Monday, May 07, 2018

Mind and Brain Function: Answering Parsons


Image result for Keith Parsons Professor Philosophy University Of Houston Southlake
Keith Parsons



Over on The Secular Outpost blog philosophy professor Keith Parsons tries to argue for brain/mid reductionism as a confirmation of the naturalistic view point. He levels his argumet against substance dualism: "What sorts of arguments can substance dualists offer? What sorts of arguments would indicate that mind can exist independently of a physical basis? There is overwhelming evidence of the extremely sensitive dependence of every aspect of the mental on a physical basis, the brain in particular."[1] One need not defend substance dualism to argue for the irreducibility of mind to brain (for example Chalmers is a property dualist).. Nor does the dependence of mind upon brain mean either that mind is reducible or that materialism or naturalism is supported. The position that consciousnesses is  a basic property and cannot be reduced to chemicals or brain functions is compatible with either property dualism or substance dualism,and either can be a Christian position.

Parsons has set up the discussion in such a way as to focus the issue upon supervenience,[2] or the dependence of mind upon the physical, but that issue is not the most cogent refutation of irreconcilability. Mind could be irredeemable to brain and still supervene upon the physical. Just because one depends upon the other does not mean it reduces to the other. .In fact mind could be the dreaded soul or spirit that one imagines Parsons is really trying to disprove  and still  supervene upon the physical.[3] 

Moreover, Parsons's position is really just the bait-and-switch of which philosopher David Chalmers warns.I an not causing Parsonsof this  tactic but it is used by the major reductionists such as Dennett.   He protests this allegation in the comment section (when I assaulted him with the charge) but it's clear from the arguments he makes. He doesn't even discuss consciousness but merely opposes one set of brain functions to another, which is the switch brain function for consciousness. Examine his arguments: 

He starts with  reference to the books of Oliver Sacks which show that "...the most basic experiences of perception and sensation are fundamentally altered when brain function is changed or impaired."[4] Examples include LSD causing perceptual problems and lack of magnesium causing depression or hallucinations. But that's all brain function and in fact he said he's dealing with brain function (above) he's not comparing consciousness or even defining it.  While such factors would effect consciousness at a superficial level that doesn't prove that consciousness is brain function. Consciousness might be related to brain function such that light is related to heat or smoke to fire, or some such relation but that does not mean they are identical. 

Parsons places even  more stock in behavioral arguments; certain  behaviors are related to brain function. David Eagleman backs standard deterministic viewpoints with arguments that empathy and bigotry are linked to brain function. As with most deterministic arguments he's just ignoring the exchange between will and bodily functions. Information is transmitted physically to the brain and obviously this has to be linked to behavior but there's no accounting for will and desire as motivating the process. The determinists assume if they can't quantify it it doesn't exist. So behavior is all there is  because it's all they can measure. Parsons quotes Eagleman: 


Experiments showed that the mPFC regions became less active in volunteers who were shown pictures of homeless people or drug addicts. The consequence is dehumanization, thinking of people as objects rather than persons:

…by shutting down the systems that see the homeless person as another human being, one doesn’t have to experience the unpleasant pressures of feeling bad about not giving money. In other words, the homeless have been dehumanized: the brain is viewing them more like objects and less like people. [5]
The problem is this is like looking away but it doesn't account for the decision to look away or the the moral decision to overcome the numbness and look back. We can see how this process of shutting down empathy would be linked to survival instinct where one might be fighting for one's life and could not afford empathy. That does not prove that we have no free decision making process involved in the choice. That means we are only talking about feelings not decision making or will.

Speaking of the kind of nuerological research he says: "Highly successful research programs tend to justify the heuristic assumptions upon which they are conducted. The regulative assumption of all neuroscience research is that brain function is sufficient for every aspect of the mental." [6] First, that "highly successful research programs," however that is being measured, tending to justify their heuristic assumptions is not the same as proving them true. Secondly, he documents no  evidence that allows his extrapolation from Eagleman's research to his assumptions about consciousness as a whole. The regulative assumption of all neuroscience research is that brain function is sufficient for every aspect of the mental is contradicted by some of the major researchers. Raymond Tallis was a professor of Geriatric medicine at University of Manchester, and researcher, who retired in 2006 6o devote himself to philosophy and writing. Tallis denounces what he calls “neurohype,”  “the claims made on behalf of neuroscience in areas outside those in which it has any kind of explanatory power….” 

The fundamental assumption is that we are our brains and this, I will argue presently, is not true. But this is not the only reason why neuroscience does not tell us what human beings “really” are: it does not even tell us how the brain works, how bits of the brain work, or (even if you accept the dubious assumption that human living could be parcelled up into a number of discrete functions) which bit of the brain is responsible for which function. The rationale for thinking of the kind – “This bit of the brain houses that bit of us...” – is mind-numbingly simplistic.[7]

Parsons asserts that substance dualists have little more than near death experience (NDE) from which to make empirical argument. He documents nothing and he dismisses all NDE argumet with guilot by association:"The odor of crackpots, cranks, and charlatans cannot be wholly cleansed from the topic of NDE’s, even when they are defended by distinguished academics. For tactical reasons then, if no other, substance dualists usually shy away from NDE’s." He never documents which NDE's are stained with crackpostism. Be that as it may there are several arguments that  have nothing to do with NDE that cold be advanced by either substance or property dualism. These arguments  demonstrate  that  mind is not reducible to brain function alone. Since I did a post on these just last month I will just refer the reader to that article, Please see that issue. [8]

He set's up a straw man argument by framing the discussion in terms of the mental working apart from the physical:"What arguments or evidence could indicate that, despite manifold and multifarious appearances, the mental is separable from the physical and capable of operating without it?" It's not important  to show that the mental can operate without the physical, not merely in order to be distinct from it. Human mental ability that operates totally apart from the physical is called "death." This makes empirical evidence hard to come by. It  is difficult to communicate with the test subject under these conditions. 

Parsons  allows for property dualism."Even if we conceded that the accepted terms of neuroscience—electrical and chemical happenings in neurons—cannot explain consciousness, could we not adopt a property rather than a substance dualism as a more parsimonious option?" Of course we could but property dualism is Chalmers's position. Under that label Chalmers argues that mind is not replaceable to brain. Parsons does have a point in that since Chalmers is an atheist property dualism is not that damaging to naturalism.


That is, rather than take the rather extravagant step of positing supernatural entities, we could argue that some physical things or processes have mental properties as well as physical properties. Further, it seems all too quick to say that the irreducibility of the mental makes theism the best explanation. Surely, it would be evidence for theism, or enhance to prior probability of theism, but it would be only one of numerous considerations (including negative evidence such as the problem of evil) that must be considered in assessing theism. Perhaps a demonstration of the irreducibility of consciousness would be better construed as evidence for animism, the idea that the visible realm is interpenetrated by a spiritual realm containing the spirits of animals, people, and things. 

When he says  "Surely, it would be evidence for theism, or enhance to prior probability of theism, but it would be only one of numerous considerations (including negative evidence such as the problem of evil) that must be considered in assessing theism..." the real issue is the admissions that property dualism could count as an argument agaisnt naturalism or materialism. Adding that there are still other issues is irrelevant because the problem or evil would have to be addressed even with substance dualism. That does not make a property dualistic approach any weaker as an  alternative.

Then he deals with the "hard problem" I will deal with that next time in part 2.




Sources

[1] Keith Parsons, "Can you know what it is like to be a bat? Why not?" The Secular Outpost, blog, (APRIL 16, 2018)
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2018/04/16/can-you-know-what-it-is-like-to-be-a-bat-why-not/
(accessed, 5/5/18)
Parsons is professor of Philosophy at Univ Houston,Clearlake.

[2]Brian McLaughlin, and Karen Bennett, "Supervenience", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2018/entries/supervenience/>.

A set of properties A supervenes upon another set B just in case no two things can differ with respect to A-properties without also differing with respect to their B-properties. In slogan form, “there cannot be an A-difference without a B-difference”.
As we shall see, this slogan can be cashed out in many different ways. But to illustrate the basic idea, imagine that there is a perfect forger. Her copies of paintings not only fool the art dealers, but are in fact exact duplicates of the originals down to the precise placement of every molecule of pigment
[3] "Supervenience, philosophy of mind:" Philosophy Lexicon of Arguments
Supervenience, philosophy of mind: supervenience is an expression for a restricted dependency between areas. Elements of a region B are dependent on changes of elements of an area A, but not vice versa. Supervenience is used by some authors to explain the relationship between mental and physical processes. The assumption of a supervenience serves to circumvent more powerful assumptions like, e.g. the identity theory. See also covariance, dependency, identity theory, materialism, reductionism....
33Supervenience/Chalmers: supervenience is in general a relation between two sets of properties:B properties: higher-level propertiesA properties: lower-level properties (for us physical properties). The specific nature of these properties is not relevant to us.Basic pattern:Definition Supervenience/Chalmers: B-properties supervene on A-properties, if two possible situations are not identical with regard to their A-properties and at the same time differ in their B-properties.For example, biological properties supervene on physical ones insofar as two possible physically identical situations are also biologically identical.Local/Global Supervenience/Chalmers: we distinguish global supervenience, depending on how the situations under consideration, refer to individuals or possible worlds.Local Supervenience/Chalmers: B supervenes locally on A when the A properties of an individual determine the B properties of that individual.

[4] Parsons, Op cit

[5] Eagleman,quoted in Parsons, Ibid. (original page155).

[6] Ibid

[7]Raymond Tallis New Haumanist.org.uk Ideas for Godless People (blog—online researche) volume 124 Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2009) URL: http://newhumanist.org.uk/2172/neurotrash  visited 5/9/12

[8] Joseph Hinman,"Mind is Not Reducible to Brain. (part 2),"Metacrock's Blog (March 20, 2018)
http://metacrock.blogspot.com/2018/03/mind-is-not-reducible-to-brain-part-2.html














23 comments:

Eric Sotnak said...

"In fact mind could be the dreaded soul or spirit that one imagines Parsons is really trying to disprove and still supervene upon the physical."

Why would you (or anyone) want to make a case for this, though?

1. "A set of properties A supervenes upon another set B just in case no two things can differ with respect to A-properties without also differing with respect to their B-properties." (SEP)
2. Mind supervenes on brain. (your concession, above)
3. Therefore, no two things can differ with respect to mental properties without also differing with respect to brain properties.

Is 3 here really something any (substance) dualist would want to accept?

Joe Hinman said...

In biological organisms mental is generated by the physical that doesn't mean they are same. Light is generated by a incandescent bulb that doesn't mean light is an incandescent bulb.

The issue is in survival after death. If mental descends upon physical how can it survive the physical? I don't know because we don't know enough about it, but that;s a different issue than reducing mental to physical.

Eric Sotnak said...

"that doesn't mean they are same"

And the supervenience view doesn't say they are.

It seems to me your position amounts to a claim of epistemic possibility; For all anyone can prove to the contrary, mental states might be able to exist without physical states.

This is a pretty weak claim. I think Parsons' view is that in the absence of any positive evidence that there are, in fact, any mental states in the absence of any physical states, and given the overwhelming evidence that all the mental states that we do know about appear to depend on physical states, the reasonable conclusion is that all mental states whatsoever depend on physical states.

As this is an inductive, rather than deductive, argument, an appeal to mere epistemic possibility doesn't seem to cut it.

7th Stooge said...


Why would you (or anyone) want to make a case for this, though?

1. "A set of properties A supervenes upon another set B just in case no two things can differ with respect to A-properties without also differing with respect to their B-properties." (SEP)
2. Mind supervenes on brain. (your concession, above)
3. Therefore, no two things can differ with respect to mental properties without also differing with respect to brain properties.

Is 3 here really something any (substance) dualist would want to accept?


Mind correlates in certain respects with brain, but correlation doesn't necessarily mean supervenience if you mean by supervenience that the lower level properties determine the higher level ones. Correlation also doesn't mean identity.

In every known case of identity, there's an explanation, at least in principle, as to how the identity is possible. Short of an explanatory framework, assuming that there's an identity seems unwarranted, at least for now.

7th Stooge said...

So there are two separate issues here: supervenience and identity. Joe is conceding supervenience ( I think) but not identity. Joe is saying that the explanatory gap arguments point to non-identity but supervenience doesn;t necessarily mean identity. Erik is saying that the lack of identity makes for an epistemic possibility argument for substance dualism, and that kind of argument doesn't cut it with an inductive argument, which is the supervenience thing.

Ryan M said...

"These arguments demonstrate that mind is not reducible to brain function alone"

Honestly, good luck with that. A warning I give to undergrad philosophy students I meet is to NEVER assert a strong position when there is great debate among the experts. You think there are arguments that DEMONSTRATE the mind is not reducible to the brain? The fact that more qualified people (You have zero qualifications, no offense) disagree should make you wary of posting such a strong position. A weaker thesis is more appropriate, i.e., "If these arguments are sound/cogent, then we have a demonstration that mind is not reducible to brain without appealing to NDEs".

Joe Hinman said...

The assertion that Neurology has it all down they Knowles thuggeryabout consciousness, garbage! Major researchers point this out it's hype. It's all hype. The "mind reading" BS Keith speaks of is just luxurious,give him your lecture/ Mind reading indeed.

what am I thinking?

we are all experts in consciousness.

Joe Hinman said...

Raymond Tallis was a professor of Geriatric medicine at University of Manchester, and researcher, who retired in 2006 to devote himself to philosophy and writing. Tallis denounces what he calls “neurohype,” “the claims made on behalf of neuroscience in areas outside those in which it has any kind of explanatory power….”[8]

The fundamental assumption is that we are our brains and this, I will argue presently, is not true. But this is not the only reason why neuroscience does not tell us what human beings “really” are: it does not even tell us how the brain works, how bits of the brain work, or (even if you accept the dubious assumption that human living could be parcelled up into a number of discrete functions) which bit of the brain is responsible for which function. The rationale for thinking of the kind – “This bit of the brain houses that bit of us...” – is mind-numbingly simplistic.

Raymond Tallis New Haumanist.org.uk Ideas for Godless People (blog—online researche) volume 124 Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2009) URL: http://newhumanist.org.uk/2172/neurotrash visited 5/9/12

7th Stooge said...

Honestly, good luck with that. A warning I give to undergrad philosophy students I meet is to NEVER assert a strong position when there is great debate among the experts. You think there are arguments that DEMONSTRATE the mind is not reducible to the brain? The fact that more qualified people (You have zero qualifications, no offense) disagree should make you wary of posting such a strong position. A weaker thesis is more appropriate, i.e., "If these arguments are sound/cogent, then we have a demonstration that mind is not reducible to brain without appealing to NDEs".

That's just his rhetorical style. Good luck persuading Joe to change that! ;)

Joe Hinman said...

guys I am quoting have credentials, Actually on comment section SOP Parsons claimed he can read minds because he can do EKG a so forth showing addicts need their fix,that;ws find reading minds Rayan seemed to buy into that. Compared to my claim of demonstration that;s no no room to talk.

Mike Gerow said...

I'm not sure about the validity of "credentials" here and would tend to go by Nagel's comment which you cited above to the effect that everyone has "expertise" in certain areas.... In a wider sense, I think it's concerning, Ryan's impetus here to defer the big issues to philosophical "experts" or "specialists" and I'm not sure the big philosophical questions like, "Is there a God?", "Is there a soul?", "What is a person?" are or could be or should be matters left up to "the experts"....

7th Stooge said...

Mike, And what qualifies you to make such a comment? (Just kidding) I agree with you. I think Ryan's point was that without credentials, you should be a little more circumspect in your claims. But this would apply to people with credentials also, especially in areas like this one where no one really knows with any degree of confidence.

What should matter in questions like consciousness are the immediacy of conscious experience and the cogency of the arguments.

Ryan M said...

"I think Ryan's point was that without credentials, you should be a little more circumspect in your claims."

This, but also that one ought to avoid making a strong assertion about some P when; 1. the person is not an expert in P's field, 2. there is no clear consensus about P among the equally qualified experts in P's field.

With respect to Keith's claims, Joe certainly is not an expert in any science related to consciousness, and Joe certainly is not an expert in any philosophy related to consciousness. Joe can say we are all experts on consciousness in virtue of being conscious, but that's no different than saying we're all experts in optometry in virtue of having eye sight. It's a no go. With respect to the claims of experts on consciousness, there is no consensus about whether reductionism is true/false. Among philosophers of mind, roughly 60% accept mental physicalism, and among philosophers of metaphysics, roughly 50% accept mental physicalism. Certainly no consensus there, and citing non physicalist experts won't change that.

Joe Hinman said...

I think Ryan's point was that without credentials, you should be a little more circumspect in your claims."

This, but also that one ought to avoid making a strong assertion about some P when; 1. the person is not an expert in P's field, 2. there is no clear consensus about P among the equally qualified experts in P's field.

the expert makes the claim, but what I really mean to say was these are positive arguments not merely statements about lack of data,

With respect to Keith's claims, Joe certainly is not an expert in any science related to consciousness, and Joe certainly is not an expert in any philosophy related to consciousness. Joe can say we are all experts on consciousness in virtue of being conscious, but that's no different than saying we're all experts in optometry in virtue of having eye sight.

I think you are somewhat uninformed about then work if the work of historians, historians of sickness can have expertise in areas of scientist knowledge,at oleast to the extent of knowing what people have argued,

what is the basis of your expertise?,



It's a no go. With respect to the claims of experts on consciousness, there is no consensus about whether reductionism is true/false.


you are sadly confused about the nature of argumentation. no one ever said one must make argument only by consensus. I said I have six positive arguments that say we can't reduce, no one answered them. With no refutation arguments always stand in a dbate.


Among philosophers of mind, roughly 60% accept mental physicalism, and among philosophers of metaphysics, roughly 50% accept mental physicalism. Certainly no consensus there, and citing non physicalist experts won't change that.


that really is an appeal to popularity, All the major researchers admit we don;'t know enough about consciousness for consensus to mean anything.

we have already made enough inroads into physicalism that it garners no respect from me.

I think you are also confused about what claims are being made,I said one could be property duelist and still argue no reduction,I also said one could be a property dualist and a Christian,

what percentage of intelligent people don't teach philosophy?

Joe Hinman said...

Eric Sotnak said...
Joe:"In fact mind could be the dreaded soul or spirit that one imagines Parsons is really trying to disprove and still supervene upon the physical."


Eric: Why would you (or anyone) want to make a case for this, though?

I am a Christian

1. "A set of properties A supervenes upon another set B just in case no two things can differ with respect to A-properties without also differing with respect to their B-properties." (SEP)
2. Mind supervenes on brain. (your concession, above)
3. Therefore, no two things can differ with respect to mental properties without also differing with respect to brain properties.

I am not sure of the implications,I think the mental dimension depends upon the physical to a great extent but only in so far as its relation to the physical world is concerned. There is a larger reality that is not physical,

Joe Hinman said...

I urge everyone to watch this video lecture by John Searle. I agree with almost everything he says here, about consciousness. The last statement he makes is brilliant. I think reductionist and science types and physicalists think if they accept that mind is not replaceable to brain that means they are giving up science and progress and hope for humanity solving problems.

watch the leccture

7th Stooge said...

With respect to Keith's claims, Joe certainly is not an expert in any science related to consciousness, and Joe certainly is not an expert in any philosophy related to consciousness. Joe can say we are all experts on consciousness in virtue of being conscious, but that's no different than saying we're all experts in optometry in virtue of having eye sight. It's a no go. With respect to the claims of experts on consciousness, there is no consensus about whether reductionism is true/false. Among philosophers of mind, roughly 60% accept mental physicalism, and among philosophers of metaphysics, roughly 50% accept mental physicalism. Certainly no consensus there, and citing non physicalist experts won't change that.

How is it no different from saying we[re all experts in optometry? No one disputes the fact that optometry is essentially tied to third person facts about the eye and vision. But whether or not consciousness is analogous is precisely the question that's being debated. maybe it is analogous, but that hasn;t been decisively established.


Citing non-physicalist "experts" is appropriate if they can offer more convincing reasons and arguments than physicalist "experts" can. How else can this question be discussed? By citing experts who are on the fence, or citing as many physicalists as non-physicalists?

Since when do expertise and consensus have anything to do with philosophical questions?

7th Stooge said...

With respect to Keith's claims, Joe certainly is not an expert in any science related to consciousness, and Joe certainly is not an expert in any philosophy related to consciousness. Joe can say we are all experts on consciousness in virtue of being conscious, but that's no different than saying we're all experts in optometry in virtue of having eye sight. It's a no go. With respect to the claims of experts on consciousness, there is no consensus about whether reductionism is true/false. Among philosophers of mind, roughly 60% accept mental physicalism, and among philosophers of metaphysics, roughly 50% accept mental physicalism. Certainly no consensus there, and citing non physicalist experts won't change that.

But no one disputes that optometry is made up of third person facts. Whether or not consciousness is the same is the question that's in dispute. So whether or not expertise is required in order to know the essential features of consciousness is the question, or a big part of the question.

Citing a non-physicalist "expert" is appropriate if that person can offer more compelling reasons/arguments than physicalist "experts" can offer. How else to proceed? Cite experts who are undecided or cite 60% physicalist experts and 40% non-physicalists?

Since when do philosophical questions turn on expertise and consensus?

7th Stooge said...

My first post didn't appear for several minutes. That's why I posted twice.

Joe Hinman said...

you could trash one of the, but not the other very well said thank you.

7th Stooge said...

Which one?

7th Stooge said...

Which one?

Mike Gerow said...

oe can say we are all experts on consciousness in virtue of being conscious, but that's no different than saying we're all experts in optometry in virtue of having eye sight. It's a no go."

Well, that's a pretty strongly-worded statement to pit against the well-known assertion of the renowned philosopher Thomas Nagel, now, isn't it?