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Mind-body problem-Chomsky/Nagel

  1. Aug 23, 2011 #1
    One of the most interesting and compelling criticisms on "dualism", "materialisn", "monism" and any “ism” is the following argument by Chomsky:

    The mind-body problem can be posed sensibly only insofar as we have a definite conception of body. If we have no such definite and fixed conception, we cannot ask whether some phenomena fall beyond its range. The Cartesians offered a fairly definite conception of body in terms of their contact mechanics, which in many respects reflects commonsense understanding...[However] the Cartesian concept of body was refuted by seventeenth-century physics, particularly in the work of Isaac Newton, which laid the foundations for modern science. Newton demonstrated that the motions of the heavenly bodies could not be explained by the principles of Descartes’s contact mechanics, so that the Cartesian concept of body must be abandoned.

    In other words, when we think of causation in the natural world as Descartes did – that is, as involving literal contact between two extended substances – then the way in which a thought or a sensation relate to a material object becomes mysterious. Certainly it cannot be right to think of a thought or sensation as making literal physical contact with the surface of the brain, or in any other way communicating motion in a “push-pull” way. But when we give up this crude model of causation, as Newton did, the source of the mystery disappears. At the same time, no systematic positive account of what matter as such is has ever really been put forward to replace Descartes’ conception.

    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.

    That is to say, we have in Chomsky’s view various worked-out, successful theories of different parts of the natural world, and we try to integrate these by assimilating them to “the core notions of physics,” but may end up altering those core notions if we need to in order to make the assimilation work. As a result, as Chomsky once put it to John Searle, “as soon as we come to understand anything, we call it ‘physical’” (quoted by Searle in The Rediscovery of the Mind). But we have no conception of what is “physical” or “material” prior to and independently of this enterprise. And since the enterprise is not complete, “physical” and “material” have no fixed and determinate content; we simply apply them to whatever it is we happen at the moment to think we know how assimilate into the body of existing scientific theory. As a consequence:

    The mind-body problem can therefore not even be formulated. The problem cannot be solved, because there is no clear way to state it. Unless someone proposes a definite concept of body, we cannot ask whether some phenomena exceed its bounds.There seems to be no coherent doctrine of materialism and metaphysical naturalism, no issue of eliminativism, no mind-body problem” (New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind).

    In short, if the problem has no clear content, neither do any of the solutions to it. Chomsky’s preferred approach, it seems, is just to carry on the task of developing and evaluating theories of various aspects of the mind and integrating them as one can into the existing body of scientific knowledge, letting the chips fall where they may vis-à-vis the definition of “physical” or “material.”

    [The terms] 'body' and 'the physical world' refer to whatever there is, all of which we try to understand as best we can and to integrate into a coherent theoretical system that we call the natural sciences . . . If it were shown that the properties of the world fall into two disconnected domains, then we would, I suppose, say that that is the nature of the physical world, nothing more, just as if the world of matter and anti-matter were to prove unrelated.



    There are some (Nagel) who question this view because even with future revision of physics it is argued that the problem will remain:

    I have heard at least one respected physicist avert that "physics is finished," meaning that even microphysics is already empirically adequate and its physical ontology, its ontology of substances, is reasonably well understood; the remaining projects of microphysics – positing superstrings, constructing a unified field theory and the like – are only matters of interpreting and mathematizing the physical ontology. If that is so, then there is no reason to think that physics will expand its ontology in so fundamental a way as to afford a reduction of the mental that was not already available.

    Even, if our idea of the physical ever expands to include mental phenomena, it will have to assign them an objective character-whether or not this is done by analyzing them in terms of other phenomena already regarded as physical.

    Any thoughts?
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2011
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  3. Aug 23, 2011 #2
    I think Chomsky gets it right and Nagel not. Nagel, as much as I usually like his work, seems (from what I can tell from your short quote) to be okay with assigning the term "objective" to mental states. But this is, in any reasonable use of the term, the exact opposite of what mental states are. They are not objective, they are subjective. Obviously terms mean what we want them to mean but I don't think it's productive to use a term in the opposite sense of what it usually means.

    Now, I do believe we can call mental states "physical," in the sense that they have a causal effect. The usual intuition about what is physical is that it must be solid, but this is revealed quickly to be a bad definition. Rather, I agree with the physicist Lande's definition of physical: it is kickable (and can be kicked). In other words, what is physical has the ability to effect other parts of our universe. In that sense, mental events are physical unless we are epiphenomenalists and assert that mental events supervene impotently upon the physical (a position I find untenable).

    We may also make some progress on the mind/body problem that Chomsky finds inscrutable if we re-frame the mind/body problem as the subject/object problem. How do objects and subjects differ, how do they interact?

    I'm a panpsychist, in that I find a satisfying solution to the M/B problem in the notion that all matter has both subjective and objective aspects, which oscillate and what is a subject in one moment becomes an object for other subjects in the next moment (Whitehead's "perpetual perishing").

    I agree with Chomsky that modern physics does not have a good handle on the "body problem," let alone the mind/body problem. But we can easily accept that there is a key difference between subject and object and an obvious problem in explaining how subjects relate to objects and vice versa. The panpsychist solution suggests that I, as a subject, experience all other subjects as objects, and vice versa. Similarly, what is my mind, to me, is my brain (roughly), to you and all other subjects.
  4. Aug 24, 2011 #3
    I think Nagel is actually agreeing with you that no matter how far a future science/physics changes, qualia will forever remain subjective. Chomsky, on the other hand, in one paper-“Linguistics and Cognitive Science: Problems and Mysteries” (p. 39) questions Nagel's premise arguing that:

    “this argument presupposes some fixed notion of the ‘objective world’ which excludes subjective experience, but it is hard to see why we should pay any more attention to that notion, whatever it may be, than to one that excludes action at a distance or other exotic ideas that were regarded as unintelligible or ridiculous at earlier periods, even by outstanding scientists.”

    Elsewhere on that page he argues that there is nothing unique about the mind-body problem:

    But from this we do not conclude that there was then (or now) a body-body problem, or a color-body problem, or a life-body problem, or a gas-body problem. Rather, there were just problems, arising from the limits of our understanding

    I’m not sure what to make of this? I think Nagel’s position is clear. Nagel is simply arguing that the mind-body problem is different than all these other problems because unlike the others, subjectivity/qualia cannot be reduced to any “material” entity regardless of future revisions of our “physical” theories. Whether Chomsky is arguing that some type of “micropsychism”, is possible I’m not sure but I doubt it? Maybe Chomsky means that we should treat the mental just as "real" as other stuff in science even though unification may be beyond our cognitive limits (I'm thinking McGinn's cognitive closure stuff here)?

    Panpsychism is a very interesting position even though it's not taken seriously by many. I really find the "intrinsic" argument as set ou by Russel, Eddington and now Strawson very interesting. One difficulty with panpsychism is that it also "faces a severe problem of understanding how more complex mental states emerge from the mental features of the fundamental features." An interesting paper on this topic is this one by Seager:


    One panpsychist physicist is Bohm. In his papers, he argues that his interpretation suggests a proto-mental aspect of matter. He has been called a panprotopsychist. When you look at the guiding wave properties and how it affects the "particle" (trajectory) in Bohm's ontological interpretation of QM, you can't help but notice the analogy between pilot wave/particle and mind/brain. In fact, Bohm argues just that (see quote below). Some interesting properties of Bohm's guiding wave:

    1. The quantum potential energy does not behave like an additional energy of classical type. It has no external source, but is some form of internal energy, split off from the kinetic energy. Furthermore, if we look at traditional quantum mechanical problems and examine the quantum potential energy in mathematical detail, we find that it contains information about the experimental environment in which the particle finds itself, hence its possible role as an information potential.

    2. In the case of the quantum wave, the amplitude also appears in the denominator. Therefore, increasing the magnitude of the amplitude does not necessarily increase the quantum potential energy. A small amplitude can produce a large quantum effect. The key to the quantum potential energy lies in the second spatial derivative, indicating that the shape or form of the wave is more important than its magnitude.

    3. For this reason, a small change in the form of the wave function can produce large effects in the development of the system. The quantum potential produces a law of force that does not necessarily fall off with distance. Therefore, the quantum potential can produce large effects between systems that are separated by large distances. This feature removes one of the difficulties in understanding the non-locality that arises between particles in entangled states, such as those in the EPR-paradox

    4. In Bohmian mechanics the wave function acts upon the positions of the particles but, evolving as it does autonomously via Schrödinger's equation, it is not acted upon by the particles...The guiding wave, in the general case, propagates not in ordinary three-space but in a multidimensional-configuration space and is the origin of the notorious ‘nonlocality’ of quantum mechanics.

    5. Unlike ordinary force fields such as gravity, which affects all particles within its range, the pilot wave must act only one particle: each particle has a private pilot wave all its own that “senses” the location of every other particle of the universe. Although it extends everywhere and is itself affected by every particle in the universe, the pilot wave affects no other particle bit its own.

    Bohm and Hiley have coined the expression “active information” for this sort of influence and suggest that the quantum potential is a source of this kind of information.

    "There are many analogies to the notion of active information in our general experience. Thus, consider a ship on automatic pilot guided by radar waves. The ship is not pushed and pulled mechanically by these waves. Rather, the form of the waves is picked up, and with the aid of the whole system, this gives a corresponding shape and form to the movement of the ship under its own power. Similarly, the form of radio waves as broadcast from a station can carry the form of music or speech. The energy of the sound that we hear comes from the relatively unformed energy in the power plug, but its form comes from the activity of the form of the radio wave; a similar process occurs with a computer which is guiding machinery. The 'information' is in the program, but its activity gives shape and form to the movement of the machinery. Likewise, in a living cell, current theories say that the form of the DNA molecule acts to give shape and form to the synthesis of proteins (by being transferred to molecules of RNA).

    Our proposal is then to extend this notion of active information to matter at the quantum level. The information in the quantum level is potentially active everywhere, but actually active only where the particle is (as, for example, the radio wave is active where the receiver is). Such a notion suggests, however, that the electron may be much more complex than we thought (having a structure of a complexity that is perhaps comparable, for example, to that of a simple guidance mechanism such as an automatic pilot). This suggestion goes against the whole tradition of physics over the past few centuries which is committed to the assumption that as we analyze matter into smaller and smaller parts, their behaviour grows simpler and simpler. Yet, assumptions of this kind need not always be correct. Thus, for example, large crowds of human beings can often exhibit a much simpler behaviour than that of the individuals who make it up."

    http://www.geestkunde.net/uittreksels/db-relationmindmatter.html [Broken]
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  5. Aug 25, 2011 #4


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    I don't think Chomsky was ever so neutral. He was clear that "regular issue materialism" (that combination of atomism, mechanicalism, locality, monadism and determinism that equals standard micro-physical causal reductionism) was not up to accounting for mind. But that left him open to more radical Platonic and dualist arguments. So in fact he could be read as making a wedge argument for panpsychism.

    I would also say it is wrong to argue that (micro)physics lacks a definite view of the material. It deeply believes a number of things - such as locality, monadism, determinism, atomism, etc.

    This may be an adequate ontology for modelling simple things, an inadequate ontology for modelling complex ones, but it is certainly a clearly defined set of beliefs. And we can see that in Bohmian attempts to preserve locality in the face of the quantum evidence to the contrary. Or the relief when GR and virtual particles fixed the various species of "action at a distance".

    My own argument is that of course microphysics can't cut it, but "macro-physics" can - the larger systems view of reality taken principally by biologists, thermodynamicists and semioticians.

    Chomsky is an odd figure in all this because he is famous mainly for taking a computational view of linguistics so again repeats the reductionist error of insisting that realities are constructed from the bottom up and hence it is a "surprise" that generalised constraints can "spontaneously self-organise" from a "poverty of input", when in fact nothing could be more natural in the systems view.

    Because Chomsky saw the organisation of nature as difficult to produce, he had to believe that its causes might be (near) supernatural. And hence his noises of sympathy for Platonism and dualism.
  6. Aug 26, 2011 #5
    I find some arguments about synergistic 2-way causation between the macroscopic and the microscopic interesting, but I doubt it will have any impact on explaining how one gets qualia from "matter"? I found this author's argument where he talks about the possibility of "real systemic or emergent properties" when discussing the results of the Bell test (Aspect) experiments pretty interesting. The argument put forward, as I understand it, is that if such microphysical systems themselves can have properties not possessed by individual parts (existence of holistic relations), so might any system composed of such parts. So you can have a type of top-down causation. Read page 133-134 of this pdf paper:

    "The classical picture offered a compelling presumption in favour of the claim that causation is strictly bottom up-that the causal powers of whole systems reside entirely in the causal powers of parts. This thesis is central to most arguments for reductionism. It contends that all physically significant processes are due to causal powers of the smallest parts acting individually on one another. If this were right, then any emergent or systemic properties must either be powerless epiphenomena or else violate basic microphysical laws. But the way in which the classical picture breaks down undermines this connection and the reductionist argument that employs it. If microphysical systems can have properties not possessed by individual parts, then so might any system composed of such parts...

    Were the physical world completely governed by local processes, the reductionist might well argue that each biological system is made up of the microphysical parts that interact, perhaps stochastically, but with things that exist in microscopic local regions; so the biological can only be epiphenomena of local microphysical processes occurring in tiny regions. Biology reduces to molecular biology, which reduces in turn to microphysics. But the Bell arguments completely overturn this conception."

  7. Aug 26, 2011 #6


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    The problem here is that "qualia" already presumes a materialistic, microphysical, paradigm. It treats awareness as atomistic, substantial, monadic, etc, shards of pure experience. A further kind of material stuff. Glue together enough such atoms of raw sensation and you would have "a state of conscious being".

    So people who believe in the truth of the construct "qualia" are already trapped in a reductionist mindset. They are imagining consciousness as a species of material being - and having to then deal with the fact that it seems pretty immaterial!

    That's a good reference for a systems view. It argues for holism at the fundamental level of reality.

    The only caveat is that we shouldn't then think that quantum holism underpins biological holism in any direct - ie: material! - way. The form of the causality is the same, but biological systems are not constructed of quantum properties.

    Clearly, quantum effects - local, substantial, material effects - are very apparent when the physical scale is either very hot or very small. But biological systems exist in an effectively classical world.

    So what we would say is that a holistic causality is demanded by quantum theory. And the same kind of causality is demanded by complex classical systems too. But complexity does not depend on quantum weirdness as any sort of building material. In fact, complexity cannot exist on scales that are very hot or very small. Complexity needs the existence of definite local material (actual particles, actual gradients) so that it can organise into equally definite global forms (actual dissipative structures).
  8. Aug 27, 2011 #7
    I don't understand this and it doesn't make sense to me. Where is this divide between the quantum and classical world? I mean, where does one draw this "cut" between the micro-world where QM applies and the classical macro domain?
  9. Aug 27, 2011 #8


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    There is no absolute cut, just an effective one. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_decoherence
  10. Aug 27, 2011 #9
    That article writes:

    "So decoherence does not provide a mechanism for the actual wave function collapse; rather it provides a mechanism for the appearance of wavefunction collapse. The quantum nature of the system is simply "leaked" into the environment so that a total superposition of the wavefunction still exists, but exists — at least for all practical purposes— beyond the realm of measurement."

    So, I'm still lost? I'm kind of interested in Bohm's metaphysics. Assume no such thing as collapse occurs as in Bohm's model. What I don't understand is this. For argument's sake, assume Bohm's model is closer to the "truth". So if one takes his metaphysics at face level, you have a "particle-like" entity guided by a non-local wave that propagates not in ordinary space but in a multidimensional-configuration space. What happens to this non-local wave in a system composed of objects like us?

    I mean one can't help but notice the analogy between quantum potential/particle vs mind/body? Is that what Bohm's metaphysics is arguing for? For instance:

    1. The guiding wave has no external source
    2. It's not spatially located in any sense of the word (it's non-local)
    3. It contains information about the environment in which the particle finds itself, hence its possible role as an information potential.
    4. The wave is not acted upon by the particles.
    5. The guiding wave propagates not in ordinary space but in a multidimensional-configuration space.
    6. Unlike ordinary force fields such as gravity, which affects all particles within its range, the pilot wave must act only one particle: each particle has a private pilot wave all its own that “senses” the location of every other particle of the universe. Although it extends everywhere and is itself affected by every particle in the universe, the pilot wave affects no other particle bit its own.
    7. The guiding wave can't be directly measured except via it's effect on its particle

    The analogy to mind/body seems evident. The mind isn't spatial in any sense of the term. It only acts on it's "own" system of particles, etc. It can't be directly measured except via it's effect on it's body, etc.

    Is Bohm's metaphysics implying that a proto-mental, non-local guiding wave and associated particle can sometimes form a macroscopic mind/body entity like us? Or is this not possible because of Tegmark's argument (brain is too hot)? Would Bohm's metaphysics also be prone to Tegmark's criticism. I mean, it might exist "beyond the realm of measurement" but isn't that what the mental (e.g. phenomenal) is? I can infer the mental via behaviour but I can't directly "measure" it in any sense of the word.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2011
  11. Aug 27, 2011 #10


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    OK, if QM/consciousness is your real interest in this thread, then it was rather confusing that you started out with Chomsky whose concern was computationalism and functionalism.

    Correct. And also too large.
  12. Aug 28, 2011 #11
    I quoted Chomsky because I got the impression from his writings that he thinks this explanatory gap (at present) lies within a future physics. He writes:

    To learn more about mental aspects of the world-or chemical or electrical or other aspects-we should try to discover 'manifest principles' that partially explain them, though their causes remain disconnected from what we take to be the more fundamental aspects of science. The gap might have many reasons, among them, as has repeatedly been discovered, that the presumed reduction base was misconceived, including core physics." (The mysteries of Nature: How deeply hidden?)

    Another possibility he writes about is our own innate cognitive limitations:

    The human mind is a biologically given system with certain powers and limits...The fact that “admissible hypotheses” are available to this specific biological system accounts for its ability to construct rich and complex explanatory theories. But the same properties of mind that provide admissible hypotheses may well exclude other successful theories as unintelligible to humans. Some theories might simply not be among the admissible hypotheses determined by the specific properties of mind that adapt us “to imagining correct theories of some kinds,” though these theories might be accessible to a differently organized intelligence.

    The naturalistic temper...takes for granted that humans are part of the natural world, not angels, and will therefore have capacities with specific scope and limits, determined by their special structure. For a rat, some questions are problems that it can solve, others are mysteries that lie beyond its cognitive reach; the same should be true of humans, and to first approximation, that seems a fair conclusion. What we call “natural science” is a kind of chance convergence between aspects of the world and properties of the human mind/brain, which has allowed some rays of light to penetrate the general obscurity, excluding, it seems, central domains of the “mental.”

    I don't take him to being a dualist as you wrote above. I don't think he's willing to commit on such issues. Assuming that consciousness is one of those "problems we can solve" (it might not be, according to some of his writings), he seems to favour some kind of emergentism although he doesn't believe that's possible given our current "core" sciences; that is, our notions of "matter" may require revision to allow unification. But others question this view as they can't see what alteration in the notion of "matter" by a future physics/science can possibly explicate the emergence of consciousness except the panpsychist hypothesis:

    http://faculty.unlv.edu/beiseckd/Courses/PHIL-352/Dave%20-%20Consciousness%20PDFs/Strawson%20-%20Realistic%20Monism%20and%20Replies/Strawson%20-%20Realistic%20Monism%20Why%20Physicalism%20Entails%20Panpsychism.pdf [Broken]


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  13. Aug 28, 2011 #12


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    Ahh, I see from this recent paper that Chomsky is indeed endorsing pan-psychism these days and here is arguing that because we really do not know the truth about physical reality, then how can we be so sure that it does not have an inherently experiential aspect?

    It seems to be a panpsychic kind, and so not really emergence at all.

    The paper is devoted to arguing against a reductionist view of the world and concludes that given reductionism fails, the only option left standing is then panpsychism.

    I would say he ignores the systems view of causality and so has not really made his case at all.

    But anyway, his arguments are not that QM might create some kind of special material basis for mind, but in fact the opposite - that QM suggests, a la Wheeler, that reality is observer-created.

    So mind comes first and conjures up its reality. This would seem at the other end of the spectrum to Bohmian mechanics.
  14. Aug 28, 2011 #13
    Heh, then who or what is observing us?
  15. Aug 28, 2011 #14
    There ain't nobody here but us chickens. Allan Watts expressed it as "God playing peek-a-boo", but you can think of it as everyone agreeing at least subconsciously on what reality should be like.
  16. Aug 28, 2011 #15
    Yes, but he falls short of endorsing Strawson’s panpsychism. About Strawson’s “micropsychism”, he writes:

    This is Strawson’s No–Radical Emergence Thesis, from which he draws the panpsychic conclusion that ‘experiential reality cannot possibly emerge from wholly and utterly non-experiential reality’. The basic claim which he (Strawson) high-lights, is that ‘If it really is true that Y is emergent from X then it must be the case that Y is in some sense wholly dependent on X and X alone, so that all features of Y trace intelligibly back to X.

    So here, Chomsky is pointing out Strawson’s inconceivability of “brute emergence” hypothesis. But he’s not convinced about it for he writes,

    What seemed ‘brute emergence' was assimilated into science as ordinary emergence...relying on conceivability. I see no strong reason why matters should necessarily be different in the case of experiential and nonexperiential reality, particularly given our ignorance of the latter, stressed from Newton and Locke to Priestly, developed by Russell, and arising again in recent discussion...Priestly rejects the conclusion that consciousness ‘cannot be annexed to the whole brain as a system, while the individual particles of which it consists are separately unconscious'.

    No, he doesn’t seem to draw Strawson’s conclusions although he doesn’t rule it out as a possibility. He seems to make no commitment as he quotes Russell approvingly:

    Experiential truths are not known to have any intrinscic character which physical events cannot have, since we do not know of any intrinsic character which could be incompatible with the logical properties that physics assigns to physical events.

    Yes, I think so. He writes,

    The physicist John Wheeler argued that the 'ultimates' may be just 'bits of information', responses to queries posed by the investigator. The actual events of quantum theory are experienced increments in knowledge.

    Yes. I think he recognizes the difficulty of unifying consciousness/the mental with present physics but thinks that as physics/science progresses it will all make sense(assuming it lies within our intelectual ability). As I read Chomsky I don’t think his position on this issue has changed all that much from the 1960s. In a 1968 article he writes:

    There is one final issue that deserves a word of comment. I have been using mentalistic terminology quite freely, but entirely without prejudice as to the question of what may be the physical realisation of the abstract mechanisms postulated to account for the phenomena of behaviour or the acquisition of knowledge. We are not constrained, as was Descartes, to postulate a second substance when we deal with phenomena that are not expressible in terms of matter in motion, in his sense. Nor is there much point in pursuing the question of psychophysical parallelism, in this connection. It is an interesting question whether the functioning and evolution of human mentality can be accommodated within the framework of physical explanation, as presently conceived, or whether there are new principles, now unknown, that must be invoked, perhaps principles that emerge only at higher levels of organisation than can now be submitted to physical investigation. We can, however, be fairly sure that there will be a physical explanation for the phenomena in question, if they can be explained at all, for an uninteresting terminological reason, namely that the concept of “physical explanation” will no doubt be extended to incorporate whatever is discovered in this domain, exactly as it was extended to accommodate gravitational and electromagnetic force, massless particles, and numerous other entities and processes that would have offended the common sense of earlier generations. But it seems clear that this issue need not delay the study of the topics that are now open to investigation, and it seems futile to speculate about matters so remote from present understanding. (Language and mind, 1968)
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2011
  17. Aug 28, 2011 #16


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    What he makes is a commitment to is the general case that we don't know the material basis of reality well enough to rule out such stories as panpsychism. He doesn't then say what he actually believes to be a more likely story, but he has argued opaquely for Platonic type scenarios often enough in the past.

    Chomsky is an interesting character because he always seems to introduce unnecessary difficulties into the subject of language and mind. He seems to find it impossible to imagine a natural evolutionary story for the emergence of words and rules, semantics and syntax. So he jests about a language faculty arising via a blast of cosmic rays that mutated some apeman brain in a way that just happened to be in the shape of the Platonically perfect Universal Grammar.

    So what is the question here?

    I think most would agree that we don't know material reality well enough to rule out anything "experiential" at the microphysical level. But on the other hand, we know enough to constrain our speculations very strongly. So for example, QM explanations get ruled out by thermal jostle at a scale far below the apparently relevant neural processes.

    And then we do also know that holism, emergence and systems causality argue that reality is as much founded on the macro-physical - on hierarchy, cohesion, dissipation, downward causation and semiosis. So the "special sauce" that makes reality experiential could come from the other direction - from the top-down. Or more accurately, from the synergistic interaction between upward atomistic construction and downwards contextual constraint.

    As I say, Chomsky does not address the standard systems science analysis in any depth, although sometimes his Platonism sounds a little conducive to it. But he seems such a contrarian, I suspect he would not actually like to agree clearly with anyone.
  18. Aug 28, 2011 #17
    LOL, the kind of person who would argue with themselves if were possible.
  19. Aug 29, 2011 #18
    Assuming micropsychism is not the answer, it is interesting reading some suggestions discussing what is required for unification to occur. Leaving aside the issue of whether "before the big bang" makes sense, consider McGinn's argument:

    "We might be reminded at this point of the big bang. That notable occurrence can be regarded as presenting an inverse space problem. For, on received views, it was at the moment of the big bang that space itself came into existence, there being nothing spatial antecedently to that. But how does space come from non-space? What kind of 'explosion' could create space ab initio? And this problem offers an even closer structural parallel to the consciousness problem if we assume, as I would argue is plausible, that the big bang was not the beginning (temporally or explanatorily) of all existence. Some prior independent state of things must have led to that early cataclysm, and this sequence of events itself must have some intelligible explanation - just as there must be an explanation for the sequence that led from matter-in-space to consciousness.

    The brain puts into reverse, as it were, what the big bang initiated: it erases spatial dimensions rather than creating them. It undoes the work of creating space, swallowing down matter and spitting out consciousness. So, taking the very long view, the universe has gone through phases of space generation and (local) space annihilation; or at least, with respect to the latter, there have been operations on space that have generated a non-spatial being. This suggests the following heady speculation: that the origin of consciousness somehow draws upon those properties of the universe that antedate and explain the occurrence of the big bang. If we need a pre-spatial level of reality in order to account for the big bang, then it may be this very level that is exploited in the generation of consciousness. That is, assuming that remnants of the pre-big bang universe have persisted, it may be that these features of the universe are somehow involved in engineering the non-spatial phenomenon of consciousness. If so, consciousness turns out to be older than matter in space, at least as to its raw materials."

  20. Aug 29, 2011 #19

    I would add that what matter is is very hard to define at the microphysical level. So while it's somewhat plausible to imagine consciousness arising out of matter(whatever matter is) in some extreme situation similar to emergence in a given level of complexity, imo its inconceivable to think of consciousness as being present in an ellusive, continuous, wave-like "substance". How would that work? We might as well abolish attempts to establish a physical basis to mental experience.

    it's quantumness that jostles, it's quantumness that's supposed to bring forth the emergence of consciouness, it's quantumness that is everything in existence in reality.
    I don't think any scientist these days takes seriously the outdated idea of absolute space, absolute time or solid matter.
  21. Aug 29, 2011 #20


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    What's this? A competition to find the nuttiest professor? :smile:

    McGinn's argument depends on you buying consciousness to be res cogitans, non-extensive, to even get started.

    Simple neuroscience tells you it is a spatial thing. Poke the brain in different places and you get different disturbances of the mind (in ways now easily understood in terms of the brain's architecture).

    And even arguing from "what consciousness feels like", it is quite inaccurate to say it feels non-spatial. My consciousness at least is full of spatial awareness.

    My consciousness also feels highly located - but that is not non-spatial, just highly located. It exists at a certain point of space and time, and not at any other, where I can imagine it might have been located.

    Of course, consciousness is really about being oriented in a world of meaning. The spatiotemporal structure of our perceived world is just a part of that meaningfulness. There is more to awareness than what you can measure with a ruler or clock.

    Our notion of physical spacetime is created precisely by removing all these other usual dimensions of meaning from what exists to leave only a bare backdrop. We learn to imagine a world which is a void without entities, properties or causes (because that can be a useful modelling construct). Yet physics also knows that this is a fiction. You cannot have a space without a temperature.

    And for this reason, the most universal measure of reality is probably entropy, rather than distance or duration. It is certainly a better measure of the presence of material complexity - as in a structure like a conscious brain.

    So the old Cartesean divide describes neither the phenomenology, nor the neuroscience, nor even the current physics. And McGinn has no basis on which to get his argument started.
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