Major topics in philosophy of mind

Is the mind the same as the body? What is consciousness? Can machines have it?

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chasw
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Major topics in philosophy of mind

Post by chasw » Wed Apr 23, 2014 2:25 pm

Paul Chuchland's 1981 article "Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes" is an attack on commonly-held beliefs about human psychology and an argument for the eventual reduction of all mental activity to explanation by neuroscience. In the course of dissecting "folk psychology", Churchland lists 7 major topics which are the province of the various philosophies of mind:
1. Mind-body problem
2. Intentionality of mental states
3. Nature of introspection
4. Semantics of mental predicates
5. Other-minds problem
6. Action theory
7. Explanation and prediction of behavior

I've ranked these in my own preferred logical order. Is this list complete? What is missing or misplaced on the list? IMO, the relationship of philosophy of mind to the practice of psychology is paramount.

BTW, I subscribe to the non-reductionist school. I accept that all mental activity is directly related to corresponding brain activity, however, the semantic content of our intentional thoughts cannot be deciphered by monitoring brain waves, etc. alone. As Herbert Feigl put it, "intentionality can only be analyzed in terms of pure semantics, which falls under the category of the logical rather than the psychological. It would be a category mistake of the most glaring sort to attempt a neurophysiological identification of this aspect of Mind".

While its possible that future, fully-equipped neuroscientists will be able to discern anger, desire and other general classes of mental states, I submit they will never be able to discover, from external phenomena alone, the inner details of our thoughts. For that, they must always rely on first-person accounts, which of course are notoriously unreliable. Such is the nature of human minds, it seems. - CW

Ginkgo
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Re: Major topics in philosophy of mind

Post by Ginkgo » Wed Apr 23, 2014 10:44 pm

chasw wrote:Paul Chuchland's 1981 article "Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes" is an attack on commonly-held beliefs about human psychology and an argument for the eventual reduction of all mental activity to explanation by neuroscience. In the course of dissecting "folk psychology", Churchland lists 7 major topics which are the province of the various philosophies of mind:
1. Mind-body problem
2. Intentionality of mental states
3. Nature of introspection
4. Semantics of mental predicates
5. Other-minds problem
6. Action theory
7. Explanation and prediction of behavior

I've ranked these in my own preferred logical order. Is this list complete? What is missing or misplaced on the list? IMO, the relationship of philosophy of mind to the practice of psychology is paramount.

BTW, I subscribe to the non-reductionist school. I accept that all mental activity is directly related to corresponding brain activity, however, the semantic content of our intentional thoughts cannot be deciphered by monitoring brain waves, etc. alone. As Herbert Feigl put it, "intentionality can only be analyzed in terms of pure semantics, which falls under the category of the logical rather than the psychological. It would be a category mistake of the most glaring sort to attempt a neurophysiological identification of this aspect of Mind".

While its possible that future, fully-equipped neuroscientists will be able to discern anger, desire and other general classes of mental states, I submit they will never be able to discover, from external phenomena alone, the inner details of our thoughts. For that, they must always rely on first-person accounts, which of course are notoriously unreliable. Such is the nature of human minds, it seems. - CW
Just a suggestion Chas, but you could simplify it by classifying everything under two broad headings. Firstly, all the dualists theories of philosophy of mind such. This would include such things as mind body dualism, occasionalism property dualism,etc. Secondly one could use monism as a means of classifying all of the other theories. This would include physicalism, supervenience, psychology, neuro philosophy. etc.

As far as I can see the list you posted could be divided up into these two categories.

Wyman
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Re: Major topics in philosophy of mind

Post by Wyman » Wed Apr 23, 2014 11:20 pm

I accept that all mental activity is directly related to corresponding brain activity, however, the semantic content of our intentional thoughts cannot be deciphered by monitoring brain waves, etc. alone.
By 'semantic content' of thoughts, I can only assume you mean 'meanings.' By 'intentional', I assume you mean referring to to something outside of us. So, you claim that science cannot decipher what first person reports mean, or refer to. I do not see why science cannot provide an evidence-based explanation of first person reports. It would be a pragmatic explanation along the lines of Dewey, Wittgenstein, Quine, Rorty. It would be imperfect (as in, not satisfying the philosopher's need for certainty), as all scientific explanations are, but could have great explanatory and predictive value. As for brain scientists in particular (as opposed to anthropologists and such), I'm not sure that they're engaged in the pursuit of explaining meanings or the objects of intentional states in particular individuals. It may be impossible to explain these in detail, but the impossibility may be in complexity, not a logical impossibility.

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Re: Major topics in philosophy of mind

Post by Ginkgo » Wed Apr 23, 2014 11:56 pm

Wyman wrote:
I accept that all mental activity is directly related to corresponding brain activity, however, the semantic content of our intentional thoughts cannot be deciphered by monitoring brain waves, etc. alone.
By 'semantic content' of thoughts, I can only assume you mean 'meanings.' By 'intentional', I assume you mean referring to to something outside of us. So, you claim that science cannot decipher what first person reports mean, or refer to. I do not see why science cannot provide an evidence-based explanation of first person reports. It would be a pragmatic explanation along the lines of Dewey, Wittgenstein, Quine, Rorty. It would be imperfect (as in, not satisfying the philosopher's need for certainty), as all scientific explanations are, but could have great explanatory and predictive value. As for brain scientists in particular (as opposed to anthropologists and such), I'm not sure that they're engaged in the pursuit of explaining meanings or the objects of intentional states in particular individuals. It may be impossible to explain these in detail, but the impossibility may be in complexity, not a logical impossibility.
Yes, that's right neuro-philosophers such as Prinz do attempt to give a first person account of consciousness. Prinz has what he calls A.I.R theory of consciousness.

There doesn't appear to be a wikipedia link. Perhaps because his theory is relatively new. Although you will find some earlier work of his under the heading, "Unity Theory of Consciousness"

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Re: Major topics in philosophy of mind

Post by chasw » Thu Apr 24, 2014 1:34 pm

Ginkgo wrote: Just a suggestion Chas, but you could simplify it by classifying everything under two broad headings. Firstly, all the dualists theories of philosophy of mind such. This would include such things as mind body dualism, occasionalism property dualism,etc. Secondly one could use monism as a means of classifying all of the other theories. This would include physicalism, supervenience, psychology, neuro philosophy. etc.

As far as I can see the list you posted could be divided up into these two categories.
Thanks, Ginkgo. Yes, most of the arguments for how the mind works and what it consists of fall into the two camps you mention. Some use the terms dualist and monist, I prefer non-reductive and physicalist. The former implies there is something about the mind that cannot be reduced to physical science, i.e., not all aspects of mental activity can be explained or accounted for by purely physical phenomena. The latter includes a wide spectrum of accounts whose common thread is a mind that is nothing more than the outward phenomena of a working brain, which can (or eventually will be) completely explained by neurological means.

Churchland's list of major topics in the philosophy of mind encompasses both of these two groupings of accounts. For example, the mind-body problem necessarily attracts both camps: a) those who claim the essence of mental activity is something above and beyond the purely material brain and its visible phenomena (Decartes, Nagel, et al); and those who start from the assumption that all mental activity can be directly mapped to neurological function, no mystery involved (Churchland, Searle, et al). Most philosophers of the mind since 1940 have gravitated to the physicalist camp, however, I understand the non-reductive camp has gained ground in recent years.

As I stated, I belong in the non-reductive camp, sort of. While I admit that all human mental activity has its corresponding brain function, the nature of these thought processes creates an environment analogous to cyberspace, a state of being so peculiar it cannot be reduced to explanation in material terms. IMO, the realm of intentional thoughts can rightfully be called a separate ontological category. - CW

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Re: Major topics in philosophy of mind

Post by chasw » Thu Apr 24, 2014 2:04 pm

Wyman wrote: By 'semantic content' of thoughts, I can only assume you mean 'meanings.' By 'intentional', I assume you mean referring to to something outside of us. So, you claim that science cannot decipher what first person reports mean, or refer to. I do not see why science cannot provide an evidence-based explanation of first person reports. It would be a pragmatic explanation along the lines of Dewey, Wittgenstein, Quine, Rorty. It would be imperfect (as in, not satisfying the philosopher's need for certainty), as all scientific explanations are, but could have great explanatory and predictive value. As for brain scientists in particular (as opposed to anthropologists and such), I'm not sure that they're engaged in the pursuit of explaining meanings or the objects of intentional states in particular individuals. It may be impossible to explain these in detail, but the impossibility may be in complexity, not a logical impossibility.
Good points, Wyman. Modern psychology makes a mighty attempt to use first-person reports as evidence for explanations of behavioral problems. As expected, hardcore neuroscientists tend to discount as suspect anything a subject says about her/his mental states. People commonly misunderstand or misrepresent their inner thoughts, sometimes without realizing it, as a defense mechanism. For this very reason, talk therapy has met with limited success in alleviating psychological disorders.

Modern neuroscientists definitely want to develop the means for understanding all aspects of mental activity by close observation of brain activity, i.e., read our minds. Churchland's article cited above champions that effort and predicts ultimate victory. I submit the essence or meaning of intentional thoughts (sign, intension and extension) is semantic not neurological. Therefore, deciphering the detailed meaning of our thoughts, from neurological phenomena alone, is a non-starter. In my estimation, the effort Churchland describes is doomed to failure. One thing is for sure, we live in a golden age of philosophical inquiry into the workings of our minds. - CW

PS: Forgot to mention, intentional thoughts are by definition (according to mind philosophers) about something, it is this "aboutness" that distinguishes intentionality.
Last edited by chasw on Thu Apr 24, 2014 3:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Ginkgo
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Re: Major topics in philosophy of mind

Post by Ginkgo » Thu Apr 24, 2014 2:07 pm

In that case you might be interested in supervenience.

www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supervenience#Mental_ properties

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Re: Major topics in philosophy of mind

Post by chasw » Thu Apr 24, 2014 3:42 pm

Ginkgo wrote:In that case you might be interested in supervenience.

http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supervenience#Mental_ properties
Thanks, Ginkgo. I had not heard that term before. It seems to fit my concept that each successive "layer" of existence or ontological category is supervened on the previous one. Thus, the physical properties of matter and energy are carried over into the biological realm and added to the properties peculiar to entities in the higher category. Bear in mind that ontology is a human artifact, our way of classifying things, something we choose to ascribe to the complexity of reality as a way of explaining it.

BTW, information technology wonks have adopted the term ontology to mean a fundamental classification of a complex system. They are generally unaware of the term's primary philosophical usage. Neutral reference models are an essential part of their analytical toolkit. - CW

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