Sunday, November 28, 2010

Neuromythology and Neurocriticism

Recently in the context of comments about brain "maps" in the visual cortex, I quoted from the book Critical Studies in Neurology (1948) by Sir Francis Walshe whom, it seems, was also John Smythies' neurology teacher University College Hospital in London. The interesting title of the book requires some explanation, which he provides in his Foreword, "The Function of Criticism in Medicine":
When we bear in mind, as we may so profitably do, the salutary and powerful influence which critical thought and writing have had upon the development of literature, and recall the stature of some of the figures who had been both outstanding critics and creative writers in literary history, it is with a strong sense of contrast that we recognize how rarely we meet the critical in the literature of science, and how minor a role it plays in our time.

In any case, we may well ask ourselves whether, despite the many and obvious differences between literature and science, it can be altogether wholesome to find that the unresting collection of new facts in science is to so relatively slight a degree accompanied, or illuminated, by the critical assessment and synthesis of all this new information, or at least by some deliberate search after synthesis. Here, surely, integration is not keeping pace with differentiation (pp. vii-viii).
I suspect that more than one reader here may agree that now over half a century later the situation still leaves much to be desired, if anyone has ever seen the gallery of brain scans that adorn the poster presentations at annual conferences of the Society for Neuroscience. As Walshe noted: "For new facts, or what claim to be such, the editor of the scientific journal has an insatiable appetite, but to anything in the nature of critical writing, he is often found to be acutely allergic, and at the writer thereof he instinctively looks askance (p. viii)" So criticism is by no means welcome in the field, even if it is badly needed, and should rightly be seen as integral to the scientific method, rather than as something external to it, as Walshe maintained:

Facts, after all, are not science but only the raw material of that ordered knowledge which is science, and in the ordering of facts, in the capacity to choose the significant amongst them, to apply the inductive process to them and to make those syntheses which are the natural starting points for further planned experiment and observation, there also we find the highest role of the trained critical faculty. Discrimination of true from false depends upon a practiced faculty of criticism, and upon a firm grasp of the rules of evidence (ibid.)
It interesting, too, that Walshe associates critical thinking with literary criticism, rather than being one of the primary roles of philosophy, which his statements seem to imply is not part of scientific education or the practice of science itself as a discipline, but must be cultivated by the individual himself. Walshe observes: "[T]here is not a little in our literature that is inaccurate, slovenly and redundant, and, after all, our literature is but the expression of our thinking," and referring to a critical paper by Lashley and Clark on cortical cytoarchitectonics, he comments:

[T]his body of knowledge is to a grave degree illusory in its apparent precision, is based upon the study of an inadequate number of samples by methods which lack any constant standards of observation and result in conflicts of statement that have gone far too long uncriticised, even, indeed, unnoticed by workers in the field. Cortical cytoarchitectonics may not unfarily be said to have reached a degree of pseudo-precision and unreality unprecedented in neurological science (p. xif)

Given the example of brain mapping Walshe mentions, which I quoted in previous comments, one cannot help wonder if conditions since he wrote his book have really changed significantly, if one juxtaposes the following remarks with those of Hubel and Wiesel which I also quoted:

In certain other problems that have confronted the neurologist it is rather naivety than manifest inaccuracy and slovenliness that our thought and literature from time to time have displayed. For example, the hypothesis that consciousness is to be "located" in the hypothalamus reveals a crude conception of this function that might almost have derived from the animistic mythology of some savage tribe. It appears that the word "consciousness" has but to be uttered, read or heard for us to find ourselves irresistibly entertaining the illusion that some perfectly simple and unitary state is involved. This is at once dubbed an "entity" which we are impelled to "locate" tidily and compactly within some easily definable structure in the brain. In this facile process of anatomizing an abstraction, the hypothalamus finds itself the somewhat unpromising site of this profoundly complex phenomenon, and also the ark within which "centres" of sleep and of wakefulness have been reverently deposited. (p. xii)
Further bemoaning this state of affairs in terms of the "mysterious viability of the false," "repositories of obsolete lumber," "facile allegory," and a "medley of ad hoc hypotheses," Walshe concludes that "[I]t is temping, and a humbling exersise, sometimes to see the humorous side of our interests and activities, and in this mood it is not altogether inapt to say that there are chapters in neurological literature that might justly be styled 'neuromythology'" (p. xiv). But as much as anything, what Walshe has "diagnosed" is just poor or untrained critical reasoning.

That some indeed acknowledge now that there exists something akin to a "Emperor's New Clothes" situation in neuroscience today, there are now commentators who explicitly espouse neurocriticism. Here is an example from a link given on a "Neuroanthropology" blog to a blog entitled "Critique of Neuroscience":

Cornelius Borck, professor for history of medicine and science at Luebeck University, investigated the “neurorevolution” from a historical perspective. The promises for brain researchers were now repeated already for 200 years: Scientists kept repeating over and over again the imminence of a major breakthrough concerning the understanding of human mind, consciousness, and that of mental disorders. By contrast, Borck argued, the “new knowledge” often reproduced what had been known already, referring to the recommendation – recently supported by neuroscience – to teach foreign languages in early childhood. Also the language of brain researchers were noteworthy: Functional magnetic resonance imaging, for example, investigated physiological processes; nevertheless, many studies relying on this method explained their data not in physiological concepts, but in those stemming from everyday life.
What strikes me as very curious, too, is how uncritical most of so-called neurophilosophy is of neuroscience!

Monday, November 22, 2010


(up-dated Nov. 22, 2010)

Post. Entries. date of last entry

Apparent distortions 78 10/18

Evolution of Topology 18 09/14

Qualia & Consciousness 03 10/07

The very basic topology… 12 09/04

Biologico-Teleological… 45 10/26

Seeing is believing… 02 09/18

Space in the Causal Theory… 76 10/15

Structural Isomorphism 29 10/14

Phenomenal Self & VS 12 11/07

Theory of Material Dualism… 38 10/28

Frederick Paulsen… 06 10/12

Brain mechanisms vision 19 11/05

Holographic Model 10 11/04

Disappearence of… 07 11/01

Comments on … 57 11/25

Aldous Huxley 04 11/09

ETB 07 11/27

Mind Body 1 46 11/16

Mind Body 2 06 11/22

Kelvinitis 14 11/22

Friday, November 19, 2010

Kelvinitis in the year 2010

The present state of cosmology and neuroscience has a flavor akin to Lord Kelvin’s famous statement he made in 1900 that “Physics is almost complete.” Cosmologists today tend to believe that all that remains for them to do in their field is to unite relativity and quantum mechanics into a Final Theory of Everything. Almost all neuroscientists believe that they will soon be able give a full theory of consciousness solely in neurophysiological terms. However, these optimists have unfortunately overlooked a number of prominent gaps and errors in current science that have direct relevance to the question of visual space.
The list includes—
—the failure to understand the nature of the difference between physical space and phenomenal space:
—the unconscious assumption that space is necessarily three dimensional (or that space-time is necessarily four-dimensional). This assumption has recently been nibbled at by main-line cosmologists, as in brane theory.
—the failure to replace, in biology and psychology, Newtonian cosmological theory with the Special Theory of Relativity:
—the failure to understand the complex nature of time:
—the assumption, without evidence, in Brane Theory that all branes (parallel universes) must be filled with the same sort of matter as that contained in what cosmologists currently recognize as “the Universe”.
—the mistaken idea that the Identity Theory of mind-brain relations is true, and/or has been shown to be true, and not, as is easily demonstrable, totally false.
—the simultaneous use of two incompatible theories of perception—the representative theory of science and the na├»ve realism of folk psychology. This leads to complete confusion in the science of perception:
—the failure to understand the difference between the body image, the body schema, and the physical body:
—the widespread use of incorrect terminology throughout neuroscience, such as “The brain thinks”—as Ray and Bill have listed:
—the use by many scientists of pathological skepticism in the evaluation of the data from parapsychology.

Two simple questions will illuminate these gaps in knowledge:
“Where in the phenomenal world that you experience is your physical brain located?”
“Are the sensations that you experience parts of your own organism?”

Mind and Body, Medieval and Modern: part 2

Mind and Body, Medieval and Modern: Augustine and Thomas Aquinas Versus Descartes

by David McGraw

Part II

Saint Thomas Aquinas stood with Augustine on many key points concerning the nature of reality. This includes important points where he stood with Augustine and against Descartes on issues having to do with the specific problems of mind and body. Thus, Aquinas agreed with Augustine that matter sits at the bottom of the hierarchy of the universe. He agreed that a rational creature is superior to a dead body because God gives more to the one than to the other. Aquinas agreed that to be spiritual is to have levels of power and perfection that go beyond what can be captured within matter. He agreed that the human soul comprehends but does not exemplify extension; or rather, the soul exemplifies extension by developing and maintaining the body but not within itself. Aquinas agreed that this is so because the human soul (like God, or an angel) is superior to what does exemplify or display extension within itself. Again, he stood with Augustine against Descartes in affirming the basic division between sense and intellect, with all that this division entails for both the human subject and the nature of reality. For all these reasons, Aquinas stood with Augustine in understanding the situation of mind and body better than Descartes.
However, Augustine agreed with Descartes in speaking of the soul as numerically separate from the body and all its parts, although very differently from the way Descartes understood this thesis. Unhappily, given this separation, there is no way to avoid the enormous, and notorious, challenges that have been brought against Cartesian dualism. This point applies to Augustine's version as well.
These challenges are so severe that the strongest reason for saying materialism is true of the human person may be phrased as a modus tollens argument. "If materialism is not true, then Cartesian dualism is not false. But Cartesian dualism is clearly false and obviously absurd. Therefore, materialism is true." This conclusion does follow, and the criticism of Cartesian dualism is certainly correct. Consequently, materialism is often accepted as the only theoretical framework worth taking seriously.
But there is another possibility. One can deny materialism apart from affirming Cartesian or even Augustinian dualism. Long before Descartes, there was what might be called the theory of the "top down" structure of the human subject. The origins of this theory go back to ancient times. This theory is what Aquinas followed.
This "top down" theory is something like a dualism of attributes within a single substance. But this substance is really more mental than material or corporeal. For it is not correct to say that mental attributes belong to the body. The truth is almost exactly the opposite. This theory is much more like Strawson's idea of the person, with mind and body together, as the primary unit. However, the sort of personalism proposed here has the mind as the dominant factor within the person. To speak in a picturesque metaphor, one could almost say the mind reaches down to include the body, and this complex of mind and body is the human person. Perhaps the chief fault of this metaphor is that the mind does not so much reach down as though it were exercising strength. Instead, it would be better to say that the (human) mind spills down or lapses into matter because of its natural weakness. (The human soul is "weak" as needing to be involved with matter instead of being able to stand alone as a pure spirit.) Thus, this theory is almost like idealism, since the body may be said to be a function of the mind, except that the body is fully real. More properly, this theory is to idealism (more or less) what traditional epiphenomenalism is to materialism. For this reason, one might speak of this theory as "reverse epiphenomenalism," and this theory has been spoken of in this way on this basis.
Thus, Descartes was right to speak of himself as a thinking thing. But whether thinking allows or excludes extension as an attribute is a separate question. The thing that thinks might turn out to be material, or spiritual, or some sort of hybrid. What is proposed here is that the thing that thinks (the “rational substance”) is a kind of hybrid. Intellect and will belong to the inner spirituality of the person, and this inner spirituality is a level or layer within someone that is above the material. On the other hand, the spiritual soul of the human person is also the "organizing and architectonic principle" of the living animal body. The thing (or “substance”) that is the person is then the rational animal as a living being.
This theory may be explicated more fully by going into its historical development. Plato argued against materialism, but he also affirmed full dualism. However, Plato also said that the soul weaves the body around itself. This statement is too clearly metaphorical to be more than merely suggestive as it stands. Then again, one must presumably say that the body is derived from the functioning of the soul instead of having the mental life of the person be developed out of the functioning of the body. If it means anything at all to say the soul weaves the body around itself, it has to mean at least this much. This kind of reverse epiphenomenalism is the third alternative, apart from both materialism and dualism. Plato combined this thesis, that the soul develops and maintains the body, with full dualism. But these theories can be distinguished.
After Plato, Aristotle spoke of the soul as the form of the body. What he meant by this idea may be subject to interpretation. On the other side, Aristotle argued against materialism as regards the thinking mind. If he had said the thinking mind is part of the human individual, then he might be committed to saying the soul develops the body. As it is, what Aristotle believed about the thinking mind may also be subject to interpretation. In any event, Aristotle gave the chief dignity to form over matter. A thing's form is the principal basis for the thing to be what it is and to do what it does. So, Aristotle's answer seems to be that the soul develops the body instead of being derived from the body as an epiphenomenon.
This theory was clearly the answer given by Thomas Aquinas. Like Plato and Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas argued against materialism on the ground that reasoning transcends matter. But he also opposed full dualism. Instead, Saint Thomas said that the soul is the chief active principle within the person. There are intellectual capabilities because there is more to the (human) soul than what is involved in being the organizing and architectonic principle of the body. Abstract thinking belongs to this superior level within the person.
This theory seems to be the best available answer regarding mind and body. One of the strongest reasons in favor of this theory is that it has the most serious advantages of Cartesian dualism, but escapes the four chief objections. This point will be demonstrated by examining each of these four objections in turn.
To begin with, there are two obvious problems concerning individual identity. First of all, there is the problem of individual identity as regards diversity from others. For one must ask in what ways things are differentiated to be numerically separate from each other. As Aquinas pointed out, God is diffferentiated from other things by the very fact that He is infinite and they are finite. Things other than God can be differentiated from each other in some material way, or by differing in kind or species, or perhaps in both ways. (Two dogs differ from each other in virtue of material facts, or material stuff, or both. A dog differs from a cat in kind or species, and that fact would be enough by itself to establish them as separate beings.) That is all.
Along this line, Thomas Aquinas spoke of angels as (created) pure spirits. But in order to do this, he had to say that each angel differs in kind or species from every other angel. Only in this way can one angel be numerically diverse from another. An angel is created and so is not God. Since angels have no material stuff in them, and no material restrictions upon them, there is only the difference in kind or species to make them separate from each other.
Now, if the human mind were truly a separate substance from the body, it would presumably be a pure spirit in the manner of an angel. So, if there were to be a multitude of separate human minds, then they would all have to differ in kind or species from each other. But in fact, the available evidence points very strongly in the opposite direction. Therefore, the evidence is clearly against dualism.
On the other hand, this argument fails to reach the kind of "top down" personalism proposed here in anything like the same way. A human person is a sort of material substance, even though it is also much more than this. Thus, a human person is fully subject to multiplicity within the same species, like any other animal but unlike an angel.
Second, there is a problem of individual identity as regards continuity through time. What happens when someone falls into a deep coma, so that there is no mental life at all going on inside the person? A dualist must either insist that mental life does not fully cease even in deep coma or admit that the person's life has lapsed in such cases. Either of these answers is at least seriously questionable given the available evidence.
For Aquinas, the answer is clear enough. Mental dispositions can exist apart from being exercised, just like any other dispositions. (For example, a man can be intelligent even when he is not thinking, just as a lump of salt or sugar can be soluable when it is not presently being dissolved.) Even if the person “could not be” restored to having mental life, this would show only that the impediments to natural functioning could not be removed by the available healing arts. The person would still exist as a rational substance. Moreover, it would be false to say that the person is then a substance with no qualities or events actually present. So long as there is bodily life, the qualities that arise out of bodily functioning belong to the person, since the nature of the distinctively human person includes the body. These bodily qualities and events are enough for the life of the person to continue as something actually occurrent.
To be sure, this second problem weighs much less heavily on Augustine than it does on Descartes. The reason is that Augustine was much more concerned than Descartes to affirm that the soul develops and maintains the body. Therefore, Augustine could stand with Aquinas and say that, in such cases, the soul is still exercising vital functioning over the body, even though no mental life is presently being exercised.
Third, there is the problem about how the mind of a human person works. Once again, if the human mind were truly a separate substance from the body, it would presumably be a pure spirit in the manner of an angel. In that case, the mental life of a human person would presumably be free from any weaknesses or limitations derived from matter. But this is clearly false. Moreover, such weaknesses and limitations, so far from being externally imposed on the mind, appear to derive from the inner nature of the mind. Furthermore, these restrictions seem to reach even those distinctive operations of intellect and will with the strongest claim to transcend matter. Thus, once again, full dualism appears contrary to the available evidence.
On the other hand, the theory proposed here is fully compatible with all this evidence. A human person looks very much like an animal with some distinctively spiritual capabilities laid on top of its nature as an animal. The reason is that this is what a human person is in fact. Intellect and will exist only in conjunction with the person's nature as an animal, even though they transcend this nature. For this reason, abstract thinking and deliberate choice occur only within the context defined by someone's life as an animal (where this life is taken to include imagination and emotion as well as sensory perception). All this remains so even though these activities are ultimately irreducible to any kind of purely animal functioning.
What this involves can be illustrated from the specific concerns over visual experience. Aquinas agreed with Augustine that the soul to which intellect and will belong is the same soul that animates the body. They agreed also that the soul is nonspatial, albeit as transcending spatial restrictions and not as lacking anything. But then it seems mysterious how the soul can accommodate the vast spaces that show up in visual experience. Augustine answered that this is so because of the soul's superior power. Aquinas would (almost) agree, but in a different way.
Saint Thomas considered that, properly speaking, it is the human person to which mental life belongs, rather than the soul as such. Along this line, the soul's superior power allows the spaces that show up in visual experience to be accommodated by establishing and holding the body as an integral part of the person. Insofar as something literally spatial is needed to accomodate these spaces, this something is present, and it is the body of the person. Sensory experience (visual or otherwise) is a function of the body, just as abstract thinking and deliberate choice are functions of the spiritual soul. But since body and soul together make up the human person as a single unit, these functions are combined to make up the mental life of the person as something unified.
What if it were to be proposed that the soul itself is literally spatial? The answer to this proposal involves going back and considering a prior question. Why should one affirm any soul in the first place, instead of just attributing mental life to the body? One answer is that self aware consciousness seems to require something deeply unified as the subject to which it belongs, and the body is not sufficiently unified. Descartes seems to have been right about this. But then the soul cannot itself be spread out in the same way as the body, or there would be the same problem all over again. This "top down" theory provides for Descartes's insight but avoids the problem about experiencing space.
Fourth, and most notorious, there is the problem about interaction. Even if there could be a separate human mind with the required attributes, one would still have to ask how it is related to the body. Since mind and body are supposed to be fully constituted substances, they would have to interact causally. No mechanism for such interaction is even minimally plausible. However, the basic problem is far deeper than this. The problem is that the theory turns out to be demonstrably incoherent as regards the body. For the body has to be a fully constituted substance, and yet it must be naturally ordered to receive causal influence from the mind. This influence appears not to be externally imposed on the body: it appears instead to fit right into the functioning of the body. Thus, the functioning of the body must be profoundly incomplete in some way to make room for this influence. But this result is contrary to the claim that the body is a fully constituted substance.
On the other hand, this evidence may even support the theory proposed here, for the body is not claimed to be a fully constituted substance within itself. Instead, the soul is the organizing principle of the body. The mental life of the human person can govern bodily activity by influencing how bodily processes are organized. There remains some question about the mechanism, but the basic problem of conceptual logic is eliminated.
Yet the body seems to be fully organized within itself as a material system. No spiritual activity appears to be required for the body to be what it is and do what it does as a body.
The answer to this objection depends on observing a fine distinction. The human body is organized within itself in the sense that the material system works out on its own terms as a material system. However, the body exists as a unified whole only because it is the body of some living person. The soul is the organizing and architectonic principle of the body, but not as though the body needed some magical glue to hold it together. Instead, the body is deeply unified and integrated as a living thing, instead of being a mere machine. The body is a unified whole in virtue of being alive. But the body is animated with the distinctive life of a person. Thus, the basis for the human body to exist and operate as a whole also includes capabilities that go above and beyond what belongs to the functioning of material things as material. It is in this way that the soul acts as the form of the body.
Will this answer work out? Paradoxically, it can be made to stand if materialism can avoid being absurd on its face. Any sophisticated materialism has to allow higher animals, and especially human subjects, to be more than machines. For mechanism cannot contain or support the mental life of a dog or a cat, let alone that of a man or a woman. The obvious answer is that all these are living beings instead of mere machines. But then this point about the advantage of being alive cuts both ways. Different types of beings may be alive in different modes and have various capabilities on that basis. In the case of the human subject, the mode in which the animal is alive turns out to be exalted enough to allow for even distinctively spiritual functioning. That is all. "Top down" personalism is vindicated on this basis.
Along this line, there is no substitution within the human person of spiritual activity for material functioning of the body. What has to be understood here is that the idea of "top down" structure is taken very seriously as regards the human person and indeed the nature of reality as a whole. Lower levels work out correctly on their own terms as far as may be, and higher levels work by means of lower levels as far as may be. In the present case, intellect and will cannot be wholly reduced to, or constructed from, the lower levels of the human person. (That is what it is for these faculties to transcend those lower levels.) But still, intellect and will work largely by means of emotion, imagination, sensory perception, et cetera. (A man may implement or promote the functioning of his intellect and will by imposing discipline on these subordinate functions, in terms of forming pictures in his mind, directing or calming his feelings, and so on.) Again, the work of imagination, et cetera, is accomplished by means of complex patterns and processes of neural functioning, and this functioning is accomplished by means of low level metabolism, and this metabolism works by means of "nitty gritty" electrochemistry, and so on right down to the underlying quantum physics (or whatever the truth turns out to be). At no point is there any substitution of higher level functioning for that of the lower level.
Given all this, one of the strongest arguments for materialism is easily answered. Yes, of course the activities of intellect and will are strongly correlated with neural electrochemistry. Since the higher levels of the person work by means of the lower levels as far as may be, what these higher levels do or fail to do will be largely influenced by what does or does not happen on the lower levels. Similarly, what the craftsman does or fails to do will be largely influenced by what does or does not happen to his tools. But even so, the craftsman is clearly superior to his tools. So here in like manner, intellect and will are superior to neural electrochemistry.
Then again, Saint Thomas can give this answer. What Descartes can say is much more problematic.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mind and Body, Medieval and Modern: Augustine and Thomas Aquinas Versus Descartes

by David McGraw

Part I

In order to examine rightly whether materialism is true of the human person, one must first understand what is at stake and what alternatives there may be. In this age of Western philosophical history, that point entails that one must begin by resolving some of the errors and confusions derived from Rene Descartes. Like his predecessors, Descartes said materialism is not true of the human person, but what he meant be this denial turns out to be seriously different from what they meant.
Descartes thought of himself as a "second Augustine." In fact, the comparison of Descartes with Augustine shows rather clearly where they differ and where Descartes went wrong.
Saint Augustine exalted number as the principle of material things. Indeed, in one way, Augustine would almost be willing to agree to the thesis that material objects have only mathematical attributes, but not in the way Descartes imagined. The exact difference between them on this point is the heart of the dispute.
Augustine accepted and used Aristotle's analysis of material objects when it served his purposes, but his basic framework was Platonic or Neoplatonic. This comes out clearly in his analysis of how matter is informed. Divine wisdom is the principle of cosmic order. A dead body partakes of Divine wisdom only in the least and lowest measure. Because of this, the dead body has only number but not life or reason. In this way, and in this way only, Augustine would almost agree that material things have only mathematical attributes. Bodies have nothing more than number, measure, and weight only as being comparatively weak and shadowy on this basis.
Again, God creates matter and so must in some way contain material attributes within Himself. But He contains these attributes only by comprehending them within His knowledge and power, not by exemplifying or displaying them within His own nature. Mathematical attributes are not aspects of the Divine nature, and they are not a spillover or overfolw from the Divine nature, for there is no spillover or overflow. There is creation. God makes there be things that are not Himself and that receive from Him.
Augustine proclaimed all this, and Descartes would say he affirmed it. But Descartes did not follow out the consequence. A rational creature is superior to a dead body because God gives more to the one that to the other, and the same God is giving in both cases, although in different measures. Thus, when a created spirit does not have various mathematical attributes, this is not because it lacks something that matter has. It is rather that a created spirirt is so richly powerful by nature as to transcend the whole order of material being, including the attributes proper to material things.
The same God gives existence and attributes to both soul and body. This point is critically important. Augustine considered that matter sits at the bottom of the hierarchy of the universe. But Descartes was really denying that there is any hierarchy of the universe. Matter has the mathematical attributes, but the soul does not. Thus, they belong to different orders of being. Plato and Augustine might have to argue about whether matter is too weak and shadowy to contain or support mental life. But for Descartes, such life is simply irrelevant to matter. Mental life belongs to the soul instead of the body because the soul is the right kind of thing, and the body is the wrong kind of thing, to have these functions. So, if matter may be said to be weak, this is not because it is lacking compared to the soul. It is only because matter does not share in any law or structure that makes the connection of soul and body possible. Descartes strips down matter, but chiefly because he strips down the whole universe by denying such laws and structures.
Along this line, Descartes did not really share Augustine's strict opposition to materialism, although he would say he did. Descartes agreed with Augustine that God is totally immaterial and incorporeal. However, the concept of being purely spiritual did not mean to Descartes what it meant to his predecessors. His concept was negative in the wrong way.
The old positive concept is of levels of power and perfection that cannot be captured within matter. A pure spirit is unextended, but not because it lacks anything. Rather, it is not limited by space. Thus, God "virtually" contains attributes that He does not display. Somewhat analogously, the human soul comprehends but does not exemplify extension. More properly, the soul exemplifies extension by developing and maintaining the body, but not within itself. Descartes may have thought in these terms about God, but he did not think this way about the soul. But Augustine thought this way about both God and the soul.
On this basis, it is almost as if Descartes did not really think materialism is false of the human person after all. The reason is that the soul cannot rightly be said to be superior to the body, since the inner functioning of the soul belongs to a different order of being from the life of the body. It is almost as if the soul exercises mental life instead of developing and maintaining the body. On the other side, Augustine was very clear that the soul to which mental life belongs is the same soul that animates the body.
Yet Augustine agreed with Descartes that the human soul is numerically separate from the body and all its parts. Once again, however, the soul is separate from the body as superior to the body. It is not as though body and soul were beings of different orders that had to be magically joined at the pineal gland.
Then again, perhaps the challenge is to know what may be involved in transcending the whole order of material being in this way. In fact, Augustine himself found this hard to understand. His breakthrough came when he read the books of the "Platonists." Now, Plato was concerned with the fact of reasoning, and there is an obvious way in which reasoning involves going beyond material limitations. Given this, one can then think of things with this capability as belonging to some superior order of being (which is what Plato did in contemplating the soul).
In what way does reasoning go beyond material limitations? One who reasons is concerned with abstract principles that apply generally. (For instance, a veterinarian may think abstractly about dogs in general.) These principles apply fully and undividedly to each of a multitude of things. (The whole of what the veterinarian knows about dogs applies in its totality to each of Fido, and Rover, and Spot, and so on.) On the other side, the concrete example is just that, an example of the principles it embodies. (The veterinarian is aware of the particular dog Sparky as a given instance of what he knows.) Again, one who reasons can cut across time and space to contemplate the events and situations of remote ages and remote regions. (An astronomer does this in thinking about galaxies long ago and far away.) Indeed, reasoning involves latching onto principles that stand fast forever, beyond time and change. (Mathematics is an obvious illustration of this.) Through reasoning, one can go beyond the limits even of actual reality to be concerned with hypothetical cases. (A scientist can think about would result if such and such were to happen.) On all these points, one who reasons reaches beyond the limitations of the material.
What must be noted here is that, in view of all these considerations, knowledge based on reasoning is also superior to knowledge based on observing through the senses. Unhappily, Descartes lumped together intellectual functioning and sensory experience as mental, in contradistinction to the material. In doing this, he ended up downgrading the traditional division between sense and intellect. This error was cirtical. For sensory experience does not have these benefits, and so it stands with the material, across the great divide from intellectual functioning. Therefore, one who stands within the tradition derived from Descartes may well find the idea of spirit as superior to matter hard to understand, for he has lost sight of the principal manifestation of this superiority in ordinary human experience.
With all these considerations in view, one may go back and examine whether materialism is true of the human person. Perhaps the first thing to note is that the modern version of the problem about mind and body is not the version that was important in earlier centuries. A philosopher concerned with the modern problem will answer crude versions of materialism by saying these theories cannot account for the mental life of a dog or a cat, let alone that of a man or a woman. This answer, however, is clearly not relevant to the problem as Plato understood it. Plato argued that the soul is not merely a function or combination of bodily processes, for it can exercise effective control over animal appetites. This reply belongs to a different world from that of the modern version.
In earlier centuries, it was considered that the material world is reasonably rich, as opposed to being stripped down in the manner of Descartes. The question was whether, given this, the human subject must then include some level or layer above the material. Plato said yes, as did Aristotle, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas. They said this because they believed (1) the distinctive functions of intellect and will reach above the material and (2) these functions cannot really be constructed from lower level processes.Whether all this is correct or not, these thimkers at least asked the right questions more than those who follow Descartes.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Evolutionary Theory of Being (ETB)


Lothar Kleine-Horst

My contribution to this discussion forum will predominantly be to present my "Empiristic theory of visual gestalt perception" (ETVG) and discuss it by comparing it to other theories of visual perception. But since the ETVG is an integrated part of a higher order theory, the "Evolutionary theory of Being" (ETB), it can not really be understood without being related to this supertheory. So I am going to present the ETB before presenting the ETVG. Unexpected and far-reaching conclusions for visual perception, for example, can be drawn from the ETB.

The "Theory of Man" is a theory of Being as well, as it describes the structure of Being in which evolution of "all that is" happens, and Man is the highest "thing" created by the evolution. This theory is a part of a bookchapter (KH 2008, 2010) and also to find with its URL:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Aldous Huxley on Secondary Qualities

In his Doors of Perception Aldous Huxley makes a most interesting comment about a fundamental shift that seems to occur in visual consciousness under the influence of the "psychedelic" drug, Mescalin:

Mescalin raises all colors to a higher power and makes the percipient aware of innumerable fine shades of difference, to which, at ordinary times, he is completely blind. It would seem that, for Mind at Large, the so-called secondary characters of things are primary. Unlike Locke, it evidently feels that colors are more important, better worth attending to, then masses, positions and dimensions (p. 27).

What intrigues me about his remarks is that by this alteration in color, attention is drawn to color and drawn away from the "primary qualities" of VS. I have already argued that even in ordinary VS, it is literally color that is primary, not the quantitative or quantifiable magnitudes that it contains by virtue of the juxtaposition of different colors, because without the color, there is no VS at all (and by "color" I am including black and white). There are no lines, no surfaces, no shapes--in short, no geometry!