Is the mechanistic explanation of persons reasonable?

What are the mechanisms - if any(!) - by which electrical impulses produce consciousness, thoughts, emotions and decisions?

Good question

Thanks! It is also an extremely difficult one - but it is unreasonable to expect reality to fit into our scheme of things as easily as materialists make out. And believers often give the impression that we have God under our thumb. :slight_smile:

I like Rudolf Otto’s phrase: the “Mysterium tremendum et fascinans”…

It is probably the most difficult challenge materialism faces, but whether that will break it remains to be seen. The study of consciousness is where every discipline and scholarly approach can meet, and there are many semi-materialistic (at best) studies on it, so I’ll be watching with interest. I can’t offer much here, but perhaps it is worth thinking about what is meant by consciousness and what constitutes it - a self-narrative? The ability to perceive? My contribution is that there are degrees of consciousness, continuums of awareness and the specific mechanics of different sense organs ought to be differentiated. We might also want to question other minds, like the minds of dogs/cats/pets down to insects and things without brains, if indeed immateriality is assumed! I reckon the tremendous and fascinating mystery will be greater if God is not consulted immediately, and lesser if He is.

My response isn’t so much an answer as much as it is a reference to the begining of an answer. This is still a field in which there is still research and discoveries so I don’t think that any answer available today will be complete. If you dig deep enough you’ll progress from that what has been discovered to the areas still being researched.

I’m assuming by this question you are asking how lifeforms develop cognition. If you concentrate specifically electrical impulses (ion channels) you’ll be filtering out a lot of relevant information of the activity of brain cells. The two volume summary to which I was referred on this information is “Neuroconstructivism” by the Oxford University press.

Some of the books’s explanations are on emerging properties. The second chapter of volume 1 is titled “Encellment: the emerging function and morphology of neurons.” Based on past interactions I’ve had with you I get the impression that you find explanations that contain emerging properties and functionality to be disagreeable. If this is the case than pass over these books.

Cheers.

It may be reasonable on the surface but my thought is that, if this is true, then probably one of the main principles that would govern it is evolution. Here’s a problem I see though: If all my thoughts are merely the result of the firing of neurons, etc, then if I rob, say, an atheist and he cathches me and is mad at me I could defend myself by saying mechanical neurons told me to do it so I’m not responsible. My personal evolution of myself governed my actions.

A good question.

And a related one that should be easier, but I haven’t seen an answer for that either…

How are “instincts” formed, even in lower animals. And how are they transmitted to subsequent generations? Random mutations of DNA? LOL.

I won’t comment on your comment, but on the title of your post. In philosophy, if one talks about a mechanistic conception of the natural world, one is saying that final causality doesn’t exist.

Therefore, since there are some phenomena in man that cannot be rid of final causality, in principle, then a mechanistic conception of man is wrong. Reasonable with regards to truth, no. Reasonable with regards to philosophical argument, maybe–philosophy is not always easy!

There are certainly degrees of consciousness but the highest degree of consciousness of which we directly aware is our own. Pascal - who was no mean thinker - made the point that we are aware of the universe but the universe is not aware of us. It is difficult to overestimate the significance of the mind when interpreting reality. The astonishing success of science is clear evidence of its power. To reduce it to matter is quite unrealistic…

We might also want to question other minds, like the minds of dogs/cats/pets down to insects and things without brains, if indeed immateriality is assumed!

If you reject the reality of truth you are heading for total scepticism…

I reckon the tremendous and fascinating mystery will be greater if God is not consulted immediately, and lesser if He is.

I agree with you on that point.

Any explanation presupposes purpose! :slight_smile:

I’ll lay out my stall:

Up until relatively recently explanations of mind have been the province of theorists. Some may say it can never be explained, others that it’s immaterial, and overall, as with Freud, they’ve left at best a mixed legacy. We can all see that the human mind is very complicated and sophisticated so it never made much sense to try to explain it all in one go, but they didn’t have any choice. The main thing they have in common, apart from disagreeing, is a lack of data.

It’s only recently that new tools like fMRI have allowed imaging of the brain, and this has enabled a new approach. For instance, a researcher may want to understand memory loss due to aging, why it happens, can anything be done to combat it. So she will then want to know how memories are laid down and stored. She uses these new tools to find out exactly what happens in the brain and discovers that memories can be explained by physical processes alone.

Memory is then taken out of the realm of the theorists, and in the same way, little by little, year on year, everything will be explained without the old theorists.

Now currently we may believe the old theorists who say the mind isn’t the brain, or it can’t be explained or whatever, but we can also see value in the new approach because it leads to treatments for disorders and helps us understand ourselves. The research keeps on progressing, so the next generation will see even more value and listen to the old theorists less. Eventually no one will be left who thinks the mind isn’t the physical brain.

So your question can be reversed – is there any evidence (not theories :)) that this new research will be stopped dead in its tracks because a physical explanation of persons is unreasonable?

The close correlation of mental activity with brain activity is irrelevant to the issue. It remains a philosophical one. As Edward Feser explains, classical philosophy would exactly have expected such correlation *) (emphases in original):

edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/01/against-neurobabble.html

"Hence the A-T [Aristotelian-Thomist] theorist affirms that there will always be some material correlate to normal human intellectual activity – not as a reluctant concession forced on the theory by the successes of modern neuroscience, but, on the contrary, precisely as a prediction of the A-T position as it has been understood from the beginning. Were Aristotle and Aquinas to be made familiar with the sorts of neuroscientific discoveries frantically trumpeted by materialists as if they should be an embarrassment to the dualist, they would respond, with a shrug: “Of course. Told you so.”

“What A-T denies, again, is that the neurological level of description, however necessary, can ever suffice to account for intellectual activity. There will always in principle be some slack between the neuroscientific facts and the facts about the content of our thoughts – something even materialists like W. V. Quine and Donald Davidson have affirmed on philosophical grounds, and psychologists like Kagan have affirmed on empirical grounds.”

(In order to fully understand what Feser is saying here, you need to read the entire article.)

*) For example, Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century concluded such correlation from his observation of brain-damaged patients

Cool, just replace “some material correlate” with “a complete material correlate” and we’re done. :smiley:

"What A-T denies, again, is that the neurological level of description, however necessary, can ever suffice to account for intellectual activity.

It would seem blindingly obvious that intellectual activity can’t be explained at the level of neurons, that would be like trying to explain a golden eagle in terms of atoms. New models are needed, models outside his or anyone else’s current grasp because no one yet has enough information, the work has yet to be done. There’s no point in Feser working himself into a lather when the research didn’t start that long back and still has a way to go.

Feser’s a theorist thinking as old theorists do, trying to pick answers out of thin air. But by all means let the neurobabble theorists argue with the defeatisttwaddle theorists, the theorist sun is setting, and the sun doesn’t go round the earth any more. :cool:

You are denying the legitimate role of philosophy. Why can’t both the “theorists” and the scientists be correct? Often times philosophy is at such a deep and general level that no scientific discovery will invalidate it.

This is not a case of “philosophy of the gaps”. Any new scientific evidence won’t really matter in the debate.

No way am I denying a role to philosophy, and of course philosophers and scientists can both be correct. By theorist I mean scientist, philosopher, plumber, whatever, anyone and everyone who thinks they can explain something as complicated as the mind in one leap without any research, without any progressive development of ideas, without any validation, like cavemen trying to build a moon rocket.

Well that depends upon just what kind of explanation one is trying to give and what aspect(s) someone is trying to explain.

Okay.

Doesn’t intangible mean unclear, impalpable, in which case intangible data can’t really explain much. And surely thoughts, beliefs, emotions, etc. are the activity to be explained, not the explanation of the activity?

Memories cannot be explained by physical processes alone because they entail the intangible activity of the mind.

How so intangible?

Your faith in scientific materialism is touching but it is not supported by evidence. It does not follow that mental activity is caused by brain activity merely because they are related.

I like the double whammy of scientific and materialism :). But if mental activity is related to brain activity there’s a good chance it’s caused by brain activity, why wouldn’t it be?

The question doesn’t arise unless one is a physicalist/materialist - which is a view that needs justification. Why should persons be scientifically explicable given that science wouldn’t exist without persons? :rolleyes:

Not sure why one view needs justification when others seem to get off scot-free :rolleyes:. Are you saying that persons also aren’t philosophically or theologically explicable given philosophy and theology wouldn’t exist without persons?

Agreed that any given person and her exact behavior is ultimately inexplicable, but it sounds defeatist to give up on what drives persons in general and how we work.

Intangible data are very precise unless your thoughts and decisions are vague and obscure…

…impalpable, in which case intangible data can’t really explain much.

If one believes in God intangible data explain everything! It is only the materialist who regards palpability as a criterion of reality - a view that needs justification in view of facts like truth, justice, evil, purpose and love.

And surely thoughts, beliefs, emotions, etc. are the activity to be explained, not the explanation of the activity?

“Our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, principles, values, purposes and decisions are the most direct and the most efficient way to explain the activity of the mind.” All explanation has a foundation and for you it is avowedly physical:

Memory is then taken out of the realm of the theorists, and in the same way, little by little, year on year, **everything will be explained **without the old theorists.

Now currently we may believe the old theorists who say the mind isn’t the brain, or it can’t be explained or whatever, but we can also see value in the new approach because it leads to treatments for disorders and helps us understand ourselves. The research keeps on progressing, so the next generation will see even more value and listen to the old theorists less./** Eventually no one will be left who thinks the mind isn’t the physical brain.**

[quote]

[quote]How so intangible?

[/quote]

Impalpable! There is no way of palpating thoughts, principles, or decisions.

I like the double whammy of scientific and materialism.

It is certainly forceful but it is an objective statement - although in reality materialism is pseudoscientific because science cannot explain reality even though the proponents of scientism believe it eventually will achieve that feat.

But if mental activity is related to brain activity there’s a good chance it’s caused by brain activity, why wouldn’t it be?

Why couldn’t brain activity be caused by mental activity? Don’t you have any control over your thought processes? :slight_smile:

Not sure why one view needs justification when others seem to get off scot-free.

You believe physical phenomena get off scot-free. What causes them?

Are you saying that persons also aren’t philosophically or theologically explicable given philosophy and theology wouldn’t exist without persons?

Science is restricted to physical reality whereas persons are restricted to one aspect of reality as a whole. In the hierarchy of knowledge science is at the lowest level!

Agreed that any given person and her exact behavior is ultimately inexplicable, but it sounds defeatist to give up on what drives persons in general and how we work.

It is certainly defeatist to assume persons are driven solely by physical causes and can be explained as biological machines operated by blind processes…
[/quote]

:rotfl:

If one believes in God intangible data explain everything! It is only the materialist who regards palpability as a criterion of reality - a view that needs justification in view of facts like truth, justice, evil, purpose and love.

So now I can’t believe in God any more? :frowning:

All explanation has a foundation and for you it is avowedly physical:

Thank you kindly young sir.

It is certainly forceful but it is an objective statement - although in reality materialism is pseudoscientific because science cannot explain reality even though the proponents of scientism believe it eventually will achieve that feat.

Anyone who’s certain the mind isn’t physical would do well to egg on the researchers, knowing they’ll fail, to prove their point for them. Surely only those who are extremely worried they’ll succeed would argue against them even trying?

Why couldn’t brain activity be caused by mental activity? Don’t you have any control over your thought processes? :slight_smile:

How would that work? I mean for instance how would an immaterial mind know which body it belonged with? What’s to stop immaterial minds becoming marauding hordes?

*You believe physical phenomena get off scot-free. What causes them? *

Still not sure why my view needs justification and yours seems to get off scot-free. :slight_smile:

Science is restricted to physical reality whereas persons are restricted to one aspect of reality as a whole. In the hierarchy of knowledge science is at the lowest level!

Explain. You’re saying science is at the lowest level because it gets answers instead of contemplating its navel?

*It is certainly defeatist to assume persons are driven solely by physical causes and can be explained as biological machines operated by blind processes…
*

QUEEN: The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

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