Category Archives: Mind-Body Theory

#3 Post of 2015 – Why Can’t Science Explain Consciousness?

It is not uncommon these days to hear something like the following: “Science has explained just about everything else in the world, so it is inevitable that science will explain the mind and consciousness.” This kind of comment always makes me roll my eyes because the people who make this comment are making a colossal error, but an error that can be hard to see.

Philosopher Ed Feser gives a brilliant analogy that makes the error more obvious. He calls it the “lump under the rug” fallacy.

Suppose the wood floors of your house are filthy and that the dirt is pretty evenly spread throughout the house.  Suppose also that there is a rug in one of the hallways.  You thoroughly sweep out one of the bedrooms and form a nice little pile of dirt at the doorway.  It occurs to you that you could effectively “get rid” of this pile by sweeping it under the nearby rug in the hallway, so you do so.  The lump under the rug thereby formed is barely noticeable, so you are pleased.

You proceed to sweep the rest of the bedrooms, the bathroom, the kitchen, etc., and in each case you sweep the resulting piles under the same rug.  When you’re done, however, the lump under the rug has become quite large and something of an eyesore.  Someone asks you how you are going to get rid of it.  “Easy!” you answer.  “The same way I got rid of the dirt everywhere else!  After all, the ‘sweep it under the rug’ method has worked everywhere else in the house.  How could this little rug in the hallway be the one place where it wouldn’t work?  What are the odds of that?”

What is wrong with using the “sweep it under the rug” method to get rid of the dirt under the rug?

Naturally, the same method will not work in this case, and it is precisely because it worked everywhere else that it cannot work in this case.  You can get rid of dirt outside the rug by sweeping it under the rug.  You cannot get of the dirt under the rug by sweeping it under the rug.  You will only make a fool of yourself if you try, especially if you confidently insist that the method must work here because it has worked so well elsewhere.

So what does the “sweep it under the rug” method have to do with the issue of whether science will explain the mind and consciousness some day?

Now, the “Science has explained everything else, so how could the human mind be the one exception?” move is, of course, standard scientistic and materialist shtick.  But it is no less fallacious than our imagined “lump under the rug” argument.

Here’s why.  Keep in mind that Descartes, Newton, and the other founders of modern science essentially stipulated that nothing that would not fit their exclusively quantitative or “mathematicized” conception of matter would be allowed to count as part of a “scientific” explanation.  Now to common sense, the world is filled with irreducibly qualitative features — colors, sounds, odors, tastes, heat and cold — and with purposes and meanings.  None of this can be analyzed in quantitative terms.

To be sure, you can re-define color in terms of a surface’s reflection of light of certain wavelengths, sound in terms of compression waves, heat and cold in terms of molecular motion, etc.  But that doesn’t capture what common sense means by color, sound, heat, cold, etc. — the way red looks, the way an explosion sounds, the way heat feels, etc.  So, Descartes and Co. decided to treat these irreducibly qualitative features as projections of the mind.

The redness we see in a “Stop” sign, as common sense understands redness, does not actually exist in the sign itself but only as the quale of our conscious visual experience of the sign; the heat we attribute to the bathwater, as common sense understands heat, does not exist in the water itself but only in the “raw feel” that the high mean molecular kinetic energy of the water causes us to experience; meanings and purposes do not exist in external material objects but only in our minds, and we project these onto the world; and so forth.  Objectively there are only colorless, odorless, soundless, tasteless, meaningless particles in fields of force.

In short, the scientific method “explains everything else” in the world in something like the way the “sweep it under the rug” method gets rid of dirt — by taking the irreducibly qualitative and teleological features of the world, which don’t fit the quantitative methods of science, and sweeping them under the rug of the mind.  And just as the literal “sweep it under the rug” method generates under the rug a bigger and bigger pile of dirt which cannot in principle be gotten rid of using the “sweep it under the rug” method, so too does modern science’s method of treating irreducibly qualitative, semantic, and teleological features as mere projections of the mind generate in the mind a bigger and bigger “pile” of features which cannot be explained using the same method.

And there you have it. The very way science does its work is to exclude the qualitative features of reality as experienced by human consciousness. To lump the phenomena of consciousness in with the phenomena of gravity, cellular division, and star formation, is to try to get rid of the dirt under the rug by sweeping the dirt under the rug! It won’t work, ever.

What Explains My Enduring Self?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

I exist. I cannot deny that I exist without first existing. In addition, I seem to be a single, enduring self who has existed throughout my entire life.  My past memories belong to my same identical self.  I fully expect my same identical self to exist tomorrow and next week, assuming I don’t die. Not only do I think these things about myself, but I wager that everyone on the planet, excepting maybe those with severe mental illness, feels the same way.

Any worldview worth believing in should have an explanation for the existence of an enduring self. Let’s look at how atheistic naturalism and Christian theism explain the enduring self.

So how does atheistic naturalism explain the existence of my single, enduring self?  Honestly, it can’t.  Recall that naturalism explains everything in terms of matter – what physics, chemistry, and biology can describe.  According to these disciplines, each moment I lose hundreds of thousands of cells and other microscopic parts.

Every 7 to 10 years, most of my cells are entirely replaced.  Put another way, the average age of all the cells in the adult human body is 7 to 10 years. So, according to naturalism, I am virtually a new individual every 7-10 years.  Any sense I have of an enduring self that is the same through my entire life is an illusion, a trick of the human brain.

I may resemble the self I was last week, but I am not the very same self, for my body and my brain have lost parts and gained new parts.  Likewise, I will not be the same person next week or next month or next year.  In fact, in roughly 10 years, I will have very few physical parts in common with my current self.  On atheistic naturalism, there is no enduring self.

What about Christian theism?  This worldview posits each individual self as an enduring, immaterial, soul.  This soul persists from the moment of conception through death.  The reason we believe our memories of the past belong to us, and not some other self, is because our memories are unified by our single, enduring soul.

My exact same soul will endure next week and next month and next year.  I will exist in the future, not somebody else.  My physical body can be constantly changing, but my soul can persist unchanged.  The immaterial, unchanging soul of each human being explains why we believe we all think that our past, present and future selves, are one and the same, and not a series of distinct individuals.

What explains the existence of an enduring self? Certainly not atheistic naturalism. Only something like the immaterial soul offered by Christian theism can explain it.

Why Is There a Mind-Body Problem? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In part 1, we learned that thinkers in the seventeenth century proposed to divide up reality into that which could be quantitatively described by mathematics and that which could not.  Philosopher Edward Feser, in a blog post, argues that this move by Galileo and Descartes was a massive blunder and compares it to the following analogy:

Suppose someone is cleaning the house and carefully sweeps the dirt out of each room into a certain hallway, where he then proceeds to sweep the various piles of dirt he’s created under a certain rug.  You tell him that that’s all well and good, but that he has still failed to get rid of the dirt under the rug itself and cannot do so using the same method.  He replies:

Are you kidding?  The “sweep it under the rug” method is one long success story, having worked everywhere else.  How plausible is it that this one little rug in this one little hallway would be the only holdout?  Obviously it’s just a matter of time before it yields to the same method.  If you think otherwise you’re just flying in the face of the facts — and, I might add, the consensus of the community of sweepers.  Evidently you’ve got some sentimental attachment to this rug and desperately want to think that it is special somehow.  Or is it some superstitious religious dogma you’re trying to salvage?  What do you think it is, a magic carpet? 

The sweeper thinks his critic is delusional, but of course he is himself the delusional one.  For the dirt under the rug is obviously the one pile which the “sweep it under the rug” method cannot possibly get rid of, and indeed the more successful that method is elsewhere, the more problematic the particular pile under the rug becomes.  The sweeper’s method cannot solve the “dirt under the rug problem” precisely because that method is the source of the problem — the problem is the price the method’s user must pay for the success it achieves elsewhere.

Feser explains explicitly how his analogy of sweeping dirt under a rug works:

Human beings are like the hallway in my example, and the human mind is like the rug.  The “mathematically precise quantitative description” of the natural world provided by modern science has been as successful as it has been only because those aspects of the natural world that don’t fit that method — irreducibly qualitative features like color, sound, etc. as they appear to us (as contrasted with scientific redefinitions of color, sound, etc. in terms of such quantifiable features as surface reflectance properties, compression waves, and the like); and final causes, teleology, or purposes — were swept under the rug of the mind, re-characterized as purely “subjective,” as mere projections that only seem to be features of the external world but are really only aspects of our perceptual representation of it.

As Nagel says, it was precisely this methodological revolution that created the mind-body problem, just as the “sweep it under the rug” method in my example creates a “dirt under the rug problem.”  If you essentially define the physical in such a way that it excludes color, sound, purpose, etc. as they appear to us in ordinary experience, and define the mental in such a way that it is the repository of these qualities you have removed from the physical world, then you have carved up the conceptual territory in a way that rules out from the get-go an explanation of the mental in terms of the physical.  Far from constituting a desperate resistance to the implications of the scientific revolution, dualism of this essentially Cartesian sort was a consequence of that revolution.

In other words, there is a only a mind-body problem if you accept that all that exists is that which can be mathematically quantified. If you do not accept this highly dubious contention, then the mind-body problem disappears.

Why Is There a Mind-Body Problem? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Contemporary philosophers often refer to the “mind-body problem,” which is roughly the following: how is it that the physical body interacts with the seemingly non-physical mind? Many philosophers answer this question by simply denying that the mind is non-physical. They claim that the mind is a manifestation of the brain and the chemical processes going on in the brain.

But this answer is also quite problematic. As atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel writes,

Consciousness is the most conspicuous obstacle to a comprehensive naturalism that relies only on the resources of physical science.  The existence of consciousness seems to imply that the physical description of the universe, in spite of its richness and explanatory power, is only part of the truth, and that the natural order is far less austere than it would be if physics and chemistry accounted for everything.  If we take this problem seriously, and follow out its implications, it threatens to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture.

Why is it that philosophers are so concerned about where the mind (consciousness) fits into reality? According to Nagel, this entire mind-body problem stems from our philosophical forefathers.

The modern mind-body problem arose out of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, as a direct result of the concept of objective physical reality that drove that revolution.  Galileo and Descartes made the crucial conceptual division by proposing that physical science should provide a mathematically precise quantitative description of an external reality extended in space and time, a description limited to spatiotemporal primary qualities such as shape, size, and motion, and to laws governing the relations among them.

Subjective appearances, on the other hand — how this physical world appears to human perception — were assigned to the mind, and the secondary qualities like color, sound, and smell were to be analyzed relationally, in terms of the power of physical things, acting on the senses, to produce those appearances in the minds of observers.  It was essential to leave out or subtract subjective appearances and the human mind — as well as human intentions and purposes — from the physical world in order to permit this powerful but austere spatiotemporal conception of objective physical reality to develop.

Philosopher Edward Feser argues that this move by Galileo and Descartes was a massive blunder and in part 2 we will see why that is.

Why Is Physicalism Self-Refuting? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1 of this series, we argued that physicalism and determinism are self-refuting because they undermine rationality.  At the end of part 1, we said that there are three conditions of rationality that physicalism does not allow, and Dr. Moreland explains them below:

First, humans must have genuine intentionality; they must be capable of having thoughts and sensory awareness of or about the things they claim to know. For example, one must be able to see or have rational insight into the flow of an argument if one is going to claim that a conclusion follows from a set of premises. We can simply see that if you have: 1) If P, then Q, and, 2) P, therefore, you also have, 3) Q. This requires an awareness of the logical structure of the syllogism itself.

 As we saw earlier in this chapter, intentionality is a property of mental states, not physical ones. Thus, this first feature of rationality is incompatible with physicalism . . . . Intentionality is not a physical property.

The second factor is the enduring I.  Moreland explains:

Second, in order to rationally think through a chain of reasoning such that one sees the inferential connections in the chain, one would have to be the same self present at the beginning of the thought process as the one present at the end. As Immanuel Kant argued long ago, the process of thought requires a genuine enduring I.

In the syllogism above, if there is one self who reflects on premise 1), namely, “If P, then Q,” a second self who reflects on premise 2), namely, “P,” and a third self who reflects on the concluding statement 3), namely, “Q,” then there is literally no enduring self who thinks through the argument and draws the conclusion. As H. D. Lewis noted, “One thing seems certain, namely that there must be someone of something at the centre of such experiences to hold the terms and relations together in one stream of consciousness.”  

However, we have already seen in a previous blog post that physicalism denies a literal, enduring I, and thus physicalism is at odds with this necessary condition of rationality.

The third necessary condition for rationality is libertarian freedom of the will.

Finally, rationality seems to presuppose an agent view of the self and genuine libertarian freedom of the will. There are rational “oughts.” Given certain evidence, I “ought” to believe certain things. I am intellectually responsible for drawing certain conclusions, given certain pieces of evidence. If I do not choose that conclusion, I am irrational.

But “ought” implies “can.” If I ought to believe something, then I must have the ability to choose to believe it or not believe it. If one is to be rational, one must be free to choose her beliefs in order to be reasonable. Often I deliberate about what I am going to believe, or I deliberate about the evidence for something. But such deliberations make sense only if I assume that what I am going to do or believe is “up to me”—that I am free to choose and, thus, I am responsible for irrationality if I choose inappropriately. But we have already seen that physicalism . . .  rule[s] out libertarian freedom.

Moreland, thus, concludes that physicalism rules out the possibility for rationality.  “It is self-refuting to argue that one ought to choose physicalism . . . on the basis of the fact that one should see that the evidence is good for physicalism. Thus, substance dualism is the best view of the self and is most consistent with the preconditions of rationality.”

Why Is Physicalism Self-Refuting? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the previous post, we saw that physicalism seems to inevitably lead to determinism.  Determinism, if you recall, means that every event, including all of your thoughts, feelings, desires, and choices, is determined by the physical conditions antecedent to it.  The renowned atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell said it this way: 

When a man acts in ways that annoy us we wish to think him wicked, and we refuse to face the fact that his annoying behavior is a result of antecedent causes which, if you follow them long enough, will take you beyond the moment of his birth and therefore to events for which he cannot be held responsible by any stretch of imagination.

If determinism is true, then what follows?  J. P. Moreland points out that “a number of philosophers have argued that physicalism . . .  must be false because [it] impl[ies] determinism and determinism is self-refuting.”  Moreland quotes J. R. Lucas speaking of the determinist:

If what he says is true, he says it merely as the result of his heredity and environment, and of nothing else. He does not hold his determinist views because they are true, but because he has such-and-such stimuli; that is, not because the structure of the universe is such-and-such but only because the configuration of only part of the universe, together with the structure of the determinist’s brain, is such as to produce that result. . . . Determinism, therefore, cannot be true, because if it was, we should not take the determinists’ arguments as being really arguments, but as being only conditioned reflexes. Their statements should not be regarded as really claiming to be true, but only as seeking to cause us to respond in some way desired by them.

Moreland also quotes H. P. Owens:

Determinism is self-stultifying. If my mental processes are totally determined, I am totally determined either to accept or to reject determinism. But if the sole reason for my believing or not believing X is that I am causally determined to believe it, I have no ground for holding that my judgment is true or false.

Determinism, and therefore, physicalism, then appear to be self-refuting.  It might be helpful to flesh this out more.  Moreland argues that physicalism, itself, undermines rationality.  The physicalist cannot claim to know that physicalism is true, or claim to believe in physicalism for good reasons, because to know something is true for good reasons requires at least three factors be assumed.

These three factors are intentionality, an enduring I, and genuine libertarian free will.  All three of these are conditions of rationality will be discussed in part 2 of this series.

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 8

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Last post we looked at the issue of personal identity through change.  Dualists explain this phenomenon by positing the existence of a soul which remains constant throughout a person’s life.  Physicalists, however, deny that there is an absolute sense of personal identity, but this creates problems for their view.  J. P. Moreland draws out those problems below:

First, the fact that I can have a memory that an earlier self had presupposes that I am the same person as that alleged earlier self. Memory presupposes personal identity; it does not constitute it.

Second, in self-awareness I seem to be aware of the fact that I am literally the same self that continues to exist throughout my life and that unites my stream of consciousness into one stream that is mine. How can a physicalist . . . explain this basic awareness?

Third, why should I ever fear the future, say, going to the dentist next week? When the day arrives, I will not be present; rather, another self who looks like me (or has my memories) will be there, but I will have ceased to exist. The same issue arises with any emotion or attitude related to the future.

Fourth, why should anyone be punished? The self who did the crime in the past is not literally the same self who is present at the time of punishment.

Dr. Moreland summarizes the problems faced by the physicalist:

Physicalism . . . seems to require a radical readjustment of these basic, commonsense notions because these notions presuppose a literal, absolute sense of sameness through change, and this makes sense only if the soul is a substance that is a continuant (something that remains the same through change). If the intuitions expressed in points one through four above are reasonable—and we maintain that they are—then this provides further evidence for substance dualism.

The cumulative case for dualism and against physicalism continues to mount, but we have not even touched on some of the most important problems for physicalism.  In future posts, we will look at the issues of free will, morality, responsibility, and punishment.  Stay tuned!!

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 7

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The next major difference between mental and physical entities is how personal identity through change is handled.  Dr. Moreland asks us to…

Imagine a wooden table that had all its parts removed one by one and replaced with metal parts. Now suppose someone took the original wooden parts and made a new table.  Which one would be the original table – the metal one or the wooden one?  The answer seems to be clear.

The original table would be the wooden one. Why? Because if something is made out of stuff called parts, then it cannot remain identical to itself if it gains new parts and loses old ones. If a table here and now is going to be the very same table as one that was here, say an hour ago, this table must be made out of the same stuff as the one an hour ago. If not, then they are different tables. In general, physical objects cannot remain literally the same if they gain new parts and lose old ones.

But what about people?  How do we view the identity of human persons who are constantly losing parts?

Each moment I lose hundreds of thousands of skin cells, some hair, and other microscopic parts. In fact, every seven years my cells are almost entirely replaced. Do I maintain literal, absolute sameness through change?

Dualists argue that persons do maintain absolute identity through change, because they have, in addition to their bodies and current mental experiences or mental capacities (say, the capacity to remember a childhood event), a soul that remains constant through change. Personal identity is constituted by sameness of soul, not sameness of body or mental abilities, such as memory.

How do physicalists handle personal identity through change?

Physicalists . . . have no alternative but to hold that personal identity through change is not absolute. Usually they argue that persons are really ancestral chains of successive, momentary “selves” (called person-stages) that are connected with one another in some way. At each moment a new self exists (since the organism is constantly in flux, gaining new parts and mental experiences and losing old parts and mental experiences), and this self resembles the self prior to and after it.

The relation of resemblance between selves, plus the fact that later selves have the same memories as earlier selves and the body of each self traces a continuous path through space when the whole chain of selves is put together, constitutes a relative sense of identity. At this moment I merely resemble a self that existed a moment ago: My body resembles that body; my memories resemble the memories of that earlier self; my body was reached by the body of the earlier self through a continuous spatial path.

So substance dualists hold to a literal, absolute sense of personal identity, and physicalists . . . hold to a loose, relative sense of personal identity that amounts to a stream of successive selves held together by resemblance between each self in the stream— similarity of memory or brain, similarity of character traits, and/or spatial continuity. But this perspective creates certain problems for physicalism.

Next post we will look at the problems it creates.

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 6

Post Author: Bill Pratt

After a little break from this series, it is time to pick it up again because there is plenty more to discuss.  Philosopher J. P. Moreland explains yet another way that mental and physical entities differ: the first person perspective.

A complete physicalist description of the world would be one in which everything would be exhaustively described from a third-person point of view in terms of objects, properties, processes, and their spatiotemporal locations. For example, a description of an apple in a room would go something like this: “There exists an object three feet from the south wall and two feet from the east wall, and that object has the property of being red, round, sweet,” and so on.

The first-person point of view is the vantage point that I use to describe the world from my own perspective.  Expressions of a first-person point of view utilize what are called indexicals—words such as I, here, now, there, then.  Here and now are where and when I am; there and then are where and when I am not. Indexicals refer to me, myself. “I” is the most basic indexical, and it refers to my self that I know by acquaintance with my own consciousness in acts of self-awareness. I am immediately aware of my own self, and I know who “I” refers to when I use it: It refers to me as the owner of my body and mental states.

But how does physicalism handle the first-person point of view that we all clearly have?  Is there room for the first-person perspective?  Moreland thinks not.

According to physicalism, there are no irreducible, privileged first-person perspectives. Everything can be exhaustively described in an object language from a third-person perspective. A physicalist description of me would say, “There exists a body at a certain location that is five feet, eight inches tail, weighs 160 pounds,” and so forth.

But no amount of third-person descriptions captures my own subjective, first-person acquaintance of my own self in acts of self-awareness. In fact, for any third-person description of me, it would always be an open question as to whether the person described in third-person terms was the same person as I am.

I do not know my self because I know some third-person description of a set of mental and physical properties and I also know that a certain person satisfies that description. I know myself as a self immediately through being acquainted with my own self in an act of self-awareness. I can express that self-awareness by using the term “I.”

“I” refers to my own substantial soul. It does not refer to any mental property or bundle of mental properties I am having, nor does it refer to anybody described from a third-person perspective. “I” is a term that refers to something that exists, and “I” does not refer to any object or set of properties described from a third-person point of view.  Rather, “I” refers to my own self with which I am directly acquainted and which, through acts of self-awareness, I know to be the substantial possessor of my mental states and my body.

It seems that the physicalist cannot account for the first-person perspective that we all have.  Surely this is a serious deficiency in any theory that attempts to explain what human beings are.

Continue with part 7 of the series.

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 5

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the book Beyond Death, philosopher J. P. Moreland continues to review differences between the mental and the physical.  The next point of departure is the awareness each of us has of our own self.  Here is Moreland:

When we pay attention to our own consciousness, we can become aware of a very basic fact presented to us: We are aware of our own self (ego, I, center of self-consciousness) as being distinct from our body and from any particular mental experience we have.  We simply have a basic, direct awareness of the fact that I am not identical to my body or my mental events; rather, I am a self that has a body and a conscious mental life.

Moreland offers the following experiment in case you doubt his point:

Right now I am looking at a chair in my office.  As I walk toward the chair, I experience a series of what are called phenomenological objects or chair representations.  That is,  I have several different chair experiences that replace one another in rapid succession.  As I approach the chair, my chair sensations change shape and grow bigger.  Further, because of the lighting in my study my chair experiences change color slightly.  Now the chair doesn’t change in size, shape, or color; but my chair experiences do.

I am, of course, aware of all the different experiences of the chair during the fifteen seconds it takes me to walk across my study.  But if I pay attention, I am also aware of two more things.  First, I do not simply experience a series of sense-images of a chair. Rather, through self-awareness, I also experience the fact that it is I myself who has each chair experience.  Each chair sensation produced at each angle of perspective has a perceiver who is I.  An “I” accompanies each sense experience to produce a series of awarenesses – “I am experiencing a chair sense-image now.”

I am also aware of the basic fact that the same self that is currently having a fairly large chair experience (as my eyes come to within 12 inches of the chair) is the very same self as the one who had all of the other chair experiences preceding this current one.  In other words, through self-awareness I am aware of the fact that I am an enduring I who was and is (and will be) present as the owner of all the experiences in the series.

So what does this mean for dualism and physicalism?

These two facts – I am the owner of my experiences, and I am an enduring self who exists as the same possessor of all my experiences through time – show that I am not identical to my experiences.  I am the thing that has them.  In short, I am a mental substance.  Only a single, enduring self can relate and unify experiences, a fact that . . . physicalists cannot adequately account for or explain away.

Continue with part 6 of the series.