Is the mechanistic explanation of persons reasonable?

Before I get overwhelmed by all the intelligentsia on this thread. Isn’t consciousness, also known as sentience, essential to the nature of all living organisms?

Seems to me that some kind of information produced by the senses or electrical impulses or some other kind of mechanics would be connected to thoughts, emotions, and decisions; but, consciousness is de facto.

You must point out the sentient shallots and conscious cucumbers you obviously have in the States. :smiley:

There’s a fun idea called the Sentience Quotient – “the relationship between the information processing rate (bit/s) of each individual processing unit (neuron), the weight/size of a single unit and the total number of processing units (expressed as mass)”.

Each degree on this scale is an order of magnitude above the previous, and apparently plants have an SQ of -2, dogs +4 and humans +13, the most advanced possible alien apparently weighing in at a hefty +50.

(I don’t believe any of it either :)).

Both neuro-science and the immateriality of the mind are compatible. Both can be accepted. The problem arises when neuro-scientists overstep their bounds and say that correlation of certain intellectual processes equals causation–but then we can always disprove the overstep or at least show that the overstep is unfounded.

There are strong reasons, both philosophical and from everyday experience, to accept the position of the immateriality of the mind. But in order to go down that road one needs to define his terms.

Definitions from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition
Sentience 1. a sentient quality or state 2. feeling or sensation as distinguished from perception and thought.
Sentient 1. responsive to or conscious of sense impressions 2. AWARE (capitalization that of the Dictionary) 3. finely sensitive in perception or feeling.

This dictionary has numerous definitions for consciousness and conscious. In general, they point to the same aspect of living organisms. A 1982 American Heritage Dictionary does list consciousness as a definition for sentience and conscious as a definition for sentient. Both dictionaries use the same Latin source *“sentire, *to perceive, feel” for sentient.

As I read current science literature, it seems that consciousness or conscious is used in regard to humans and sentience or sentient used in regard to animals.
In either case, both consciousness and sentience are part of the individual nature.

Regarding your first comment. “You must point out the sentient shallots and conscious cucumbers you obviously have in the States. :D”

I don’t garden. Yet, it could very well be that since plants depend on some form of nourishment, they could be considered as having consciousness or sentience.

On the other hand, we do have plenty of humans and animals which are sentient, i.e., conscious according to their nature.

Defining usage of terms is extremely important.

There was a recent study on areas in the brain which would be the source of volition in the anatomy. In a broad sense, one could say that a mechanistic or materialistic explanation of human nature could be possible because movement of limbs resulted from direct stimulation to the brain by a bipolar electrode during awake brain surgery. This would be acceptable by those who do not believe that human nature, in itself, unites *both *the material world *and *the spiritual world–in other words–the human person is only a decomposing anatomy. Those who believe in the unique unification of both the rational *and *corporal in a human person would say that this type of anatomical mechanization is not all there is to a human being–in other words–the spiritual principle in humans is absolutely real.

It is not all that necessary to go into details of this particular brain study. The point is that a complete definition of terms has to be established. At times, the Catholic Church does have its own definitions. When looking at the methods and materials of this particular brain study, it is easily recognizable that the results in no way could apply to the Catholic concept of free will as a function of the spiritual soul.

While I obviously won’t agree about the immaterial :), yes it’s very important to define the concepts. I may be coming at it from a different angle though.

One way to define the words is that all animals, including humans, are supposed to have sentience to some degree, but only humans are supposed to also have the fancy stuff like creativity, intellect and self reflection. I say supposed to because from an analytical point of view all these words are very loosely defined. Compare, for instance with any definition at random from my handy dictionary of physics: time - a dimension that enables two otherwise identical events that occur at the same point in space to be distinguished. :cool:

There used to be an article in the Stanford encyclopaedia of philosophy purely about the history of attempts to define consciousness :eek:, and it included I think eighteen separate facets with philosophers still adding new ones. I can’t find it now, maybe it’s been removed, but you can get a flavor of the problem from the article on consciousness.

But note how it starts: Perhaps no aspect of mind is more familiar or more puzzling than consciousness and our conscious experience of self and world. The problem of consciousness is arguably the central issue in current theorizing about the mind.

So there it is again - “theorizing about the mind” has a problem. The old theoretical approach is top-down, while the new approach (neuroscience, etc.) is bottom-up, and it may well be that old concepts such as sentience and consciousness will fall by the wayside in favor of new more tightly defined ideas.

First, such theorizing has only recently become much more problematic than it used to be. I am here talking about the onset of modern philosophy. There were problems back then, but not as much as there is now in contemporary philosophy.
Second, it sounds like you are pitting philosophy against science. I posit that the philosophy is much more general, even to the point of sometimes coming up with theories that encompass all possible experience (which means that if the arguments are true, any findings of science could not be general enough to provide a counterexample).

Philosophy has very tight definitions. It’s just that not many agree on those definitions nowadays.
But go around with your physics definition of time and see how much disagreement you will garner.

The laugh is on you!

[quote]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:
[/quote]

Not if we take your statements at their face value - unless your concept of God is materialistic…

[quote]All explanation has a foundation and for you it is avowedly physical

:Thank you kindly young sir.
[/quote]

I’m not young, I’m not entitled and I’m not mistaken! :slight_smile:

[quote]It is certainly forceful but it is an objective statement - although in reality materialism is pseudo

scientific 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?
[/quote]

Wise researchers are not so presumptuous as to claim that** all **human behaviour will be explained by neuroscience…

[quote]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?
[/quote]

Why postulate more than one when your perceptions don’t indicate that you have more than one?

What’s to stop immaterial minds becoming marauding hordes?

The principle of economy!

[quote]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. 

[/quote]

I accept the inexplicable nature of the Supreme Being whereas you imply that everything is ultimately explicable by science. After all, matter is not such a hard nut to crack, is it? As you observed:

“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.”

[quote]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?
[/quote]

Science is at the lowest level because it answers questions about the least important aspects of reality. You won’t choose your life partner or friends on the basis of what you can see with a scanner or microscope. Technology won’t tell you anything about truth, goodness, freedom, justice or love…

[quote]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.

[/quote]

In other words you cannot refute my statement! :wink:

This article ought to get to the heart of the matter

bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-14886421

Could a robot be conscious?

I like how the opening paragraph immediately takes a position Tonyrey would question!

‘Human beings are made of flesh and blood - a mass of brawn and bone suffused with an intricate arrangement of nerve tissue. They belong to the physical world of matter and causes and yet they have a remarkable property - from time to time they are conscious.’

flesh, blood, brawn, bone, nerves, are all part of the physical world. What is your point?

No, I’m saying attempts to explain something as sophisticated and complex as the mind is a huge project, perhaps the biggest ever, and the methods used by the old theorists are completely unsuitable. The problem is they have no mile stones where they can check whether they’re on the right course. Look at the literature, they’ve been at it for centuries, haven’t really got that far, and are still squabbling amongst themselves.

On the other hand, those who set their sights much lower and just try to explain one piece of the jigsaw have a much smaller project and have the means to know when they’re correct. Then others can build on that work by explaining the next piece, and so on.

I’m criticizing the use of the old methodology for a project of this magnitude, not whether folk happen to call themselves scientists or philosophers.

Philosophy has very tight definitions. It’s just that not many agree on those definitions nowadays.
But go around with your physics definition of time and see how much disagreement you will garner.

I don’t understand why you’re trying to drive a wedge between philosophy and science. If you want tight definitions, buy these or similar books:

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41JfCAr8OpL.SL500_AA240.jpg

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/511hkU2hz5L.SL500_AA240.jpg

Is this where we’re supposed to go “grrrrrr” at each other? :smiley:

Wise researchers are not so presumptuous as to claim that* all ***human behaviour will be explained by neuroscience…

Indeed, it does sound unlikely that the science of the nervous system would expect to explain all human behavior. :rolleyes:

Why postulate more than one when your perceptions don’t indicate that you have more than one?

Are you saying your mind and mine are the same? That sounds very Eastern.

What I’m asking is when I get in a plane and fall into a deep sleep, how does an immaterial mind stay with me, does it have GPS or something? How could this ghost in a machine make me move my muscles? How can it interact with flesh and bone is any way at all and yet never show up on any instruments? :confused:

*I accept the inexplicable nature of the Supreme Being whereas you imply that everything is ultimately explicable by science. After all, matter is not such a hard nut to crack, is it? As you observed:

“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.”

Hmmm… as I was talking about the mind at the time, you don’t feel by “everything” I could have been saying “everything to do with what we’re talking about” rather than “everything in the entire cosmos”? Incidentally, God is not a thing.

Science is at the lowest level because it answers questions about the least important aspects of reality. You won’t choose your life partner or friends on the basis of what you can see with a scanner or microscope. Technology won’t tell you anything about truth, goodness, freedom, justice or love…

If the only reason you started this thread was to have yet another one of the ever popular science vs. whatever debates, I’m not playing and shall trudge home.

[quote]In other words you cannot refute my statement! :wink:

[/quote]

In your dreams :D. By way of reply, could you say (a) why you think it’s so bad if we are purely physical, (b) what evidence you have that any part of us is immaterial, and © how that would be any kind of an explanation at all…

Interesting. I like the last paragraph:

*And this creates a twist in our story. For if we managed to produce a robot that behaved just like one of us in all respects that might be a proof not of the consciousness of a robot or machine, but instead may be a convincing demonstration of how much we could manage to do without consciousness. *

Interesting ethical problems abound, such as if we can’t tell the difference between how something and someone behaves, do we have any right to say one has a soul and the other doesn’t.

Another interesting story this week (or I thought so :)) is about a system that detects our emotions by looking at our face:

bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14900800

Make all these interesting ethical problems go away. Forget machines. Consider you and your friends as a bunch of cows. You should be able to tell the difference between a dead cow and a live cow. One caution. Do not stand near a truck which says “fresh beef” on it.:eek:

Any reason not to report you for calling me a cow?

I do not understand who you are referring to when you talk about the old theorists. Because if it is in regards to philosophy, it would seem that some of the “old theorists” made considerable progress in what they were attempting to set out and do. With regards to the field of neuro-science, then such “old theorists” didn’t get very far. Are you talking about psychologists?

On the other hand, those who set their sights much lower and just try to explain one piece of the jigsaw have a much smaller project and have the means to know when they’re correct. Then others can build on that work by explaining the next piece, and so on.

If you are talking about scientists, then it is important to know that science really doesn’t work like that. They posit models that have predictive value based upon the evidence. Granted, I would say that the models work insofar as they have something true about them, but that is a far cry from the model being wholly correct. Indeed, we see evidence of this with the onset of new theories in physics that replace the old.

I’m criticizing the use of the old methodology for a project of this magnitude, not whether folk happen to call themselves scientists or philosophers.

One important question is if the philosophers in question tried to give an all-encompassing explanation of the human mind and brain in the first place, taking away any glory due to the scientists.

I don’t understand why you’re trying to drive a wedge between philosophy and science.

I am only pointing out the wedge that already exists. Both philosophy and science can have the same object, but they go about their inquires in very different ways. I don’t think they should all be lumped together as “old theorists”.

I was about to alert you that I am in a very cranky mood so don’t pay any attention to me. However, I did begin with the word “consider” which means the choice to be or not to be is in your camp. :wink:

On the other hand, if a mechanistic explanation for a human person is reasonable, i.e., the answer yes to thread title, why would there be an objection to cowness?
:shrug:

If it explains thought it is self-destructive… BTW Does your brain explain itself?!

[quote]Why postulate more than one when your perceptions don’t indicate that you have more than one?

Are you saying your mind and mine are the same? That sounds very Eastern.

[/quote]

You asked “I mean for instance how would an immaterial mind know which body it belonged with?”

What I’m asking is when I get in a plane and fall into a deep sleep, how does an immaterial mind stay with me, does it have GPS or something? How could this ghost in a machine make me move my muscles? How can it interact with flesh and bone is any way at all and yet never show up on any instruments?

How does the **machine **act non-mechanically?

[quote]I accept the inexplicable nature of the Supreme Being whereas you imply that everything is ultimately explicable by science. After all, matter is not such a hard nut to crack, is it? As you observed:

“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.”

Hmmm… as I was talking about the mind at the time, you don’t feel by “everything” I could have been saying “everything to do with what we’re talking about” rather than “everything in the entire cosmos”?
[/quote]

Then you should be more precise…

[quote]Science is at the lowest level because it answers questions about the least important aspects of reality. You won’t choose your life partner or friends on the basis of what you can see with a scanner or microscope. Technology won’t tell you anything about truth, goodness, freedom, justice or love…

If the only reason you started this thread was to have yet another one of the ever popular science vs. whatever debates, I’m not playing and shall trudge home.

[/quote]

Then trudge home into your mechanistic dungeon in high dudgeon! The fact remains that technology won’t tell you anything about truth, goodness, freedom, justice or love… whether you like it or not.

[quote]In other words you cannot refute my statement!

In your dreams.
[/quote]

In reality - unless you actually do so…

By way of reply, could you say (a) why you think it’s so bad if we are purely physical, (b) what evidence you have that any part of us is immaterial, and © how that would be any kind of an explanation at all.

(a) It’s not bad. It’s just false.
(b) Can you palpate your thoughts and decisions?
© It corresponds with our ability to comprehend abstract concepts and principles - which are beyond the scope of a lump of tissue in the skull. A mindless body is not worth having…

From what you said in post #26, you reckon the considerable progress made by some of these old theorists was to decide that the mind is immaterial, and hence beyond explanation. They took on far more than they could chew, threw up their hands, and in effect said it’s all too much, we dunno, and went off to quaff a few beers. Have a look at post #11 on my definitions.

If you are talking about scientists, then it is important to know that science really doesn’t work like that. They posit models that have predictive value based upon the evidence. Granted, I would say that the models work insofar as they have something true about them, but that is a far cry from the model being wholly correct. Indeed, we see evidence of this with the onset of new theories in physics that replace the old.

Of course science is provisional, it’s one of its strengths. The old approach is like a cave man trying to build a moon rocket without realizing there are many, many interim steps, there is much to first be learned. Explaining something as sophisticated as the mind can only come progressively.

*One important question is if the philosophers in question tried to give an all-encompassing explanation of the human mind and brain in the first place, taking away any glory due to the scientists. *

If philosophers already had the answers then scientists wouldn’t get any budget, would they? :rolleyes: And let’s not reduce this to the level of football supporters, fans of either the Philosophical Falcons or the Scientific Giants :).

Never a good idea to post while cranky. Oh, hang on, that would mean you’d never get to make any posts. :smiley:

Discussing a scientific explanation of mind does seem to crankify several Catholics on CAF though, and one day one of them might say why.

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