Philosophy of mind review

I recently read A Brief Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind, a short undergraduate text. I didn’t understand some bits, but I’m not sure if that’s because the book wasn’t that good or philosophy isn’t or I’m not. Here I list them, for you to enlighten me on:

1. It’s apparently standard to use what you do or don’t want to believe as evidence for what is true. E.g. A legitimate criticism of parallelism and epiphenomenalism is that they are ‘fatalistic’. If a theory means that aliens wouldn’t feel the same as us, then it is too anthropomorphic. The problem of other minds implies that we don’t know how others feel, but we tend to assume we do, therefore we do and anything that implies otherwise is wrong. “Externalism, then, opens the door to an unpalatable form of skepticism, and this is reason enough to adopt internalism instead.” Is there some legit reason for this?

2. It’s apparently standard to use the fact that you can imagine a situation where the theory wouldn’t hold as evidence that it isn’t true. E.g. That you can imagine someone with a different brain state and the same mind state is evidence against their coincidence. You can imagine zombies, so functions or brain states can’t determine mental states. It would be correct to say that your previous concept of x can’t determine y if you can imagine it varying with the same y, but it’s not evidence that the concept can’t be extended to coincide.

3. An argument against the interaction between mind and brain necessary for dualism: “..The mind is non-physical and so does not occupy space. If the mind cannot occupy space, there can be no place in the brain or space where interaction happens”. Why does causality have to take up space?

4. Parallelism (the version of dualism where there is no interaction between mind and body, but it so happens that they coincide, thanks to God or something else conveniently external) is not criticized for the parallel existence of a physical world being completely unnecessary to explain what we see if it doesn’t interact with our minds.

5. An argument given against brain states coinciding with mental states is that a variety of brain states produce roughly the same mental states – for instance hearing the sound of bells ringing coincides with quite different brain states in someone whose brain has been partly damaged and the relevant parts replaced by other neuroplastic brain regions, but we assume the experience is basically the same. Similarly, for reasons mentioned in 1 we would like to think aliens with different brains have the same feelings. Apparently, ‘these kinds of considerations have motivated philosophers (e.g., Jerry Fodor) to adopt an idea called the principle of multiple realization. According to this principle…the same type…of mental state, such as the sensation of pain, can exist in a variety of different complex physical systems. Thus it is possible for…forms of life to share the same kinds of mental states though they might have nothing in common at the physical level. This principle…has led many philosophers to abandon the identity theory as a viable theory of mind.’ But the evidence that other people or creatures have similar mental states to you is by analogy to you, and analogy becomes weaker as you know their brains are significantly different – there is no reason to suppose that a different creature feels exactly the same as you. Also you can say brain states coincide with mental states while maintaining that a broad class of brain states correspond to similar mental states. Obviously a variety of brain states coincide with variations on ‘hearing bells ring’ if you can hear bells ring while hearing other things, or after you have learned something, or when you are sleepy. You can say the brain states have something in common without requiring they be identical. There is no evidence that they have ‘nothing in common physically’. I don’t see why there being more than one exact brain state that coincides with apparent pain refutes an identity between brains and minds.

6. Functionalism is put forward as an explanation of consciousness. It doesn’t seem to explain qualia, because someone with an inverted colour spectrum of qualia would presumably behave the same. To which functionalists apparently argue that this doesn’t matter that much and such differences between experiences are probably common by virtue of functions being implemented differently in different brains. But if brain states other than functions characterize conscious experience, it seems you have gone back to some theory where any old non-functional brain states determine mental states anyway. Or does the presence of just any ‘function’ cause awareness, then other things determine what the awareness is of? What classes as a ‘function’ anyway? Something that evolution was actually trying to achieve?

7. To decide whether folk psychology can be eliminated by eliminative materialism, one question given is whether it is a theory (because there is a precedent of other theories being eliminated). The fact that it gives false predictions sometimes and we don’t discard it is said to show it isn’t a theory. “If a scientific theory yields even one false prediction, this is usually reason enough to think it is a bad theory and ought to be abandoned or amended”. True for some theories maybe, but not for theories about likely behavior  of messy systems, such as those in social science and psychology. And why can’t it be eliminated if it’s not a theory? If it’s something like a theory except wrong more often, does that protect it somehow?

8. Supervenience is the idea that mental properties depend on physical ones, but can’t be reduced to them entirely. Arguments given against this: a) Supervenience wouldn’t imply that physical properties cause mental ones – it could still be vice versa. We want to think physical properties are primary for some unexplained reason. Therefore supervenience is unsatisfactory. But if physical properties causing mental is necessary in a theory for some reason, doesn’t that just narrow it down to ‘supervenience + physical causes mental’ theory being true? b) Supervenience doesn’t actually explain anything – it just describes the relationship. But what is an explanation other than a simpler description which includes the phenomena you wanted explained? What would an explanation look like?

9. What determines the content of a mental state? Internalism says the contents of your mind, externalism says your relationships to external things. Seems like a pointless definition question – supplying a label and asking what it defines. You can categorize thoughts according to either. I must be missing something here.

7 responses to “Philosophy of mind review

  1. 1. No
    2. Someone is confusing conceivablity with metaphysical possibility (maybe you, maybe the book).
    3. I am very amused to see an argument against dualism begin with the phrase “The mind is non-physical”. Who wrote that?
    4. Possibly the book only touched briefly on parallelism, because this position has pretty much no defenders. But, yes, I agree with your point.
    5. Because we don’t have direct access to anyone’s qualitative experience but our own, some significant assumptions are required to say much of anything about philosophy of mind. It’s not an ideal epistemic situation, but maybe it’s no worse than the optimistic assumptions needed to support any sort of realism.
    6. An area of very active dispute in the field.
    7. Science is better understood as a process which judges between different extant theories. We don’t have any very predictively successful theories of mind, so we hang on to the best we have even if it’s not very good.
    8. That is not how I understand the notion of supervenience. See the SEP.
    9. I’ve never understood the internal/external debate either. Don’t ask me.

  2. mitchell porter

    1. “Is there some legit reason for this?” No, there’s no special exemption for philosophers here, this really is just a fallacy.

    2. Whether an imagined counterexample matters depends on the sort of argument being countered. If someone says the world is three-dimensional, and I say I can imagine a two-dimensional world, it’s obviously irrelevant. But if someone says the world just had to be three-dimensional and anything else is impossible, then my imagined counterexample is relevant and they have some explaining to do.

    3. Another genuinely bad argument. It sounds like the sort of argument a person produces when A, B, C and D are all linked in their mind (in this case, space, matter, interaction, and causality), and then someone else wants to just have C and D. The first person will pose questions meant to be critical but which just presuppose the conceptual linkage.

    4. I looked up the book you read at Google Books, and before the preview ran out saw that the positions considered are materialism and dualism. This overlooks idealism, i.e. mind only. Perhaps this explains why your criticism of psychophysical parallelism was overlooked – because it would involve a mind-only ontology. But I’m sure your criticism has been made many times before.

    5. I think the development of ideas was something like this: First, you have dualism. A brain is one thing, a mind is something else. Then you have identity theory – the mind is the brain. Then you have this “multiple realization” objection: if you can have that same mind state in a completely different brain, or in something that’s not a brain at all, then the identity theory was wrong. So then you have functionalism, according to which function or causal role is the common property shared by the different realizations of the same mental state. But apparently some people went another way and decided to half-concede the point. They still say that mind states are brain states, but that there’s no logic or pattern to the relationship. And this is called “anomalous monism”. It seems like a pointless position to adopt but my sense is that people do that when they think it’s necessary – when they have no better ideas, e.g. they reject or never thought of functionalism.

    6. Perhaps someone who is a functionalist can answer those questions. (My view is that causal role is definitely relevant to mind, but it’s not everything.)

    7. One blogger says “desires and beliefs are phenomenological givens; they are not theoretic posits”. The argument is that the entities referred to in folk psychology are definitely there; so we may get to know them better, but they will never actually disappear from a theory that is true. It may be that this dispute over “whether folk psychology is a theory” is an inhibited attempt to say the same thing, by people whose epistemology doesn’t let them say it.

    8. a) Your observation sounds valid. b) An explanation is supposed to say why. You could try to explain why supervenience occurs – if mental is a separate and logically distinct level of being, why don’t we just have the physical? Is there some reason why supervenience occurs? But I am not a supervenientist so it’s not my problem.

    9. It seems that nowadays people say that some of the content is internally determined and some of it externally determined. So if I think about you, there’s the concept of you that I have, and then there’s the actual you. My concept of you is internal, the actual you is external, and any realistic analysis of my thought of you will have to talk about both in some way. For example, Husserl’s analysis of mental states includes a noema and a noesis, and in the example, the content of the noema is determined by my concept of you, and the content of the noesis is determined by the actual you. (I think.) However, there have been theories of mind which go entirely to one extreme. In particular, I think there have been purely externalist theories of mental content. It’s like epistemology, where there are “rationalists” and “empiricists”, and then there are people like Kant who say you get knowledge from some combination of reason and experience.

  3. Katja,

    You might be interested in a short paper called A Brief Explanation of Consciousness at http://www.scribd.com/doc/22188289/A-Brief-Explanation-of-Consciousness . I think it is relevant to a lot of the issues you raise and it addresses them in a very straightforward manner.

  4. @Jacob
    Some philosophers have claimed that science is a system for judging between existent theories, and some scientists have believed them due to being bad at philosophy but it’s just not the case. To a very great extent, experimental data create the theories. Science is largely going out, looking at things that few people look at and recording what you have seen. Until you have seen a person with a particular type of brain damage, the possibility of the corresponding cognitive deficits would seem preposterous. Ditto until you have seen a platypus or an elephant or a magnet. Once you have seen them your hypothesis is formed and confirmed at once. For some types of data you use simple math models to generate hypotheses and use experiments to distinguish between them, but that practice is by no means ubiquitous throughout the fields that go by the term “science”.

  5. Gah. Any sentence beginning with the words “Science is…” is going to be a philosophical disaster if you really expect it to answer the question of “What Is Science?” — the question just isn’t well posed.

    That said, I stand by the narrow point I was making: Folk psychology is still with us because we don’t really have a better theory. And this is hardly the first time scientists have found themselves stuck with an inadequate theory and no better alternatives.

  6. To me … mechanism, behavior, and encoding are separable albeit related. Similarity in one, two or three of the above are possible, i.e, with dissimilarity in the rest. Understanding is lossy too.

    What’s ‘same’ btwn mental states is fuzzy, of time-limited significance, and often plastically mobile.

    It’s certainly possible that some specialized mechanisms have developed, so over time some combinations of mechanism, behavior and encoding dominate others. But I don’t see why, for instance, generative grammar couldn’t have started accidentally and then spread quickly.

    Re “functionalism”, I’d recommend to look at Ruth Millikan’s casting of it as the social or external reason a given capability is *copied* or *reproduced*, rather than as an engine itself.

  7. “Why does causality have to take up space?”

    it’s a deep question indeed and a bit silly like those journalists ask where the opponent is forced to answer “yes!” (if he’s a political figure that is, if he/she’s a renegate of course she will answer ‘no’ otherwise she wouldn’t be there to discuss her issues”

    I dont know why it disturbs me a bit we will run into all sorts of cyclical arguments

    of course if there is space then automatically there opens up causality (moving from one point to the other)
    or does the need for causality create the space?

    it depends on your mood if you want to prove something then causality exists
    if you dont want to prove anything then there is no causality it doesn’t enter your discource

    to me causality doesn’t exist it exists only for the police

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