Philosopher David W. Chalmers
. . . it seems clear that interactionist dualism is not incompatible with
physical theory, as we understand it today.
--- philosopher David Chalmers, "Moving Forward on the Problem of Consciousness" ---
[Abstract: My approach and presupposition in the collection of materials below is but a minor variation of this opinion of a prominent secular philosopher: that traditional Christian dualism and the notion of an immaterial soul (roughly or very broadly synonymous with the mind, self-awareness, or consciousness) are not incompatible with modern-day science or the "cutting-edge" of philosophical / psychological / neurological / quantum mechanics speculation on the classic mind-body problem, and do not (upon proper examination and reflection) contradict the findings of science. I am not intending to argue or imply that the Christian belief in the soul has been or could be proven by either science or philosophy; only that some form of dualism is epistemologically permissible without contradicting science or scientific method, or the most rigorous criteria of philosophy. In other words, it is an altogether respectable position, not a "foolish" or "outdated" one]
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. Daniel C. Dennett: The "Orthodox" Hard Materialist Viewpoint
II. Sir Karl R. Popper: Language and the Body-Mind Problem (Interactionism)
III. Alfred J. Freddoso: Good News, Your Soul Hasn't Died Quite Yet
IV. Alan Gijspers: The Mind and Consciousness
V. J. P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae: Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics
VI. Sir John C. Eccles: A Neuroscientist's Dualist View of the Mind / The Effect of Silent Thinking on the Cerebral Cortex
VII. Dallas Willard: On the Texture and Substance of the Human Soul
VIII. A.J. Rudd: What's Wrong With Physicalism: A Wittgensteinian Perspective
IX. Thomas Nagel: Review of John Searle's The Rediscovery of the Mind / What is it Like to be a Bat?
X. Michael Denton: Organism and Machine: The Flawed Analogy
XI. David J. Chalmers and John Searle: Closer to Truth Dialogues
XII. David J. Chalmers: Review in First Things and Interviews
XIII. David J. Chalmers: Papers on Consciousness and the New Philosophical "Dualism"
XIV. Douglas Groothuis: Minds, Bodies, and Persons
XV. Alvin Plantinga: An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism
One of the most prominent advocates of the "hard materialist" position in the fields of philosophy and science is Daniel C. Dennett, Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, and author of several books on science and consciousness. He is scathingly critical of dualism (even more than usual, for materialists), and minces no words, using descriptions such as "ludicrous," in the all-too-familiar dogmatic atheist fashion:
It continues to amaze me how attractive this position still is to many people. I would have thought a historical perspective alone would make this view seem ludicrous: over the centuries, every other phenomenon of initially "supernatural" mysteriousness has succumbed to an uncontroversial explanation within the commodious folds of physical science . . . The "miracles" of life itself, and of reproduction, are now analyzed into the well-known intricacies of molecular biology. Why should consciousness be any exception? Why should the brain be the only complex physical object in the universe to have an interface with another realm of being? Besides, the notorious problems with the supposed transactions at that dualistic interface are as good as a reductio ad absurdum of the view. The phenomena of consciousness are an admittedly dazzling lot, but I suspect that dualism would never be seriously considered if there weren't such a strong undercurrent of desire to protect the mind from science, by supposing it composed of a stuff that is in principle uninvestigatable by the methods of the physical sciences.
("Consciousness in Human and Robot Minds," For IIAS Symposium on Cognition, Computation and Consciousness, Kyoto, September 1-3, 1994; also in Ito, et al., eds., Cognition, Computation and Consciousness, OUP:
Dennett makes many such statements:
Vitalism -- the insistence that there is some big, mysterious extra ingredient in all living things -- turns out to have been not a deep insight but a failure of imagination. Inspired by that happy success story, we can proceed with our scientific exploration of consciousness If the day arrives when all these acknowledged debts are paid and we plainly see that something big is missing (it should stick out like a sore thumb at some point, if it is really important) those with the unshakable hunch will get to say they told us so. In the meantime, they can worry about how to fend off the diagnosis that they, like the vitalists before them, have been misled by an illusion.
("Consciousness: How much is that in real Money?," 2001)
Nobody would have taken vitalism seriously for a minute if the vitalists hadn't had a set of independently describable phenomena--of reproduction, metabolism, self-repair and the like--that their postulated fundamental life-element was hoped to account for. Once these phenomena were otherwise accounted for, vitalism fell flat, but at least it had a project.
("Facing Backwards on the Problem of Consciousness," published in Journal of Consciousness Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, 1996, 4-6)
As I like to put it, we are robots made of robots -- we're each composed of some few trillion robotic cells, each one as mindless as the molecules they're composed of, but working together in a gigantic team that creates all the action that occurs in a conscious agent . . . [we can] trade in the first-person perspective of Descartes and Kant for the third-person perspective of the natural sciences and answer all the questions -- without philosophically significant residue.
. . . In Consciousness Explained, (Dennett, 1991, 72) I described a method, heterophenomenology, which was explicitly designed to be
the neutral path leading from objective physical science and its insistence on the third-person point of view, to a method of phenomenological description that can (in principle) do justice to the most private and ineffable subjective experiences, while never abandoning the methodological principles of science.
("The Fantasy of First-Person Science," 2001)
The kindly God who lovingly fashioned each and every one of us (all creatures great and small) and sprinkled the sky with shining stars for our delight -- that God is, like Santa Claus, a myth of childhood, not anything a sane, undeluded adult could literally believe in. That God must either be turned into a symbol for something less concrete or abandoned altogether . . .
. . . good reductionism . . . is simply the commitment to non-question-begging science without any cheating by embracing mysteries or miracles at the outset . . . The most common fear about Darwin's idea is that it will not just explain but explain away the Minds and Purposes and Meanings that we all hold dear. People fear that once this universal acid has passed through the monuments we cherish, they will cease to exist, dissolved in an unrecognizable and unlovable puddle of scientistic destruction. This cannot be a sound fear; a proper reductionistic expanation of these phenomena would leave them still standing but just demystified, unified, placed on more secure foundations.
. . . Descartes and Locke, and more recently Edgar Allan Poe, Kurt Godel, and J.R. Lucas, thought that the alternative to a "mechanical" mind would be an immaterial mind, or a soul, to speak with tradition. . . . Quantum physics to the resuce! Several different proposals have been advanced over the years about how quantum effects might be harnessed to give the brain special powers beyond those of any ordinary computer. J.R. Lucas (1970) yearned to drag quantum physics into this arena, but he thought that the indeterminacy gaps of quantum physics would permit a Cartesian spirit to intercede, twiddling the neurons, in effect, to get some extra mind-power out of the brain, a doctrine that has also been energetically defended by Sir John Eccles, the Nobel-laureate neurophysiologist who has scandalized his colleagues for years with his unabashed dualism.
(Darwin's Dangerous Idea, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995, 18, 82, 445-446)
For another important treatment of the "hard materialist" position, see:
"The Hornswoggle Problem," by Patricia Smith Churchland
(Complete paper: http://www.ditext.com/popper/lbp.html)
(First published in the Proceedings of the 11th International Congress of Philosophy, Vol. VII : 101-107. Reprinted in Karl R. Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (New York: Basic Books, 1962] )
. . . This . . . is not a paper on linguistic analysis (the analysis of word-usages). For I completely reject the claim of certain language analysts that the source of philosophical difficulties is to be found in the misuse of language. No doubt some people talk nonsense, but I claim (a) that there does not exist a logical or language-analytical method of detecting philosophical nonsense (which, by the way, does not stop short of the ranks of logicians, language analysts and semanticists); (b) that the belief that such a method exists -- the belief more especially that philosophical nonsense can be unmasked as due to what Russell might have called 'type-mistakes' and what nowadays are sometimes called 'category-mistakes' -- is the aftermath of a philosophy of language which has since turned out to be baseless.
. . . As for the body-mind problem, I wish to reject the following two different theses of the language analyst. (1) The problem can be solved by pointing out that there are two languages, a physical and a psychological language, but not two kinds of entities, bodies and minds. (2) The problem is due to a faulty way of talking about minds, i.e. it is due to talking as if mental states exist in addition to behaviour, while all that exists is behaviour of varying character, for example, intelligent and unintelligent behaviour.
4. THE MACHINE ARGUMENT
4.1 A wall-thermometer may be said not only to express its internal state, but also to signal, and even to describe. (A self-registering one does so even in writing.) Yet we do not attribute the responsibility for the description to it; we attribute it to its maker. Once we understand this situation, we see that it does not describe, any more than my pen does: like my pen it is only an instrument for describing. But it expresses its own state; and it signals.
4.2 The situation outlined in 4.1 is fundamentally the same for all physical machines, however complicated.
4.21 It may be objected that example 4.1 is too simple, and that by complicating the machine and the situation we may obtain true descriptive behaviour. Let us therefore consider more complex machines. By way of concession to my opponents, I shall even assume that machines can be constructed to any behaviouristic specification.
4.22 Consider a machine (invested with a lens, an analyser, and a speaking apparatus) which pronounces, whenever a physical body of medium size appears before its lens, the name of this body ('cat'; 'dog', etc.) or says, in some cases, 'I don't know'. Its behaviour can be made even more human-like (1) by making it do this not always, but only in response to a stimulus question, 'Can you tell me what this thing is?', etc.; (2) by making it in a percentage of cases reply, 'I am getting tired, let me alone for a while', etc. Other responses can be introduced, and varied -- perhaps according to inbuilt probabilities.
4.23 If the behaviour of such a machine becomes very much like that of a man, then we may mistakenly believe that the machine describes and argues; just as a man who does not know the working of a phonograph or radio may mistakenly think that it describes and argues. Yet an analysis of its mechanism teaches us that nothing of this kind happens. The radio does not argue, although it expresses and signals.
4.24 There is, in principle, no difference between a wall-thermometer and the 'observing' and 'describing' machine discussed. Even a man who is conditioned to react to appropriate stimuli with the sounds 'cat' and 'dog', without intention to describe or to name, does not describe, although he expresses and signals.
4.25 But let us assume that we find a physical machine whose mechanism we do not understand and whose behaviour is very human. We may then wonder whether it does not, perhaps, act intentionally, rather than mechanically (causally, or probabilistically), i.e. whether it does not have a mind after all; whether we should not be very careful to avoid causing it pain, etc. But once we realize completely how it is constructed, how it can be copied, who is responsible for its design, etc., no degree of complexity will make it different in kind from an automatic pilot, or a watch, or a wall-thermometer.
4.3 Objections to this view, and to the view 3.3, are usually based on the positivistic doctrine of the identity of empirically indistinguishable objects. Two clocks, the argument goes, may look alike, although the one works mechanically and the other electrically, but their difference can be discovered by observation. If no difference can be so discovered, then there simply is none. Reply: if we find two pound notes which are physically indistinguishable (even as to the number) we may have good reason to believe that one of them at least is forged; and a forged note does not become genuine because the forgery is perfect or because all historical traces of the act of forgery have disappeared.
4.4 Once we understand the causal behaviour of the machine, we realize that its behaviour is purely expressive or symptomatic. For amusement we may continue to ask the machine questions, but we shall not seriously argue with it -- unless we believe that it transmits the arguments, both from a person and back to a person
4.5 This, I think, solves the so-called problem of 'other minds'. If we talk to other people, and especially if we argue with them, then we assume (sometimes mistakenly) that they also argue: that they speak intentionally about things, seriously wishing to solve a problem, and not merely behaving as if they were doing so it has often been seen that language is a social affair and that solipsism, and doubts about the existence of other minds, become self-contradictory if formulated in a language. We can put this now more clearly. In arguing with other people (a thing which we have learnt from other people), for example about other minds, we cannot but attribute to them intentions, and this means, mental states. We do not argue with a thermometer.
. . . The fear of obscurantism (or of being judged an obscurantist) has prevented most anti-obscurantists from saying such things as these. But this fear has produced, in the end, only obscurantism of another kind.
(see also, Popper's reply to criticisms of this paper by Professor Wilfrid Sellars:
(Complete paper: http://www.nd.edu/%7Eafreddos/papers/soul.htm)
My title is inspired by Tom Wolfe's celebrated essay, "Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died," originally published in 1996. Fascinated by the eager horde of young scientists currently devoting themselves to research on the human brain, Wolfe reports how these enthusiasts have been convinced by technological advances that the human 'mind' involves nothing over and beyond the brain and that, in addition, the well springs of human behavior are to a hitherto unimagined extent the result of genetic hard-wiring and not of environmental factors such as, among other things, 'free will'--where 'mind' and 'free will', along with other venerable philosophical terms such as 'the self' and 'the soul' are all surrounded by what Wolfe aptly calls "skeptical quotation marks." (Those of us in the know will immediately recognize these terms as hallmarks of what eliminative materialists derisively label 'folk psychology'.) Even though Wolfe takes care to chronicle the cultural resistance to these claims, in the end he envisions a future Nietzsche announcing, not this time the death of God, but instead the death of the soul, and with it any lingering belief in freedom or immortality. God, freedom, and immortality--all jettisoned by Nietzsche and his imminent successor. So much for metaphysics as we have known it.
Below I will urge that the defective philosophical problematic at stake here has not essentially changed since it was set by Hobbesian physicalism (or materialism) on the one side and Cartesian dualism on the other . . . the new Nietzsche will be announcing that the educated elite no longer believe in the soul or the self as conceived of by traditional western philosophy, religion, and popular culture . . .
. . . nothing I say below should be taken to disparage the natural and human sciences. Still, we must separate the sciences themselves from the anti-supernaturalist ideologies evident in the writings of certain prominent scientists and 'scientifically-minded' philosophers.
. . . contemporary analytic 'philosophy of mind' . . . is exhaustively divided between a handful of Cartesian dualists on the one hand and numerous physicalists (or materialists) of various stripes on the other, and for several decades the main action has been occurring in the intramural debates among the physicalists.
. . . We will be able to make intelligent assessments of faulty problematics and to offer credible suggestions for revising them only to the extent that our own first principles, including revealed first principles, are clearly understood and systematically elaborated. This is simply an application to philosophy of the claim that it is theories as wholes which are the proper units of assessment in scientific inquiry. For aside from considerations of mere logical validity, the acceptability of central theoretical arguments depends almost entirely on those judgments of plausibility--what Newman called "antecedent probabilities" and what many analytic philosophers call "our intuitions"--that we bring to the assessment of key premises. But such judgments depend heavily on first principles . . .
The teaching that God immediately creates the human soul embarrasses some scientifically-minded Catholic philosophers. The first thing to point out is that this does not distinguish it from many other Catholic doctrines, including the virgin birth, the miracles of Christ, his resurrection from the dead, and his real and substantial presence in the Sacrament of the Altar. And, in truth, the advance of scientific knowledge has less to do with it than does ideological naturalism and anti-supernaturalism of the sort that one can see in the most engaging popular presentations of current science--for instance, by Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and Stephen Jay Gould--and that has spilled over even to Christian thinkers in some cases. From such a perspective, the direct creation of the human soul by God is a leftover from an earlier era in which Darwinian evolution was unheard of and the complexity of the brain was not fully appreciated. In such times, so the story goes, the immaterial soul was postulated merely to fill in the gaps of woefully inadequate scientific theories--a 'soul of the gaps' to go along with the more famous 'god of the gaps' who was invoked to compensate for failures of explanation within the order of secondary causes.
. . . nothing we know about the nature of the brain or the evolution of the human organism rules out the direct creation of the human soul by God. Neuroscience may help us to understand various aspects of cognition and affection, but it can hardly be said to have explained how higher intellective functions are so much as possible . . .
. . . when we examine the quasi-philosophical ruminations of writers such as Dawkins and Gould, it is hard not to notice the extremely tenuous connection between their premises, which are usually drawn from the sciences, and their conclusions, which reflect an unmistakable drift in the direction of, as Dawkins puts it, an "intellectually fulfilling atheism" that has the deflation of Christian ideals and aspirations as one of its primary goals. And why should we buy into that? In short, finding out about the wondrous workings of the human brain or the intricacies of human genetics does not seem to create a conflict with faith unless the discoveries are combined with a strong physicalist ideology. Indeed, current scientific theories do not by themselves undermine even a carefully formulated Cartesian dualism, not to mention the Catholic Church's view of the soul . . .
. . . . Some philosophers have insisted that it is no easier to understand how an immaterial subject can think than it is to understand how a material subject can think. Peter van Inwagen puts the point in a particularly forceful way:
. . . it is the thinking itself that is the source of the mystery of a thinking physical thing. The notion of a non-physical thing that thinks is, I would argue, equally mysterious. How any sort of thing could think is a mystery. It is just that it is a bit easier to see that thinking is a mystery when we suppose that the thing that does the thinking is physical, for we can form mental images of the operations of a physical thing and we can see that the physical interactions that are represented in these images--that are the only interactions that can be represented in these images--have no connection with thought or sensation, or none that we are able to imagine, conceive, or articulate. The only reason that we do not readily find the notion of a non-physical thing that thinks equally mysterious is that we have no clear procedure for forming mental images of non-physical things.
(Metaphysics, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993, 159-160)
. . . from a Catholic perspective dualism is just as wrongheaded and, in the end, just as pernicious as physicalism. Dualism treats body and soul as two separate substances or, at the very least, two antecedently constituted integral parts of an entity whose unity is per accidens; and it identifies the human self with just the immaterial soul. In this it runs afoul of the Catholic teaching that the soul is the form of the body and that the human body and the human soul are so intimately linked that they derive their identity from one another. Perhaps more precisely, the soul is the form of the human organism as a whole and, as such, makes it to be the sort of living substance it is. Thus, the human body and human soul are not two antecedently constituted integral parts, but rather (to use the scholastic phrase) complementary 'essential parts' of an organism whose unity is per se . . . . .
(Complete paper: http://www.zadok.org.au/papers/gijspers/gijspers9609.shtml)
. . . Most modern philosophers of the mind take consciousness as a given, and equate the mind with consciousness. But I think this is grossly reductionistic, denies the depth and breadth of mental processes and mental illness and removes consideration of subconscious processes. Some psychologists then recast the mind/body problem as a mere scientific question of the "origin of consciousness in evolution" . . .
[Sir Karl] Popper describes eight properties of the mind,[K.R. Popper, B.I.B. Lindahl, P. Arhem, 1993, "A Discussion of the Mind-Brain Problem", Theoretical Medicine, vol. 14, pp. 167-180] which are also properties of electrical and magnetic forces. These mind forces seem to develop their own autonomy from physiological processes. He further argues that, just as electrical forces are the result of chemical processes, so the mind seems to be the result of physiological processes leading to mind forces.
How can these forces, which are set up in the brain, continue themselves . . . and continue to have a kind of identity which is even able to initiate in its turn biochemical processes in the brain? That seems to me to be the body-mind problem.
In Popper's estimation (and in my own) this is the nub of the mind-brain problem. How can something arising from brain processes, not just manifest itself as mind but actually drive the brain, analogously to a keyboard operator typing on a computer? How can a property that emerges control that from which it has emerged? That is the key mystery.
. . . dualism, which was championed by Descartes, accepts the idea that mind and body are different essences but that they influence each other . . . monism, advocated by Hobbes, . . . [holds] that there is no such thing as a non-physical reality, thus mental phenomena do not really exist. There are three sub-sets of this monist theory. The first is that the mental is reducible to the physical, the second that mental phenomena are epiphenomena (secondary, accidental effects to physical processes) and the third that mental phenomena are emergent properties of physical phenomena, the so-called systems theory point of view . . .
. . . Francis Crick in his Astonishing Hypothesis puts it like this:
that 'You', your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more that the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.
. . . At present the best monists can offer is an incomplete hypothesis, lacking in data, though as will be shown later, the debate will not centre so much on the question of data but on questions of the philosophy of science and of questions of a wider epistemology. This is an important point: here what is offered as a scientific hypothesis is actually a meta-physical point of view. As such then it cannot be answered purely from a scientific framework but in a broader philosophical context.
I would argue that monism is only tenable if reducing mind function to brain function does not result in loss of information. If, however, such reduction dismisses large tracts of our understanding of human thought and behaviour then we'll have used Occam's razor to cut our own throat. The simplest explanation here does not explain enough . . .
. . . Polkinghorne [John Polkinghorne, Beyond Science, Cambridge University Press, 1996, 66] follows Penrose in suggesting that mental processes are not closed systems but evokes Godel's theorem that we can 'see' solutions which cannot be proved by a closed system. There are subtleties of mental function which cannot be reduced to algorithms . . .
(book published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL: 2000)
(Reviews on amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0830815775/ref=pd_luc_
In Body and Soul, authors J P Moreland and Scott Rae present a spirited defense of substance dualism, a model of consciousness that has fallen out of fashion with most academic philosophers. The authors also discuss the repercussions of dualism and its primary competitor, physicalism, on ethics and free will.
What are the arguments for dualism? Well, firstly, our mental states possess properties not held by our physical brains. For instance, if I close my eyes and imagine a green pasture, nothing in my physical brain turns green. Moreover, as my thought of a green pasture is not an empirical phenomenon, it cannot be verified by the methods of the hard sciences. It doesn't have an odor, a length, a height, a weight or a physical location in space.
Secondly, I am in a position to know my mental life in a way not available to anyone else. I, and I alone, am privy to my mental states. A brain surgeon may know more about my physical brain and its operations than I do, but he cannot know my mental life as well as I do. He doesn't experience my fear of being operated on, or my hope that I make it through the operation alive. Furthermore, I cannot be mistaken about my mental states. If I have an experience of a grey rug, the rug itself may actually be white due to poor lighting. But I cannot be mistaken that I am experiencing what I take to be a grey rug.
Thirdly, our mental states possess the property of intentionality. The intentionality of our mental states is the most powerful argument against physicalist accounts of consciousness. Our mental states possess the property of aboutness or ofness. We don't just think; we think "about" or "of" something. Our thoughts point beyond themselves to objects and things, even those that don't exist. Intentionality is troublesome for the physicalist, for how can our brain waves be "about" or "of" anything? If a neuroscientist could examine the brains of two classical music lovers, how could he tell one was thinking about the melodies of Bach and the other of Beethoven?
And finally, the most interesting argument for dualism is the argument from qualia. When we see a red apple, it "looks" red. When we taste a chocolate bar, it tastes "chocolatey." When we smell a rose it smells "rosy." Philosophers call such things as the look of red, the taste of chocolate, or the smell of a rose "qualia." Moreland and Rae argue that qualia are experiences within our minds. For example, every time you place a wedge of a lemon in your mouth, you experience the sour taste of lemon qualia. This is a correlation between physical qualities and mental qualia. The physical qualities of lemons are very different in nature from the mental qualia they are correlated with. The "taste" of a lemon is not itself anything like the chemical composition of a lemon -- although it is caused by the lemon's chemical composition.
Physicalism, in contrast with dualism, holds that our mental states are identical to our physical bodies. Some physicalists claim that if the mind is non-physical, it is not scientifically meaningful. But this objection fails for the simple reason that there exist many abstract objects that are non-physical. Numbers, for example, are abstract objects, having no weight, length or location in space. The numerals "5" and "V" each represent the number 5. In this case there are two numerals, but only one number -- the number 5 -- is expressed by the numerals. Also, if we are just matter, then we don't have free will. Our actions are determined by the laws of chemistry and physics, not our own human volition.
. . . a good introduction to Thomistic dualism (as opposed to the better-known Cartesian dualism). . . . The Thomistic view of the soul is, in my mind, more advanced and more cogent than the Cartesian view of the soul. It differentiates between spirit/soul and mind, presenting the latter as a faculty of the soul and not it's very essence. It provides a better explanation of the mind-body (or soul-body) problem by asserting that the soul is the teleological foundation of the formation of the body (i.e., the soul directs the growth and development of the body). Further, this view emphasizes the need for a working brain that can also affect the spirit/mind for cognitive occurrences . . .
The only disappointment for me was Moreland's insistence on critiquing the reductionistic class of materialism. For me, personally, the reductionists have too many theoretical problems to be a viable solution. I would have enjoyed a further critique of the emergent view of mind that is quickly becoming more prominent in scientific circles (Robert Nadeau, one of the reductionists that Moreland cites, has altered his conceptions towards this view; see The Non-Local Universe: The New Physics and Matters of the Mind) . . . . Overall, I believe this is a wonderful book. I believe that Thomistic dualism is a vast improvement from Cartesian dualism and should be the focus of non-Christian critiques of dualism (and treated with more respect than many, unfortunately, are willing to give to Cartesian dualism).
There are one or two sections in the book that defend the existence of an immaterial soul from the Bible (against those Christian thinkers who deny it) however; this book is not primarily an explanation/analysis of Scripture. As the authors themselves state,
In this work we have attempted to make a case for the view of a human person that is both consistent with biblical teaching and that makes philosophical sense.
To skeptics of the existence of the soul, to those who would argue that science has rendered the concept false, to those who argue that the concept of the immaterial soul is a foreign Greek concept that has nothing to do with the Bible, read this book. Moreland and Rae present a very strong case for the soul (their particular version of this: Thomistic substance dualism), they refute or significantly weaken most of the commonly offered critiques of their view and refute or critique the views that compete against theirs.
There are 521 footnotes spread over 345 pages of text; averaging roughly 50 footnotes per chapter. I really liked this aspect of the book; the authors would frequently refer to other relevant literature and refer the reader to investigate it if interested.
. . . The Chapters:
1. Establishing a Framework for Approaching Human Personhood
2. Human Persons as Substances or Property-Things
3. Human Persons in Naturalistic & Complementarian Perspectives
4. Substance Dualism & the Human Person: Free Agency
5. Substance Dualism & the Human Person: Personal Identity
6. Substance Dualism & the Body: Heredity, DNA & the Soul
7. The Moral & Metaphysical Status of the Unborn: Abortion & Fetal Research
8. Reproductive Technologies in Substance-Dualist Perspective
9. Genetic Technologies & Human Cloning
10. Euthanasia, Physician-Assisted Suicide & the Care of Persons at the End of Life
Chapters 1-3 lay out all the necessary philosophical distinctions (this section is probably the most difficult to follow, but it is worth it. Many of the concepts used here come up again and again later in the book) to discuss personhood. The relevant philosophical options of personhood are laid out and explained
Chapters 4-5 constitute a defense of the substance dualism view; which basically says that in addition to physical bodies, human beings have a non-physical essence (i.e. soul). Chapter 4 argues that only substance dualism can make sense of the reality of human free will. Chapter 5 argues that the fact that you are the same person at ages 3, 10, 30, and 50 (this is the briefest way to attempt to explain their arguments) is only adequately explained by substance dualism. Taken together, the authors argue that only substance dualism can make sense of the moral and legal responsibility that we intuitively know we have.
Chapter 5 discusses the relationship of the soul to the body, specifically DNA. The authors persuasively argue that personhood is NOT reducible to DNA or the body; the authors discuss the Human Genome Project and other relevant scientific discoveries and experiments.
(from an article by David Pratt: http://www.theosophy-nw.org/theosnw/science/prat-bra.htm)
--- Note: Pratt is a theosophist, but I have not included any theosophical elements in the following ---
According to the prevailing scientific theory of the mind -- known as "identity theory" -- mental states are identical with physicochemical states of the brain. The brain is regarded as a supercomplex computer in which material processes in the cerebral cortex somehow generate thoughts and feelings. A supporter of this materialistic theory, Daniel C. Dennett, says that our brains contain
a cobbled-together collection of specialist brain circuits, which . . . conspire together to produce a . . . more or less well-designed virtual machine . . . By yoking these independently evolved specialist organs together in common cause, and thereby giving their union vastly enhanced powers, this virtual machine, this software of the brain, performs a sort of internal political miracle: It creates a virtual captain of the crew . . .
(Consciousness Explained, 1991, 228)
This "virtual captain" is what we normally regard as our "self," but according to Dennett it is really just an illusion produced by the global action of our brain circuits!
Distinguished neuroscientist and Nobel Prize winner Sir John Eccles rejects this theory, saying that it never goes beyond vague generalities; materialists believe that the problems will be resolved when we have a more complete scientific understanding of the brain, perhaps in hundreds of years, a belief which Eccles ironically terms "promissory materialism." Eccles feels that this "impoverished and empty" theory fails to account for "the wonder and mystery of the human self with its spiritual values, with its creativity, and with its uniqueness for each of us." (How the Self Controls Its Brain pp. 33, 176.) He criticizes identity theory for allowing no real scope for human freedom.
Extensive experimental studies have shown that mental acts of attention and intention activate appropriate regions of the cerebral cortex. An intention to move, for example, initiates the firing of a set of neurons of the supplementary motor area about 200 Milli-seconds before the intended movement takes place. If the mind is the brain, this would mean either that one part of the brain activates an other part, which then activates another part, etc., or that a particular region of the brain is activated spontaneously, without any cause, and it is hard to see how either alternative would provide a basis for free will.
Over the course of several decades, partly in collaboration with the philosopher of science Sir Karl Popper, Eccles has developed an alternative theory of the mind, known as dualist-interactionism . . .
I maintain that the human mystery is incredibly demeaned by scientific reductionism, with its claim in promissory materialism to account eventually for all of the spiritual world in terms of patterns of neuronal activity. This belief must be classed as a superstition. . . . we have to recognize that we are spiritual beings with souls existing in a spiritual world as well as material beings with bodies and brains existing in a material world.
(Evolution of the Brain, Creation of the Self, 241)
According to Eccles, we have a nonmaterial mind or self which acts upon, and is influenced by, our material brains; there is a mental world in addition to the physical world, and the two interact. However, Eccles denies that the mind is a type of nonphysical substance (as it is in Cartesian dualism), and says that it merely belongs to a different world. (How the Self Controls Its Brain, p. 38.) But unless our mind (and the world in which it exists) is pure nothingness -- in which case it would not exist -- it must be composed of finer grades of energy-substance. Indeed, our inner constitution may comprise several nonphysical levels.
Biologist Rupert Sheldrake, for instance, proposes that our physical bodies are organized by morphogenetic fields, our habits by behavioral morphic fields, and our thoughts and ideas by mental morphic fields. He suggests that our conscious self may be a higher level of our being which interacts with the lower fields and, through them with the physical brain and body . . .
Opponents of Eccles' view argue that mind-brain interaction would infringe the law of the conservation of energy. In his latest book, How the Self Controls Its Brain, Eccles, with the help of quantum physicist Friedrich Beck, shows that mind-brain action can be explained without violating the conservation of energy if account is taken of quantum physics and the latest discoveries concerning the microstructure of the neocortex. Eccles calls the fundamental neural units of the cerebral cortex dendrons, and proposes that each of the 40 million dendrons is linked with a mental unit, or psychon, representing a unitary conscious experience. In willed actions and thought, psychons act on dendrons and momentarily increase the probability of the firing of selected neurons, while in perception the reverse process takes place. Interaction among psychons themselves could explain the unity of our perceptions and of the inner world of our mind . . .
Eccles is in basic agreement with the neo-Darwinian theory that evolution is driven by random genetic mutations followed by the weeding out of unfavorable variations by natural selection, but he also believes that "there is a Divine Providence operating over and above the materialist happenings of biological evolution." (Evolution of the Brain, p. 239.) . . .
Since materialist solutions fail to account for our experienced uniqueness, I am constrained to attribute the uniqueness of the Self or Soul to a supernatural spiritual creation. To give the explanation in theological terms: each Soul is a new Divine creation which is implanted into the growing foetus at some time between conception and birth.
(Evolution of the Brain, p. 237)
. . . As for what happens after death, Eccles says:
we can regard the death of the body and brain as dissolution of our dualist existence. Hopefully, the liberated soul will find another future of even deeper meaning and more entrancing experiences, perhaps in some renewed embodied existence . . . in accord with traditional Christian teaching.
(Evolution of the Brain, p. 242)
("The Effect of Silent Thinking on the Cerebral Cortex")
(Complete paper: http://www.leaderu.com/truth/2truth06.html)
With the exception of the hard-core radical materialists there is general agreement on the existence of mental events such as thinking. Thinking is of course subjectively experienced and is not objectively identifiable in the way that we perceive the world around us through our senses . . . .
Philosophical discussion on the concept of thinking and the brain-mind problem will follow an account of the extraordinary findings on human brains engaged in thinking that is related to a variety of learned procedures. In this way it comes about that there is an internal generation of thinking in the absence of any signalling to the brain by sense organs . . .
In general terms there are two theories about the relationship of mental events to neural events.
Firstly there is the explanation inherent in all monist-materialism including all the varieties of parallelism, panpsychism, epiphenomenalism and the now fashionable identity theory. The existence of mental events is not denied, but they are given a subsidiary role in the performance and experience of a human person, which is entirely brain controlled. For example in the identity theory the mental events are somehow regarded as 'identical' with neural events of a special kind in the highest levels of the brain as succinctly expressed by Feigl (1967, The "Mental" and the "Physical", Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 79 and 90):
The identity thesis which I wish to clarify and to defend asserts that the states of direct experience which conscious human beings 'live through', and those which we confidently ascribe to some of the higher animals, are identical with certain (presumably configurational) aspects of the neural processes in those organisms . . . processes in the central nervous system, perhaps especially in the cerebral cortex.... The neuro-physiological concepts refer to complicated highly ramified patterns of neuron discharges.
As Popper (Popper and Eccles, 1977, The Self and Its Brain, Springer Int.: Berlin, Heidelberg, New York, p. 51) points out, all materialist theories of the mind: "assert that the physical world (World I) is self-contained or closed . . . This physicalist principle of the closedness of the physical World I is of decisive importance . . . as the characteristic principle of physicalism or materialism". Secondly, there is the dualist-interactionism explanation which has been specially developed for the self-conscious mind and human brains. It is proposed that, superimposed upon the neural machinery in all its performance, there are at certain sites of the cerebral hemispheres (the so-called liaison areas) effective interactions with the self-conscious mind, both in receiving and in giving.
The materialist critics argue that insuperable difficulties are encountered by the hypothesis that immaterial mental events such as thinking can act in any way on material structures such as neurons of the cerebral cortex . . . Such a presumed action is alleged to be incompatible with the conservation laws of physics, in particular of the First Law of Thermodynamics. This objection would certainly be sustained by 19th century physicists and by neuroscientists and philosophers who are still ideologically in the physics of the 19th century, not recognizing the revolution wrought by quantum physicists in the 20th century.
Unfortunately it is rare for a quantum physicist to dare an intrusion into the brain-mind problem. But in a recent book the quantum physicist Margenau (The Miracle of Existence, 1984) makes a fundamental contribution. It is a remarkable transformation from 19th century physics to be told (p. 22): "that some fields, such as the probability field of quantum mechanics carry neither energy nor matter." He goes on (p. 96) to state:
In very complicated physical systems such as the brain, the neurons and sense organs, whose constituents are small enough to be governed by probabilistic quantum laws, the physical organ is always poised for a multitude of possible changes, each with a definite probability; if one change takes place that requires energy, or more or less energy than another, the intricate organism furnishes it automatically. Hence, even if the mind has anything to do with the change, that is if there is a mind-body interaction, the mind would not be called upon to furnish energy.
In summary (p. 97) Margenau states that:
The mind may be regarded as a field in the accepted physical sense of the term. But it is a nonmaterial field; its closest analogue is perhaps a probability field. It cannot be compared with the simpler nonmaterial fields that require the presence of matter (e.g. gravity) nor does it necessarily have a definite position in space. And so far as present evidence goes it is not an energy field in any physical sense, nor is it required to contain energy in order to account for all known phenomena in which mind interacts with brain.
In formulating more precisely the dualist hypothesis of mind-brain interaction, the initial statement is that the whole world of mental events (World 2) has an existence as autonomous as the world of matter-energy (World I). The present interactionist hypothesis does not relate to these ontological problems, but merely to the mode of action of mental events on neural events . . . Following Margenau (1984) the hypothesis is that mind-brain interaction is analogous to a probability field of quantum mechanics, which has neither mass nor energy, yet can cause effective action at microsites. More specifically it is proposed that the mental concentration involved in intentions or attention or planned thinking can cause neural events by a process analogous to the probability fields of quantum mechanics.
We can ask: what neural events could be appropriate recipients for mental fields that are analogous to quantal probability fields? Already we may have the answer in recent discoveries on the nature of the synaptic mechanism whereby one nerve cell communicates with another . . .
The first question that can be raised concerns the magnitude of the effect that could be produced by a probability wave of quantum mechanics. Is the mass of the synaptic vesicle so great that it lies outside the range of the uncertainty principle of Heisenberg? . . . calculations on the basis of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle show that the probabilistic emission of a vesicle from the presynaptic vesicular grid could conceivably be modified by a mental intention acting analogously to a quantal probability field . . .
We all think and act as if we have at least some control and responsibility for our actions, especially our linguistic expressions, but reductionist critics have insisted that this must be an illusion since it is contrary to the conservation laws of physics. We are now free to reject these criticisms . . .
(Notes for a talk before BIOLA Philosophy Group, Nov. 22, 1994)
(Complete paper: http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artid=49)
Colin McGinn comments that
the idea of a peculiarly mental substance is, when you think about it, extremely weird: it is quite unclear that there is any intelligible conception associated with the words "immaterial substance". This is shown in the fact that the alleged substance tends to get characterised purely negatively; it is simply a kind of substance that is not material. But we need some more positive description of what it is if we are to be convinced that we are speaking of anything comprehensible... We are prone,...to picture it in imagination as an especially ethereal or attenuated kind of matter, stuff of the rarefied sort we imagine...the bodies of ghosts to be made of--the kind of stuff through which a hand could pass without disturbance.
(The Character of Mind, p. 23)
McGinn goes on in this passage to wonder whether "the immaterial substance is capable of discharging the role it was introduced to play," and whether it is only lack of clarity about immaterial substance that
induces us to suppose that locating mental phenomena in it is any advance on monism. The properties of the immaterial substance are supposed to constitute the nature of mental states: but what sorts of property are these? Here we seem faced with a dilemma: either we award the immaterial substance properties beyond the familiar mental properties, or we do not. If we do, thus conjecturing the existence of properties of mind hitherto undiscovered,...there will still be the question how these properties can constitute the essential nature of sensations and propositional attitudes. We cannot, without absurdity, postulate the existence of other conscious states which constitute the nature of the familiar ones; but it seems that nothing else can be the essence of our conscious states.
Earlier statements by McGinn in this same work are hard to reconcile with what he says here about the "familiar mental properties," and leave me, at least, somewhat uncertain as to where his real problem with mental or immaterial substance lies. Here he talks as if the problem were with what the "familiar mental properties" belong to or were found in, not with those properties themselves. In conformity with this he earlier said that "Consciousnesss, like redness or sweetness, belongs to that range of properties that can be grasped only by direct acquaintance." (p. 12) Concepts--such as sensation and belief--that apply to consciousness "can be grasped only through acquaintance with what they are concepts of," and hence are, in his terms, ineffable. But then he goes on to say some very remarkable things, in this earlier passage: namely, that
consciousness is elusive even to acquaintance, as an exercise in introspection will reveal. Consider you consciousness of some item--an external object, your own body, a sensation--and try to focus attention on that relation: as many philosophers have observed, this relation of consciousness to its objects is peculiarly impalpable and diaphanous--all you come across in introspection are the objects of consciousness, not consciousness itself. This feature of consciousness has induced some thinkers to describe consciousness as a kind of inner emptiness; it is nothing per se but a pure directedness on to things other than itself. No wonder then that it is hard to say what consciousness intrinsically is.
I have quoted at length from McGinn because I think he gets out in a rather neat fashion many of the commonplaces about the mind or soul and how it presents itself that have framed the philosophy of mind and self since the 18th Century or before.
. . . McGinn's statements stand in a long tradition--perhaps a long tradition of confusion. Certainly it is hard to make sense of all that McGinn says. He moves from the claim that the relation of consciousness to its object is "peculiarly impalpable and diaphanous" to the claim that "all you come across in introspection are the objects of consciousnes, not consciousness itself," and here by "consciousness itself" he clearly is not refering to the substance of consciousness but "familiar mental properties." But if that's all you come across, then you could not know that you were introspecting--since you are only conscious of objects of consciousness--and you would not know that consciousness is impalpable and diaphanous. And you would not know it is a "pure directedness on to things other than itself" (as J.-P. Sartre says: Trying to catch a bus, e.g.) And if it is pure directedness, then that is, precisely, a determinate nature and not an "inner emptiness" at all. And if that is true one wonders why--beyond general problems of substance and quality that afflict the physical as well as the mental--these determinate natures could not come together to form substances quite as well as the determinate natures that enter into physical objects do. Ultimately, of course, everything is "weird." That is a part of what it means to be ultimate.
Over against the idea that subjectivity or the mental or soulish is an emptiness stands our de facto awareness of our own mental or experiential states. When someone asks us how we feel, we can tell them in great detail. When the Optometrist asks us to look through the lenses and read the letters or report on other aspects of our visual experience, we do so promptly and accurately. There is nothing vacuous at all about what we report on. Motivational psychologists, actors, novelists, poets, interior decorators and cooks constantly report on and describe the subjective flood of mental life that makes up our existence. The idea of "inner emptiness" is a ridiculous contrivance of a view of mind based on the mythology of empiricism.
One finds this inner flood, instead of emptiness, dealt with rather well in Wm. James' Principles of Psychology, Chapters IX and X--"The Stream of Thought" and "The Consciousness of Self" respectively--though James also will have nothing to do with the soul as a substance. Chapters XVII-XXVI cover particular segments of the mental flood, from sensation to reasoning, from emotions to will, etc. etc. Edmund Husserl treats "the pure psychical being or the psychical life...as a nature-resembling flow of events in a quasi-space of consciousness" ("Author's Preface to the English Edition," hardback ed. p. 24) Here in the nature `transcending' sphere we have an "infinitude of knowledge previous to all deduction" (p. 12) or theorizing, "an absolutely independent realm of direct experience, although for reasons of an essential kind it has so far remained inaccessibe." (p. 11)
In Being and Nothingness, J.-P. Sartre takes 900 pages of turgid French to describe that `nothing' that is the life of the mind. John Searle states that it is an obvious fact about our own experience that "we are all conscious and that our conscious states have quite specific irreducible phenomenological properties." (Rediscovery of the Mind, p. 28) And: "Beliefs and desires are experienced as such, and they are certainly not `postulated' to explain behavior, because they are not postulated at all." (p. 61) He emphasizes throughout his book "the enormous variety of our consciousness life" (p. 227), which we "experience as such," though not "incorrigibly" or by some special faculty of "introspection."
The "inner emptiness" line cannot account for what we actually know about the flow of reality that makes up our own lives. Empiricism as a theory of knowledge is a recognized failure in any form that has been definitely specified, and has nothing left to support it but the bias of a sensualistic culture. There is no reason to regard conclusions about mind or substance that derive from it as serious challenges to what the ordinary, thoughtful and experienced person assumes to be the case about self-knowledge and self-identity. Anything that we can accurately report about our experience must be assumed to be the case, and there are a huge number of things of various general types that any individual can accurately report about their own minds and experience. It is these accurately reportable events and structures that make up the texture of the human mind and soul and reveal its substance.
(Complete paper: http://www.imprint.co.uk/rudd/wittgens.htm)
Dennett . . . supposes that if consciousness were anything real it would have to be somehow objective. In Consciousness Explained (1991), he claims that,
There seems to be phenomenology . . . But it does not follow from this undeniable, universally attested fact that there really is phenomenology. This is the crux.
It is also, however, nonsense. Phenomenology just is the way things seem to us, so there is no room for an appearance/reality distinction here. Like many other physicalists, Dennett wants to say that there aren�t really, in the last analysis, any conscious states; consciousness is just the way in which the functioning of our brain states appears to us. But this does not succeed in reducing, eliminating or debunking consciousness. The anti-physicalist claim is not (or should not be) that there are "mental objects" the intrinsic properties of which we perceive in an accurate and undistorted way; rather, what physicalism seems unable to handle is simply the fact that we are beings to whom things appear at all, whatever they may be and whether in a distorted or undistorted way. To say that there seems to be consciousness but there isn't really, presupposes that if �consciousness� were to designate anything really real, it would have to be some mind-independent entity, one for which the distinction between reality and appearance could be made. But this is a confusion. If there seems to be consciousness, then there is consciousness, and it is the reality of this seeming that presents the challenge to physicalism.
That sensations are not things, and that materialist attempts to reduce them to physical things must therefore fail, was precisely the point that Wittgenstein was trying to make in his frequently misunderstood Private Language Argument (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, tr. G.E.M. Anscombe, 2 ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1958, ## 243 ff.). In essence, Wittgenstein's argument is that the notion of a private object collapses as incoherent. If something is an object, there must be criteria for us to recognize it as the same object we observed on a previous occasion. But, so Wittgenstein argues, if I am simply contemplating my sensations in solipsistic isolation, I can produce no such non-arbitrary criteria for reidentification. It may seem to me that the sensation I am having now is the same as the one that I was having an hour ago. But if I have nothing further, beyond my own subjective feelings, to go on, then, whatever is going to seem right to me is right. And that only means that here we can't talk about 'right'.� (ibid., # 258.)
This does not mean that Wittgenstein is -- absurdly -- denying that I can correctly judge that, for instance, the wine I am drinking now is more full-bodied than the one I tasted before; or that I can tell an occulist who is giving me an eye-test that I can see the letters more clearly through these lenses than through the ones I was trying previously. All he is denying is that I could establish a language for my subjective sensations from scratch by considering them in isolation from the social and physical context in which I do actually experience them. I am not aiming to give a full exposition or assessment of the Private Language Argument here. But it is important to see that it functions as a reductio ad absurdum.
. . . physicalist accounts of consciousness have been attempted; they construe it in functional/behavioural terms as a disposition to respond to the features of one's environment in a systematic way; one that can be described abstractly in computational terms and which is realised in neurophysiological structures. But this is where the "What it's Like" argument really comes into play, for there clearly is more to it than that. However detailed the account of neuronal firings, information processing or overt bodily movements, it does not fully capture what goes on when someone is struck, say, by the light sparkling off a swift flowing river, or is moved by a sudden catch of melody heard through a half-open door, or is overwhelmed by grief or joy, or feels a stab of pain as she hits her head on a low door frame. To describe people just as complex functionally organised physical systems does not give a complete or adequate account of them; for it makes no mention of what it is like to be those people.
. . . What is crucial is the issue of what it is like, not that of what is known. And it seems undeniable that a knowledge of the workings of a physical system does not tell us what -- if anything -- it is like to be that system. (Unless we cheat and try to use our knowledge of what it is like to be the physical structures that we are as the basis for reasoning by analogy.)
. . . Wittgenstein attempts to dissolve the classic problems of mind and body and of our knowledge of other minds, by starting, not from the first or the third but from the second person. That is, neither from the introspection of the isolated subject, nor from the objectivity of scientific observation, but from ordinary human interaction.
. . . We are able to learn our language for inner states because we experience them, not as dissociated from behaviour, but as finding a natural expression in it. This is crucial for Wittgenstein, and we need to be careful to avoid misunderstanding his point. Wittgenstein does not mean that we start by identifying behaviour in non-mentalistic terms, and then learn when some of this behaviour licences us to use a mental predicate. That would leave us as vulnerable as before to other-mind scepticism. (How do you know this behaviour is really connected with the mental state you ascribe on the basis of it?) Nor is he arguing for any sort of "operationalism" according to which, all it means to ascribe the mental state is that the behavioural conditions for such ascription are met.
For Wittgenstein, the relation between sensations and emotions, and the physical behaviour, facial expressions, gestures and so on which make them manifest, is not a causal relation between wholly distinct entities; nor is it simply an identity. The inner states find a natural or "primitive" expression in and through the physical behaviour. This "expressive" relation is an internal one, in that neither relatum can be properly understood apart from the relationship in which they stand. Nevertheless, they remain distinct from one another. To be in pain is not just to display pain behaviour, or even to have a disposition to do so; but it is part of the experience of pain that it finds natural expression in certain types of behaviour. It is this link between sensation and behaviour that enables us to develop a language for inner states, which we can apply both to ourselves and others. For it means that someone else's pain is not irrevocably hidden from us; it is manifested to us in and through her behaviour, while still being more than just the behaviour.
. . . For Wittgenstein, by contrast, the problem of how we know other minds dissolves if we ask ourselves how we do in practice realise what state of mind somebody else is in. For it then becomes clear that we do not reason on the basis of any analogy or inference; we perceive the other's state of mind in his gestures, in his facial expression, deportment and so on. What we see around us are not bodies, understood objectively as the biologist or even physicist would understand them; we encounter other human beings, and we perceive their pain, surprise, amusement or whatever, in their faces, in their movements and gestures. No inference is involved. The delight felt by someone who unexpectedly runs into an old friend is there to be seen on her face; it is not something that must be inferred from any more basic description.
. . . It certainly does not follow from this that we should in any way reject or devalue science, or, more specifically, the scientific understanding of the human body. But it does mean that we should reject the philosophical project of taking science as metaphysics; seeing it, that is, not as a useful human activity which enables us to make more sense of the everyday world in which we live, but as The Truth about The World as it is in itself. Science describes things at a level of abstraction, by leaving out of account a whole range of properties that they have (colour, beauty, consciousness . . .). This is for many purposes a very useful procedure, but it does not follow that the properties with which science concerns itself are more real than those it leaves out. To see it in this way is to return science to the "life-world",8 and to the context of human projects which give science itself its meaning. One brief example; the knowledge a medical doctor has of physiology is deployed in the social and ethical context of caring for the sick. The knowledge a good physician has of her patients is quite different from and irreducible to the knowledge she has of their physiology (vital though that is). But this personal knowledge does not consist of a (dubious) hypothesis that there are private, hidden qualia somehow associated with the physiological machine.
("The Mind Wins!", New York Review of Books, March 4, 1993, pp. 37-41)
(Complete paper: http://members.aol.com/Mszlazak/MindWins.html)
According to a widely held view, the brain is a giant computer and the relation of the human mind to the human brain is like that of a computer program to the electronic hardware on which it runs. The philosopher John Searle, a dragon-slayer by temperament, has set out to show that this claim, together with the materialist tradition underlying it, is nonsense, for reasons some of which are obvious and some more subtle. Elaborating arguments that he and others have made over the past twenty years, he attacks most of the cognitive science establishment and then offers a theory of his own about the nature of mind and its relation to the physical world. If this pungent book is right, the computer model of the mind is not just doubtful or imperfect, but totally and glaringly absurd.
His main reasons are two. First, the essence of the mind is consciousness: all mental phenomena are either actually or potentially conscious. And none of the familiar materialist analyses of mind can deal with conscious experience: they leave it out, either by not talking about it or by identifying it with something else that has nothing to do with consciousness. Second, computers which do not have minds can be described as running programs, processing information, manipulating symbols, answering questions, and so on only because they are so constructed that people, who do have minds, can interpret their physical operations in those ways. To ascribe a computer program to the brain implies a mind that can interpret what the brain does; so the idea of explaining the mind in terms of such a program is incoherent.
. . . Descartes famously thought that if you considered carefully the nature of outer physical reality and the nature of inner mental reality (as exemplified by your own mind), you could not help seeing that these had to be two different kinds of things, however closely they might be bound together: a mind and its thoughts and experiences just couldn't be constructed out of physical parts like molecules in the way that the heart or the brain evidently can be. Descartes's conclusion that mental life goes on in a nonphysical entity, the soul, is known as dualism--sometimes "substance" dualism, to distinguish it from "property" dualism, which is the view that though there is no soul distinct from the body, mental phenomena (like tasting salt or feeling thirsty) involve properties of the person or his brain that are not physical.
The power of Descartes's intuitive argument is considerable, but dualism of either kind is now a rare view among philosophers, most of whom accept some kind of materialism. They believe that everything there is and everything that happens in the world must be capable of description by physical science. Moreover they find direct evidence that this can be done even for the mind in the intimate dependence of mental on neurophysiological processes, about which much has been learned since the seventeenth century. And they find indirect evidence, from the remarkable success of the application of physics and chemistry to other aspects of life, from digestion to heredity. Consequently most efforts to complete the scientific world view in a materialist form have proceeded by some sort of reduction of the mental to the physical--where the physical, by definition, is that which can be described in nonmental terms.
. . . Now how could mental phenomena be reduced to something described entirely in physical, nonmental terms? In this case, obviously, we cannot leave out all effects on the mind, since that is precisely what is to be reduced. What is needed to complete the materialist world picture is some scheme of the form, "Mental phenomena--thoughts, feelings, sensations, desires, perceptions, etc.--are nothing but...," where the blank is to be filled in by a description that is either explicitly physical or uses only terms that can apply to what is entirely physical. The various attempts to carry out this apparently impossible task, and the arguments to show that they have failed, make up the history of the philosophy of mind during the past fifty years.
Searle's account of that history begins with behaviorism, the view that mental concepts do not refer to anything inside us and that each type of mental state can be identified with a disposition of the organism to behave observably in certain ways under certain physical conditions. When this view began to look too much like a bald denial of the existence of the mind, some philosophers put forward identity theories, according to which mental processes are identical with brain processes in the same way that light is identical with electromagnetic radiation. But identity theories were left with the problem of explaining in nonmental terms what it means to say of a particular brain process that it is a thought or a sensation. After all, this can't mean only that it is a certain kind of neurophysiological process. And given the aim of these theories, it couldn't mean that the brain process has some mental effect. The proposed solution was a revival of behaviorism in a new form: Thirst, for example, was identified not with a disposition to drink, but with a brain state; but that particular brain state's being identical with thirst was now said to consist simply in the fact that it was typically caused by dehydration and that it typically caused a disposition to drink. In this way it was thought that the identification of mental states with brain states could avoid all reference to nonphysical features.
These "causal behaviorist" analyses were eventually succeeded by a more technical theory called functionalism, according to which mental concepts cannot be linked to behavior and circumstances individually but only as part of a single interconnected network. The behavior caused by thirst, for example, depends on the rest of a person's mental condition--his beliefs about where water is to be found and whether it is safe to drink, the strength of his desires to live or die, and so forth. Each mental state is a part of an integrated system which controls the organism's interaction with its environment; it is only by analyzing the role played by such states as thirst, pain, other kinds of sensation, belief, emotion, and desire, within the total system, that one can accurately describe their connection to behavior and external circumstances. Such a system may still permit mental states to be identified with brain states, provided the latter have causal or functional roles of the kind specified by the theory (still to be constructed) of how the integrated system works. Finally, functionalism led to what Searle calls Strong AI (Strong Artificial Intelligence)--the identification of mental states with computational states of a computer program which controls the organism's behaviour--a program which is physically realized in the hardware (or wetware) of the brain.
All these theories attempt to reduce the mind to one or another aspect of a world that can be fully described by physics--the world of particles and fields. They have not been worked out in detail; they are just hopeful descriptions of the kind of thing a theory of the mind would have to be, together with some extremely sketchy examples. While each new proposal has been criticized by defenders of alternative reductionist accounts, Searle argues that there is one big thing wrong with all of them: they leave out consciousness.
No theory that leaves out consciousness can claim to be a theory of the mind, and no analysis of consciousness in nonmental terms is possible; therefore no materialistic reduction of the mental can succeed. Searle contends that none of these theories could possibly provide an account of what pain, hunger, belief, vision, etc. really are, because all they talk about is what is externally observable--the organism's behavior and its causal structure--and a description of something exclusively in those terms fails to guarantee that it has any consciousness at all: each of these behaviorist, functionalist, or computational theories could be satisfied by an unconscious zombie of sufficient physical complexity.
The crucial question is not "Under what conditions would we attribute mental states to other people?" but rather, "What is it that people actually have when they have mental states?" "What are mental phenomena?" as distinct from "How do we find out about them and how do they function causally in the life of the organism?"
We attribute consciousness to other people and to animals on the basis of their behavior, but this is simply evidence of consciousness rather than proof of it, and it has to be supplemented by evidence of physiological similarity: Since we believe in the uniformity of nature, we naturally infer that creatures who behave similarly to us and have sense organs and nervous systems physically similar to ours also have conscious experiences of some kind. But, Searle argues, no quantity of facts about physical behavior or functional organization by themselves entail that a system is conscious at all--and any theory which claims, for example, that vision is "nothing but" a certain state of the organism must, to be adequate, have the consequence that if the organism is in that state, it can't fail to be conscious. Otherwise it will leave out the most important thing about vision, and, whatever its other merits, won't qualify as an account of what vision is.
Not only do materialist reductions fail to imply that the system is conscious; it is clear in advance that no further development along the same lines, no added structural or behavioral complications, could do so. The reason is that there is a crucial difference between conscious phenomena and behavioral or physiological phenomena that makes the former irreducible to the latter: consciousness is, in Searle's terms, "ontologically subjective." That is, its essential features cannot be described entirely from an external, third-person point of view. Even the physiological description of what goes on inside the skull is external in this sense: it is described from outside. It is not enough to summarize the third-person observations, behavioral or physiological, that lead us to ascribe conscious mental states to others. The first-person point of view, which reveals what a conscious mental state is like for its subject, is indispensable.
This becomes clear when we ask, What is consciousness? Though we can describe certain of its features, and identify more specific types of mental phenomena as instances, it is so basic that it can't be defined in terms of anything else. You, reader, are conscious at this very moment, and your conscious condition includes such things as the way this page looks to you; the feel of the paper between your fingers, the shirt on your back, and the chair on which you're sitting; the sounds you hear of music or surf or police sirens in the background; and your experience of reading this sentence. Searle's claim is that no amount of third-person analysis, whether behavioral, causal, or functional, could possibly tell us what these experiences are in themselves--what they consist of, as distinguished from their causes and effects. This is perfectly obvious because subjective facts about what it's like for someone to be in a certain condition--what it's like from his point of view--can't be identified with facts about how things are, not from anyone's point of view or for anyone, but just in themselves. Facts about your external behavior or the electrical activity or functional organization of your brain may be closely connected with your conscious experiences, but they are not facts about what it's like for you to hear a police siren.
[Footnote: To declare an interest: I am one of those cited as proponents of this line of argument, the others being Saul Kripke and Frank Jackson.]
Searle believes that the persistence of materialistic reductionism in the face of its evident falsity requires explanation. He likens it to the constant repetition by a compulsive neurotic of the same destructive pattern of behavior; and he hopes that by bringing to light its underlying causes he can break the hold of the compulsion. It is evident, both from what they say and from what they do, that reductionists are convinced in advance that some materialist theory of the mind must be correct: they just have to find it. This assumption is part of a scientific world view to which they can see no alternative . . .
He is absolutely right about the fear of dualism (indeed, I believe he himself is not immune to its effects). Its most bizarre manifestation is yet another theory, called "eliminative" materialism. This is the view that, because mental states can't be accommodated within the world described by physics, they don't exist--just as witches and ghosts don't exist. They can be dismissed as postulates of a primitive theory customarily referred to as "folk psychology" . . .
There is a persistent confusion between the claim that we should try as much as possible to eliminate personal subjective prejudices from the search for truth and the claim that the real world contains no elements that are irreducibly subjective. And this confusion in turn is based on confusion between the epistemological sense of the subjective/objective distinction, and the ontological sense. Epistemically, the distinction marks different degrees of independence of claims from the vagaries of special values, personal prejudices, points of view, and emotions. Ontologically, the distinction marks different categories of empirical reality.
This seems to me entirely convincing, and very important. Science must of course strive for epistemic objectivity--objective knowledge--by using methods that compensate for differences in points of view and that permit different observers to arrive at the same conception of what is the case. But it is a gross confusion to conclude from this that nothing which has or includes a point of view can be an object of scientific investigation. Subjective points of view are themselves parts of the real world, and if they and their properties are to be described adequately, their ontologically subjective character--the subjectivity of their nature--must be acknowledged. Furthermore, this can be done, in the epistemic sense, objectively: Although only you are now experiencing the look of the page in front of you, others can know that you are, and can know a good deal about what that experience is like for you. It is an objective truth that you are now having a certain subjective visual experience.
If we accept this distinction, the question becomes, How can we form an epistemically objective scientific conception of a world which contains not only the familiar ontologically objective facts described by physics, chemistry, and biology, but also the ontologically subjective facts of consciousness? And that brings us, finally, to Searle's own view, which he calls "biological naturalism," and which combines acceptance of the irreducible subjectivity of the mental with rejection of the dichotomy between mental and physical:
Consciousness ... is a biological feature of human and certain animal brains. It is caused by neurobiological processes and is as much part of the natural biological order as any other biological features such as photosynthesis, digestion, or mitosis.
And in spite of his antireductionism, he also writes as follows:
Consciousness is a higher-level or emergent property of the brain in the utterly harmless sense of "higher-level" or "emergent" in which solidity is a higher-level emergent property of H2O molecules when they are in a lattice structure (ice), and liquidity is similarly a higher-level emergent property of H2O molecules when they are, roughly speaking, rolling around on each other (water). Consciousness is a mental, and therefore physical, property of the brain in the sense in which liquidity is a property of systems of molecules.
If this view could be clarified in a way that distinguished it from the alternatives, it would be a major addition to the possible answers to the mind-body problem. But I don't think it can be.
Suppose we grant that states of consciousness are properties of the brain caused by, but not reducible to, its neural activity. This means that your brain, for instance, has a point of view of which all your current experiences are aspects. But what is the justification for calling these irreducibly subjective features of the brain physical? What would it even mean to call them physical? Certainly they are "higher order" in the sense that they can be ascribed only to the system as a whole and not to its microscopic parts; they are also "emergent" in the sense of being explained only by the causal interactions of those parts. But however great the variety of physical phenomena may be, ontological objectivity is one of their central defining conditions; and as we have seen Searle insists that consciousness is ontologically subjective.
Searle doesn't say enough about this question. Perhaps he believes that if brains are made up of physical particles, it follows automatically that all their properties are physical. And he quotes a remark of Noam Chomsky that as soon as we come to understand anything, we call it "physical." But if "physical" is in this sense merely an honorific term (another way I've heard Chomsky put the point), what is the metaphysical content of Searle's claim that mental properties are physical, and his emphatic rejection of property dualism? He says, after all, that the ontological distinction between subjective and objective marks "different categories of empirical reality." To say further that we are "left with a universe that contains an irreducibly subjective physical component as a component of physical reality" merely couches an essentially dualistic claim in language that expresses a strong aversion to dualism.
[Footnote: Searle identifies me as a defender of property dualism. I prefer the term "dual aspect theory," to express the view deriving from Spinoza that mental phenomena are the subjective aspects of states which can also be described physically. But all I would claim for the idea is that it is somewhat less unacceptable than the other unacceptable theories currently on offer. I share Searle's aversion to both dualism and materialism, and believe a solution to the mind-body problem is nowhere in sight.]
Perhaps we could adopt Searle's use of the word "physical," but the basic issue is more than verbal. It is the issue of how to construct an intelligible and complete scientific world view once we deny the reducibility of the mental to the nonmental. As Searle points out, we cannot do so by continuing on the path which physical science has followed since the seventeenth century, since that depended on excluding the mind of the observer from the world being observed and described. To propose that consciousness is an intrinsic subjective property of the brain caused by its neural activity is the first step on a different path--the right one, in my opinion. But there are large problems ahead, and they are not just empirical but philosophical.
Even if we learn a great deal more than we know now about the physiological causes of consciousness, it will not, as Searle is aware, make the relation of consciousness to the behavior of neurons analogous to the relation of liquidity to the behavior of H2O molecules. In the latter case the relation is transparent: We can see how liquidity is the logical result of the molecules "rolling around on each other" at the microscopic level. Nothing comparable is to be expected in the case of neurons, even though it is empirically evident that states of consciousness are the necessary consequences of neuronal activity. Searle has an interesting discussion of this difference, which he says results only from a limitation of our powers of conception: we can represent the necessary relation between the macro and micro levels of water since we picture them both from the outside; but we can't do this with subjectivity, which we have to imagine from the inside, whether it is ours or someone else's. I agree, but I believe this means we do not really understand the claim that mental states are states of the brain: We are still unable to form a conception of how consciousness arises in matter, even if we are certain that it does.
. . . Searle's distinction between what is intrinsic to the thing observed and what is relative to an observer or interpreter is a fundamental one. He argues that intrinsic intentionality--that is, the capacity for grasping the meaning of statements and consciously following rules--occurs only in minds. Words on a page or electrical resistances in a computer chip can be said to mean something, or to obey rules of grammar or arithmetic, only in the derivative sense that our minds can interpret them that way, in virtue of their arrangement. This means that the claim that the brain is a computer would imply that the brain has intentionality and follows rules of computation not intrinsically but only relative to the interpretation of its user. And who is the user supposed to be? If the brain is a computer, it does not have intrinsic intentionality. If it has intrinsic intentionality, it must be more than a computer. Searle chooses the second alternative. He also argues that those theories which try to construe the brain as a computer always surreptitiously assume a mind or "homunculus" as its interpreter.
There is a lot more to this argument, and though I find its negative conclusions persuasive, questions I have not touched on could be raised about Searle's positive theory of intrinsic intentionality, which is meant to be consistent with his biological naturalism. As with consciousness, it remains extremely difficult to see how intrinsic intentionality could be a property of the physical organism . . .
. . . The Rediscovery of the Mind is trenchant, aggressive, and beautifully clear, in Searle's best "What is all this nonsense?" style. As an antidote to one of the dominant illusions of our age, it deserves a wide audience.
("What is it like to be a bat?," excerpts from Nagel's classic article, published in The Philosophical Review LXXXIII, 4 [October 1974]: 435-50)
(Complete paper: http://members.aol.com/NeoNoetics/Nagel_Bat.html)
Consciousness is what makes the mind-body problem really intractable. Perhaps that is why current discussions of the problem give it little attention or get it obviously wrong. The recent wave of reductionist euphoria has produced several analyses of mental phenomena and mental concepts designed to explain the possibility of some variety of materialism, psychophysical identification, or reduction . . .
. . . no matter how the form may vary, the fact that an organism has conscious experience at all means, basically, that there is something it is like to be that organism. There may be further implications about the form of the experience; there may even (though I doubt it) be implications about the behavior of the organism. But fundamentally an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is to be that organism�
We may call this the subjective character of experience. It is not captured by any of the familiar, recently devised reductive analyses of the mental, for all of them are logically compatible with its absence. It is not analyzable in terms of any explanatory system of functional states, or intentional states, since these could be ascribed to robots or automata that behaved like people though they experienced nothing. It is not analyzable in terms of the causal role of experiences in relation to typical human behavior -- for similar reasons. I do not deny that conscious mental states and events cause behavior, nor that they may be given functional characterizations. I deny only that this kind of thing exhausts their analysis. Any reductionist program has to be based on an analysis of what is to be reduced. If the analysis leaves something out, the problem will be falsely posed. It is useless to base the defense of materialism on any analysis of mental phenomena that fails to deal explicitly with their subjective character. For there is no reason to suppose that a reduction which seems plausible when no attempt is made to account for consciousness can be extended to include consciousness. Without some idea, therefore, of what the subjective character of experience is, we cannot know what is required of physicalist theory.
While an account of the physical basis of mind must explain many things, this appears to be the most difficult. It is impossible to exclude the phenomenological features of experience from a reduction in the same way that one excludes the phenomenal features of an ordinary substance from a physical or chemical reduction of it�namely, by explaining them as effects on the minds of human observers. If physicalism is to be defended, the phenomenological features must themselves be given a physical account. But when we examine their subjective character it seems that such a result is impossible. The reason is that every subjective phenomenon is essentially connected with a single point of view, and it seems inevitable that an objective, physical theory will abandon that point of view.
. . . To illustrate the connection between subjectivity and a point of view, and to make evident the importance of subjective features, it will help to explore the matter in relation to an example that brings out clearly the divergence between the two types of conception, subjective and objective.
I assume we all believe that bats have experience. After all, they are mammals, and there is no more doubt that they have experience than that mice or pigeons or whales have experience. I have chosen bats instead of wasps or flounders because if one travels too far down the phylogenetic tree, people gradually shed their faith that there is experience there at all. Bats, although more closely related to us than those other species, nevertheless present a range of activity and a sensory apparatus so different from ours that the problem I want to pose is exceptionally vivid (though it certainly could be raised with other species). Even without the benefit of philosophical reflection, anyone who has spent some time in an enclosed space with an excited bat knows what it is to encounter a fundamentally alien form of life.
I have said that the essence of the belief that bats have experience is that there is something that it is like to be a bat. Now we know that most bats (the microchiroptera, to be precise) perceive the external world primarily by sonar, or echolocation, detecting the reflections, from objects within range, of their own rapid, subtly modulated, high-frequency shrieks. Their brains are designed to correlate the outgoing impulses with the subsequent echoes, and the information thus acquired enables bats to make precise discriminations of distance, size, shape, motion, and texture comparable to those we make by vision. But bat sonar, though clearly a form of perception, is not similar in its operation to any sense that we possess, and there is no reason to suppose that it is subjectively like anything we can experience or imagine. This appears to create difficulties for the notion of what it is like to be a bat. We must consider whether any method will permit us to extrapolate to the inner life of the bat from our own case, and if not, what alternative methods there may be for understanding the notion.
Our own experience provides the basic material for our imagination, whose range is therefore limited. It will not help to try to imagine that one has webbing on one's arms, which enables one to fly around at dusk and dawn catching insects in one's mouth; that one has very poor vision, and perceives the surrounding world by a system of reflected high-frequency sound signals; and that one spends the day hanging upside down by one's feet in an attic. In so far as I can imagine this (which is not very far), it tells me only what it would be like for me to behave as a bat behaves. But that is not the question. I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat. Yet if I try to imagine this, I am restricted to the resources of my own mind, and those resources are inadequate to the task. I cannot perform it either by imagining additions to my present experience, or by imagining segments gradually subtracted from it, or by imagining some combination of additions, subtractions, and modifications.
. . . So if extrapolation from our own case is involved in the idea of what it is like to be a bat, the extrapolation must be incompletable. We cannot form more than a schematic conception of what it is like . . . (The problem is not confined to exotic cases, however, for it exists between one person and another. The subjective character of the experience of a person deaf and blind from birth is not accessible to me, for example, nor presumably is mine to him. This does not prevent us each from believing that the other's experience has such a subjective character.)
. . . The fact that we cannot expect ever to accommodate in our language a detailed description of Martian or bat phenomenology should not lead us to dismiss as meaningless the claim that bats and Martians have experiences fully comparable in richness of detail to our own. It would be fine if someone were to develop concepts and a theory that enabled us to think about those things; but such an understanding may be permanently denied to us by the limits of our nature. And to deny the reality or logical significance of what we can never describe or understand is the crudest form of cognitive dissonance . . .
This brings us to the edge of a topic that requires much more discussion than I can give it here: namely, the relation between facts on the one hand and conceptual schemes or systems of representation on the other. My realism about the subjective domain in all its forms implies a belief in the existence of facts beyond the reach of human concepts. Certainly it is possible for a human being to believe that there are facts which humans never will possess the requisite concepts to represent or comprehend . . . Reflection on what it is like to be a bat seems to lead us, therefore, to the conclusion that there are facts that do not consist in the truth of propositions expressible in a human language. We can be compelled to recognize the existence of such facts without being able to state or comprehend them . . .
. . . if the facts of experience�facts about what it is like for the experiencing organism�are accessible only from one point of view, then it is a mystery how the true character of experiences could be revealed in the physical operation of that organism. The latter is a domain of objective facts par excellence -- the kind that can be observed and understood from many points of view and by individuals with differing perceptual systems. There are no comparable imaginative obstacles to the acquisition of knowledge about bat neurophysiology by human scientists, and intelligent bats or Martians might learn more about the human brain than we ever will . . .
. . . people are now told at an early age that all matter is really energy. But despite the fact that -'they know what 'is' means, most of them never form a conception of what makes this claim true, because they lack the theoretical background. At the present time the status of physicalism is similar to that which the hypothesis that matter is energy would have had if uttered by a pre-Socratic philosopher. We do not have the beginnings of a conception of how it might be true. In order to understand the hypothesis that a mental event is a physical event, we require more than an understanding of the word 'is' . . .
. . . it seems unlikely that any physical theory of mind can be contemplated until more thought has been given to the general problem of subjective and objective. Otherwise we cannot even pose the mind-body problem without sidestepping it.
See also: "Conceiving the Impossible and the Mind-Body Problem"
(Complete paper: http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0498.html)
My approach . . . is to question the validity of the machine/organism analogy upon which the whole mechanistic tradition is based . . . I am going to argue that there is no convincing evidence that living organisms are strictly analogous to artificial/mechanical objects in the way the mechanist claims and that while certain aspects of life may be captured in artifacts there remains the very real possibility, I would say a near certainty, that elusive, subtle, irreducible vital differences exist between the two categories of being the organic and the mechanical. And I would like to suggest that some of the vital properties unique to organic systems, which could well include human intelligence and perhaps other aspects of what we call human nature may never find exact instantiation in artificial manmade systems a likelihood which would render impossible any sort of spiritual machine.
The emergence of the modern mechanistic view of nature and of the idea that organisms are analogous in every essential way to machines�the ultimate source of the thinking of Douglas Hofstadter, Daniel Dennett, Ray Kurzweil and of other supporters of strong AI [Artificial Intelligence] -- coincided roughly with the birth of science in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
One of its first and most influential exponents was the great French philosopher Rene Descartes, for whom the entire material universe was a machine -- a gigantic clockwork mechanism. According to this view all of nature -- from the movement of the planets to the movements of the heart -- worked according to mechanical laws, and all the characteristics of every material object both living and nonliving could be explained in its entirety in terms of the arrangement and movement of its parts. In his own words from his Treatise on Man:
I suppose the body to be nothing but a machine . . . We see clocks, artificial fountains, mills, and other such machines which, although only man made, have the power to move on their own accord in many different ways . . . one may compare the nerves of the machine I am describing with the works of these fountains, its muscles and tendons with the various devices and springs which set them in motion . . . the digestion of food, the beating of the heart and arteries . . . respiration, walking . . . follow from the mere arrangement of the machine�s organs every bit as naturally as the movements of a clock or other automaton follow from the arrangements of its counterweights and wheels.
And in his Principles of Philosophy he explicitly states:
I do not recognize any difference between artifacts and natural bodies . . .
Despite occasional setbacks ever since, Descartes' biological science has followed by and large along mechanistic lines and nearly all the major advances in knowledge have arisen from its application.
Today almost all professional biologists have adopted the mechanistic/reductionist approach and assume that the basic parts of an organism (like the cogs of a watch) are the primary essential things, that a living organism (like a watch) is no more than the sum of its parts, and that it is the parts that determine the properties of the whole and that (like a watch) a complete description of all the properties of an organism may be had by characterizing its parts in isolation.
The traditional vitalistic alternative has virtually no support. Nowadays few biologists seriously consider the possibility that organic forms (unlike watches) might be natural and necessary parts of the cosmic order -- as was believed before the rise of the mechanistic doctrine. Few believe that organisms might be more than the sum of their parts, possessing mysterious vital non-mechanical properties, such as a self-organizing ability or a genuine autonomous intelligence, which are not explicable in terms of a series of mechanical interactions between their parts.
. . . Yet despite the obvious successes of mechanistic thinking in biology and the fact that many biological phenomena can be reduced to mechanical explanations, and despite the fact that machines have grown ever more life-like as technology has advanced -- it remains an undeniable fact that living things possess abilities that are still without any significant analogue in any machine which has yet been constructed. These abilities have been seen since classical times as indicative of a fundamental division between the vital and mechanical modes of being.
To begin with, every living system replicates itself, yet no machine possesses this capacity even to the slightest degree. Nor has any machine -- even the most advanced envisaged by nanotechnologists -- been conceived of that could carry out such a stupendous act. Yet every second countless trillions of living systems from bacterial cells to elephants replicate themselves on the surface of our planet. And since life's origin, endless life forms have effortlessly copied themselves on unimaginable numbers of occasions.
Living things possess the ability to change themselves from one form into another. For example, during development the descendants of the egg cell transform themselves from undifferentiated unspecialized cells into wandering amoebic cells, thin plate-like blood cells containing the oxygen-transporting molecule hemoglobin, neurons�cells sending out thousands of long tentacles like miniature medusae some hundred thousand times longer than the main body of the cell.
. . . In addition to possessing the unique abilities discussed above, it is also evident that the basic design of organic systems from individual macromolecules to embryos and brains exhibits a unique order which is without analogy in the mechanical realm. This unique order involves a reciprocal formative influence of all the parts of an organic whole on each other and on the whole in which they function.
. . . Organic design is essentially a top-down reality. As we have seen, organic forms are essentially nonmodular wholes and their order is intrinsic to, and only manifest in, the functioning whole. Success in engineering new organic forms from proteins up to organisms will therefore require a completely novel approach, a sort of designing from "the top down." Because the parts of organic wholes only exist in the whole, organic wholes cannot be specified bit by bit and built up from a set of relatively independent modules; consequently the entire undivided unity must be specified together in toto.
. . . The picture of organic form that has emerged from recent advances in biology is surprisingly consistent with the pre-mechanistic holistic/vitalistic model, which was first clearly formulated by the Greeks and specifically by Aristotle. According to their view, each organic whole or form was believed to be a unique integral whole or indivisible unity. This whole -- in effect a self-sufficing soul or entelechy -- regulated, organized and determined the form, properties and behavior of all of its component parts. Taken to its logical conclusion this model implied that only wholes have any real autonomous existence and that the parts of wholes have no independent existence or meaning outside the context of the whole.
. . . If the traditional vitalist position is true, and organic forms are integral parts of the cosmic order, each being in essence an indivisible self-sufficing unity possessing properties and characteristics beyond those possessed by any machine, properties which might include for example intelligent self-organizing capabilities, then all nature becomes re-enchanted. The whole mechanistic framework of modern biology would have to be abandoned, along with many key doctrines, including the central dogma of genetic determinism, the concept of the "passivity and impotence" of the phenotype and the spontaneity of mutation. Moreover all theories of the origin and evolution of life and biological information would have to be re-formulated in conformity with vitalistic principles and all explanations based on the mechanistic concept of organisms as fundamentally lifeless contingent combinations of parts -- including contemporary Darwinism -- would have to be revised. Even certain traditional design arguments such as Paley's would have to be reconsidered, since they presume that organisms are analogous to artifacts, being in essence contingent and unnecessary, and thus, like human artifacts, require an artificer or craftsmen for their assembly.
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Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 29 March 2003.