Friday, April 18, 2008

Matt 24 Watch, 53: On minds, brains and intelligence -- as Expelled the Movie comes out

Expelled the Movie comes out today. (We all need to see this one, and to think very hard about what it exposes. Cf trailer here, and press kit backgrounder here.)

On a related matter, over the past few days, as I wind down an extended visit with Uncommon Descent, I have had occasion to discuss the reality of mind with some commenters there, in this thread.

I think some snippets from the exchange [with a few slight adjustments] -- on mind, matter and evolutionary materialism (cf. Wiki's overview on "materialism")-- may prove stimulating, maybe even helpful:


111, DK:

. . . Call me a selective hyperskeptic if you will [CORRECTIVE: Actually, I always refer to the fallacy of selective hyperskepticism, I do not try to name-call . . .]. If I am such, then are not all those who call themselves “scientists?” Because all they and I ask is that you and StephenB cite empirical evidence for the existence of a substance called “mind” that exists in a form separable from a brain.

112, KF (i.e. GEM of TKI):

Thanks for the kind words.

On empirical evidence for mind, it is all around you.

To see it why not just try to address the “WELCOME TO WALES” question, in context:

echoing Richard Taylor, suppose you were in a train and saw [outside the window] rocks you believe were pushed there by chance + necessity only, spelling out: WELCOME TO WALES.

Would you believe the apparent message, why?

That should be enough to show the difference between mind and blind chance + necessity acting on matter + energy across space and time.

113, SB:

DK: Everytime you make a mental decision that reverses the brain’s impulses, you prove the existence of the mind. The “placebo” effect alone provides strong evidence of a mind. Conquering a bad habit proves the existence of the mind. Matter can’t reverse its own decisions or change its mind or reflect on itself.

In any case, that is a separate matter from the fact that two realms are needed for rationality and the perception of truth.

114, DK:

Your strawman (colossal enough to bestride the Bosporus and boy will that light up the sky when the oil of crimson herring with which it has been copiously anointed is ignited!): “blind chance + necessity” does not advance the discussion.

Because I do not question the existence of a behavior that is called “mind.”

I ask only for evidence that it is a substance separable from the activity of a brain.

115, KF:

Again, simply work through the following example:

echoing Richard Taylor, suppose you were in a train and saw [outside the window] rocks you believe were pushed there by chance + necessity only, spelling out: WELCOME TO WALES.

Would you believe the apparent message, why?

The implications thereof will suffice to show what is going on, once you reckon with the implications of the four forces of physics and chance acting on matter and energy without mind as an INDEPENDENT causal factor.

Since we have already argued the issue out at hundreds of posts length [with the evo mat position IMHBXO [In my humble but considered opinion] failing to hold up a solid ground for the mind — word magic like “emergence” will not do], I can only think that this is the best way forward:

(1) If you believe the product of chance + necessity without residue gives coded information and even truth [Aristotle, [defining truth]: that which says of what is, that it is, and of what is not, that it is not], why?

(2) if not then you have to reckon with the implications of the visible world of symbolic code that refers to reality, and even makes a difference to it — starting with the fine tuned convergent multidimensional physics of a life-facilitating cosmos, and going on through the implications of DNA and our need for minds to apprehend all this.

116, EM:

I have been watching this discussion unfold with interest. Daniel King’s call for empirical evidence has been met mainly by the other side of the empirical/rational divide, namely reasoning (of a sort) that a materialist view of mind is self-contradictory or self-refuting. Yet I don’t know to what they (StephenB or kairosfocus) mean when they refer to a “materialist” view of mind. Such views come in many forms, and I see very little evidence that those who provide cartoon versions of materialism here comprehend that.

So I suggest a bit of reading. A good start would be The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates, edited by Block, Flanagan, and Guzeldere. Many of the big names are represented therein, including many serious materialists, and nothing in that 800+ page book looks remotely like the strawman constructed in the previous posts.

[NB: Here is a quickie overview, for The Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science -- note, too the naturalistic assumptions that are injected without further ado, thusly: "[t]here are many perspectives on the Hard Problem but I will mention only the four that comport with a naturalistic framework . . . "]

117, KF:

I see you have made some dismissive references on how we are caricaturing evolutionary materialistic views [but please cf. 102 above; which is very general on the issue of chance + necessity acting on matter + energy –> mind], and are trying to say that we are making a logical not an empirically based case. Even though reasoning processes and exercises are in fact in this case, empirical ones; ones that we can use metacognition about.

More to the point, though, if you will look above, you will see that I have provided a little thought experiment to trigger a real world exercise and [re-]constructivist discussion.

Again: since we happen to be mental creatures, that is not only empirical — experience based — but a live example of the issues of mind and brain, mentality and materiality. We are not confined to simply blindly following the opinions and declared conclusions of claimed experts — we can think for ourselves, and need to, as:

[a] no expert is better than his/her facts, reasoning and assumptions, and

[b] we may be living in an intellectual Plato’s Cave of manipulative shadow shows backed up by force to suppress dissent — as Expelled publicly documents starting today.

The case, the third time of asking:

. . . echoing Richard Taylor, suppose you were in a train and saw [outside the window] rocks you believe were pushed there by chance + necessity only, spelling out: WELCOME TO WALES.

Would you believe the apparent message, why?

Why don’t you do it?

If you do so, I believe you will discover:

1 –> Functionally Specified Complex Information is a characteristic product of mind, and even in cases where such FSCI — per thought experiment [just try to observe this little exercise happen in the real world: rocks rolling down a hill per chance + necessity only and spontaneously forming a full sentence in English, with letters properly formed . . . !] — is believed to originate by chance + necessity only, it then loses credibility. (For, chance + necessity cause-effect chains are unconnected to ground-consequent issues. This is the exact issue I raised in 102 above.)

2 –> Further, how did you become aware of the text you read and responded to? [Your eyes as sensors, true, but how then did swatches of black and white etc become meaningful words and sentences in a language [as opposed to input and/or output signals and noise in a control loop or the like]? And how did you then make the observations, inferences and decisions relative to the excitation of rods, cones and connected neurons? If by chance and necessity only, you are back at 1. Namely, apparent messages tracing to “lucky noise” and/or non-foresighted, non-purposive mechanical necessity are not credible.]

3 –> Next, we are aware/conscious of our bodies and how they function, thence the external world, through: mental processes. Thus, the phenomenal world is a mental world, leading to the Kantian bridge challenge . . .

4 –> Namely, how do we bridge from things as they are perceived and conceived and subjectively experienced, to the noumenal world of “things in themselves”? [And, “inter-subjective consensus” does not help as your belief that we exist may be a part of that mental world isolated from things in themselves.]

5 –> Kant of course concluded that we cannot know things in themselves, but only as perceived. [Go back to 49 ff above and see why I and others think this leads us to a self-referential inconsistency and/or absurdity; and why it therefore makes sense to take certain truths to be self-evident, namely that we are aware, however provisionally and imperfectly, of an external, real world and can act into it, based on the use of our minds and how they influence the behaviour of our bodies.]

{ADDED: Excerpt from 49 on Kreeft and Tacelli on Kant's Copernican Revolution and its failure:

. . . [Kant’s] “Copernican Revolution in philosophy” was the claim that our knowledge does not conform to a real object but vice versa . . . All the form, determination, specificity or knowable content comes from the mind and is projected out onto the world rather than coming from the world and being impressed upon the mind . . . .

Kant’s “Copernican Revolution” is self-contradictory, just as simple skepticism is. After all, if Kant was right, how could he possibly have known he was right in terms of his system? He couldn’t. He could never know that there are “things- in- themselves,” onto which the knowing self projects all knowable content. That would be knowing the unknowable, thinking both sides of thought’s limit.

There is a half truth in Kantianism. Some knowledge is conditioned by our forms of consciousness(e.g. Colors by the eye, measurements by artificial scales and ideological positions by personal preferences). But even here there must be some objective content first that is received and known, before it can be classified or interpreted by the knowing subject.[Handbook of Christian Apologetics, (Crowborough, England: Monarch, 1995) pp. 372 – 373.]}

6 –> Notice, also how this exemplifies how the worlds of experience and of mind interact; thence, how we come to hold a well-warranted belief on evidence of fact and logic. Once we accept that real knowledge exists -- note the given simple definition of "knowledge" in a nutshell -- they cannot be separated, in short.

7 –> And, to make the claim that knowledge does not exist is to claim . . . to know. Oops. [Yet another self-evident truth, once we have a functioning mind that understands and experiences. (Such a truth is one that, once we understand what it is talking about and what it says about this matter, in light of our experience and a modicum of common sense, we will see that it is and must be true. To deny such a truth is to end in absurdity. For instance, try to deny that "error exists" and see if that does not simply land you in the situation of giving an example of the fact that error exists.) ]

8 –> So, we know that mind exists — that is how we come to perceive, be aware of, then understand and know everything else in our world, starting with our own bodies. MIND is more certain than the external world! [Or, haven’t we learned from Kant?]

9 –> But, is mind just “a matter of” a particularly useful configuration of matter and energy, as encoded, stored or transmitted information indubitably is? That brings us right back to 1 again: can we reasonably trust the deliverances of chance + necessity only acting on matter + energy to give us access to knowledge, understanding, reason and truth? [No word magic about “emergence” permitted — you have to explain how and why.]

10 –> And yet, by the very fact of participating in the blog thread, you believe that reason, evidence, knowledge, understanding and communication are possible, actually existing and important. [Never mind the use of name-dropping and appeal to authority to dismiss a serious question without addressing it even in outline on the merits.] So, why?

11 –> ANS, part 1: because you know by experience [an observation that was immemorial in the days of Plato], that causal factors in the world in which we live trace reliably to:

[1] natural regularities rooted in mechanical necessities,

[2] chance configurations (which, per accident or happenstance, take up whatever values they hold, and could “just as easily” have taken up other values) and their constraining effects on such mechanical necessities,

[3] intelligent, intentional, decisional action, and its supervening effects on situations embracing necessity + chance.

12 –> ANS, part 2: Such intelligent, decisional actions result in matter and energy taking up complex, organised functional configurations that would otherwise be too rare in the relevant search space for reasonable random walk based processes to reach without exhausting available probabilistic resources — and one has to get TO the shores of islands of functionality before one can start to climb hills to better performance through whatever handy hill-climbing procedure you want to use. [Think of being stranded at a point at random in a vast Pacific dotted with tiny islands, and being on a raft with limited food and water. What are the odds of landing on an island before you run out of resources? But, what if you had a map, navigation tools and an engine with enough fuel to head to the relevant nearest island? See the difference intelligent action makes?]

13 –> This of course brings us right back to the significance and revolutionary power of the empirically anchored inference to intelligent action based on observed characteristic signs of intelligence. The design inference in short.

14 –> And, it shows why there is a self-referential inconsistency in the reasoning of those who have to use their MINDS to think that all is matter + energy, acted on by chance + necessity. Worse yet, some dare to redefine Science — “knowledge” — to embed and entrench and defend this assertion.

So, EM, join us: “Step into the sunshine, and step out of the cave!”

118, KF:

A bit of background reading on the issue of mind and matter: Reppert on mental causation, on defining materialistic worldviews — and in response to an attempted rebuttal, MP on materialism and truth.

119, F [excerpts]:

What is true for me on many levels may or may not be true for you but nonetheless logically one of us is right and we have to appeal to the forces and matrix of data from which we both derive our conclusions, namely experience . . . .

Leibniz uses the incredible illustration of the mill…

17. “Moreover, it must be confessed that perception and that which depends upon it are inexplicable on mechanical grounds, that is to say, by means of figures and motions. And supposing there were a machine, so constructed as to think, feel, and have perception, it might be conceived as increased in size, while keeping the same proportions, so that one might go into it as into a mill. That being so, we should, on examining its interior, find only parts which work one upon another, and never anything by which to explain a perception. Thus it is in a simple substance, and not in a compound or in a machine, that perception must be sought for. Further, nothing but this (namely, perceptions and their changes) can be found in a simple substance. It is also in this alone that all the internal activities of simple substances can consist.”

Also lets discuss the difference between consciousness as we experience it - the only way which it can be known- and as it may seem existent in say material objects such as a computer. The computer is just a mechanistic device that is not conscious of its surroundings or its origins- and the computer cannot conceptualize the infinite- you can program an infinite like algorithm but the concept of anything qualitative like infinity or benevolence is not a communicable- it has nothing to do with mathematics and counting-

The computer is a slave of the human who is its designer- The human has unpredictable or free will- but the computer is already programmed . . . .

As we infer intelligence from its effects. That is through the explanatory filter, we are ONLY inferring design. That is the filter is not finding consciousness but assuming it is there because its effects are obvious indicators . . . . Most everything begins and ends with experience. Without consciousness there would be no experience. Without mind no design. And no material process has been shown to mimic true design. Consciousness must be somewhere else in the laws that construct matter. The only place we know where to look for the source of laws is in a legislator and design in a designer. Here in this realm consciousness in manifest, indivisible and as real anything else. In the physical order of things we look for an ultimate cause, one that can account for the first at the big bang. All we can guess is that this thing is a non material thing- because we know of no material process that can exist without a cause. Incidentally that cause must be able to account for the complexity of life- it therefore must have mind and consciousness. A non material consciousness has therefore been inferred. An self referentially I know that mind is not merely dust.

120, EM:

. . . Would I believe I was in Wales if I also believed the rocks spelled out WELCOME TO WALES by chance? What a silly question! I would have no reason to hold such a belief, because I know that people — intelligent agents of which I have first-hand knowledge — arrange rocks all the time.

124, KF:

First, congratulations on making a design inference based on organised, functional complexity. (Mind that gets you Expelled!)

(Think about what such an inference means in relevant cases such as DNA, a code-bearing, algorithmically functional molecule in cell based life that starts at about 300,000 4-state elements, i.e a config space of some 9.94 *10^180,617, i.e it vastly exceeds the search capacity of the whole observed universe.]

In the meanwhile, let’s get back to the main point:

. . . echoing Richard Taylor, suppose you were in a train and saw [outside the window] rocks you believe were pushed there by chance + necessity only, spelling out: WELCOME TO WALES.

Would you believe the apparent message, why?

Now, how did you respond?

ANS: By inferring that only design — presumably on overwhelming improbability of chance + necessity making sense much less making true sense out of rocks tumbling down a hill — could credibly account for such a configuration.

In other words, you find it incredible (on overwhelming improbability) that chance + necessity acting without intelligent direction can arrive at functionally specified complex information. (Rightly so, BTW.)

BUT “WE” DO THAT ALL THE TIME, WHEN WE WRITE, SPEAK, WORK READ ETC — even when we arrange rocks to spell out “WELCOME TO WALES.”

So, just what is that “we” or “I” and just where does it come from?

ANS: An intelligent agent, i.e. a mind with capacity to somehow — just how, admittedly, we know not — act into the world through our bodies [including brains, tongues and hands] so that one creates meaningful, complex and functional configurations of matter as part of one’s exercise of one’s mind. And, to know that is not vitiated by failing to know precisely how.

At any rate, we have plainly arrived at properties that we experience, and which we know that it is incredible for chance + necessity to generate.

So, we have very good reason to infer to an independent order of existence not driven by mechanical necessity + chance acting on matter and energy [the entities held by materialism to constitute reality]; to wit, the mind, as very traditionally understood.

Worse, without credibly functioning minds — i.e minds not originating in, constituted and thus wholly controlled by chance + necessity acting on matter + energy — one can’t even credibly think materialistic thoughts.

So, Richard Taylor’s little story has a point . . .


Of course, this is a live thread, with much more, doubtless, to come. But, I think that already there is much food for thought. It also shows just how helpful such an online, interactive discussion can be in studying an important, controversial topic -- i.e. forums are vital to the proposed cybercollege.

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