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Is meaning located in the brain?

One of the clearest and most compelling arguments against materialism is that it is unable to account for the simple fact that our thoughts possess a meaning in their own right. As philosopher Ed Feser puts it in an online post entitled, Some brief arguments for dualism, Part I:

Thoughts and the like possess inherent meaning or intentionality; brain processes, like ink marks, sound waves, and the like, are utterly devoid of any inherent meaning or intentionality; so thoughts and the like cannot possibly be identified with brain processes.

The argument seems especially convincing when we consider abstract concepts. Consider the famous line, “Honesty is a greatly overrated virtue,” from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It seems preposterous to suppose that a concrete entity like a set of neurons, or even a neural process, could mean “honesty,” “virtue,” or any of the other words in that memorable quote.

Now, however, the materialists are fighting back, and attempting to locate meaning in the brain itself. A team of cognitive neuroscientists claims to have identified the areas of the brain that are responsible for processing the meanings (and not just the sounds) of specific words. Their findings were presented at the 2012 Society for the Neurobiology of Language Conference in San Sebastian, Spain. Presenting the team’s research findings, Joao Correia of Maastricht University told the conference that his team had decided to address the vital question: “How do we represent the meaning of words, independent of the language we are listening to?” A report in New Scientist magazine entitled,
“Mind-reading scan locates site of meaning in the brain”
(16 November 2012) by Douglas Heaven, takes up the story:

To begin the hunt, Correia and his colleagues used an fMRI scanner to study the brain activity of eight bilingual volunteers as they listened to the names of four animals, bull, horse, shark and duck, spoken in English.

The team monitored patterns of neural activity in the left anterior temporal cortex – known to be involved in a range of semantic tasks – and trained an algorithm to identify which word a participant had heard based on the pattern of activity.

Since the team wanted to pinpoint activity related to meaning, they picked words that were as similar as possible – all four contain one syllable and belong to the concept of animals. They also chose words that would have been learned at roughly the same time of life and took a similar time for the brain to process.

They then tested whether the differences in brain activity were related to the sound of the word or its meaning by testing whether the algorithm could identify the correct animal while the participants listened to the Dutch version of the word.

The system was still able to identify which animal had been named, despite being trained with patterns generated for English words. For example, the word “horse” and its Dutch equivalent “paard” gave rise to the same brain pattern, suggesting that the activity represented the word’s meaning – the concept of a horse…

“This type of pattern recognition approach is a very exciting scientific tool for investigating how and where knowledge is represented in the brain,” says Zoe Woodhead at University College London, who wasn’t involved in the study. “Words that mean the same thing in different languages activate the same set of neurons encoding that concept, regardless of the fact that the two words look and sound completely different.”

As resolutions in brain imaging improve, Correia predicts that a greater number of words will be predicted from brain activity alone. In principle, it might even be possible to identify whole sentences in real time, he says…

So, have Correia and his team located the meaning of words in the brain? Summing up their research findings, Correia et al. wrote in the Abstract of their report (delivered on Friday October 26th, 2012, at 2:20 p.m., at Slide Session B; see p. 12 of the Conference Report):

The results of our discrimination analysis show that word decoding involves a distributed network of brain regions consistent with the proposed ‘dual-stream model’ (Hickok and Poeppel, 2007). The results of our generalization analysis highlights a focal and specific role of a left anterior temporal area in semantic/concept decoding. Together, these distributed and focal brain activity patterns subserve the extraction of abstract semantic concepts from acoustically diverse English and Dutch words during bilingual speech comprehension.

I had never heard of the Dual Stream model until I came across this report, and I suspect most of my readers won’t have heard of it, either. Professor Greg Hickok helpfully explains the model in a post entitled, Dual Stream Model of Speech/Language Processing: Tractography Evidence (Wednesday, December 3, 2008), on a blog called Talking Brains – News and views on the neural organization of language which he and co-author Professor David Poeppel moderate:

The Dual Stream model of speech/language processing holds that there are two functionally distinct computational/neural networks that process speech/language information, one that interfaces sensory/phonological networks with conceptual-semantic systems, and one that interfaces sensory/phonological networks with motor-articulatory systems (Hickok & Poeppel, 2000, 2004, 2007). We have laid out our current best guess as to the neural architecture of these systems in our 2007 paper…

[A diagram illustrating the model is included in the post.]

It is worth pointing out that under reasonable assumptions some version of a dual stream model has to be right. If we accept (i) that sensory/phonological representations make contact both with conceptual systems and with motor systems, and (ii) that conceptual systems and motor-speech systems are not the same thing, then it follows that there must be two processing streams, one leading to conceptual systems, the other leading to motor systems. This is not a new idea, of course. It has obvious parallels to research in the primate visual system, and (well before the visual folks came up with the idea) it was a central feature of Wernicke’s model of the functional anatomy of language. In other words, not only does the model make sense for speech/language processing, it appears to be a “general principle of sensory system organization” (Hickok & Poeppel, 2007, p. 401) and it has stood the test of time.

The abstract of Hickok and Poeppel’s original 2007 paper, The cortical organization of speech processing (Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 8 (5), 393-402 DOI: 10.1038/nrn2113) is even more succinct:

Despite decades of research, the functional neuroanatomy of speech processing has been difficult to characterize. A major impediment to progress may have been the failure to consider task effects when mapping speech-related processing systems. We outline a dual-stream model of speech processing that remedies this situation. In this model, a ventral stream processes speech signals for comprehension, and a dorsal stream maps acoustic speech signals to frontal lobe articulatory networks. The model assumes that the ventral stream is largely bilaterally organized – although there are important computational differences between the left- and right-hemisphere systems – and that the dorsal stream is strongly left-hemisphere dominant.

So much for the theoretical background. What we need to ask ourselves now is: what have Correia and his team actually established?

The research findings of Correia et al. certainly lend support to the idea that the left anterior temporal cortex is involved in decoding words in sentences in a way that assists with identifying the meanings of these words, rather than their sounds. However, I think it would be an unwarranted leap to conclude that this part of the brain plays a special role in identifying the actual meaning of a word. Instead, what I would propose is that this region plays a subsidiary but nonetheless role, preparatory to the activity of locating the meaning of a word.

What I am tentatively suggesting is that the left anterior temporal cortex may store collocations (or frequent co-occurrences of words), by means of neural connections whose strength corresponds to the relative frequency with which two words are found to occur together. In other words, this part of the brain doesn’t store the meanings of words, but the frequency with which a word having a certain meaning (whether in English or Dutch) is likely to be used with certain other words. If you can identify one word in a sentence, this part of the brain would definitely help in identifying the other words that it is likely to be used with – irrespective of how those words sound in the two languages. That’s why it’s so useful for semantic decoding.

Even when individuals are only exposed to single words (as in the experiment conducted by Correia et al.), their brains would naturally search for related words, because human beings are, after all, creatures who are designed to seek meanings. We can’t help it – that’s what we do, as rational animals. Moreover, we habitually tend to communicate with each other in whole sentences, not one-word utterances. So it is not surprising that the left anterior temporal cortex of these individuals was still activated.

By the way, for those who may be wondering, here is how Wikipedia defines a Collocation:

In corpus linguistics, collocation defines a sequence of words or terms that co-occur more often than would be expected by chance. In phraseology, collocation is a sub-type of phraseme. An example of a phraseological collocation (from Michael Halliday)is the expression strong tea. While the same meaning could be conveyed by the roughly equivalent powerful tea, this expression is considered incorrect by English speakers. Conversely, the corresponding expression for computer, powerful computers is preferred over strong computers. Phraseological collocations should not be confused with idioms, where meaning is derived, whereas collocations are mostly compositional.

I should note that English and Dutch are very similar languages – they’re practically sisters. What I would be interested to see is the results of research conducted on individuals who are bilingual in English and Japanese – whose grammar, collocations and idioms are very different from each other. It is doubtful whether researchers would observe the same neat one-to-one mapping between the meanings of English and Japanese words as they discovered between English and Dutch words.

To sum up: it is simply nonsensical to assert that the brain, or any other material entity, could possibly store the meaning of a word – particularly an abstract word. Meaning is not a physical property as such. It is perfectly reasonable, however, to claim that the brain contains centers that not only decode sounds into the words of our mother tongue (or a second language), but also enable us to predict, from having heard one word, which other words it is likely to be associated with. It is not surprising, either, that closely related languages like English and Dutch would generate much the same pattern of predictions regarding what word will come next, even if the word sounds different in the two languages.

Well, that’s my two cents. But I may be wrong. What do readers think?

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89 Responses to Is meaning located in the brain?

  1. Hilary Putnam put forward a famous thought experiment called Twin Earth, in which he argued that meaning couldn’t be in the head because we could imagine two physically identical people whose brains states were identical but whose words meant different things. The argument involved the only difference on Twin Earth being the stuff that they call “water” was XYZ and not H2O. Thus when a Twin Earther said “water” they meant something different from when an Earthling said “water”. Thus, Putnam concluded, meaning isn’t in the head.

    There are a variety of other arguments which come to the same conclusion: one turns on the fact that most people don’t know the difference between, say, and elm and a beech. And so as far as their brain states are concerned (indeed as far as their mental states are concerned) the terms differ only in spelling. But, as is noted, it is no part of the meaning of “elm” that is is spelled e-l-m. And so if we switch things round so the word “elm” referred to beeches, and the word “beech” referred to elms, a person would be in an identical state when they said, eg, “an elm is a type of tree”, but in the first case the sentence would mean an elm is a type of tree and in the second it would mean a beech is type of tree. Thus identical brain/mental states but different meanings, thus meaning isn’t in the head.

    So, no doubt neuroscientists are examining something – but what they are not doing is examining meaning itself.

  2. As to trying to locate meaning in any specific part of the brain, this finding certainly does not support that:

    Removing Half of Brain Improves Young Epileptics’ Lives:
    Excerpt: “We are awed by the apparent retention of memory and by the retention of the child’s personality and sense of humor,” Dr. Eileen P. G. Vining; In further comment from the neuro-surgeons in the John Hopkins study: “Despite removal of one hemisphere, the intellect of all but one of the children seems either unchanged or improved. Intellect was only affected in the one child who had remained in a coma, vigil-like state, attributable to peri-operative complications.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/1997/08.....lives.html

    Miracle Of Mind-Brain Recovery Following Hemispherectomies – Dr. Ben Carson – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3994585/

    nor does this help:

    Blind Woman Can See During Near Death Experience (NDE) – Pim von Lommel – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3994599/

    Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper (1997) conducted a study of 31 blind people, many of who reported vision during their Near Death Experiences (NDEs). 21 of these people had had an NDE while the remaining 10 had had an out-of-body experience (OBE), but no NDE. It was found that in the NDE sample, about half had been blind from birth. (of note: This ‘anomaly’ is also found for deaf people who can hear sound during their Near Death Experiences(NDEs).)
    http://findarticles.com/p/arti....._65076875/

    But perhaps the strongest ‘proof’ that meaning cannot be located in the brain is found thru the nihilism that atheistic materialism itself entails.

    The Absurdity of Life Without God by William Lane Craig,
    Excerpt: First, there is no ultimate meaning without immortality and God. If each individual person passes out of existence when he dies, then what ultimate meaning can be given to his life? Does it really matter whether he ever existed or not? It might be said that his life was important because it influenced others or affected the course of history. But that shows only a relative significance to his life, not an ultimate significance. His life may be important relative to certain other events. But what is the ultimate significance to any of those events? If all of the events are meaningless, then what can be the ultimate significance of influencing any of them? Ultimately it makes no difference.
    http://www.freerepublic.com/fo.....9706/posts
    video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJqkpI1W75c

    Indeed,,, to drive this point of nihilism home, I hold that not only can there be any true many FOR life if there is no God, there can be not be any true meaning IN life if there is no God. To draw this point out, it is very interesting to point out how recent findings for quantum non-locality for material particles (A. Zeilinger) without using entanglement, (i.e. modern science finding that individual material particles of the universe must have a non-local, beyond space and time, cause to explain their continued existence within space-time), dovetails perfectly into one of the oldest philosophical arguments for the existence of God and offers empirical confirmation for that ancient philosophical argument. That argument is known as Aquinas’ Third way, which is better known today in as the contingency argument.

    Aquinas’ Third way – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V030hvnX5a4

    Contingency Argument
    1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature (e.g. mathematical object) or in an external cause (e.g. mountains, galaxies, people and chairs).
    2. The universe exists (whether it always existed or not).
    3. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is an external, transcendent, personal cause (that is beyond the universe: beyond space and time: beyond matter and energy: a non-physical, immaterial, spiritual entity that has brought the universe into being: the only thing that fits this description is an unembodied Mind: a transcendent consciousness).
    4. Therefore, the (only) explanation inextricably and inexorably for the existence of the universe is an external, transcendent, personal cause.
    http://biblocality.com/forums/.....y-Argument

  3. The Contingency argument, as stated above which is the much like form as used by Dr. William Lane Craig (as far as I know),, has a slight error in statement #1 in that even mathematical objects, such as the number 7, as strange as it may sound to some, cannot exist independently of God. This fact that mathematical numbers cannot exist independently of a external cause (i.e. of God) has been born out by Godel’s incompleteness theorem :

    Kurt Gödel – Incompleteness Theorem – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/w/8462821

    Taking God Out of the Equation – Biblical Worldview – by Ron Tagliapietra – January 1, 2012
    Excerpt: Kurt Gödel (1906–1978) proved that no logical systems (if they include the counting numbers) can have all three of the following properties.
    1. Validity . . . all conclusions are reached by valid reasoning.
    2. Consistency . . . no conclusions contradict any other conclusions.
    3. Completeness . . . all statements made in the system are either true or false.
    The details filled a book, but the basic concept was simple and elegant. He summed it up this way: “Anything you can draw a circle around cannot explain itself without referring to something outside the circle—something you have to assume but cannot prove.” For this reason, his proof is also called the Incompleteness Theorem.
    Kurt Gödel had dropped a bomb on the foundations of mathematics. Math could not play the role of God as infinite and autonomous. It was shocking, though, that logic could prove that mathematics could not be its own ultimate foundation.
    Christians should not have been surprised. The first two conditions are true about math: it is valid and consistent. But only God fulfills the third condition. Only He is complete and therefore self-dependent (autonomous). God alone is “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28), “the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13). God is the ultimate authority (Hebrews 6:13), and in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).
    http://www.answersingenesis.or.....1/equation

    Thus, though an atheist may whistle in the dark and pretend life has value and meaning without God, the fact of the matter is that all true value and meaning, no matter how trivial it is, such as the seemingly trivial value and meaning of individual mathematical numbers (and by proxy of that, words and thoughts), is dependent (contingent) upon God so as to have any true value and meaning in the first place.

    Supplemental Note:

    Do the New Atheists Own the Market on Reason? – On the terms of the New Atheists, the very concept of rationality becomes nonsensical – By R. Scott Smith, May 03, 2012
    Excerpt: If atheistic evolution by NS were true, we’d be in a beginningless series of interpretations, without any knowledge. Yet, we do know many things. So, naturalism & atheistic evolution by NS are false — non-physical essences exist. But, what’s their best explanation? Being non-physical, it can’t be evolution by NS. Plus, we use our experiences, form concepts and beliefs, and even modify or reject them. Yet, if we’re just physical beings, how could we interact with and use these non-physical things? Perhaps we have non-physical souls too. In all, it seems likely the best explanation for these non-physical things is that there exists a Creator after all.
    http://www.patheos.com/Evangel.....#038;max=1

    Verse and music:

    John 15:5
    for without Me, you can do nothing.”

    O Come, Emmanuel – (Piano/Cello) – ThePianoGuys
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iO7ySn-Swwc

  4. One question I always things brings into focus the difficulty of giving a physicalist account of meaning is: how many thoughts that grass is green can one fit inside a matchbox?

  5. It seems preposterous to suppose that a concrete entity like a set of neurons, or even a neural process, could mean “honesty,” “virtue,” or any of the other words in that memorable quote.

    I think you may be misunderstanding what Feser (and other materialists) are advocating.

    Ed’s argument against ‘locating meaning in the brain’ isn’t an empirical challenge, it’s a metaphysical one. Taking brains or neurons or physical things to have intrinsic meaning rather than derived meaning would mean Aristotle is right and materialists / people who subscribe to a mechanistic view of mind/nature, are wrong.

    You see this in Ed’s book when he talks about computationalism.

  6. I think you may be misunderstanding what Feser (and other materialists) are advocating.

    Oops. Not to imply Ed is a materialist. It’s just that what Ed is saying there, other materialists agree with re: intrinsic meaning and brains.

  7. I think the authors make a great case for the utter foolishness of their conclusion. Let me explain. When one has a difficult time finding evidence for things (“..Despite decades of research…” ) one can overreach when there is any progress at all. They have a simple result with lots of explanations, yet they trumpet their results as if they have made a major breakthrough and rather than consider all of the possibilities, they jump to a startling conclusion they have “..l[located] the site of meaning in the brain.” The completely out of proportion conclusion to the amount of results, indicate that there is a tremendous amount of confirmation bias in the report of the results – something good scientists should avoid.

  8. VJT:

    Wonderful work as usual.

    Your conclusive remarks are especially illuminating:

    it is simply nonsensical to assert that the brain, or any other material entity, could possibly store the meaning of a word – particularly an abstract word. Meaning is not a physical property as such. It is perfectly reasonable, however, to claim that the brain contains centers that not only decode sounds into the words of our mother tongue (or a second language), but also enable us to predict, from having heard one word, which other words it is likely to be associated with.

    Millivolt electrical potentials and ion flows or neuronal wiring obviously do not have intrinsic meaning. Meaningfulness is simply a mental issue, there is a category confusion involved. Signals and processing circuitry simply do not carry meaning or purpose in themselves, the purpose lies in the organisation and arbitrary choice of mapping from physical variable to signal and onward to functional and/or symbolic or analogical [in analogue systems continuous incremental scale of signal has direct reference] significance imposed on them towards meaning.

    In fact, I have concluded that we are facing a grounding issue again.

    That is why in my comment on the matter-mind gap in my personal blog yesterday, I used an adaptation of Hume’s guillotine argument:

    following Hume in his guillotine argument, we may freely express how:

    1 –> we see the usual blindly mechanical couplings of cause and effect through interactions of particles and combinations thereof in space and time per laws/forces of nature, with some chance processes tossed in for good measure; then

    2 –> “all of a sudden,” we are “surpriz’d” to hear Lucretius (and his modern disciples) speaking of a “third” factor: “reasonings of mind” that are capable of both “faith” and “pro[of].”

    3 –> So, we must ask: How does/could such come to be?

    4 –> That is, how can mind be grounded in matter and energy, interacting through blind chance and mechanical necessity? (Including through claimed processes of evolution, where we note the Churchland observation: Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage . . . Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost)?

    5 –> Or, can it be so grounded? For, if we must have a worldview-level foundation adequate to explain mind in ourselves, matter and energy interacting through blind chance and mechanical necessity are unpromising causal ingredients.

    That is, just as for morality, mind has to lie in the foundation of the cosmos, for it to have any sound basis. If our worldview does not have an adequate foundational element that grounds mind, then forever after the attempt to get to mind will end in groundlessness and/or absurdity.

    Hence all this talk about emergence of mind, by evolutionary materialist poofery. Hence, the continual sawing off the branch on which we must all fit, leading to self-referential absurdity such as was so aptly summed up by Darwin himself:

    the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?

    Not to mention, Haldane:

    “It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” ["When I am dead," in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209.]

    Of course, some will take occasion to suggest that we don’t need a foundation for a worldview.

    The problem with the raft continually under repair analogy is diagnostic of the fault involved. yes, it is important that the raft be adequate and the raft can be always under partial repair or construction, but it is not floating there by itself. It sits on the support of the ocean, and the laws and forces of floatation. Which brings out the flaw in the follow on analogy, a space ship. That requires the foundation of the materials, forces and laws of nature to work, and it requires exactingly fine-tuned complex functional organisation to be workable as a habitat for C-Chemistry, cell based life forms. Even, when the space ship in question is our home planet.

    So, we have to ask what best grounds a world in which the perceiving, self-aware, conscious, knowing, purposeful, mind is an important reality. Multiply that by the evident fine tuning of the cosmos we observe and inhabit that allows us to be here, and we can see a strong indicator that the foundation of reality rests on Mind.

    KF

  9. VJT:

    Thank you for the very interesting post.

    The relationship between conscious processes and the brain is really central to the IF theory, and certainly to my personal approach to reality.

    I would like to give a few comments about what you write.

    a) Meaning is one of the fundamental subjective experiences that cannot in any way be explained in objective terms. I would certainly add at least feeling and purpose.
    Meaning, feeling and purpose are central to all conscious experiences. They are basic modalities of conscious representations. The interesting point is that none of those concepts can be defined without using some reference to a conscious subject. I have repeatedly challenged our interlocutors on the other side to try such a task. I maintain the challenge for anyone who may be interested. It is simply impossible. This is one of the strongest arguments against the silly theory that conscious processes should be explained in terms of arrangements of matter. They cannot even be defined in those terms, least of all explained.

    b) The recent progresses of neuroscience, while amazing under many aspects, add nothing to the fundamental problem of what consciousness is, and of how it interacts with matter. This last study is no exception at all.
    I will be more clear. For thousands of years we have been knowing that subjective experiences exist, and that they are connected, in both directions, to objective reality. Every sensation is proof of the input connection, every conscious act proof of the output connection.
    Now, there can be no doubt, and never was, that consciousness interacts with matter through special arrangements of matter. Our sense organs are a good example, ans we have been knowing that, again, for thousands of years. We cannot see without the eye, for example, and the eye is certainly matter in a special arrangement. We cannot see through a table, or a chair. We need the eye.
    Now, we know that we cannot see without the brain. And we know that specific parts of the brain, and arrangements of neurons, take part in the seeing process. Very interesting, but essentially not different from what we already knew of the eye.
    So, with this new study we know that certain areas of the brain are active when we have an input which is perceived by our consciousness as a category: a horse, for example. OK, and so?
    And we know that some areas are active when we think of a horse, whether it has been named in english or in dutch. OK, and so? That only means that one thing is the processing of the word, which is different in the two languages, and another thing is the processing of the category linked to that word, which remains the same.
    Let’s make an example. We are programming, and we create three different variables, A, B, C. We attribute the word “horse” to A, and the word “paard” to B. Then we build C as a complex object variable, which corresponds to the associations of various formal features (four legs, a certain weight, specific abilities, and so on). Then we connect A and B to the interface of C, so that when A or B are activated, for instance by the corresponding word sound, C is activated too.
    As everyone can see, this is just a software process. No conscious process is implied. No meaning is implied. Our variables are connected in the brain software, and they are located in different hardware areas. That’s all.
    Of course, our consciousness is aware, at some point, of those formal contents, and represents them as conscious processes of the I. That’s where meaning, or feeling, or purpose, arise. Not in the software. Not in the physical brain.

    So, I don’t think that the activity observed in that area is only for “collocations” (although that can well be one of its activities). I can well be for activation of processes relative to the variable “horse” in the software. In no way that implies a conscious understanding of the meaning of what a horse is, because that happens only in a conscious representation, and matter in itself cannot generate conscious representations.

  10. 10
    Kantian Naturalist

    The claim that intentionality and/or consciousness is not identical with neurophysiological processes does not decrease the plausibility of naturalism or increase the plausibility of dualism. In fact, naturalism is perfectly consistent with the irreducibility of first-person perspective, if the right sorts of distinctions are made, e.g. with neurophenomenology.

  11. Another comment I would like to make about meaning and the fact that in my opinion, meaning can not be a purely physical process has to do with a kind of entropy measure. In general meaning is derived only when a state of low entropy occurs. No one derives meaning from a hapless, willy nilly, high entropy random collection of ink marks on a piece of paper no matter how complex the arrangement is. But, if the ink marks are aligned along lines and arranged in certain patterns ( with very much leeway on how accurate the general pattern is ) wonderful or terrible meaning can be read and derived – from news about births, deaths, marriages, to declarations of war or even the US Constitution.

    It gets even harder with implied meaning. When people ask, “What did you mean by that?” They are making a completely subjective response. The response, “Sorry, I did not mean anything personal,” is judged by a sub-concious entropy like calculation which considers the likelihood of the statement being general ( higher entropy ) or directed at a single person ( lower entropy ).

    The problem is that the judgment of which is high entropy and which is low entropy in this case is not measured by any physical characteristic. It is all personal and subjective. I do not see a way to model a high level subjective entropy ( in the meaning sense ) monitor with chemical processes which are themselves subject to a much more stringent physical thermodynamic entropy.

  12. JDH your comment on entropy and entropy reminded me of this:

    Quantum knowledge cools computers: New understanding of entropy – June 2011
    Excerpt: The new study revisits Landauer’s principle for cases when the values of the bits to be deleted may be known. When the memory content is known, it should be possible to delete the bits in such a manner that it is theoretically possible to re-create them. It has previously been shown that such reversible deletion would generate no heat. In the new paper, the researchers go a step further. They show that when the bits to be deleted are quantum-mechanically entangled with the state of an observer, then the observer could even withdraw heat from the system while deleting the bits. Entanglement links the observer’s state to that of the computer in such a way that they know more about the memory than is possible in classical physics.
    Similar formulas — two disciplines
    In order to reach this result, the scientists combined ideas from information theory and thermodynamics about a concept known as entropy. Entropy appears differently in these two disciplines, which are, to a large extent, independent of each other. In information theory, entropy is a measurement of the information density. It describes, for instance, how much memory capacity a given set of data would take up when compressed optimally. In thermodynamics, on the other hand, entropy relates to the disorder in systems, for example to the arrangement of molecules in a gas. In thermodynamics, adding entropy to a system is usually equivalent to adding energy as heat.
    The ETH physicist Renner says “We have now shown that in both cases, the term entropy is actually describing the same thing even in the quantum mechanical regime.” As the formulas for the two entropies look the same, it had already been assumed that there was a connection between them. “Our study shows that in both cases, entropy is considered to be a type of lack of knowledge,” says Renner. The new paper in Nature builds on work published earlier in the New Journal of Physics.
    In measuring entropy, one should bear in mind that an object does not have a certain amount of entropy per se, instead an object’s entropy is always dependent on the observer. Applied to the example of deleting data, this means that if two individuals delete data in a memory and one has more knowledge of this data, she perceives the memory to have lower entropy and can then delete the memory using less energy. Entropy in quantum physics has the unusual property of sometimes being negative when calculated from the information theory point of view. Perfect classical knowledge of a system means the observer perceives it to have zero entropy. This corresponds to the memory of the observer and that of the system being perfectly correlated, as much as allowed in classical physics. Entanglement gives the observer „more than complete knowledge” because quantum correlations are stronger than classical correlations. This leads to an entropy less than zero. Until now, theoretical physicists had used this negative entropy in calculations without understanding what it might mean in thermodynamic terms or experimentally.
    No heat, even a cooling effect
    In the case of perfect classical knowledge of a computer memory (zero entropy), deletion of the data requires in theory no energy at all. The researchers prove that “more than complete knowledge” from quantum entanglement with the memory (negative entropy) leads to deletion of the data being accompanied by removal of heat from the computer and its release as usable energy. This is the physical meaning of negative entropy.
    Renner emphasizes, however, “This doesn’t mean that we can develop a perpetual motion machine.” The data can only be deleted once, so there is no possibility to continue to generate energy. The process also destroys the entanglement, and it would take an input of energy to reset the system to its starting state. The equations are consistent with what’s known as the second law of thermodynamics: the idea that the entropy of the universe can never decrease. Vedral says “We’re working on the edge of the second law. If you go any further, you will break it.”
    Fundamental findings
    The scientists’ new findings relating to entropy in thermodynamics and information theory may have usefulness beyond calculating the heat production of computers. For example, methods developed within information theory to handle entropy could lead to innovations in thermodynamics. The connection made between the two concepts of entropy is fundamental.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....134300.htm

  13. excuse me,,: JDH your comment on entropy and meaning reminded me of this:

  14. JDH, I should like to draw attention to this quote from the article:

    Perfect classical knowledge of a system means the observer perceives it to have zero entropy. This corresponds to the memory of the observer and that of the system being perfectly correlated, as much as allowed in classical physics. Entanglement gives the observer “more than complete knowledge” because quantum correlations are stronger than classical correlations.

    JDH, exactly how is “more than complete knowledge” possible for a human observer?,,, This strongly suggests, at least for me, God’s ‘complete knowledge’ is involved in entanglement.

  15. of related note:

    Looking Beyond Space and Time to Cope With Quantum Theory – (Oct. 28, 2012)
    Excerpt: To derive their inequality, which sets up a measurement of entanglement between four particles, the researchers considered what behaviours are possible for four particles that are connected by influences that stay hidden and that travel at some arbitrary finite speed.
    Mathematically (and mind-bogglingly), these constraints define an 80-dimensional object. The testable hidden influence inequality is the boundary of the shadow this 80-dimensional shape casts in 44 dimensions. The researchers showed that quantum predictions can lie outside this boundary, which means they are going against one of the assumptions. Outside the boundary, either the influences can’t stay hidden, or they must have infinite speed.,,,
    The remaining option is to accept that (quantum) influences must be infinitely fast,,,
    “Our result gives weight to the idea that quantum correlations somehow arise from outside spacetime, in the sense that no story in space and time can describe them,” says Nicolas Gisin, Professor at the University of Geneva, Switzerland,,,
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....142217.htm

  16. So, where is meaning located ?

  17. So, where is meaning located ?

    Do you want the GPS coordinates?

  18. 18
    Kantian Naturalist

    The problem with the raft continually under repair analogy is diagnostic of the fault involved. yes, it is important that the raft be adequate and the raft can be always under partial repair or construction, but it is not floating there by itself. It sits on the support of the ocean, and the laws and forces of floatation. Which brings out the flaw in the follow on analogy, a space ship. That requires the foundation of the materials, forces and laws of nature to work, and it requires exactingly fine-tuned complex functional organisation to be workable as a habitat for C-Chemistry, cell based life forms. Even, when the space ship in question is our home planet.

    But notice that “the raft”, in the Neurathian analogy, concerns epistemic or justificatory relations between the different elements of our world-view. By contrast, notice that “the foundation of the materials, forces and laws of nature to work, and it requires exactingly fine-tuned complex functional organisation to be workable as a habitat for C-Chemistry, cell based life forms” are not epistemic conditions — they are, if you like, the natural conditions for there to be epistemic conditions.

    What I’m trying to do here is make explicit a fundamental ambiguity in the whole notion of “grounding”: epistemic conditions (what must be the case for our utterances and actions to count as rational) are different from natural conditions (what must be the case in order that rational beings can come into existence). The traditional notion of “grounding” conflates these quite different kinds of conditions.

  19. It is doubtful whether researchers would observe the same neat one-to-one mapping between the meanings of English and Japanese words as they discovered between English and Dutch words.

    The Friesian dialect of Dutch does sound very similar to a very strong Norfolk English dialect. Though there is not a great deal of shared vocabulary and, indeed, the very epitome of unintelligible was once commonly referred to as double-dutch, so I question whether there is indeed such a one-to-one mapping between Dutch and English.

    French and English share around half of their vocabulary but there is rarely an exact mapping, especially in common words. Money/monnaie = change, Actually/ actuellement = now. Such faux amis may have multiple meanings which will also not be shared across the two languages. Bed might be lit, couche, coin, fond, strate, parterre, depending on context.

    To sum up: it is simply nonsensical to assert that the brain, or any other material entity, could possibly store the meaning of a word – particularly an abstract word. Meaning is not a physical property as such.

    Well, may I suggest a simple thought experiment (I emphasize that I do not suggest anyone try this at home. Not even on Joe!). Gently excise the brain from a willing individual and engage them in conversation. I suggest that the ability to store and retrieve words will have completely disappeared.

  20. Alan Fox you state:

    Gently excise the brain from a willing individual and engage them in conversation. I suggest that the ability to store and retrieve words will have completely disappeared.

    Well in so far as it is possible to retain conscious reception in a brain, hemispherectomies defy what would be expected from your materialistic presupposition Alan:

    Removing Half of Brain Improves Young Epileptics’ Lives:
    Excerpt: “We are awed by the apparent retention of memory and by the retention of the child’s personality and sense of humor,” Dr. Eileen P. G. Vining; In further comment from the neuro-surgeons in the John Hopkins study: “Despite removal of one hemisphere, the intellect of all but one of the children seems either unchanged or improved. Intellect was only affected in the one child who had remained in a coma, vigil-like state, attributable to peri-operative complications.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/1997/08.....lives.html

    Miracle Of Mind-Brain Recovery Following Hemispherectomies – Dr. Ben Carson – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3994585/

    Whereas for a excellent Brain Death example there is the case of Pam Reynolds:

    NDE Pam Reynolds. – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNbdUEqDB-k

    Pam Reynolds Lowery from Atlanta, Georgia was an American singer-songwriter. In 1991, at the age of 35, she had a near-death experience (NDE) during a brain operation. Her NDE is one of the most notable and best documented in NDE research.
    During “standstill” operation, Pam’s brain was found “dead” by all three clinical tests – her electroencephalogram was silent, her brain-stem response was absent, and no blood flowed through her brain which left her clinically dead. Interestingly, while in this state, she encountered the “deepest” NDE of all.

    She made several observations about the procedure which later were confirmed by medical personnel as surprisingly accurate.
    Pamela Reynolds Lowery died of heart failure at the age of 53 (1956 — May 22, 2010)

    And then there is also the case of Dr. Eben Alexander:

    video: In 2008, neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander lay comatose in a hospital, a rare form of bacterial meningitis attacking his brain. His neocortex — the part of the brain that controls sensory perception, conscious thought and language, among other functions — had shut down. “My memories of my life on earth, of this universe… and certainly of family and all my words, language, all of that was completely gone,” he says.

    Which is why what happened next is what opened this man of science to the existence of an afterlife. In a “Super Soul Sunday” interview with Oprah Winfrey (airing Sunday, December 2, at 11 a.m. ET on OWN), Dr. Alexander describes what he saw when he awoke on the other side. ,,, etc.. etc..
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.....06219.html

  21. ‘I suggest that the ability to store and retrieve words will have completely disappeared.’

    There seems to be strong evidence from NDEs that the brain is, in fact, (apart from being a reducing valve for our survival in time, preventing our perpetually enjoying some measure of the Beatific Vision), a receiver.

  22. Alan:

    “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
    William Shakespeare – Hamlet

    Fifty of the near-death experiences I profile on this website which I gathered statistics on, 17% of them experienced a city of light. These cities of light have been described by various experiencers using such adjectives as: golden, beautiful, unearthly, indescribable, beyond anything that can be described, so superior to anything on Earth, colorful, brilliant, heavenly, endless, crystalline, grand, paradise, and galaxy-like.
    http://near-death.com/experiences/research19.html

    Evanescence – The Other Side (Lyric Video)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HiIvtRg7-Lc

  23. Mung at #17: If you are so cocky, you wont mind answering a few questions.

    So, where is it located ?

  24. Alan Fox:

    Well, may I suggest a simple thought experiment (I emphasize that I do not suggest anyone try this at home. Not even on Joe!). Gently excise the brain from a willing individual and engage them in conversation. I suggest that the ability to store and retrieve words will have completely disappeared.

    How about the heart? Gently excise the heart from a willing individual and engage them in conversation. I suggest that the ability to store and retrieve words will have completely disappeared.

    Lungs? Gently excise the lungs from a willing individual and engage them in conversation. I suggest that the ability to store and retrieve words will have completely disappeared.

    Brilliant, Alan…

  25. Quite a weighty thread here.
    i will just add that a Christian cannot believe our thoughts are in our brain since we take our thoughts with us after death and leave the brain behind.
    The brain is just a middleman between our thoughts and our body.
    We think like God, made in his intellectual image, and we don’t think like animals.

    Its impossible for our thinking being to change.
    So as babies or as mentally handicap it is just our memories that is being retarded.
    This is why focusing kids very quickly makes them advanced over other kids.
    This is why retarded people have above average memories and do great feats of memory.
    The memory is of the natural world but our thinking/thoughts are spiritual like God.

  26. Graham2 asks:

    So, where is meaning located ?

    Meaning belongs to the world of consciousness and information and consciousness and information are ‘located’ in the highest dimension of all. Moreover higher dimensions are invisible to our physical 3 Dimensional sight. The reason why ‘higher dimensions’ are invisible to our 3D vision is best illustrated by ‘Flatland’:

    Dr Quantum Flatland Explanation 3D in a 2D world – video
    http://www.disclose.tv/action/....._2D_world/

    Perhaps Graham you may think that we have no scientific evidence to support the view that higher ‘invisible’ dimensions are above this 3 Dimensional world, but you would be wrong in that presumption. Higher invisible dimensions are corroborated by Special Relativity when considering the optical effects for traveling at the speed of light. Please note the optical effect, noted at the 3:22 minute mark of the following video, when the 3-Dimensional world ‘folds and collapses’ into a tunnel shape around the direction of travel as a ‘hypothetical’ observer moves towards the ‘higher dimension’ of the speed of light:

    Approaching The Speed Of Light – Optical Effects – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5733303/

    The preceding video was made by two Australian University physics professors. Here is the interactive website, with link to the relativistic math at the bottom of the page, related to the preceding video;

    Seeing Relativity
    http://www.anu.edu.au/Physics/Searle/

    It is also interesting to point out that a ‘tunnel’ to a higher dimension is also a common feature of Near Death Experiences:

    Near Death Experience – The Tunnel, The Light, The Life Review – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4200200/

    What’s more is that special relativity (and general relativity) also confirm the ‘eternity’ for this higher dimension. i.e. Time, as we understand it temporally, would come to a complete stop at the speed of light. To grasp the whole ‘time coming to a complete stop at the speed of light’ concept a little more easily, imagine moving away from the face of a clock at the speed of light. Would not the hands on the clock stay stationary as you moved away from the face of the clock at the speed of light? Moving away from the face of a clock at the speed of light happens to be the same ‘thought experiment’ that gave Einstein his breakthrough insight into e=mc2.

    Albert Einstein – Special Relativity – Insight Into Eternity – ‘thought experiment’ video
    http://www.metacafe.com/w/6545941/

    “I’ve just developed a new theory of eternity.”
    Albert Einstein – The Einstein Factor – Reader’s Digest

    “The laws of relativity have changed timeless existence from a theological claim to a physical reality. Light, you see, is outside of time, a fact of nature proven in thousands of experiments at hundreds of universities. I don’t pretend to know how tomorrow can exist simultaneously with today and yesterday. But at the speed of light they actually and rigorously do. Time does not pass.”
    Richard Swenson – More Than Meets The Eye, Chpt. 12

    ‘Time dilation’, i.e. eternity, is confirmed by many lines of evidence but basically this higher dimensional, ‘eternal’, inference for the time framework of light is warranted because light is not ‘frozen within time’ yet it is also shown that time, as we understand it, does not pass for light. This is only possible if temporal time is created from a higher dimension that ‘contains all time’,,,Yet, even though light has this ‘eternal’ attribute in regards to our temporal framework of time, for us to hypothetically travel at the speed of light, in this universe, will still only get us to first base as far as quantum entanglement, or teleportation, is concerned.

    Light and Quantum Entanglement Reflect Some Characteristics Of God – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4102182

    i.e. Hypothetically traveling at the speed of light in this universe would be, because of time dilation, instantaneous travel for the person going at the speed of light. This is because time does not pass for them, yet, and this is a very big ‘yet’ to take note of; this ‘timeless’ travel is still not instantaneous and transcendent to our temporal framework of time as quantum teleportation and entanglment are, i.e. Speed of light travel, to our temporal frame of reference of time, is still not completely transcendent of our time framework since light appears to take time to travel from our temporal perspective. Yet, in quantum teleportation of information, the ‘time not passing’, i.e. ‘eternal’, framework is not only achieved in the speed of light framework/dimension, but is also ‘instantaneously’ achieved in our lower temporal framework. That is to say, the instantaneous teleportation/travel of quantum information is instantaneous to both the temporal and speed of light frameworks, not just the speed of light framework. Information teleportation/travel is not limited by time, nor space, in any way, shape or form, in any frame of reference, as light is seemingly limited to us in this temporal framework. Thus ‘pure transcendent information’ (in quantum teleportaion experiments) is shown to be timeless (eternal) and completely transcendent of all material frameworks. Moreover, concluding from all lines of evidence we now have (many of which I have not specifically listed here); transcendent, eternal, infinite information is indeed real and the framework in which ‘It’ resides is the primary reality (highest dimension) that can exist, (in so far as our limited perception of a primary reality, highest dimension, can be discerned).

    “An illusion can never go faster than the speed limit of reality”
    Akiane Kramarik – Child Prodigy -

  27. Is meaning located in the brain?

    The meaning of what?

  28. It’s a fair question to ask how one physical system (such as a brain and its states) can be “about” another. But to respond to this difficulty by invoking a dualist ontology, and then assigning intentionality (and or consciousness, or selfhood, or agency, or meaning) to the nonphysical side of one’s dualistic coin is to my ear an absolutely empty response.

    That is because no one has the slightest notion of how a nonphysical mentality might instantiate intentional states (or consciousness, or selfhood, or agency, or meaning), or how one might go about investigating that question. How is a nonphysical mentality “about” something else? At least brain states offer many intriguing empirical hooks vis the complex nature of sensory consciousness and representation that may or may not yield insights into this question as cognitive neuroscience progresses. There is no science of non-physical mentality, nor do i see how there could be one.

    Critics who wave the problem of intentionality at “materialists” are often strangely tolerant of the complete and utter absence of a substantive account of intentionality grounded in the metaphysics of dualism. That’s an unjustifiable asymmetry.

    I suspect that the sequestering of phenomena such as intentionality, consciousness and agency and meaning to nonphysical mentality works simply because such qualities are smuggled in as the immaterial mind (or soul, or intelligence, or agency, or meaning, or consciousness, or whatever) is defined as that which nonphysically bears the essentials of selfhood (intentionality, meaning, consciousness, agency, etc.) independent of material states. How or why that might be the case, or, most importantly, how to make that notion do any scientific work, no one has clue. Explanation of those phenomenon in nonphysical terms is quite natural for many, but the explanation is all IOU and no content.

    The bottom line for me is that we simply don’t yet know how to talk about intentionality, regardless of ontology.

  29. As well Graham2, Materialism had postulated for centuries that everything reduced to, or emerged from material atoms and/or irreducible particles, yet the correct structure of reality is now found by science to be as follows:

    1. material particles/atoms (mass) normally reduces to energy (e=mc^2)
    2. energy and mass both reduce to information (quantum teleportation, A. Zeilinger etc..)
    3. information reduces to consciousness (geometric centrality of conscious observation in universe dictates that consciousness must precede quantum wave collapse to its single bit state) (Leggett’s Inequalities, Wheeler’s Delayed Choice; Wigner’s Quantum Symmetries; Wheeler and Zeilinger’s ‘It from Bit’)

    Three intersecting lines of experimental evidence from quantum mechanics that shows that consciousness precedes material reality
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1G_Fi50ljF5w_XyJHfmSIZsOcPFhgoAZ3PRc_ktY8cFo/edit

    “No, I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
    (Max Planck, as cited in de Purucker, Gottfried. 1940. The Esoteric Tradition. California: Theosophical University Press, ch. 13).

    As well Graham2, the correct ‘top down’ structure for how reality is constructed is closely reflected in how our bodies are constructed ‘top down’. The lowest level of the reality of our bodies are the material atoms of our body. The next higher level of our bodies is the energy of our bodies (biophotons). The next higher level of our bodies is the quantum entanglement/information of our bodies (of which the classical information that is encoded on DNA is a subset of that quantum information). The highest level of our bodies is the consciousness of our mind.

    Notes:

    Are humans really beings of light?
    Excerpt: “We now know, today, that man is essentially a being of light.”,,, “There are about 100,000 chemical reactions happening in every cell each second. The chemical reaction can only happen if the molecule which is reacting is excited by a photon… Once the photon has excited a reaction it returns to the field and is available for more reactions… We are swimming in an ocean of light.”
    http://viewzone2.com/dna.html

    Does DNA Have Telepathic Properties?-A Galaxy Insight – 2009
    Excerpt: DNA has been found to have a bizarre ability to put itself together, even at a distance, when according to known science it shouldn’t be able to.,,, The recognition of similar sequences in DNA’s chemical subunits, occurs in a way unrecognized by science. There is no known reason why the DNA is able to combine the way it does, and from a current theoretical standpoint this feat should be chemically impossible.
    http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_.....ave-t.html

    Quantum Information/Entanglement In DNA – Elisabeth Rieper – short video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5936605/

    Physicists Discover Quantum Law of Protein Folding – February 22, 2011
    Quantum mechanics finally explains why protein folding depends on temperature in such a strange way.
    Excerpt: First, a little background on protein folding. Proteins are long chains of amino acids that become biologically active only when they fold into specific, highly complex shapes. The puzzle is how proteins do this so quickly when they have so many possible configurations to choose from.
    To put this in perspective, a relatively small protein of only 100 amino acids can take some 10^100 different configurations. If it tried these shapes at the rate of 100 billion a second, it would take longer than the age of the universe to find the correct one. Just how these molecules do the job in nanoseconds, nobody knows.,,,
    Their astonishing result is that this quantum transition model fits the folding curves of 15 different proteins and even explains the difference in folding and unfolding rates of the same proteins.
    That’s a significant breakthrough. Luo and Lo’s equations amount to the first universal laws of protein folding. That’s the equivalent in biology to something like the thermodynamic laws in physics.
    http://www.technologyreview.co.....f-protein/

    Does Quantum Biology Support A Quantum Soul? – Stuart Hameroff – video (notes in description)
    http://vimeo.com/29895068

    Quantum Entangled Consciousness (Permanence of Quantum Information)- Life After Death – Stuart Hameroff – video
    https://vimeo.com/39982578

    Quantum no-hiding theorem experimentally confirmed for first time – March 2011
    Excerpt: In the classical world, information can be copied and deleted at will. In the quantum world, however, the conservation of quantum information means that information cannot be created nor destroyed.
    http://www.physorg.com/news/20.....tally.html

  30. Quantum Teleportation – IBM Research Page
    Excerpt: “it would destroy the original (photon) in the process,,”
    http://researcher.ibm.com/view_project.php?id=2862

    Ions have been teleported successfully for the first time by two independent research groups
    Excerpt: In fact, copying isn’t quite the right word for it. In order to reproduce the quantum state of one atom in a second atom, the original has to be destroyed. This is unavoidable – it is enforced by the laws of quantum mechanics, which stipulate that you can’t ‘clone’ a quantum state. In principle, however, the ‘copy’ can be indistinguishable from the original (that was destroyed),,,
    http://www.rsc.org/chemistrywo.....ammeup.asp

    Atom takes a quantum leap – 2009
    Excerpt: Ytterbium ions have been ‘teleported’ over a distance of a metre.,,,
    “What you’re moving is information, not the actual atoms,” says Chris Monroe, from the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland in College Park and an author of the paper. But as two particles of the same type differ only in their quantum states, the transfer of quantum information is equivalent to moving the first particle to the location of the second.
    http://www.freerepublic.com/fo.....1769/posts

    Quantum no-deleting theorem
    Excerpt: A stronger version of the no-cloning theorem and the no-deleting theorem provide permanence to quantum information. To create a copy one must import the information from some part of the universe and to delete a state one needs to export it to another part of the universe where it will continue to exist.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q.....onsequence

    Music and verse:

    The Police – Spirits in the Material World
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDs9zbiumDc

    John 3:12
    “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

  31. corrected link:

    The Police – Spirits In The Material World – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tq0KW-_48Cc

  32. Graham2,

    Thank you for your posts. You ask where meaning is located. Where is the number 3 located? Where is happiness located? Does that answer your question?

    Asking whether meaning has a location is like asking whether a joke has wheels – it’s a category mistake. I hope that helps.

  33. Reciprocating Bill-

    Information is neiter matter nor energy. And unfortunately for you, materialists don’t have any supporting evidence for their position. And no one knows how to test it

  34. Hi nullasalus,

    Thanks for your post. You wrote:

    Ed’s argument against ‘locating meaning in the brain’ isn’t an empirical challenge, it’s a metaphysical one.

    I agree. That’s why at the end of my post, I described the materialist assertion that meaning is located in the brain as not merely false, but nonsensical:

    To sum up: it is simply nonsensical to assert that the brain, or any other material entity, could possibly store the meaning of a word – particularly an abstract word. Meaning is not a physical property as such.

    You then added:

    Taking brains or neurons or physical things to have intrinsic meaning rather than derived meaning would mean Aristotle is right and materialists / people who subscribe to a mechanistic view of mind/nature, are wrong.

    There are a few points I’d like to make here:

    1. Thoughts have intrinsic meaning. Things like words and pictures have a derived meaning: their meaning is conferred on them by us. But neural processes don’t have any kind of meaning, either intrinsic or derived.

    2. I’m not aware of any passage in Aristotle where he imputes intrinsic meaning to brain processes. Indeed, he demonstrates in De Anima III.4 that the intellect is immaterial, when he argues that since the mind (or intellect) is capable of knowing all things, it therefore “cannot reasonably be regarded as blended with the body: if so, it would acquire some quality, e.g. warmth or cold, or even have an organ like the sensitive faculty: as it is, it has none.”

    3. Aristotle did of course believe that living things (and by extension, their bodily organs) possess intrinsic teleology: they “point to” their built-in ends. The eye is for seeing; that is it proper end. And we might say that one of the purposes of the human brain is: converting raw sensory data into information (percepts, image schemata) that the intellect can assimilate and process. But that’s quite a different thing from generating semantic meaning. The brain cannot do that. Only a mind can do that.

    4. The term “intentionality” has various meanings in the philosophical literature, but is often used to denote some kind of “aboutness.” In this broad sense, I will happily grant that an animal’s brain processes can be about the external world, in the sense that they track changes occurring in the world and help that animal navigate its way around its world. In my Ph.D. thesis, I argued that even an unconscious insect (such as a fruit fly) had a “map of the world” in its brain, which it continually updated on the basis of what it learned. (Learning doesn’t have to be a conscious process – even the legs of cockroaches are capable of undergoing associative conditioning.)

    Nevertheless, it would be absurd to impute linguistic or semantic meaning to any kind of brain process.

    5. Towards the end of his post, Ed Feser refers back to the philosophical problem he raised earlier in connection with materialism (viz. Thoughts possess inherent meaning; brain processes do not and cannot; therefore thoughts cannot be identified with brain processes) and he comments:

    I maintain that the problem for materialism just described is insuperable. It shows that a materialist explanation of the mind is impossible in principle, a conceptual impossibility. And the reason has in part to do with the concept of matter to which materialists themselves are at least implicitly committed.

    So it seems Ed thinks it’s a knock-down argument against materialism. Part of the reason, as he goes on to say, is that modern materialists deny that material events (such as brain processes) are capable of having built-in teleological properties, whereas Aristotelians think that the teleological properties are an ontologically basic feature of living things, and of natural objects in general. But that isn’t all; as we’ve seen, Aristotle would say that a material object, having a determinate nature of its own, is incapable of knowing the natures of all kinds of bodies, whereas the human intellect is perfectly capable of grasping the nature of any and every kind of body. So even for a materialist who decides to accept teleology as a basic feature of material objects (as Aristotle did), the problem of meaning still remains.

  35. Reciprocating Bill:

    Thank you for your comments. You wrote:

    …[N]o one has the slightest notion of how a nonphysical mentality might instantiate intentional states (or consciousness, or selfhood, or agency, or meaning), or how one might go about investigating that question. How is a nonphysical mentality “about” something else? At least brain states offer many intriguing empirical hooks via the complex nature of sensory consciousness and representation that may or may not yield insights into this question as cognitive neuroscience progresses. There is no science of non-physical mentality, nor do i see how there could be one…

    The bottom line for me is that we simply don’t yet know how to talk about intentionality, regardless of ontology.

    You seem to be arguing that there is a parity between materialism’s failure to explain how a brain process could have inherent meaning and dualism’s failure to explain how an immaterial soul could possess inherent meaning. You then add that at least materialist explanations are amenable to scientific explanations, whereas dualist explanations are not, since no-one can see a soul.

    First, it seems to me that your remarks only serve to discredit Cartesian dualism, which envisages the soul and body as distinct entities which are capable of interacting. There is indeed a real philosophical conundrum as to how unextended, which is quite distinct from my body, can nevertheless move my body. But not all dualists are Cartesians. An alternative (Aristotelian) view is that I am one being (a human person), who is capable of performing both material actions (e.g. digesting, sensing, imagining) and immaterial actions (e.g. reasoning, understanding, choosing). You might call this a kind of operational dualism, if you like, although it’s properly known as hylomorphic dualism. On this view, meanings aren’t stored inside some ghostly, immaterial entity that hovers above my head. Rather, it’s just a basic fact about me, as a person, that I can grasp meanings. I do not store them anywhere, although you could say that my brain stores image schemata that allow me to identify the meanings of spoken words, when I hear them.

    Second, even for the Cartesian dualist, the problem of intentionality is nothing like as serious as it is for the materialist. Here’s why. Material objects already have a nature of their own, that can be described in terms of their fixed, built-in tendencies or dispositions to behave in certain ways. The problem here is that semantic meaning is not, and cannot be, a material property as such. There is an unbridgeable gap between physical and semantic properties.

    With an immaterial mind, on the other hand, no such problem arises. Why? Because it doesn’t have a determinate nature of its own, apart from its ability to grasp the meanings of various kinds of things. Its nature is wholly constituted by that ability. Thus for Descartes, the defining property of mind is thought, just as the defining property of matter is extension. Asking how the mind thinks and understands meaning is like asking how matter is extended. It just is. That ability is what makes it a mind.

    Third, I put it to you that science can never explain everything about reality. Here’s why. Science cannot explain what science presupposes. Science presupposes an orderly world in which things obey laws. It also presupposes that the existence of intelligent human beings who are able to formulate hypotheses about the world, reason about what these hypotheses entail and make predictions that can be tested empirically, and eventually arrive at true hypotheses after ruling out many false ones. How do we do all that? That’s an interesting question, but it’s not one that science has to answer. Science takes the existence of the external world as a “given”; the same surely goes for the human ability to reason.

    I hope that helps.

  36. 1. material particles/atoms (mass) normally reduces to energy (e=mc^2)

    In what sense is mc^2 reducible to e?

  37. 2. energy and mass both reduce to information

    i = -log e?

  38. Hi Kantian Naturalist,

    Thanks for the link to the article on Neurophenomenology by Lutz and Thompson (Journal of Consciousness Studies, 10, No. 9–10, 2003, pp. 31–52). I haven’t had time to digest it properly, but I noticed the following passage:

    The ‘explanatory gap’ (in our usage) is the epistemological and methodological problem of how to relate first-person phenomenological accounts of experience to third-person cognitive-neuroscientific accounts…

    With respect to the explanatory gap, on the other hand, neurophenomenology does not aim to close the gap in the sense of ontological reduction, but rather to bridge the gap at epistemological and methodological levels by working to establish strong reciprocal constraints between phenomenological accounts of experience and cognitive-scientific accounts of mental processes. At the present time, neurophenomenology does not claim to have constructed such bridges, but only to have proposed a clear scientific research programme for making progress on that task. Whereas neuroscience to-date has focused mainly on the third-person, neurobehavioural side of the explanatory gap, leaving the first-person side to psychology and philosophy, neurophenomenology employs specific first-person methods in order to generate original first-person data, which can then be used to guide the study of physiological processes, as illustrated in a preliminary way by the pilot study…

    By thus enriching our understanding of both the first-person
    and third-person dimensions of consciousness, and creating experimental situations in which they reciprocally constrain each other, neurophenomenology aims to narrow the epistemological and methodological distance in cognitive neuroscience between subjective experience and brain processes. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

    I have no quarrel with neurophenomenology as a research program. I also believe that first-person and third-person accounts of experience constrain each other, and that exploring these constraints can teach us a lot about consciousness.

    However, I believe that the gap between the physical and the semantic (which relates to what I call the “super-hard” problem of meaning) is even greater than that between the physical and the phenomenological (which forms the basis of the so-called “hard” problem of consciousness). The latter gap might be explained by positing a kind of property dualism, where physical events and phenomenological experiences mirror or correspond to each other. But it is not possible for the physical to mirror the semantic in a one-to-one fashion, whether at the type-type or token-token level. Not only is meaning irreducible to matter; matter doesn’t even track meaning.

    Consider the word “true.” There are an infinite number of propositions, even within a single field of inquiry such as arithmetic, which can be described as “true,” but there’s nothing in the brain corresponding to this infinite set.

  39. 39
    Kantian Naturalist

    It seems basically right to me that it’s a category mistake to think of semantic meaning as having spatio-temporal location in the way that concrete particulars do, but it seems to me that naturalism can accommodate this point perfectly well.

    I also don’t think it’s an objection to naturalism to point out that animals (including human animals) are, to use Dennett’s terms, “semantic engines,” even though their (and our) brains are only “syntactic engines”.

    That might be an objection to reductionism, to be sure, but naturalism isn’t committed to reductionism, either historically or conceptually — “non-reductive naturalism” is not a contradiction in terms. This point has been in circulation at least since Strawson’s Skepticism and Naturalism, and has recently been expanded upon quite nicely in two books edited by David Macarthur and Mario de Caro: Naturalism in Question and Naturalism and Normativity.

    Science cannot explain what science presupposes. Science presupposes an orderly world in which things obey laws. It also presupposes that the existence of intelligent human beings who are able to formulate hypotheses about the world, reason about what these hypotheses entail and make predictions that can be tested empirically, and eventually arrive at true hypotheses after ruling out many false ones. How do we do all that? That’s an interesting question, but it’s not one that science has to answer. Science takes the existence of the external world as a “given”; the same surely goes for the human ability to reason.

    I agree almost entirely. Our practices of empirical inquiry do take for granted ‘presuppositions’, which I construe as a transcendental argument for realism. That argument establishes that we are in reliable contact with objects and events, the existence and properties of which do not depend on our conceptions of them. Likewise, we can establish by transcendental description that we are self-conscious, rational beings.

    On the other hand, I don’t see it as being beyond the purview of empirical inquiry to figure out how our interactions with reality are maintained, or how rationality functions. More generally, science doesn’t establish that we perceive, judge, infer, and act, but it can say a great deal about how we do those things. We do need a distinction between transcendental descriptions and empirical explanations, but I don’t see how that distinction is compatible with naturalism.

  40. 40
    Kantian Naturalist

    However, I believe that the gap between the physical and the semantic (which relates to what I call the “super-hard” problem of meaning) is even greater than that between the physical and the phenomenological (which forms the basis of the so-called “hard” problem of consciousness). The latter gap might be explained by positing a kind of property dualism, where physical events and phenomenological experiences mirror or correspond to each other. But it is not possible for the physical to mirror the semantic in a one-to-one fashion, whether at the type-type or token-token level. Not only is meaning irreducible to matter; matter doesn’t even track meaning.

    It is a nice point, and one that bears emphasis, that how we end up treating sapience (our capacity for rational thought) and how we end up treating sentience (our capacity for conscious experience) needn’t go together. There are at least two different mind-body problems (and, I think, more than that: see “The Mind-Body-Body Problem“).

    As for semantic meaning, I find a lot of value in Brandom’s inferentialism, which basically takes inspiration from Sellars’ “meaning as functional classification” account. Briefly, the idea here is that when we say:

    “Hund” means dog (in German),

    that’s properly explicated as

    “Hund” (in German) and “dog” (in English) function in similar ways, within the overall economy of perception, thought, and action.

    So meanings need not be mysterious, and they needn’t be material (in the narrow sense). We can preserve the Platonic insight that there’s something fundamentally and pervasively wrong with reductive materialism (represented in his day by Anaxagoras and Empedocles) without any ratification of meaning as “intensional entities,” as Meimong (and many others) were tempted to do.

    On this account of meaning, meanings are natural in the broad sense of “belonging the world of life, history, and becoming” without being identified with neurophysiological processes.

    Consider the word “true.” There are an infinite number of propositions, even within a single field of inquiry such as arithmetic, which can be described as “true,” but there’s nothing in the brain corresponding to this infinite set.

    The task of a fully adequate naturalism, as I understand it, is to take the transcendental description of “the Four Ms” (mind, meaning, morality, and modality) as our explanandum and “the Four Fs” (feeding, fighting, fleeing, and reproduction) as our explanans.

    Any naturalism which neglects the Ms will fail, and I don’t mind conceding that that includes most of them. I’m a naturalist because I think that Dewey did a pretty good job of figuring out morality in naturalistic terms, and Sellars did a pretty good job of figuring out mind, meaning, and modality in naturalistic terms. The resulting pragmatic naturalism doesn’t offer everything that Aristotelianism or Cartesianism offers, but it offers enough.

    Still, I’ll concede that realism about sets is awfully tempting, and rejecting realism about sets has a price that I’m not entirely sure I’m willing to pay. I don’t enough about philosophy of mathematics to say much more.

  41. mung you ask:

    In what sense is mc^2 reducible to e?

    Please note that I said “normally reduces” to energy:

    The reduction of matter to energy is comparatively easy to accomplish as is demonstrated in by nuclear/atomic bombs:

    Atomic Bomb Explosion – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-22tna7KHzI

    6.4 mg of mass converted to energy in Hiroshima A-bomb

    4,400,000 Hiroshima A-bombs equivalent to one ounce of mass

    1 drop of water equivalent to 10 Hiroshima A-bombs

    Whereas to convert energy to matter is a very more difficult proposition:

    Particle accelerators convert energy into subatomic particles, for example by colliding electrons and positrons. Some of the kinetic energy in the collision goes into creating new particles.

    It’s not possible, however, to collect these newly created particles and assemble them into atoms, molecules and bigger (less microscopic) structures that we associate with ‘matter’ in our daily life. This is partly because in a technical sense, you cannot just create matter out of energy: there are various ‘conservation laws’ of electric charges, the number of leptons (electron-like particles) etc., which means that you can only create matter / anti-matter pairs out of energy. Anti-matter, however, has the unfortunate tendency to combine with matter and turn itself back into energy. Even though physicists have managed to safely trap a small amount of anti-matter using magnetic fields, this is not easy to do.

    Also, Einstein’s equation, Energy = Mass x the square of the velocity of light, tells you that it takes a huge amount of energy to create matter in this way. The big accelerator at Fermilab can be a significant drain on the electricity grid in and around the city of Chicago, and it has produced very little matter.
    http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/d.....0724a.html

    Yet somehow shortly after the big bang, and in nucleosynthesis, serendipitously, all the pieces fell together to get atoms to form:

    Big Bang
    After its (The Big Bangs) initial expansion from a singularity, the Universe cooled sufficiently to allow energy to be converted into various subatomic particles, including protons, neutrons, and electrons.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang

    The Elements: Forged in Stars – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4003861

    “Dr. Michael Denton on Evidence of Fine-Tuning in the Universe” (Remarkable balance of various key elements for life) – podcast
    http://intelligentdesign.podom.....3_59-07_00

  42. Mung as to:

    energy and mass both reduce to information

    Here are my references:

    How Teleportation Will Work -
    Excerpt: In 1993, the idea of teleportation moved out of the realm of science fiction and into the world of theoretical possibility. It was then that physicist Charles Bennett and a team of researchers at IBM confirmed that quantum teleportation was possible, but only if the original object being teleported was destroyed. — As predicted, the original photon no longer existed once the replica was made.
    http://science.howstuffworks.c.....ation1.htm

    Quantum Teleportation – IBM Research Page
    Excerpt: “it would destroy the original (photon) in the process,,”
    http://researcher.ibm.com/view_project.php?id=2862

    Unconditional Quantum Teleportation – abstract
    Excerpt: This is the first realization of unconditional quantum teleportation where every state entering the device is actually teleported,,
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/.....2/5389/706

    Ions have been teleported successfully for the first time by two independent research groups
    Excerpt: In fact, copying isn’t quite the right word for it. In order to reproduce the quantum state of one atom in a second atom, the original has to be destroyed. This is unavoidable – it is enforced by the laws of quantum mechanics, which stipulate that you can’t ‘clone’ a quantum state. In principle, however, the ‘copy’ can be indistinguishable from the original (that was destroyed),,,
    http://www.rsc.org/chemistrywo.....ammeup.asp

    Atom takes a quantum leap – 2009
    Excerpt: Ytterbium ions have been ‘teleported’ over a distance of a metre.,,,
    “What you’re moving is information, not the actual atoms,” says Chris Monroe, from the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland in College Park and an author of the paper. But as two particles of the same type differ only in their quantum states, the transfer of quantum information is equivalent to moving the first particle to the location of the second.
    http://www.freerepublic.com/fo.....1769/posts

  43. VJ:

    First, it seems to me that your remarks only serve to discredit Cartesian dualism, which envisages the soul and body as distinct entities which are capable of interacting. There is indeed a real philosophical conundrum as to how unextended, which is quite distinct from my body, can nevertheless move my body. But not all dualists are Cartesians. An alternative (Aristotelian) view is that I am one being (a human person), who is capable of performing both material actions (e.g. digesting, sensing, imagining) and immaterial actions (e.g. reasoning, understanding, choosing).

    I only have a moment – but I believe you’ll find the discussion found at the following link very interesting, as it addresses remarkably similar themes. You’ll recognize my comment above as adapted from a comment I made there.

    http://telicthoughts.com/id-th.....roblem”/

  44. Let’s than paraphrase this:

    Are we humans:

    a. A body with a soul? OR
    b. A soul with a body?
    To this:

    Are we:

    a. A brain with a mind, OR
    b. A mind with a brain
    This is the question

  45. I am da Brain/sOul/Mind/Body.

  46. Meaning belongs to the world of consciousness and information and consciousness and information are ‘located’ in the highest dimension of all.

    I appreciate the (long) reply but does that mean anything ?

    Meaning is something we invent in our brain, like beauty, etc. As soon as someone invokes ‘higher dimensions’, ‘vibrations’, etc and especially, quantum mechanics, I get worried.

    If meaning, information etc are ‘located’ somewhere else (the soul? the mind ? a higher dimension ?) Can someone give even the slightest clue as to how our (material) brain can affect these and vice versa ?

  47. Vjtorley,

    So it seems Ed thinks it’s a knock-down argument against materialism. Part of the reason, as he goes on to say, is that modern materialists deny that material events (such as brain processes) are capable of having built-in teleological properties, whereas Aristotelians think that the teleological properties are an ontologically basic feature of living things, and of natural objects in general. But that isn’t all; as we’ve seen, Aristotle would say that a material object, having a determinate nature of its own, is incapable of knowing the natures of all kinds of bodies, whereas the human intellect is perfectly capable of grasping the nature of any and every kind of body. So even for a materialist who decides to accept teleology as a basic feature of material objects (as Aristotle did), the problem of meaning still remains.

    I think the problem here is that you may be mixing up intention with intellect in a way Aristotle wouldn’t. At the same time, you seem to think that intrinsic/original intentionality being present in the physical is some form of materialism – whereas Ed is pointing out that the material world, as pictured by the materialists, is necessary devoid not only of teleology of the relevant sort, but also intentionality and ‘meaning’.

    So, a materialist who believes that meaning is intrinsic in matter or some forms of matter – ‘this brain state/series of states is intrinsically about dogs’ – would not be a materialist after all. Yes, even beyond that there’s the consideration of the intellect, but that’s an additional topic.

  48. Graham you state:

    Meaning is something we invent in our brain, like beauty,

    Exactly who is the ‘we’ doing the inventing in the brain?

  49. Its me. my brain. Or you, your brain, etc. Who else could it be ?

  50. So the you inventing in your brain is no different from your brain inventing in your brain? Why didn’t your brain just say your brain invents in your brain instead of confusing matters with the mind/brain dichotomy?

    notes:

    The claim that past material states determine future conscious choices (determinism) is falsified by the fact that present conscious choices effect past material states:

    In other words, If my conscious choices really are just merely the result of whatever state the material particles in my brain happen to be in (deterministic) how in blue blazes are my choices instantaneously effecting the state of material particles into the past? Such as this following experiment illustrates:

    Quantum physics mimics spooky action into the past – April 23, 2012
    Excerpt: The authors experimentally realized a “Gedankenexperiment” called “delayed-choice entanglement swapping”, formulated by Asher Peres in the year 2000. Two pairs of entangled photons are produced, and one photon from each pair is sent to a party called Victor. Of the two remaining photons, one photon is sent to the party Alice and one is sent to the party Bob. Victor can now choose between two kinds of measurements. If he decides to measure his two photons in a way such that they are forced to be in an entangled state, then also Alice’s and Bob’s photon pair becomes entangled. If Victor chooses to measure his particles individually, Alice’s and Bob’s photon pair ends up in a separable state. Modern quantum optics technology allowed the team to delay Victor’s choice and measurement with respect to the measurements which Alice and Bob perform on their photons. “We found that whether Alice’s and Bob’s photons are entangled and show quantum correlations or are separable and show classical correlations can be decided after they have been measured”, explains Xiao-song Ma, lead author of the study.
    According to the famous words of Albert Einstein, the effects of quantum entanglement appear as “spooky action at a distance”. The recent experiment has gone one remarkable step further. “Within a naïve classical world view, quantum mechanics can even mimic an influence of future actions on past events”, says Anton Zeilinger.
    http://phys.org/news/2012-04-q.....ction.html

    I consider the preceding proof to be a great improvement on the ‘uncertainty’ argument from quantum mechanics for free will:

    Why Quantum Physics Ends the Free Will Debate – Michio Kaku – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFLR5vNKiSw

  51. Actually, for Vjtorley, I think I know of a way to make it clearer.

    You’re aware that, metaphysically/philosophically, Aristotle and Aquinas saw the material world differently than Descartes and moderns, right? Even when considering things devoid of minds, like the rock cycle, they had pretty different views of what those things were – and that continues now.

  52. 52
    Kantian Naturalist

    At the same time, you seem to think that intrinsic/original intentionality being present in the physical is some form of materialism – whereas Ed is pointing out that the material world, as pictured by the materialists, is necessary devoid not only of teleology of the relevant sort, but also intentionality and ‘meaning’.

    So, a materialist who believes that meaning is intrinsic in matter or some forms of matter – ‘this brain state/series of states is intrinsically about dogs’ – would not be a materialist after all.

    Well then, since I do think that teleology and intentionality are real, I suppose I’m not a materialist. :)

  53. Bornagain77 #70: The claim that past material states determine future conscious choices (determinism) is falsified by the fact that present conscious choices effect past material states

    So something I do now can affect what happened in the past ?

    I really think you need to rethink the connection between sub-atomic behaviour and macroscopic behaviour. Sub-atomic behaviour and macroscopic behaviour are different things. The former is often non-intutitive but the latter is a statistical sum of this, they are different things. You seem to have a cartoon-simple idea that if quarks can do it, we can too.

    Eg: small particles display Brownian motion, but humans dont vibrate.

  54. Well then, since I do think that teleology and intentionality are real, I suppose I’m not a materialist.

    It’s a question of what you mean by ‘real’. A lot of materialists will say ‘Oh sure, they’re real’ – but they mean exclusively derived intentionality rather than intrinsic. Same with teleology.

    Now, if you think they’re intrinsic? Yeah, by Feser’s measure, you’re not a materialist. In fact, you’re not even a naturalist.

  55. 55
    Kantian Naturalist

    If we’re taking “derived intentionality” and “intrinsic intentionality” in the Dennett/Searle senses — where “derived intentionality” is just, we might say, ‘as-if’ intentionality and intrinsic intentionality is the Genuine Article, then oh yes, I most definitely think that teleological intentionality is intrinsic to living things in general, and that discursive or semantic intentionality is intrinsic to rational beings.

    But that means I’m not a naturalist, by Feser’s criteria? The other naturalists better not find out about this — they’ll kick me out of the club for sure!

  56. graham2 you state:

    You seem to have a cartoon-simple idea that if quarks can do it, we can too.

    Well actually the experiment I cited by Dr. Zeilinger involved photons, not quarks, and no I do not hold the ‘cartoon simple idea’ that if photons can do something then we can to, that would be YOUR “cartoon simple” position within materialism. In fact, I hold the exact opposite view that I can do things photons cannot possibly do, i.e. such as in the example I cited, photons cannot make decisions that effect reality whereas I can make decisions that effect reality, and the experiment confirms exactly that position! Why are you being ‘anti-science?’

    notes:

    “It will remain remarkable, in whatever way our future concepts may develop, that the very study of the external world led to the scientific conclusion that the content of the consciousness is the ultimate universal reality” -
    Eugene Wigner – (Remarks on the Mind-Body Question, Eugene Wigner, in Wheeler and Zurek, p.169) 1961 – received Nobel Prize in 1963 for ‘Quantum Symmetries’)

    “No, I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
    (Max Planck, as cited in de Purucker, Gottfried. 1940. The Esoteric Tradition. California: Theosophical University Press, ch. 13).

    “Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.”
    (Schroedinger, Erwin. 1984. “General Scientific and Popular Papers,” in Collected Papers, Vol. 4. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences. Friedr. Vieweg & Sohn, Braunschweig/Wiesbaden. p. 334.)

    A neurosurgeon confronts the non-material nature of consciousness – December 2011
    Excerpted quote: To me one thing that has emerged from my experience and from very rigorous analysis of that experience over several years, talking it over with others that I respect in neuroscience, and really trying to come up with an answer, is that consciousness outside of the brain is a fact. It’s an established fact. And of course, that was a hard place for me to get, coming from being a card-toting reductive materialist over decades. It was very difficult to get to knowing that consciousness, that there’s a soul of us that is not dependent on the brain.
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ciousness/

    Darwinian Psychologist David Barash Admits the Seeming Insolubility of Science’s “Hardest Problem”
    Excerpt: ‘But the hard problem of consciousness is so hard that I can’t even imagine what kind of empirical findings would satisfactorily solve it. In fact, I don’t even know what kind of discovery would get us to first base, not to mention a home run.’
    David Barash – Materialist/Atheist Darwinian Psychologist

    David Chalmers on Consciousness – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NK1Yo6VbRoo

    Neuroscientist: “The Most Seamless Illusions Ever Created” – April 2012
    Excerpt: We have so much confidence in our materialist assumptions (which are assumptions, not facts) that something like free will is denied in principle. Maybe it doesn’t exist, but I don’t really know that. Either way, it doesn’t matter because if free will and consciousness are just an illusion, they are the most seamless illusions ever created. Film maker James Cameron wishes he had special effects that good.
    Matthew D. Lieberman – neuroscientist – materialist – UCLA professor

    Quantum Entangled Consciousness – Life After Death – Stuart Hameroff – video
    http://vimeo.com/39982578

    Brain ‘entanglement’ could explain memories – January 2010
    Excerpt: In both cases, the researchers noticed that the voltage of the electrical signal in groups of neurons separated by up to 10 millimetres sometimes rose and fell with exactly the same rhythm. These patterns of activity, dubbed “coherence potentials”, often started in one set of neurons, only to be mimicked or “cloned” by others milliseconds later. They were also much more complicated than the simple phase-locked oscillations and always matched each other in amplitude as well as in frequency. (Perfect clones) “The precision with which these new sites pick up on the activity of the initiating group is quite astounding – they are perfect clones,” says Plen
    http://www.newscientist.com/ar.....ories.html

    Finding quantum entanglement in the brain (as well as in every protein and DNA molecule) is very interesting since:

    Looking Beyond Space and Time to Cope With Quantum Theory – (Oct. 28, 2012)
    Excerpt: To derive their inequality, which sets up a measurement of entanglement between four particles, the researchers considered what behaviours are possible for four particles that are connected by influences that stay hidden and that travel at some arbitrary finite speed.
    Mathematically (and mind-bogglingly), these constraints define an 80-dimensional object. The testable hidden influence inequality is the boundary of the shadow this 80-dimensional shape casts in 44 dimensions. The researchers showed that quantum predictions can lie outside this boundary, which means they are going against one of the assumptions. Outside the boundary, either the influences can’t stay hidden, or they must have infinite speed.,,,
    The remaining option is to accept that (quantum) influences must be infinitely fast,,,
    “Our result gives weight to the idea that quantum correlations somehow arise from outside spacetime, in the sense that no story in space and time can describe them,” says Nicolas Gisin, Professor at the University of Geneva, Switzerland,,,
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....142217.htm

    Music and verse:

    “Hallelujah!” Random Act of Culture Opera Company of Philadelphia
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp_RHnQ-jgU

    Psalm 139:7-14
    Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
    If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
    If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
    even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
    If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
    even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

    For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
    I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

  57. But that means I’m not a naturalist, by Feser’s criteria? The other naturalists better not find out about this — they’ll kick me out of the club for sure!

    Dennett arguably would. So would Alex Rosenberg. The list wouldn’t stop there.

    See, the problem here is – and I have a sneaky suspicion you’re aware of it – ‘naturalist’ doesn’t mean much of anything anymore. Rather like how ‘materialist’ used to mean something very particular – a commitment to the good ol’ classical, Laplacian model of the world – right up until that model was junked. (Not to mention numerous changes that happened prior to and since that time.)

    I’ve argued about this on here in the past. Go look up naturalist in the SEP, and the whole thing starts off with ‘Yeah, well, there’s not really any good definition of this aside from a commitment to atheism and a dislike of religion’.

  58. …small particles display Brownian motion, but humans don’t vibrate.

    Sure they do. It’s just that your eyeballs vibrate as well so you don’t see it.

  59. Bornagain77: You go on (at length!) about quantum stuff without ever explaining how this is reflected in macroscopic behaviour. Eg: what is the connection between entanglement (your obsession) and consciousness ?

    And please, no metacafe links, they dont do your cause any credit.

  60. as to: “what is the connection between entanglement and consciousness?”

    Well,,,, not that you really care to be fair and objective, as is evident in your last few posts, but the following should be interesting for any unbiased readers who are not dogmatically committed to atheism as you apparently are graham:

    In the following video, at the 37:00 minute mark, Anton Zeilinger, a leading researcher in quantum teleportation with many breakthroughs under his belt, humorously reflects on just how deeply determinism has been undermined by quantum mechanics by saying such a deep lack of determinism may provide some of us a loop hole when they meet God on judgment day.

    Prof Anton Zeilinger speaks on quantum physics. at UCT – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3ZPWW5NOrw

    Personally, I feel that such a deep undermining of determinism by quantum mechanics, far from providing a ‘loop hole’ on judgement day, actually restores free will to its rightful place in the grand scheme of things, thus making God’s final judgments on men’s souls all the more fully binding since man truly is a ‘free moral agent’ as Theism has always maintained. And to solidify this theistic claim for how reality is constructed, the following study came along a few months after I had seen Dr. Zeilinger’s video:

    Can quantum theory be improved? – July 23, 2012
    Excerpt: Being correct 50% of the time when calling heads or tails on a coin toss won’t impress anyone. So when quantum theory predicts that an entangled particle will reach one of two detectors with just a 50% probability, many physicists have naturally sought better predictions. The predictive power of quantum theory is, in this case, equal to a random guess. Building on nearly a century of investigative work on this topic, a team of physicists has recently performed an experiment whose results show that, despite its imperfections, quantum theory still seems to be the optimal way to predict measurement outcomes.,
    However, in the new paper, the physicists have experimentally demonstrated that there cannot exist any alternative theory that increases the predictive probability of quantum theory by more than 0.165, with the only assumption being that measurement (*conscious observation) parameters can be chosen independently (free choice, free will, assumption) of the other parameters of the theory.,,,
    ,, the experimental results provide the tightest constraints yet on alternatives to quantum theory. The findings imply that quantum theory is close to optimal in terms of its predictive power, even when the predictions are completely random.
    http://phys.org/news/2012-07-quantum-theory.html

    What does the term “measurement” mean in quantum mechanics?
    “Measurement” or “observation” in a quantum mechanics context are really just other ways of saying that the observer is interacting with the quantum system and measuring the result in toto.
    http://boards.straightdope.com.....p?t=597846

    So just as I had suspected after watching Dr. Zeilinger’s video, it is found that a required assumption of ‘free will’ in quantum mechanics is what necessarily drives the completely random (non-deterministic) aspect of quantum mechanics. Moreover, it was shown in the paper that one cannot ever improve the predictive power of quantum mechanics by ever removing free will as a starting assumption in Quantum Mechanics!

    Henry Stapp on the Conscious Choice and the Non-Local Quantum Entangled Effects – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJN01s1gOqA

    of note:

    Needless to say, finding ‘free will conscious observation’ to be ‘built into’ our best description of foundational reality, quantum mechanics, as a starting assumption, ‘free will observation’ which is indeed the driving aspect of randomness in quantum mechanics, is VERY antithetical to the entire materialistic philosophy which demands that a ‘non-telological randomness’ be the driving force of creativity in Darwinian evolution! Also of interest:

    Scientific Evidence That Mind Effects Matter – Random Number Generators – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4198007

    I once asked a evolutionist, after showing him the preceding experiments, “Since you ultimately believe that the ‘god of random chance’ produced everything we see around us, what in the world is my mind doing pushing your god around?”

    Of note: since our free will choices figure so prominently in how reality is actually found to be constructed in our understanding of quantum mechanics, I think a Christian perspective on just how important our choices are in this temporal life, in regards to our eternal destiny, is very fitting:

    Is God Good? (Free will and the problem of evil) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rfd_1UAjeIA

    Ravi Zacharias – How To Measure Your Choices – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Op_S5syhKI

    You must measure your choices by the measure of
    1) eternity
    2) morality
    3) accountability
    4) charity

    of related note:

    Sam Harris’s Free Will: The Medial Pre-Frontal Cortex Did It – Martin Cothran – November 9, 2012
    Excerpt: There is something ironic about the position of thinkers like Harris on issues like this: they claim that their position is the result of the irresistible necessity of logic (in fact, they pride themselves on their logic). Their belief is the consequent, in a ground/consequent relation between their evidence and their conclusion. But their very stated position is that any mental state — including their position on this issue — is the effect of a physical, not logical cause.
    By their own logic, it isn’t logic that demands their assent to the claim that free will is an illusion, but the prior chemical state of their brains. The only condition under which we could possibly find their argument convincing is if they are not true. The claim that free will is an illusion requires the possibility that minds have the freedom to assent to a logical argument, a freedom denied by the claim itself. It is an assent that must, in order to remain logical and not physiological, presume a perspective outside the physical order.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....66221.html

  61. 61
    Kantian Naturalist

    Dennett arguably would. So would Alex Rosenberg. The list wouldn’t stop there.

    If “naturalism” is “what Alex Rosenberg thinks” then I’m definitely hostile to it! The question whether there’s any “kinder, gentler” naturalism has been much debated, but generally speaking, I’m sympathetic with the “liberal naturalism” defended by Hilary Putnam, John McDowell, Richard Rorty, and Huw Price.

    Dennett, I’m funny about. I like his work, actually, a lot, though more so when he’s explicit about what he owes to Ryle and Sellars. But I think he’s just wrong about denying intrinsic intentionality, though he’s right that intrinsic intentionality cannot be a feature of the brain. (So in that regard I side with Dennett against Searle.) What Dennett fails to see is that, although intrinsic intentionality cannot be a property of the brain, it can be — and indeed is — a property of the whole organism.

    See, the problem here is – and I have a sneaky suspicion you’re aware of it – ‘naturalist’ doesn’t mean much of anything anymore. Rather like how ‘materialist’ used to mean something very particular – a commitment to the good ol’ classical, Laplacian model of the world – right up until that model was junked. (Not to mention numerous changes that happened prior to and since that time.)

    I’ve argued about this on here in the past. Go look up naturalist in the SEP, and the whole thing starts off with ‘Yeah, well, there’s not really any good definition of this aside from a commitment to atheism and a dislike of religion’.

    Oh yes, I’m quite aware of the problem! I call this “the content problem” of naturalism. But I think I have a solution to the content problem, inspired (ironically, no doubt) by Alvin Plantinga. Here’s how he puts it:

    I take naturalism to be the thought that there is no person as God, or anything like God. (Where the Conflict Really Lies, ix)

    Of course, “anything like God” is pretty flimsy. But I think I can improve on it, a little, by emphasizing the concept of person and the concept of animal.

    A person is anything that can (i) form perceptual judgments; (ii) make inferences from those judgments; and (iii) act on the basis of judgments, inferred and non-inferred. (This could be refined, but it’s OK for now, I think.)

    An animal is any living thing that has intentionality, consciousness, and desire, and that can respond in habitual ways to motivationally salient objects and relations within its perceptual fields.

    Now, with those (provisional) definitions in place:

    Naturalism holds that there are no persons that are not also animals, and that all the persons there are (or could be) are animals. Put otherwise: nothing has psychological properties without also having biological and physical properties

    This solves the content problem by specifying just why it is that naturalism does not countenance anything supernatural or preternatural. To continue:

    X is supernatural if it has psychological properties (consciousness, intentionality, desire, rationality) but has no biological or physical properties

    So, on this definition, the following would be supernatural: God, gods, angels, demons, disembodied souls.

    X is preternatural if it has psychological properties and biological properties and/or physical properties, but (i) the biological properties are traits cannot be located within the natural history of life or (ii) the physical properties violate the known laws of physics

    So, on this definition, the following would be preternatural: dragons, unicorns, fairies, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, etc.

    Naturalism, thus construed, is the minimal claim that there isn’t anything supernatural or preternatural — but, this definition solves the content problem by making clear that what’s really at stake here is the relationship between psychological properties and biological properties.

    Hopefully this will at least make a bit clearer where I’m coming from when I describe myself as a naturalist.

  62. Bornagain77:
    … such a deep lack of determinism may provide some of us a loop hole when they meet God on judgment day.

    … thus making God’s final judgments on men’s souls all the more fully binding since man truly is a ‘free moral agent’ as Theism has always maintained.

    I give up. Cant argue with that.

  63. What Dennett fails to see is that, although intrinsic intentionality cannot be a property of the brain, it can be — and indeed is — a property of the whole organism.

    So intrinsic intentionality is alright, so long as you reject reductionism for holism while you’re at it? Really, this sounds pretty much exactly like what Feser himself advocates. To say it’s not a popular ‘naturalist’ view would be an understatement.

    This solves the content problem by specifying just why it is that naturalism does not countenance anything supernatural or preternatural.

    Not at all – you’ve just shifted the problem to what counts as ‘physical’ properties, and redefinitions of physics. In fact, you see the problem immediately when you try to flesh it out.

    So, on this definition, the following would be supernatural: God, gods, angels, demons, disembodied souls.

    So, on this definition, the following would be preternatural: dragons, unicorns, fairies, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, etc.

    Right away your problem is that the ‘known laws of physics’ are not fully known, can never fully be known with certainty, and are always open to revision. Modern physics violates the ‘known laws of physics’ of the past – so, I suppose, quantum physics is supernatural. “But wait,” you say. “We updated our view of the laws of physics. It’s natural now!”

    Wonderful. And you can, in principle, do it for gods, angels, werewolves, etc.

    So the ‘minimal claim of naturalism’ isn’t much of a claim at all. It’s particularly bad when looked at in a historical light – suddenly the greek pantheon was a naturalistic hypothesis (They were embodied, and there were no ‘known laws of physics’ for them to be in violation of.) Meanwhile, the gods of mormonism are entirely naturalistic in principle – which is exactly what mormons happen to believe anyway, since supernatural v natural powers are differences of degree, not kind. And on and on it goes.

    It’s especially bad once you start allowing for properties that are intrinsic and kick in in a holistic or emergent sense.

  64. ‘Cant argue with that.’

    Actually Graham you never do honestly address a argument. For instance, you have absolutely no answer as to why my mental choices will ‘instantaneously’ effect material states even into the past, as the experiment I highlighted by Zeilinger illustrated. You response was to say:

    “You seem to have a cartoon-simple idea that if quarks can do it, we can too.”

    Without ever actually honestly addressing the point as to why my choices should do this to material particles. You simply, as a atheist, have no answer as to why it should happen and for you to offer smug comments that you have the ‘materialistic’ answer when you in fact have no clue, is beyond ridiculous. ,,, Moreover, as somewhat alluded to before, quantum entanglement is now found in molecular biology on a massive scale, whereas humans have extreme difficulty entangling just a few particles together, and as one reference I cited earlier states:

    “Our result gives weight to the idea that quantum correlations somehow arise from outside spacetime, in the sense that no story in space and time can describe them,”

    Now Graham, I know you will probably attack the man rather than the argument as you usually do, but, if you were sane in your argumentation, you should rightly consider quantum entanglement on a massive scale within molecular biology very solid evidence for the existence of a eternal soul within man for there is, as far as the best evidence we have states, “no story in space and time can describe them’

  65. Meanwhile, the gods of mormonism are entirely naturalistic in principle – which is exactly what mormons happen to believe anyway . . .

    Saying an intelligent being has a body is quite different from saying that an intelligent being is a body. In that sense, it isn’t really any different from how most religions would view, say, angels. Or any different from how we might view ourselves right now.

    Anyway, I know that wasn’t your main point, so apologies for the side track. Just wanted to clarify.

  66. Eric,

    Saying an intelligent being has a body is quite different from saying that an intelligent being is a body. In that sense, it isn’t really any different from how most religions would view, say, angels. Or any different from how we might view ourselves right now.

    Sure, but mormons are, metaphysically, very much in line with physicalism/materialism anyway. It’s one reason why matter and god are co-eternal on mormonism. Likewise with Zeus. Zeus was born – he did not exist prior to his being born. Body and all.

    I recall reading that mormons/ex-mormons are disproportionately represented among the transhumanists and so on. If you read up on their theology, it starts to become clear why that’s the case.

  67. InVivoVeritas,

    You write:

    Let’s then paraphrase this:

    Are we humans:

    a. A body with a soul? OR
    b. A soul with a body?
    To this:

    Are we:

    a. A brain with a mind, OR
    b. A mind with a brain
    This is the question

    I would answer:

    c. An embodied person with a brain,

    where by “person” I mean “a rational agent”,

    and by “embodied” I mean “being an organism”.

  68. Hi nullasalus and Kantian naturalist,

    I have to say that I disagree with Ed on the question of whether someone who thinks that intrinsic teleology is real can be a materialist and a naturalist. (Inherent meaning is another matter; if you believe that’s real, you can’t be a materialist.)

    On Ed’s definition, immanent finality (or intrinsic teleology) simply means: a property of natural causes which he defined as their inherent tendency to “point to” or be “directed at” their characteristic effects. Indeed, Ed even states in his book Aquinas that having an object’s having an inherent disposition or tendency of any sort (such as the tendency of salt to dissolve in water) is enough to endow it with immanent finality. I’m sure most materialists, if you asked them, would agree with Ed that salt tends to dissolve in water.

    According to Feser, living things are characterized by immanent causation – i.e. causal processes that begin and remain within the agent itself, and which typically benefit the agent. An example would be the process of digestion, or the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food into smaller components that are more easily absorbed into an animal’s bloodstream. This occurs within the animal’s body, and it also benefits the animal, as it helps it to stay alive and grow. In non-living things, by contrast, causation is always directed outward, at an external effect. The example of a magnet picking up a nail illustrates this point. This kind of causation is called transeunt, as opposed to the immanent causation found in living things.

    Once again, I can’t see anything that a materialist would object to in principle, here.

    It’s true that modern materialists deny the existence of finality or teleology as a basic feature of objects, for the most part. But it’s also true that when materialists talk about finality, they mean something a lot stronger than Feser does.

    However, in his discussion of the Fifth Way, Feser ramps up his definition a little: he argues that natural causes are directed at the production of future effects.

    For my part, I think it is doubtful whether there exists a single clear-cut case of future-directedness, in the inorganic world. Instead, we see causes which are oriented towards their present effects – like a ball breaking a window.

    Nullasalus, you mentioned the rock cycle as an example of future-directedness in the inorganic world. But even here, it is doubtful whether we need to invoke future effects in order to determine which causal processes belong in the rock cycle and which do not. It is enough to say that some currently occurring processes (involving heat and pressure) transform the rock in a way which helps it move from A to B, while other changes (e.g. changes in the rock’s color) are not, by virtue of their definition, related to the movement of rocks as such. Moreover, if we track the currently occurring processes related to the movement of rocks, we find that their overall effect is to conserve the total amount of rock in the earth’s crust, which is why we can legitimately refer to the set of all these changes as a cycle.

    In any case, it really does seem rather odd to speak of rock as having an in-built tendency to not only melt when heated (a current disposition), but also a future-directed tendency to go round in a cycle: to turn from igneous rock into sediments, and then into sedimentary rock, and after that into metamorphic rock, which is transformed into magma, and finally back into igneous rock – as if rock had a “life cycle” of its own. To begin with, the very circularity of the cycle means that we cannot speak of it as future-directed as such: past, present and future are all contained within it. But it gets worse: the rock cycle doesn’t go in one direction, but in multiple directions. Both igneous rock and metamorphic rock have a tendency to melt into magma when heated. Both igneous rock and sedimentary rock have a tendency to turn into metamorphic rock when subjected to heat and pressure. Thus the rock cycle contains arrows that point both forwards and backwards. Where, I ask, is the future-directedness here?

    It is true that there are unmistakable signs of future-directedness in the world of living things. But it is also true that the future-directed biological properties of living things, which are indeed irreducibly teleological, supervene upon their underlying physical and chemical properties: anything that has the same chemical make-up as an E. coli bacterium (atom for atom) necessarily is an E. coli bacterium. A metaphysical spoilsport could argue that even future-directed biological changes, such as the growth of an E. coli bacterium until it is ready to divide, or the development of an acorn into an oak, supervene on the present-directed finality of their chemical constituents.

    Regarding the metaphysical puzzle of intentionality, broadly defined as “the mind’s capacity to represent the world beyond itself,” Feser thinks it can be solved by “showing that natural objects and processes are by their natures inherently directed towards the generation of certain other natural objects and processes as an ‘end’ or ‘goal.’” He adds that this requires a commitment to Aristotelian substantial forms and final causes. I think he makes a much better argument for the latter than for the former. Establishing that objects have natural powers doesn’t necessarily commit you at a belief in substantial forms.

    So far, I don’t think Feser has said anything that a sophisticated materialist could object to, let alone a naturalist.

    I would argue however that his original point, that inherent meaning (in the semantic sense) cannot reside in material objects, holds whether or not one believes in immanent finality. Having a behavioral tendency is one thing; having a semantic meaning is a very different thing.

    I conclude that semantic meaning is not something that could possibly be located in the brain, even if one accepts the reality of final causes in the natural world.

  69. 69
    Kantian Naturalist

    Nullsallus,

    Thank you for those incisive criticisms! By way of response:

    Firstly, I’m not trying to provide conceptual analysis, of the necessary-and-sufficient condition sort. I’m trying to provide what might be called explications, which articulate meanings-in-use, as used today, in order to clarify what’s at stake for us in these conversations. That these terms wouldn’t have made any sense in ancient Greece isn’t a problem for me, because I’m not trying to lay down exact definitions that cover all possible cases. (In fact, I think that trans-historical, necessary-and-sufficient-condition analyses only make sense for the purely formal concepts of logic and maybe mathematics.)

    Secondly, these terms are, as I conceive of them, intensional rather than extensional. That is, I’m just trying to explicate what we mean by “natural” and “supernatural.” Which entities actually count as one or the other is left open, and of course is open to revision. But that’s just true of all terms in our language, not just these under examination.

    Thirdly, yes, if we were to discover new laws of physics, it’s quite possible that werewolves would be “natural.” Or, to take another example from the world of comic books, consider the Hulk. In his human form, Dr. Bruce Banner, he weighs about 140 lbs; in his Hulk form, he weighs about 1040 lbs (though reports vary). No known laws of physics can account for a 740% weight increase over a few minutes (or less). (Where does the extra mass come from?) So the Hulk is certainly preternatural, by my lights. But if we discovered further laws of physics — extradimensional particles or whatever — then yes, the Hulk could then be natural. I don’t see why this kind of categorical revision in light of new discoveries is a problem for my view — that kind of thing happens in the history of science all the time.

  70. 70
    Kantian Naturalist

    I would argue however that his original point, that inherent meaning (in the semantic sense) cannot reside in material objects, holds whether or not one believes in immanent finality. Having a behavioral tendency is one thing; having a semantic meaning is a very different thing.

    I conclude that semantic meaning is not something that could possibly be located in the brain, even if one accepts the reality of final causes in the natural world.

    I agree that semantic meaning doesn’t reside “in the brain,” but I don’t think that the only (or best) version of naturalism requires that it does. All that naturalism forbids, on my reading, is Platonism about meanings. And I think that “Platonic heaven or cortical processes?” is a false dichotomy. The more attractive view, what John McDowell has the temerity to call “naturalized platonism,” is that meanings are essentially and fundamentally social. The meaning of a word consists in the rules for its use, to paraphrase Wittgenstein (perhaps badly). And those rules are necessarily social, for the reasons that Wittgenstein gave against the intelligibility of a private language.

    Now, qua naturalist, I do think that an adequate explanation of meaning will require a thorough understanding of the relevant cortical and sub-cortical processes — and much else besides! — but that won’t tell us what meanings are.

    A more general issue that’s relevant here, I think, concerns “scientism” (which I generally abhor) and its connection with naturalism (which I embrace). Here I’d like to make a distinction between strong scientism and weak scientism, because these conversations often run aground due to a certain ‘sloppiness’ about terms such as “knowledge”. So:

    Weak scientism holds that empirically grounded inquiry about matters of fact is the best kind of explanation.

    Strong scientism holds that empirically grounded inquiry about matters of fact is the best kind of explanation, and that explanation is the most important kind of cognitive practice

    (One could also entertain what might be called “hyper-strong scientism,” which holds that explanations are the only important kind of cognitive practice.)

    So, weak scientism is consistent with regarding as important, and perhaps even more important, other kinds of cognitive practice, such as normative justifications (both epistemic and ethical), conceptual explications, phenomenological elucidations, aesthetic creations, political criticisms, and so on. Whereas strong (and hyper-strong) scientism puts all that on the back-burner, if not taken off the stove entirely.

    There is a very deep connection between naturalism and weak scientism, though certainly not a necessary one. (One could hold one without the other, and neither is entailed by the other.) I’m willing to say that I accept weak scientism and oppose the others. (Here I think Alex Rosenberg is a good example of someone who accepts strong, or maybe even hyper-strong, scientism.)

    A nice slogan for weak scientism, properly conjoined with pragmatic fallibilism, would be “science doesn’t explain everything, but nothing else explains anything.” But that should be construed as a gloss on how limited “explanations” are, in contrast with other cognitive practices that are of vital interest to us as rational beings.

  71. That these terms wouldn’t have made any sense in ancient Greece isn’t a problem for me, because I’m not trying to lay down exact definitions that cover all possible cases.

    It’s not just that they don’t make sense in ancient greece – it’s that they don’t make sense for us now, when we talk about history. The history of science becomes a history of naturalists proposing theories (which everyone thought was natural but turned out to be supernatural) being replaced by other theories (that were themselves supernatural until they were proven, then they were natural). Right now it turns out that various theories of ours are supernatural and we don’t know which – and of the supernatural ones, some of them are probably natural, and again we don’t know which.

    Which entities actually count as one or the other is left open, and of course is open to revision. But that’s just true of all terms in our language, not just these under examination.

    There comes a point where there’s so much open to revision that the attempted word tends not to mean anything. It’s like Hempel’s Dilemma.

    I don’t see why this kind of categorical revision in light of new discoveries is a problem for my view — that kind of thing happens in the history of science all the time.

    Because you’re not dealing with science, but with philosophy and metaphysics. A tremendous amount of the talk about science’s steady advance against the supernatural becomes utter bunk on this view.

    What’s more, again, you say ‘phenomena X isn’t consistent with the known laws of physics’. But again, ‘known laws of physics’ is shorthand for ‘laws of physics we’ve thus far proposed’. For any given phenomena, you can propose a new law on the spot if you so choose. Or a hundred. Are the laws in conflict with each other as you described them? Say that you’re working on that part.

  72. vjtorley,

    Rather than an exhaustive reply, I’ll ask you a simple question.

    Can you describe what the the difference is between matter and the material world, as conceived by mechanists, and matter and the material world as conceived by Aristotileans? Before any questions of human minds and consciousness are considered.

    If your answer is “nothing”, then I think there’s an understanding issue in play here.

  73. 73
    Kantian Naturalist

    Nullasalus,

    You raise several important issues here, not the least of which is the bearing that Hempel’s Dilemma has on my view.

    I’m trying to avoid Hempel’s Dilemma by putting the emphasis on the relationship between psychological and biological properties: naturalism claims that everything that has psychological properties must also have biological properties, and supernaturalism claims that at least some entities with psychological properties have no biological properties. So I don’t think I need to worry about defining physicalism, as Hempel did. “The laws of nature” or “the laws of physics” are not central to my conception of naturalism.

    A more general worry that you raise here concerns the relation between metaphysics and science. In response to my point that conceptual revision is central to the history of science, you said:

    Because you’re not dealing with science, but with philosophy and metaphysics. A tremendous amount of the talk about science’s steady advance against the supernatural becomes utter bunk on this view.

    This suggests that conceptual revision, which is ‘at home’ in science, doesn’t apply to metaphysics. I disagree quite strongly.

    I do accept the traditional view that scientific concepts, and empirical concepts generally, are a posteriori, and metaphysical concepts are a priori. But this distinction pertains to methods of justification — it’s a distinction in epistemic status. It does not mean that metaphysical notions are immune to revision; it means only that the reasons for revising (or rejecting) metaphysical concepts are different in kind from the reasons for revising (or rejecting) empirical concepts.

    The revisability of metaphysical concepts is grounded in their semantic character, and in that regard metaphysics is on a par with science, insofar as both are “synthetic” rather than “analytic.” Being synthetic, they are open-textured and context-dependent in just the same way that all natural-language terms are. I don’t see it as objection that the question “does Aristotle have a concept of nature?” is as difficult to answer as “was Callicles a homosexual?”

    In other words, I don’t think of metaphysics as being, to use Rorty’s delightful phrase, “a permanent ahistorical matrix for inquiry” — though of course I don’t deny the historical importance of that particular conception of metaphysics. If one insists that that’s just what metaphysics is, then I suppose I’m not doing metaphysics at all.

    However, I think I am doing metaphysics in a more general sense. If one thinks of science as being about “what is,” then metaphysics is about “what ‘what is’ is.” And that clearly has roots in how Aristotle thought of the relation between the Physics and the Metaphysics. But my conception of metaphysics is not a conception of metaphysics as a permanent ahistorical matrix of inquiry; it is a conception of metaphysics as a comprehensive system which aims to do neither more nor less satisfy Hegel’s vision that “philosophy is its time, held in thought”. In other words, metaphysics endeavors to raise to the level of explicit self-understanding the categories that implicitly guide and structure a particular historical period. But on my view, that’s just what Aristotle was doing in his Metaphysics, and the same should be said for Spinoza’s Ethics, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Dewey’s Experience and Nature, and so forth.

  74. I’m trying to avoid Hempel’s Dilemma by putting the emphasis on the relationship between psychological and biological properties: naturalism claims that everything that has psychological properties must also have biological properties, and supernaturalism claims that at least some entities with psychological properties have no biological properties.

    Well, no. You didn’t specify merely ‘biological properties’ alone – if you did, your argument would be dead in the water anyway given common naturalist speculations about conscious machines. You specified ‘biological and physical’ – but by including physical, Hempel’s dilemma comes right up. Indeed, it would likely come up even if you did specify biological alone, since ‘biological’ is sectioned off by ‘life’ – and ‘life’ has its own definition problems.

    On the flipside, no, ‘supernaturalism’ does not claim that ‘at least some entities with psychological properties have no biological properties’. The greek pantheon (and countless others)? Mormonism? Vampires? Werewolves? You can bite the bullet and say all these things are ‘natural’. But that was part of my initial criticism anyway.

    I do accept the traditional view that scientific concepts, and empirical concepts generally, are a posteriori, and metaphysical concepts are a priori. But this distinction pertains to methods of justification — it’s a distinction in epistemic status. It does not mean that metaphysical notions are immune to revision; it means only that the reasons for revising (or rejecting) metaphysical concepts are different in kind from the reasons for revising (or rejecting) empirical concepts.

    And I point out, again, that it does have the effect it has on the historical view of the discussion. It’s also odd to talk about metaphysical distinctions being ‘a priori’ and scientific concepts are ‘a posteriori’, when you’re admitting that the changes in metaphysical concepts come about due to scientific discoveries.

    Now, if you want to maintain talk of ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ while admitting those terms are going to be under what amounts to constant revision, and that they’ve been constantly revised throughout time, then go for it. But there are obvious, tremendous pitfalls in doing so, which ultimately add up to naturalism hardly being a thing to take very seriously. It will be whatever it needs to be.

  75. 75
    Kantian Naturalist

    For one thing, as a quite general point, I don’t see what the problem is with saying that all of our natural-language terms are revisable, empirical as well as metaphysical. I mean, isn’t that just true? But the revisions aren’t arbitrary or sudden — the revisions have be grounded in reasons for why some conceptual framework should be modified or abandoned.

    As for the various counter-examples offered:

    (a) my conceptions of natural and supernatural simply don’t apply to ancient Greece, or to the Hindu pantheon, or to animistic world-views. I’m trying to solve the content problem for the modern conception of nature, not for all worldviews there ever have been, are, or could be. As I said, a permanent ahistorical matrix for inquiry is not amongst my concerns. (More emphatically, I think any attempt to set up a permanent ahistorical matrix for inquiry will run afoul of Sextus Empiricus’ Dilemma of the Criterion.)

    (b) as for vampires and werewolves, that’s why I introduced the concept of “preternatural,” just like the Hulk or whatever. If new laws of physics were discovered (that is, not merely posited or conjectured, but received solid empirical confirmation) which showed that, yes, indeed, it is possible for extradimensional particles to turn a human being into a wolf in a matter of minutes, then sure, whatever. Let’s just say that I’m not going to hold my breath.

    (c) I don’t know what to say about Mormonism, except that it suggests an interesting case of “naturalistic gods” — which could have some interesting connection with how distinctively American it is. More than that, I cannot say.

  76. Hi nullasalus,

    You asked:

    Can you describe what the the difference is between matter and the material world, as conceived by mechanists, and matter and the material world as conceived by Aristotelians?

    A mechanist is someone who (i) holds that the fundamental properties of matter are its measurable (i.e. quantitative) physical properties, (ii) thinks that the properties of wholes can be reduced to those of their constituent parts, and (iii) views only efficient causal and material explanations as ontologically basic.

    An Aristotelian is someone who (i) maintains that qualitative properties are just as fundamental as quantitative, and that an object’s (active and passive) powers are more fundamental than either of these, (ii) thinks that the properties of wholes cannot be reduced to those of their constituent parts, and (iii) views four kinds of explanations as ontologically basic: efficient causal, material, formal and finalistic. Indeed, if pressed, an Aristotelian might even say that (iv) finalistic properties are the most basic, as an object’s efficient causal, material and formal properties are contained within and explained by its built-in tendencies.

    However, the term “materialist”, in modern usage, is far broader than the term “mechanist”. A materialist is willing to accept built-in tendencies, provided they can be scientifically quantified and measured by some instrument. A materialist is not committed to reductionism. A materialist may well view an object’s efficient causal, material, formal and final properties as mutually complementary, but would insist that an object’s final properties cannot be spoken of in isolation from the other properties, and that these finalistic properties are inherently measurable and quantifiable. Finally, a modern materialist would hold that the language of mathematics can be used to describe the whole of reality.

    That’s how I would classify these schools of thought. That’s also why I don’t think that materialists would be fazed by an Aristotelian’s insistence that object’s have built-in tendencies, although the classical mechanists of the 17th century would have been.

  77. Hi Kantian Naturalist,

    Let me just say briefly that I agree with Wittgenstein’s view that meaning is social. Because social acts are public acts (e.g. wedding vows, the signing of contracts, initiation ceremonies and funerals), someone might argue that they are meaningful in their own right. Nevertheless we can still ask: what is it about these acts and ceremonies that makes them meaningful? (A visiting alien might find them utterly meaningless.) And in the end, the only satisfactory answer we can give is: (i) the cultural fact that within our community, we all agree that these acts are meaningful (which presupposes an mental act of assent on the part of each and every one of us), coupled with (ii) the psychological fact that the participants are capable of the requisite mental acts needed to perform these acts properly (for instance, someone who is getting married must be capable of understanding the nature of the marriage contract, and of publicly affirming that he/she is acting freely).

    Thus it seems to me that even an account of meaning which ascribes meaning primarily to public acts still presupposes the occurrence of mental acts which possess meaning in their own right, and which are irreducible to physical acts.

  78. Wouldn’t a mechanist almost by definition believe in an underlying order?

    otoh, an atomist, stuff bumping into other stuff willy-nilly.

  79. >blockquote>…my conceptions of natural and supernatural simply don’t apply to ancient Greece, or to the Hindu pantheon, or to animistic world-views.

    May I suggest dispensing with the words “natural” and “supernatural” and using instead “real” and “imaginary”. It just makes the difference between things we know of and things we make up so much clearer.

  80. HTML error real! Keyboard fault imaginary!

  81. Imaginary things are real. Even imaginary numbers are real!

  82. 82
    Kantian Naturalist

    May I suggest dispensing with the words “natural” and “supernatural” and using instead “real” and “imaginary”. It just makes the difference between things we know of and things we make up so much clearer.

    You may certainly do so if you wish, Alan, but that wouldn’t work for me. For one thing, invoking the real/imaginary distinction is a big can of worms in itself — a can of worms that much troubled Meimong, Russell, Husserl, Carnap, Sellars, Quine, and quite a few others.

    It’s just as problematic, if not more so, than the natural/supernatural distinction, and a real head-ache once you try getting into the details. For example, to rehash an old problem, my thought of a unicorn. Are the contents of my thoughts not real qua the contents of my thoughts? Should we follow Descartes in saying that the unicorn has “objective reality”, even though it has no “formal reality”? And then how do we solve the problem of the external world and deal with the correspondence theory of truth?

    Oy, such a mess!

  83. Oy, such a mess!

    It’s only when you start qualifying reality that you get into trouble. If you can observe something, no matter how remotely or indirectly, then it’s real. If you can only imagine it…

    Of course, our skill and discernment at observing improves all the time, so reality isn’t fixed.

  84. Is anything real absent an observer?

    By imagining something, I am observing it, therefore it is real, however indirect that observation may be.

  85. Mung,

    In the vain hope that you are asking a serious question, the act of imagining is indeed a real process. The brain activity that results in the thought of something imagined is real. The “thing” imagined may, however, be imaginary. You may be able to imagine an invisible pink unicorn but that does not mean it is real. In my view, that is similar to creating the concept called “Intelligent Design” and imagining it to be real.

  86. PS @ mung,

    Sorry I missed your first delurk at TSZ. Hope you find time to visit again.

  87. Alan Fox:

    If you can observe something, no matter how remotely or indirectly, then it’s real. If you can only imagine it…

    Exactly why your position is not science, Alan. It relies on imagination and says the heck with observations and experiences.

    Thank you for finally admitting that for all to see.

  88. Yeah Mung, bravo- hopefully you took a shower before coming back here.

    Have their “arguments” shown you the way? Or has it gone pretty much as you expected?

  89. keiths creates ‘islands of function’ by poofing water into existence. No wonder he’s confused about ID.

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