we know is that minds exist in brains. It doesnt follow that it emerged in them. Electrons exist in skyscrapers, but they did not emerge in them.



The opposite proposition - that brains could have emerged from minds will hardly be tolerated here(unless there is some science behind such a hypothesis, not just valid inferences stemming from inconsistencies of physicalism). From what i've seen so far here and in the literature, most physicists, even the most brilliant ones, will back off defending physicalism past a certain point if you push them too hard. So your doubts aren't completely unwarranted either.

Anyway, there is a very solid connection established scientifically between minds and brains(this is completely the opposite point of view):

Phantoms in the brain by Ramachandran(part 1):

 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #30
706
2
In your previous post you said that we can only give examples of observed behaviour, and that is exactly what im looking for: observed cases of supervenience that occur in physical systems. I dont know any such examples. The same goes for strong emergence. Ive looked at the physicalist position for a while, and i havent found any phenomena in the natural world that behave the way consciousness behaves according to physicalists. Simply put, that makes the physicalist position unnatural by the very definition of that word. That is why such examples are important. If someone can show that supervenience happens in rocks, it makes the idea of supervenience in brains natural.


Actually, everything that you observe and consider physical can be said to be strongly emergent. It has been 80 years of constant attempts by the scientific community to find and establish the physical basis of physical reality. They failed. Instead, they find more evidence of inconsistencies with physicalism. In a sense, everything from an electron detections to atoms and cats and dogs, can be said to be strongly emergent from more basic principles.
 
  • #31
243
0
Now you appear to be starting your assumption with your conclusion ("I'm adding supervenience to the list"). Supervenience isn't an event "taking place". It's a declaration about how to sets relate
Yes thats exactly my point, its a declaration done by human minds. Supervenience is not any kind of physical event or relationship taking place. The sentence "mind supervenes on brain" translates to "a human mind conceptualises that mind supervenes on brain".

The position that supervenience depends on mind is open to rejection. All that is needed is a single example of purely physical supervenience, for example in rocks, diamonds, molecules, etc.

Ill put it in the premise/conclusion format:

P1: supervenience is a conceptual relationship
P2: concepts can only originate and exist in minds
C: a supervenient relationship cannot originate or exist without mind

Pessimstic induction
I never heard of it before so i googled it. A pessimistic inductionist would reject (most of) physics, so i wouldnt consider him a physicalist.
 
  • #32
243
0
Actually, everything that you observe and consider physical can be said to be strongly emergent. It has been 80 years of constant attempts by the scientific community to find and establish the physical basis of physical reality. They failed. Instead, they find more evidence of inconsistencies with physicalism. In a sense, everything from an electron detections to atoms and cats and dogs, can be said to be strongly emergent from more basic principles.
Could you give an example?
 
  • #33
243
0
The opposite proposition - that brains could have emerged from minds will hardly be tolerated here(unless there is some science behind such a hypothesis, not just valid inferences stemming from inconsistencies of physicalism). From what i've seen so far here and in the literature, most physicists, even the most brilliant ones, will back off defending physicalism past a certain point if you push them too hard. So your doubts aren't completely unwarranted either.

Anyway, there is a very solid connection established scientifically between minds and brains(this is completely the opposite point of view):

Phantoms in the brain by Ramachandran(part 1):

Im at work now so i cant watch the video. However, as far as i know about neuroscience, the connection between mind and brain is one of correlation. To illustrate: there is correlation between the distortion of spacetime and the mass of a planet earth. Such a correlation doesnt mean that spacetime originates and is limited to planet earth.

If you look at the example in my previous post (the one with the electrons in the skyscraper) and this spacetime example, you can see that both of them point towards the universality of a phenomenon. Electrons exist beyond skyscrapers. Spacetime exists beyond earth. These are examples of naturally observed phenomena. All such examples make physicalism, the idea that mind originates in and is limited to brains, seem unnatural.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #34
706
2
However, as far as i know about neuroscience, the connection between mind and brain is one of correlation. To illustrate: there is correlation between the distortion of spacetime and the mass of a planet earth. Such a correlation doesnt mean that spacetime originates and is limited to planet earth.

But it does mean that the curvature of spacetime around Earth is caused by the mass of planet Earth. It originates from the planet Earth, same as with the supposition that minds emerge from brains.
 
  • #35
Pythagorean
Gold Member
4,193
258
P1: supervenience is a conceptual relationship
P2: concepts can only originate and exist in minds
C: a supervenient relationship cannot originate or exist without mind
thank you for using this format! It clears things up.

I think the issue is to what degree one accepts scientific realism, pertaining to your P2. Concepts are symbols for events in the real world. It's not a binary operator whether they fit or not. Some may be a good fit, others not so much. And it's not as if all concepts are lumped together. Some are more formidable than others.

I never heard of it before so i googled it. A pessimistic inductionist would reject (most of) physics, so i wouldnt consider him a physicalist.
That's not true. Pessimism is more a statement about human error and limitation:

"the aim of science is not to open the door to everlasting wisdom, but to set a limit on everlasting error" -Galileo

"Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed."
"Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world." -Einstein

But some actually do reject physics logically, even thought hey contribute to it:

"I learned to distrust all physical concepts as the basis for a theory. Instead one should put one's trust in a mathematical scheme, even if the scheme does not appear at first sight to be connected with physics. One should concentrate on getting interesting mathematics." -Dirac
 
  • #36
706
2
Maui said:
Actually, everything that you observe and consider physical can be said to be strongly emergent. It has been 80 years of constant attempts by the scientific community to find and establish the physical basis of physical reality. They failed. Instead, they find more evidence of inconsistencies with physicalism. In a sense, everything from an electron detections to atoms and cats and dogs, can be said to be strongly emergent from more basic principles.

Could you give an example?


There is an example in my post - 'cats and dogs' decohering(splitting, emerging or whatever the current way of thinking is) from fields of possibilities. The physical basis of physical reality isn't physical in the traditional sense, so in a sense, everything appears emergent. Ask a physicalist how that happens, he will likely back off.
 
  • #37
88
0
pftest, as I wrote before in this thread, supervenience does not entail emergence, which your examples illustrate. Supervenience is not emergence. They are not the same thing.
Philosophy of Mind said:
[The mind-brain correlation thesis] For each type M of mental event that occurs to an organism o, there exists a brain state of kind B (M's "neural correlate" or "substrate") such that M occurs to o at time t if and only if B occurs to o at t.

According to this thesis, then, each type of mental event that can occur to an organism has a neural correlate that is both necessary and sufficient for its occurrence. So for each organism there is a set of mind-brain correlations covering every kind of mental state it is capable of having. Two points may be noted about these brain-mind correlations:

1. They are taken to be "lawlike": The fact that pain is experienced when certain of your neural fibers (C-fibers and A-delta-fibers) are activated is a matter of lawful regularity, not accidental co-occurrence.

2. Even the smallest change in your mental life cannot occur unless there is some specific (perhaps still unknown) change in your brain state; where there is a difference between two conscious mental states, there must be a difference between the two corresponding neural states.

Another way of putting these points is to say that mentality supervenes on brain states and that this supervenience holds as a matter of law. Remember that this supervenience, if it indeed holds, is something we know from observation and experience, not a priori. Moreover, specific correlations--that is, correlations between specific mental states (say, pain) and specific brain states (say, the activation of certain neural fibers)--are again matters of empirical research and discovery, and we may assume that many of the details about these correlations are still largely unknown. However, it is knowledge of these specific correlations, rough and incomplete though it may be, that ultimately underlies our confidence in the mind-body correlation thesis and mind-body supervenience. If the ancients had been correct (and they might have been correct) about the heart as the engine of mentality, we would have mind-heart supervenience rather than mind-brain supervenience.
 
  • #38
706
2
Ill put it in the premise/conclusion format:

P1: supervenience is a conceptual relationship
P2: concepts can only originate and exist in minds
C: a supervenient relationship cannot originate or exist without mind


I am not sure why supervenience must be a conceptual relationship, why not just a relationship? Anyway, if i were trying to disprove physicalism or the idea of mind-independent reality, i'd use a simple twist of the double slit experiement - if an electron was emitted and there was a detector at only one of the slits and that detector detected nothing, because of complimentarity, we'd know with 100% certainty that the electron went through the other slit. Think about it - we detected nothing, disturbed nothing(no bouncing off a photon off an electron's wavefunction), yet the wavefunction collapsed. The only conclusion is that it collapsed because of our knowledge(and complementarity is preserved). 'Our knowledge' is the other name of mind, so if a physicalist wants to prove that a mind-independent reality ever existed, he has to embrace the relationship between matter/mind in this experiment(knowledge/detections). Most physicalists would either say that the universe could be participatory or that we shouldn't look at scales that small(as if it were somehow irrelevant :tongue: )
 
  • #39
apeiron
Gold Member
2,013
1
P1: supervenience is a conceptual relationship
P2: concepts can only originate and exist in minds
C: a supervenient relationship cannot originate or exist without mind
Even brains and minds are just concepts - enduring ideas formed by inference that we use organise our ever-shifting impressions.

So your P2 kills any kind of further discussion about anything stone dead. Unless you are going to defend something like "concepts about relationships can only originate and exist in the mind".
 
  • #40
243
0
But it does mean that the curvature of spacetime around Earth is caused by the mass of planet Earth. It originates from the planet Earth, same as with the supposition that minds emerge from brains.
Spacetime didnt emerge in planets, it is distorted by planets. You could say the distortion emerged, but it would be weak emergence because spacetime is always distorted to some degree. And mass affects spacetime, but spacetime affects mass too.

Lets translate that to consciousness in the brain: consciousness didnt emerge in brains, it is distorted by them. It is influenced by and influences the brain.
 
Last edited:
  • #41
243
0
Even brains and minds are just concepts - enduring ideas formed by inference that we use organise our ever-shifting impressions.

So your P2 kills any kind of further discussion about anything stone dead. Unless you are going to defend something like "concepts about relationships can only originate and exist in the mind".
All of physics is conceptual, but it is the physicalist position that there actually exists a physical world out there, that physics is our best bet as to what it is like, and that that bet entails an absence of any mentality in non-brains.
 
  • #42
243
0
There is an example in my post - 'cats and dogs' decohering(splitting, emerging or whatever the current way of thinking is) from fields of possibilities. The physical basis of physical reality isn't physical in the traditional sense, so in a sense, everything appears emergent. Ask a physicalist how that happens, he will likely back off.
That decoherence actually sounds more like the opposite of emergence: first there are multiple possibilities, then some vanish and one is left. An interesting example to ponder on, and i think if it can happen, then the opposite (one possibility turning into multiple) is principally equivalent and should also be possible. Unfortunately im no QM expert so i am not yet convinced, but it is a challenge i cannot instantly dismiss.

I wonder what a "possibility" physically entails. Often when we say things disappear, they dont actually completely vanish, but they get changed to such a degree that they dont fit our arbitrary definition of the word anymore. In the wikipedia article, the introduction, it says that decoherence can be seen as information loss into the environment. If so, it would mean the "possibilities" dont actually vanish, but they leak away. That would argue against emergence.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_decoherence
 
Last edited:
  • #43
243
0
thank you for using this format! It clears things up.

I think the issue is to what degree one accepts scientific realism, pertaining to your P2. Concepts are symbols for events in the real world. It's not a binary operator whether they fit or not. Some may be a good fit, others not so much. And it's not as if all concepts are lumped together. Some are more formidable than others.



That's not true. Pessimism is more a statement about human error and limitation:

"the aim of science is not to open the door to everlasting wisdom, but to set a limit on everlasting error" -Galileo

"Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed."
"Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world." -Einstein

But some actually do reject physics logically, even thought hey contribute to it:

"I learned to distrust all physical concepts as the basis for a theory. Instead one should put one's trust in a mathematical scheme, even if the scheme does not appear at first sight to be connected with physics. One should concentrate on getting interesting mathematics." -Dirac
Yes scientific realism seems to be the key here. Do not all physicalists, even when rejecting some or most of current physics (because humans err), think that there does exist a physical world, and that it was devoid of mentality until brains came about? My argument is that supervenience implies the presence of mentality, so a supervenient phenomenon cannot have come out of a situation devoid of mind.
 
  • #44
243
0
pftest, as I wrote before in this thread, supervenience does not entail emergence, which your examples illustrate. Supervenience is not emergence. They are not the same thing.
Ok what i gather from the quote is that supervenience is a lawlike correlation. Saying that mind supervenes on brain doesnt say there is any kind of interaction or which came first, it merely says that there is a correlation between the two. And emergence is different because it says one phenomenon emerged out of the other.

Question: is there a difference between saying "mind supervenes on brain" and "brain supervenes on mind"?
 
  • #45
706
2
Spacetime didnt emerge in planets, it is distorted by planets. You could say the distortion emerged, but it would be weak emergence because spacetime is always distorted to some degree. And mass affects spacetime, but spacetime affects mass too.

I am not sure what you mean by "spacetime affects mass too", as spacetime in the current physics framework is is treated as geometry. Did you mean "different inertial frames(slices of spacetime) affect mass too"?


Lets translate that to consciousness in the brain: consciousness didnt emerge in brains, it is distorted by them. It is influenced by and influences the brain.

This could be, but there is no way to know. I am not sure that a simple logical argument can give any clue if this is so. As i pointed out earlier, that which can be known is the consistency of the model that physicalism proposes. If physicalism is wrong, consciousness would be anybody's guess and we'd have to start from scratch.
 
Last edited:
  • #46
243
0
I am not sure what you mean by "spacetime affects mass too", as spacetime in the current physics framework is is treated as geometry. Did you mean "different inertial frames(slices of spacetime) affect mass too"?
At the very least it influences the way mass moves, and it wouldnt be able to move at all without it.

This could be, but there is no way to know. I am not sure that a simple logical argument can give any clue if this is so. As i pointed out earlier, that which can be known is the consistency of the model that physicalism proposes. If physicalism is wrong, consciousness would be anybody's guess and we'd have to start from scratch.
The reason i mention examples like spacetime and the electrons in a skyscraper, is because they demonstrate how physical phenomena behave in nature. By looking at such examples, one can infer that physicalism is incompatible with physics.
 
Last edited:
  • #47
Pythagorean
Gold Member
4,193
258
Yes scientific realism seems to be the key here. Do not all physicalists, even when rejecting some or most of current physics (because humans err), think that there does exist a physical world, and that it was devoid of mentality until brains came about? My argument is that supervenience implies the presence of mentality, so a supervenient phenomenon cannot have come out of a situation devoid of mind.
I think most empirical physicalists that are also pessimists are going to be closer to the horizon of new physics and new neuroscience because they're optimistic about overturning theories or discovering new ones. Lots of them will probably be right on the fringe, too.

Emergence and new physics/neuroscience are two contendors. Strong emergence would probably be considered a whole new paradigm to physics, but you could also have a reductoinist view of new physics.

On the other hand, weak emergence (a disclaimer: it's my personal stance to check my philosophical baggage) recognizes there are still undiscovered consequences of the fundamental laws of physics as they are; then you're allowing for nearly anything, but still sticking to the tried and true laws that have consistently been shown to hold in all cases that they've been tested in over many thousands of tests and many thousands of predictions.

The stance is that these new emergent properties will not somehow violate reductionist laws of physics and if they do, it's because of some specific exception or augmentation to the reductionist laws of physics that does not generally hold in all the systems it has been shown not to hold in.

But we additionally have the problem of confining our ideas and observations to semantic language and graphical spatial metaphors of data (plots) and contaminating it with purpose and meaning and antrhopomorphism and ahtropocentrism, which makes one more pessimistic. It also becomes more difficult to troubleshoot causality in large complex ensembles: "which ensemble of particles hit the other ensemble of particles first?"

However, the underlying philosophy is that we're still studying a consistent universe with a consistent set of laws: the laws of nature. And no matter how much we mess it up, once we get it right, and if we're able to sustain the information about it, our great great great great grandkids will still be able to demonstrate the observations themselves (if not take direct advantage of it through technology).
 
Last edited:

Related Threads on A criticism of supervenience-based physicalism

  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
3K
Replies
2
Views
4K
  • Last Post
2
Replies
31
Views
7K
  • Last Post
Replies
3
Views
2K
Replies
21
Views
4K
  • Last Post
Replies
12
Views
1K
Replies
4
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
16
Views
2K
Replies
204
Views
15K
  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
2K
Top