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Monthly Archives: November 2012

What problems does a reductive explanation of the mind have to solve?

I do not at all have the confidence of materialists in allowing for a reductive explanation of consciousness. Indeed, it seems to me the least probable solution to the problem of consciousness.

1. Teleology.

  • The strangeness of the fact that there are few things we know better then our own sense of being the originators of our choices. Now this sense of freedom does not mean that we are necessarily free – but we can’t question the ontology of our sense of freedom. As subjective facts are ontologically real – a reductive move would seem almost like explaining evolution through the composition of atoms. That seems obviously false as a reductive explanation of evolution stands at the level of genes instead of organisms. Those who argue for reductive explanations usually want to stop at some level – but of ourse, that is not reduction.
  • We seem to be aimed towards something. What do I mean by this? Well, first of – teleology, which is so much hated by all true reductionists, is always left in the equation. The darwinian evolutionist have not succeeded in writing it out of the gene-centric view of man. They argue against the organism having telos – but can’t get rid of it at the gene level. Secondly, teleology is something we feel within ourselves and if a strange observer would take the time to view our actions they would not think it possible to explain our movements without understanding our personal prejudices and goals.

2. History and Science

  • Most reductive materialists are also very bad at history and philosophy. It seems almost necessary in order to become a reductionist. Indeed, the very idea of reductionism is an idea that can only take hold in a person who views himself as belonging to a certain group that are “the possessors of truth” rather than advocates of a view of science as a method. The Darwinian answer of today finds itself always lacking or contradicting itself. Take rationality of example – almost all reductionist are also radical empiricists – but these persons do not think that reason is a route to knowledge. Therefor they use reason to argue against reason – and that is a very very strange phenomenon.
  • The history of reductionism and atomism is not a new idea. It certainly was around at the time of Lucretius and Epicurus and maybe before – but the reductionist, seeing as he has no knowledge of philosophy, thinks his stance is a radical step that has never been tried before. And this enables him to pronounce such thing as philosophy is dead, theology is pointless and only empirically verified sentences are meaningful.
  • The anti-metaphysical stance of the reductive materialist is also a step that is quite hard to understand. Often the reductionist seems to be using metaphysical arguments against metaphysics – how does one manage that? It seems logically impossible

3. Consciousness and its attributes.

  • Consciousness seems to be qualitatively different from other things in the world. All things about us which we can have objective knowledge of are different from our own physical body – because this physical body we can know both from without and within. This – together with arguments from Searle, Nagel and others – seems to be saying that it is not improbable that consciousness would arise out of atoms but indeed impossible. It is a different kind of thing.
  • We do not understand the workings of representation. A picture of a dog might as well be a picture of a cat to someone else – without the physics of the picture changing one iota. How is this possible. What IS, ontologically speaking, representation?
  • Consciousness seems to help us prioritizing in a way that is radically different from anything we know. How is it that we learn to prioritize without thinking through long chains of logical arguments?
  • There seems to be two types of thoughts – both descriptive and prescriptive thoughts. One seems to be aimed from the world to us and one seems to be aimed from the world to us. How is that possible? How can make decisions and take actions aimed towards changing our surroundings?
  • There is something that it is “like” to be conscious. This is best described by Nagel and Chalmers – and it seems to me a very powerful argument against reductive materialism.

4. Subjective – Objective distinction

  • For knowledge to work there has to be something that is known and someone that knows. This is also reflected in the subjective/objective distinction and in the fact/value distinction. There seems to be no way to understand these different aspects of reality through something other than our conscioussness of them. We can’t understand these things through objective empirical evaluations. That doesn’t mean we can’t use science to give us objective information about subjective states – but there very understanding of the distinction can’t be understood through science.

This is of course only a brief blogpost about some of the problems that the reductionist must face – but they are more than enough I think.