17-05-08

Spinoza's Causal Theory of the Affects

 "(..) it is correct to insist, as Spinoza does (..), that ´the Body cannot determine the Mind in thinking, and the Mind cannot determine the Body to Motion". We should take this to mean that we cannot infer from a cause described in physical terms that a specific mental event will ensue as effect (..): mental and physical concepts belong to independent explanatory systems." D. Davidson in Truth, Language, and History, Oxford University Press (2005), p. 305-306.


I spared me the jargon. The thought that comes can do without. One should  wonder about the mind and the body. It is one of the classical wonders that stays actual. There are those who believe in scientific achievement instead of scientific method; they think the mind & the mental are merely convenient, or just a soft escape for the weak of mind. But the majority is still held - with an extremely wide margin - by those believing the mind is fully detached from all the merely material claims of science, & that deep truths are reserved for the spiritual. Both extremes have been and are instinctively repulsive to me.
The third way, the middle way, the way of Horace is to reconcile mind & body as independent but interconnected. Monism, with a twist, the type of monism Davidson has sought to establish bringing together historical thoughts, & his own modern language philosophy. Can there be 2 spheres that are, at the same time, independent and interconnected? Let me not run of into abstract musings but take my example, from the heart of the present matter.

If one - not just instinctively - thinks one wants to raise one´s arm there is really no issue whatever in connecting that thought to brain activity and that brain activity to activating nerves in turn controlling the arm's muscles. Only those that are ludicrously maintaining knowledge of the Dark Ages outdoes present-day knowledge would challenge this. Let´s not bother here with the ridiculous. The interconnection, some form of physicalism, is established. But the interconnection does not suffice for strict dependence. It would be quite feasible to measure the brain activity during that thought & it would then be quite demonstrable that, even in the same person, that same thought with that same result would not be characterized by exactly the same brain wave activity. As a thought experiment one can very well imagine severe damage to the brain not impairing having that thought and not impairing that thought to lead to the arm raising. If so, and not many people would doubt it enough to actually go to the trouble of doing the experiment, the thought & physical brain activity are not strictly paired. In fact, it is quite sufficient to note that different people can have a similar thought with a similar consequence - this is in itself enough to show that the actual physical brain activity that has to go along with such a thought is not, & cannot be, a determining factor even if, physically speaking, it is always the brain activity that results in the arm's raising (& never the thought itself). We should not be tempted into the futile simple solution of telekinesis.

I am sure Davidson and others would find this reasoning sloppy. It probably is, but I do not have the luxury of refining it. Sloppy or not, it is convincing in illustrating Davidon´s point of there being no strict laws coupling the mental and the physical. As a behaviourist of sorts this kind of illustration is crucial. It does not establish that there is something spiritual that somehow evades or floats over the material world. But it does show that the sphere of thought is not limited to the sphere of what is given physically, it allows for imagination.
The imagination it allows is linguistic & creative. In thinking we cannot realize things in the material world that would go against the physical laws but we can - & do- create in our imagination possible material connections (a key & a lock) that we subsequently can realize materially, as longs as they don´t defy any physical laws. The only limit to this creativity then is what is physically at all possible. Nevertheless, the beauty of language is such that it's physically possible to communicate in it between bodies. There are only linguistic limits to what can be expressed in such communication (we have science fiction to prove we needn´t bother here anymore with physical laws).
Because of this - although for sure I will have to explain this in more detail in another place - I don´t believe Davidson´s brand of monism can be correct. Mental explanation is not merely independent in explanatory ways, it is quite radically independent, a world on its own just needing a physical substratum more or less like fish need a liquid substratum.

Again, establishing the mental, through language, as independent is not at all establishing any spritualist or dualist claim. The physical world has given rise through evolution to biological species with linguistic abilities. Such kind of species have established thought & all things mental. These things do not live isolated from the material world but just happen to be able to express a thing or two without restrictions of the physical world (as long as there is a physical world with the relevant features in which things can be expressed).
So, don´t please go overboard on this: the mind, the spiritual & so on, & so forth did not exist before material things existed. Nor do they exist as long as the material world existed. Physicality predates mentality. It´d be interesting as a scientific exercise to date mentality, it would be a convenient way not to have the New Age´rs go astray time & again.
One may well make stories in which people lift weights merely by thinking to make it so but one will never actually lift those weights in that way.


Whilst writing this I was listening to Shostakovich-Silvestrov, Gryphon Trio, Aline Kutan, Analekta 2006.

(to be redone)

21:49 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: davidson, intention, convergence, tones, language |  Facebook |

01-05-08

As I lay dying

"I can remember how when I was young I believed death to be a phenomenon of the body; now I know it to be merely a function of the mind - and that of the minds of the ones who suffer the bereavement. The nihilists say it is the end; the fundamentalists, the beginning; when in reality it is no more than a single tenant or family moving out of a tenement or a town." William Faulkner, The best of Faulkner, The Reprint Society of London (1955), p. 23.


I'll let you in on a little secret: I believe in an after-life. Weird, ain't it? It takes a lot of imagination to picture an agnostic believer in the after-life. Luckily, I'm here to help you out a bit, & William is here to help me out a bit.
It isn't quite true that I believe in an after-life. First, I'm not big on believing in anything. Second, & here's the crux, I don't think there is evidence to support the common idea that the mind goes when the bodily functions give way. The reasons for holding this idea are very good reasons indeed. It is better to see the mind as a function of the brain than to see it as a function of God - knows what. Not so much because it is closer to the truth - although it most certainly is - but because any explanation based on what we cannot know does not do any explaining but inevitably leads to coercion from a happy few.
Still, having good reasons to hold something true does not make it true - I do have very good reasons for holding that the left will find itself again but none of these reasons will make it so. We're born quite mindlessly - a few even live their entire life completely mindlessly so the least one can say is that having a brain isn't necessarily a sign of having a mind (this point the educated will see as behavioristic in nature, as always the educated are right but this is not the place where I will attempt to defend the obvious). If having a brain isn't quite sufficient for having a mind (the educated may here find comfort in the fact an ape has a brain as well) something else has to enter into the mind equation - if so, we'd do well to postpone our judgment on whether having a brain is at all necessary until such time as we have gathered a little bit more info on the something else.
People have held for a long time - some unfortunate ones still do - that there has to be some outside authority for them to feel well. But only the mindlessly devout have lacked the imagination to see that, at the very least, this outside authority did not suffice. As we all know now: what was held to be necessary was purely a coincidental form of the mental need to be sheltered as member of a group of people. So too it could go with the brain and the mind. No doubt mind requires something with brain-like capacities but - depending on what it is we find to be necessary for mind - this something could be a tad surprising.
I drank in the meantime - as the more perspicacious no doubt already noted - quite some alcohol so I will allow myself to cut to the chase. Mind is eminently a social thing, to have a mind requires one to be a social animal of some sort. The common idea of brain-mind identity is rather unavoidable because a brain of some sort is functionally required to be a social animal for all we know. But mind is not in the first instance related to such a brain. It is rather related to it only in the second instance, via intermediary of verbalized social interaction that is itself most probably directly predicated to brains in the individuals that make up the society in the first place.
Hence the after-life. One can only hope you did not forget the Faulkner quote whilst reading the, as per usual verbose, verbiage above. When body, & thus brain, are not necessary to the mind; the decomposition of body & brain can't in itself cause the demise of the mind. If we then use the term 'death' related to persons or selves it does not stand for an end (nor would it stand for some kind of beginning) but for a transition. Instead of a mind that can, for reasons of ease of reference, be associated to a body one passes to a mind that does its persisting in its necessary context of social interaction. Like somebody that moved out of your sphere of friends - because of argument, because she has moved, because it was too difficult to keep bothering about his desires, ... - it is out of sight but it is unavoidably forever in your mind. Whenever your mind experiences this loss is when the mind, that has been thought lost, manifests itself again.
The term that applies to this kind of disembodied after-life is 'resonate' and a metaphor could be that of a social symphony in which individual minds can be heard as individual themes. Neither the theme can exist without a symphony - nor the symphony without this theme. It is not at all like the after-life of the religious fanatics because what is preserved is one's self without redemption & without judgment whatever; whatever you were will persist in the measure that you were worth remembering by other minds. The family leaving without having made any impression will be like anything perishing without ever being seen.
I have to say: if any of you takes this embryonic thought & makes it your own - know that you will be eternally damned.

 


 

Whilst writing this I was listening to Thelonious Monk, It's Monk's Time, Sony Music 2003.

18:58 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: tones, faulkner, imagination, self |  Facebook |