Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Mind/Body Problem and Freedom.

August 19, 2010 at 2:54 P.M. "Errors" inserted since my previous review of this work have been restored to the text. I will do my best to make the necessary corrections. I cannot say how many other writings have been vandalized overnight in the continuing frustration inducement effort.

This must be the tenth time that I make corrections -- including corrections of errors that are not found in earlier printouts of this same text -- and that I repost this essay. 11 intrusion attempts were listed today by Norton Security, along with two security spyware risks that were removed from my computer. May 5, 2007 at 4:29 P.M. Larissa, this is not how you engage in academic debate. Fictious name? Anne Milgram, Esq.? Input from "Hon." Sybil R. Moses? Ms. Naomi Wolf? Jennifer Velez?

In seeking out a debate with me -- if you are seeking such a confrontation -- should you not use your real name? Are you a lawyer or public official in New Jersey concerned that you will lose a fair debate with me on these matters? I think you have lost such a debate. Will defacing this essay make you feel better, Larissa? Do you not have the courage of your convictions? Will you not step out from behind my back to face me and acknowledge your actions? Jaynee? Sybil? Debbie? Anne? Don't be shy, ladies. I mean, "women." Is Liesl Schillinger, New York Times reporter, the real Larissa McFarquhar? Do you know Manohla Dargis, Liesl? If subpoaened to testify, will Liesl Schillinger identify "Manohla Dargis"? Would a New York Times journalist accept money (cash?) or favors from politicians to ghost write items appearing under a fictious name in "America's newspaper of record"? Is America's news media "independent and free"? Or corrupt? A little of both. Are the persons whose names appear as "authors" of newspaper articles the best writers in the nation? ("Manohla Dargis Strikes Again!" and "'The Reader': A Movie Review.")

Larissa McFarquhar, "Two Heads: A Marriage Devoted to the Mind/Body Problem," The New Yorker, February 12, 2007, at p. 58.
John P. Briggs & F. David Peat, "Karl Pribram and the Looking Glass Mind," in Looking Glass Universe: The Emerging Science of Wholeness (London: Fontana, 1984), pp. 257-290. (" ... mind is implicated in that whole process and is not localizable in the brain.") (pp. 288-289.)


The mind/body problem has fascinated philosophers for centuries. The problem is experienced as urgent by many nonphilosophical persons well as theorists in the humanities and sciences. This alone is significant, since the persistence of this issue may be telling us something important about what persons are and always will be.

Some improvement has indeed been detectable in our understanding of this problem, but there has been no great progress towards finding a compelling answer. We seem to be no closer to a valid or universally acceptable answer (or answers) to the questions: "What is mind or consciousness? Are mind and brain identical? Is there really a mind/body problem, or is this difficulty only a philosophical illusion? What is the connection or relation between mind and body?"

I will discuss a recent New Yorker profile of philosophy's "Nick and Nora Charles in lab coats" -- Paul and Patricia Churchland -- who have devoted their professional lives to studying this conundrum and who are proponents of one popular answer, which (I think) is mistaken. The works of these thinkers are highly recommended, especially to those -- including religious persons -- who believe, as I do, that the Churchlands are way off the mark not only in their proposed solution, but in what they understand to be at issue in this controversy.

Arrogance and dismissiveness based on ignorance and underlying philosophical illiteracy will not help the reductivist cause. Certainly, no public official or judge should be affiliated with a news magazine or other publication while discharging responsibilities requiring neutrality on issues that may involve the media. Ms. Milgram, have you been involved in publishing articles in the news media under the name of others while serving as Attorney General of New Jersey? Jennifer Velez? ("Anne Milgram Does it Again!")

I would not, of course, censor or seek to destroy what the Churchlands -- or any philosopher -- writes. Would it not be nice if, for once, I were to receive the same consideration and tolerance from my adversaries? How about a little respect? So far, respect and tolerance have not been very plentiful in my life as a writer or lawyer (when I was a lawyer). Will I be "restored"? Is such a thing possible? I doubt it. Do you think you can "restore" me, Mr. Rabner? Do you believe that I will accept vague promises, Mr. Rabner? ("No More Cover-Ups and Lies, Chief Justice Rabner!")

Many other persons in all kinds of places -- including some in other parts of the United States -- can say the same: censorship is real in America. Philosophizing and writing is an act of resistance and an affirmation of humanity. Writing is a form of opposition to oppression in which, I believe and hope, the Churchlands join me. My efforts to print items from my MSN group today leaves me with a blank piece of paper with the following address at the bottom of the page: (NJ's OAE?)

The "Churchland's solution" to this philosophical chestnut says that the mind is "nothing but the brain thinking." This is called the mind/brain "identity theory." Eventually, we may do away with mentalistic language entirely -- according to the Churchlands -- describing the phenomenology of human experience exclusively in externalistic and objective scientific terminology, a position known as "eliminative materialism."

"How wonderful you look in that see-through black lace undergarment, my dear. I can feel neuron NC-5 firing and several synaptic explosions, not to mention a neurochemical 'rocket lift off,' as it were (forgive my apt metaphorical terminology!), as I contemplate a possible forthcoming exchange of bodily fluids."

"Thank you, darling. May I have a urine sample and a bit of your blood to test in order to determine whether these garments have produced the desired hormonal and chemical reactions in your male body?"

David Lodge's characters discuss this problem in similar terms:

"There is an old joke that crops up in nearly every book on consciousness, about two behaviorist psychologists who have sex and afterwards one says to the other, 'It was good for you, how was it for me?' ..."

Thinks (London: Penguin, 200), p. 42.

And they say romance is dead -- not in philosophy. The ostensible scientific "answer" is popular, then, with the affluent, educated middle class persons in First World countries who are, mostly, the available consumers of philosophy's "work-product." In other words, these are the people who read philosophy books. Furthermore, these are the people who presume to define and embody "normality" for the rest of us, enriching all of us with their "intellectually respectable" opinions and perspectives on all matters, even as the rest of us find few opportunities to be heard or published. Many brain-mind identity theorists also call themselves behaviorists. ("Behaviorism is Evil.")

I have been insulted and dismissed by these people, who often have read much less than I have, even as they cannot wait to instruct me concerning the "right view" of consciousness and other philosophical matters. I wonder whether Larissa visited The Philosophy Cafe at MSN? New Jersey? My writings are regularly altered and defaced, despite the protection afforded to them by the United States Constitution and copyright laws that we ask the world to respect, but which New Jersey regards as toilet paper. Is it possible that lawyers violate such laws, publicly, with impunity in America?

Part of the trouble with contemporary philosophy in America is insularity and a "club-like" atmosphere. This is unhealthy and a constraint on the possible achievement of new insights that are desperately needed. It behooves the rest of us to get a firm grip, in a manner of speaking, on what privileged people have to say and whether it makes sense. Often, these highly "normal" people do not make sense. However, they dress well and serve nice snacks when you visit them on the weekends. Mysteriously, they also write for mainstream publications -- like The New Yorker and The New York Times. ("What is it like to be plagiarized?" and "What is it like to be tortured?")

No wonder these publications continue to suffer a decline in respect, prestige and readership. ("Incoherence in 'The New York Times'" and "Incoherence in 'The New Yorker.'") I guess if you know a politician, then your writing gets into these publications no matter how awful it may be. I wonder whether politicians in America insert articles in publications through "others" or by using fictitious names? No, it could not happen here. We have an "independent press" in America which is, strangely, silent about New Jersey criminality and my experiences of censorship. I wonder why? No Attorney General can write articles for the media under an assumed name since this is a "conflict of interest." Right, Ms. Milgram? Even less may a judge write for the media under pseudonyms. Would you agree, Judge Moses? ("Sybil R. Moses and Conduct Unbecoming to the Judiciary in New Jersey" and "Mafia Out of Control in New Jersey and Anne Milgram is Clueless.")

The Churchlands are important intellectuals and thinkers whose arguments certainly do make sense. This is true whether we accept or reject their arguments. It is best to examine philosophical ideas and arguments with great care, especially when they are presented by their ablest exponents. If there are serious difficulties in these articulations of science's alleged "answer" to the philosophical mind/body issue, then we may be sure that, in lesser hands, the "scientistic" answer will be even less compelling, or even incoherent. Notice that scientifically informed -- or truly "scientific" -- answers are always welcome.

The slanted presentation in this profile suffers from an inadequate appreciation of the currently available alternatives or the compelling theories and arguments opposed to this Churchland position. I find this inadequacy -- and some serious mistakes (Larissa, are you sure that David Chalmers is a "dualist"?) -- surprising in one of my favorite magazines. What happened to the famous fact-checkers and editors at The New Yorker? Chalmers' theory "would be a kind of dualism, Chalmers had to admit, but not a mystical sort; it would be compatible with the physical sciences because it would not alter them -- it would be an addition." (p. 66.)

Where and when did Chalmers "admit" to this alleged radical "dualism"? Why is dualism "mystical"? No reference is provided. "Dual-aspect theories" are not mentioned. The term "introspectionism" is not mentioned. "Social connectionism" is not mentioned. I think Larissa's confusion is due to her apparent assumption that "dualism" is the same as "property dualism." This is not the case, however, since "property dualism" is a term of art meaning roughly the same thing as "dual aspect theory." ("John Searle and David Chalmers on Consciousness" and "The 'Galatea Scenario' and the Mind/Body Problem.")

A property dualist -- unlike a classical or radical dualist -- does NOT believe that there are two entities "body" and "mind"; rather, a property dualist contends that there is one entity, a person, with two properties -- body and mind. Property dualism "allows for the compatibility of mental and physical causation, since the cause of [a person's] action might under one aspect be describable as a physical event in the brain and under another aspect as a desire, emotion or thought ..." The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, p. 207. (The same occurrence may be described as an event or action depending on the purposes of the person doing the describing.)

Thus, "property dualism" or "dual aspect theory," I believe, is a kind of monism. "Panpsychism" is inadequately understood and described by Larissa as "a little crazy" (says who?), even though Chalmers "found it appealing anyway." (p. 67.) This is panpsychism and it is not "a little crazy":

"Either the view that all parts of matter involve consciousness, or the more holistic view that the whole world 'is but the veil of an infinite realm of mental life.' (Lotze)."

Simon Blackburn, ed., Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 275-276.

This is a view derived from ancient Greece, by way of Neoplatonism, shared by Leibnitz, Schopenhauer, Schelling, Bradley along with many religious persons today. It is also a common view in Asian philosophies and quantum physics. Why are they all "foolish" and/or "crazy"? One billion or more people in the world did not attend Rutgers, so they must be stupid? (See my essay "Where are thoughts located?")

I am grateful for a discussion of these issues in a popular magazine. I sure enjoyed reading the article. Suggestions for those who wish to read more about the philosophy of mind and a list of sources will be provided at the conclusion of my essay. Nevertheless, this is not a persuasive articulation of what is at issue in the mind/body controversy. We are not offered any kind of plausible solution by the New Yorker's dutiful journalist (nor by the Churchlands) of this philosophical puzzle. The mind/body problem is still out there.

What follows is a journey that will make demands of the reader. I say this because some readers will not be able to devote the time, effort, and attention that I must request from anyone who wishes to make this journey with me. I will do my best to make the experience interesting and pleasant. I must not underestimate or deny the difficulties to be encountered along the way. Also, it should be clear that, if I succeed, I will only have pointed out some serious difficulties and suggested materials to be consulted. It is always easier to say why a solution does not work than to come up with a better one.

This philosophical issue may grip you, leading to a life-long engagement with the problem and many years of reading books dealing with it. Good legal minds should tackle this issue. Although it may be necessary for lawyers to abandon, temporarily, familiar styles of analytical thinking. For some lawyers this renewal of thought may no longer be possible, which is very sad. Many of them are judges, who are rather set in their ways. There are relevant texts, but no controlling authorities in philosophy. What is crucial is less advocacy skills than a clear understanding and articulation of a complex set of issues.

It is only after clarity is achieved that we should argue about our respective solutions to a philosophical puzzle. You cannot prevail in a philosophical discussion by pounding a gavel or your fist on the table. Deleting a letter from my essay will not help the befuddled Ms. McFarquhar. Is this a real name or an insult? Anne Milgram? You are not proven right if you beat up a philosophical adversary or prevent him or her from speaking. You are not proven right by defacing the writings of others or by preventing them from publishing their books. Do you agree Mr. Coviello?

You will not prevail in debate against me by torturing me or stealing from me (again) because you disapprove of my "ethics." Raping an adversary will have little bearing on the validity of his philosophical views. Efforts to run a scan of my system are obstructed as I write these words. ("How Censorship Works in America" and "Censorship and Cruelty in New Jersey.")

A further point to bear in mind at the outset is that any proposed solution to this issue should be scientifically respectable. We should philosophize on the basis of the best available scientific information. When we write about ideas, science is important. I agree with the Churchlands on that point. Real science can only help in thinking about philosophical issues. However, even scientifically informed thinkers have developed rival positions to the identity theory, such as Hilary Putnam's "functionalism," which says the brain is like hardware and the mind is akin to software, each is "descriptively distinct."

I am certain that science cannot solve our most important philosophical perplexities because these puzzles are concerned with issues that go beyond the scope of scientific methods and objectives. Some of these philosophical concerns include the validity of science's knowledge claims and possible ethical limitations upon the scientific enterprise. Such concerns are and will always be philosophical, political, legal or sociological, not exclusively scientific. Often we will need religious sensibility and imagination even to approach the deepest mysteries of human life. Any psychological theory that denies this "subjective" aspect of human beings will be inadequate.
Science has been so successful in providing knowledge of empirical realities and factual information that it has become an "imperial discipline," too often falsely assumed to be the only means of knowing things. Imperialism is not attractive to me in international relations. It is also not very smart in coping with sets of issues like these mind/body "problems." Scientific clarity can be so beguiling, in fact, that it misleads investigators into confusing the sort of answers scientists can provide about nature for the kind of answers needed by people in their spiritual and philosophical lives. All of us will need to contribute to this discussion, in other words, which is related to our religious aspirations and wonderings. Mary Midgley says:

"[Scientism] is essentially the approach well described of late by the story of the man who is found looking for keys under a street-lamp and is asked whether that is where he dropped them. 'No,' he says, 'but it is much the easiest place to look.' ..."

Science and Poetry (London: Routledge, 2001), p. 2.

Science is properly concerned with "how" questions. Neuroscience tells us, for example, what specific cerebral operations are involved in the human action of lifting my right arm. Science cannot answer the ultimate why questions concerning my choice to lift my arm. Science is helpless when it is necessary to "interpret" my gesture, so as to decide what lifting my arm means. Suppose I lift my right arm in a salute in Nazi Germany in 1936: Is it the "same" gesture as lifting my right arm today to salute a friend riding the local bus? Biologically, these may be "identical" gestures. Still, their meaning is not the same.

Why are we led into paradoxes at this point? What are all of the possible "meanings" of a smile? Can they be known? Actors say: "What do you want the smile to mean?" What are the possible conscious and subconscious meanings or realities in any human situation, including the scientists' own quest for meaning and knowledge? Can science which seeks merely to describe and report events and processes "objectively" -- without distortions produced by human values or wishes and desires -- best address these subtle questions of meaning? I doubt it. I wonder whether Larissa knows S.L. Hurley? Sybil R. Moses? ("Metaphor is Mystery.")

Before delving further into this philosophical quicksand, let us be clear in stating the philosophical issues and concerns. It will be important to note that there is a centuries-old history of inquiry in this area. A major weakness in the Churchlands' approach is an excessively abrupt treatment of the relevant historical and narrowly textual philosophical authorities. Even a student will benefit from a good history of philosophy and of this controversy. A novel may do the trick -- try Rebecca Goldstein's The Mind/Body Problem.

I have said that philosophy is not law. There are no "controlling cases." Yet really smart people have thought about this problem for centuries. Ignoring their past solutions -- and possible interpretations of those solutions in light of what we know today -- may not be wise. Also, the conversation concerning these issues, and the concepts which have emerged, have been shaped by its history. Any entry into this conversation involves, among other things, an historical excavation. Michel Foucault's archeological method has its attractions. Few people have thought of Foucault in this context because he did not play with rats in a laboratory. This neglect of Foucault on mind/body questions is unfortunate.

In addition to scientific and philosophical materials, I will look (briefly) at art and religion. I believe that the scriptures of all the great world religions provide fascinating clues concerning where solutions may be found to the problem of consciousness. It is almost as if we were "invited" to search, think, and find these answers for ourselves. I wonder whether this "invitation" is itself significant? Lorenzo Albacete, S.J., comments:

"All I see is what is in this world. It is a way of experiencing this world as a sign [emphasis added] of a reality that is always beyond its limits. The cell mutation researched by a scientist, the social inequities confronted by an activist, the ladybug pondered by a child -- all of these point to this Mystery at the heart of all that exists."

Notice the conclusion drawn by this Catholic priest and scientist:

"Religious experience, therefore, is not an escape from this world; it is an affirmation of it. It is a way of standing before reality -- the reality that each of us encounters in our lives, our work, and our relationships each day -- and regarding it with a passionate curiosity. It is a contemplative posture before all that exists."

The works of Rene Dubos are enthusiastically recommended. And this is the crucial point:

"Scientists and the authentically religious, whatever their different conclusions, are on the same side of the battle against the suppression of reason."

God at the Ritz (New York: Crossroad, 2002), p. 27, p. 58.

After stating the philosophical issue with some care, I will suggest that there are difficulties resulting from the history of theoretical reflection on minds and bodies, also some gems to be extracted from that history. First, I read through this New Yorker profile, pointing out problems along the way. Second, I offer suggestions for alternative areas of inquiry leading towards a possible solution -- a solution that "works" (pragmatists are happy when solutions are said to "work"), if only for us, now.

I will only hint at a possible solution that may lead to something better -- that is, better for those who will study this controversy after we are gone. Yes, the controversy will always exist because persons will always be paradoxical. The philosophical solutions for which we strive, if we are fortunate, will work better tomorrow than they do today. (See my essay on "Magic.")

I wonder whether a philosophical solution that doesn't "work" -- in a "practical" sense, that is -- is still a solution? Besides, what does it mean to say that a philosophical solution "works"? I will leave those problems for another day. Karl Marx echoed Stendhal in claiming that he was "writing for the future." I think every real philosopher can say the same. To engage in philosophical thinking is to ask readers and posterity to correct our efforts. This may be a good time to insert another "error."


Larissa gets off to a shaky start:

"It is not enough to imagine that the brain houses the mind (in some obscure cavity, perhaps tiny intracellular pockets), or gives rise to the mind (the way a television produces an image), or generates the mind (a generator producing current): to imagine any of those things is to retain the idea that the mind and the brain are distinct from each other. The trick is to remove the verb that separates them. The problem is not one of knowledge; the problem is our obdurate, antidiluvian minds [sic.] that cannot grasp what we believe to be true." (p. 60.)

What do you mean by "we," Larissa? Who says "we" assume it to be true that minds and brains are identical? How do you know this remarkable claim to be true? If this universal acceptance exists, then there would be no philosophical mind/body problem. We experience a difficulty in relating body and mind precisely because we discover a tension in different realms of discourse, empirical or causative (body) and interpretive and ideational (mind). Clearly, these different realms of discourse refer to a unitary entity, a person. However, neither realm can be reduced to the other. ("Donald Davidson's Anomalous Monism.")

Imagine that you are a young intellectual in Latin America or the Middle East, Africa or Asia. You read that your counterparts in America offer this spiritual diet: a rejection of spirituality, a limiting of the intellectually respectable to secularism and the language of the laboratory, with a rejection of both the "reality" of subjectivity and the mentalistic language of yearning and hope as "illusory."

Now consider that this same intellectual -- in Cuba, perhaps -- is a witness to the daily harassments of a tortured, impoverished, raped victim of American power who is denied, publicly, the very same Constitutional rights which America claims to defend and for which young Americans are dying, every day, in the Middle East. Fourteen Americans of all ethnicities and races died today in a helicopter crash, more deaths are expected in Iraq from separate incidents. Cuban-Americans seriously discuss "nuclear bombs" to be used against Cuba while endorsing the events at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. Does this contradictory and repellent picture of abuse of power and hypocrisy as well as censorship seem attractive to you? ("Is Senator Menendez a Suspect in Mafia-Political Murder in New Jersey?" and "Does Senator Menendez Have Mafia Friends?")

Does such a philosophy sound beguiling to you? It doesn't tempt me. I do not wish to see the American philosophical message reduced to this desiccated perspective on life. For one thing, as we will see later, it may lead to a dismal view of human rights as dispensable luxuries and to a "sanitized totalitarianism" envisioned by Aldous Huxley. More on this issue is coming up. If you do not know American philosophy, believe me -- "this ain't it." Huxley's Brave New World Revisited is more timely today than when it was written. Abu Ghraib and the Soviet asylums as well as Gulags are predicted in that book. Amazing. (Contrast "Roberto Unger's Revolutionary Legal Theory" with "Richard A. Posner on Voluntary Actions and Criminal Responsibility.")

One of the things that pisses me off about this attitude in academia and among ostensibly educated people ("everything is reducible to evolution or sex") is the disdain for humanistic learning and the contributions of intellects of the caliber of, say, Kant or Sartre. Huxley? Orwell? People see a science program on the Discovery channel and, suddenly, they are beyond learning from Spinoza. Darwin is understood in simplistic and mid-twentieth century terms by the Larissas of this world.

The U.S. is and should be about freedom with equality for all men and women in the struggle to limit the power not only of government, but of all "factions" (Madison) in society in favor of the dignity of the individual. The American revolution is YOUR revolution if you are poor, powerless, yet demand the right to think and speak freely. If you insist on respect for your struggle to earn and share your daily bread with dignity, then the American idea is for you. (See the campaign speech of Senator Barack Obama on "hope" and Senator Clinton's remarks on "equality and community," as well as Senator McCain's advocacy of humane treatment of U.S. prisoners and President Bush's Second Inaugural Address.)

"Nowadays, few people doubt," Larissa writes, "that the mind somehow is the brain ..." (p. 60.) Oh, really? You could have fooled me. I think most people do not believe that their inner lives and minds are only illusions. Larissa is assuming the validity of one controversial solution to this issue -- which is at the heart of the cluster of philosophical problems involved -- while alternatives are dismissed as "garbage" (p. 61), usually by attribution to Ms. Churchland. This approach is not very persuasive. Neither is a description of rival philosophical views as "just plain stupid" (p. 66) or "a waste of time." (p. 68.)

Much more attractive for science worshippers is a form of "non-eliminative materialism" (which, I suspect, turns into something other than materialism), a position which acknowledges that our brains are essential to minds that "somehow" arise from cerebral processes. This certainly sounds like a "dual-aspect theory" to me. Look up "epiphenominalism." Besides, matter is not so material anymore, according to physicists. Who knew? ("John Searle and David Chalmers on Consciousness.")

I have no doubt that the brain is essential to produce the mind. We need a brain to have a mind or mental life. I also have no doubt that mental life or mind is different from, or non-reducible to, the brain. The experience of eating ice cream, loving a woman, thinking about consciousness and the cerebral activity that makes these "qualia" possible are certainly different. Take another look at my example of behaviorists in sexual situations. You'll see what I mean.

If I say that I am "wistful," then I am not saying "a particular neuron is firing in my prefrontal lobe," even if that neuron firing is essential for me to have the experience of wistfulness. For one thing, the word "wistful" is not located in my brain. It is shared with other people using the English language. Language-use is a social activity, so that David Braine and John MacMurray become relevant at this point. My reasons for "feeling" wistful will probably also depend on other people. The emotion may only be possible within a highly developed civilization. Larissa's error is the same as the Churchlands' flawed assumption -- it is an unacceptable and brutal REDUCTIVISM based on outdated physics and biology. A.O. Scott?

If some poor lawyers are trying to argue the opposite view for people like Sybil Moses or Debbie Poritz, I suggest that you study the literature on this topic first, then offer your two cents' worth. ("The 'Galatea Scenario' and the Mind/Body Problem.")

Those millions of people in churches, mosques, synagogues who believe in a soul and their private wishes, longings, loves and other subjective phenomena are simply deluded or pre-scientific, right Larissa? They are not graduates of, say, Brown University or some other comparable institution, who are permitted to write for elite publications. Hence, their views -- and those of theologians and philosophers who disagree on this matter -- are irrelevant or unworthy of serious consideration. This is because Larissa or the Churchlands -- and nice, clever people like them, in Westchester perhaps -- have placed all other opinions beyond consideration as "non-scientific verbiage"? Does this sound a tiny bit like an ideology? "Scientism," maybe? It does to me. Mark Leyner?

There goes Kant, Hegel, MacMurray, Finnis, Chalmers, McGinn, Fodor, Nagel, Braine and my grandmother, right out the window. Wait, it gets better. The Churchlands' view that brains are the "reality" in human life, whereas mental experience, subjectivity, the ordinary phenomenology of every day life, is only an illusion or merely a matter of some denigrated "folk" psychology -- the way it looks or feels to us "simple folks" -- is undermined by several considerations not adequately explored or just plain ignored in this article.

Larissa seemingly assumes that there is only one kind of dualism, which is the only alternative to materialism, and that materialism is the only kind of monism there is. David Chalmers is not a "dualist," by the way, but more like a "dual-aspect theorist." Donald Davidson's "Anomalous Monism" is inadequately or incompetently discussed in this essay. Larissa fails to appreciate her own descriptions of the Churchlands' lives together and why they are significant:

"But as time went on they taught each other what they knew, and the things they didn't share fell away. Their family unity was such that their two children -- now in their thirties -- grew up, professionally speaking, almost identical [sic.]: both obtained Ph.D.s in neuroscience and now study monkeys." (p. 60.)

People, unlike monkeys perhaps (this may even be true of monkeys!), have identities that are socially constituted. As persons, they live socially. Their "minds" -- which, again, are made possible by working brains and other organs -- are formed through languages and linguistic communites, by societies and systems of shared behaviors and meanings into which they are acculturated, by their familial or loving relationships -- all of these are kinds of languages or entanglements -- conferring identities. Professors Fodor and Chomsky are the obvious sources on this issue. (Compare the film "Nell" with "The 'Galatea Scenario' and the Mind/Body Problem.")

Minds are not "housed" exclusively in individual brains. You learn to be a person from others. This learning is essential to the acquisition and constitution of a mind. Mind is an abstract concept found in a system of concepts and pointing at a complex reality of interaction and movement by an organism living materially and spiritually, physically and culturally in an environment where both are changing all the time. A self -- like consciousness -- is a moving target. In a sense, Shakespeare's mind may be encountered in his poetry. This is to suggest that we share in that mind. ("Is it rational to believe in God?" and "Is this atheism's moment?")

Atheists will be upset and wonder whether I am suggesting that "God writes poetry." Yes, I am. You are that poetry. In less metaphorical terms, I am saying that you encounter what may be described, symbolically, as the "Mind of God" when you experience the universe. All of the laws of physics, biology, chemistry and knowing any truth or beauty point to what we may call God, if we are religious, or to the elegance and genius of nature, if we are not religious. These are interpretations consistent with what science teaches us about how empirical reality "works." You decide. ("David Hume's Philosophical Romance.")

An atomistic approach that isolates a brain, examines its functions, measures its neurochemical reactions will be insufficient and inadequate in understanding these complex subjective realities in mental life and human identity. The fact that Ms. Churchland was raised on a farm is not "in" her brain. Yet this "fact" is significant to the shaping of her mind, as much as her brain chemistry. Consciousness is a holistic phenomenon which can only be understood as time-dependent.

Consciousness and identity are a journey which must be measured in its totality, not something frozen at one moment and placed on a slide under a microscope. Interpretive rationality in discerning the "story-logic" of a biography may be more effective than atomistic analysis. The journey that is a mind or life-narrative is only partly geographical because it also MUST be cultural. This means both aesthetic and spiritual (not necessarily religious) aspects of human being-in-the-world are essential to what we mean by a person. Death will help people understand this observation. If you are a person, then you must have a cultural life of some kind. (Again: "David Hume's Philosophical Romance.")

Artists are highly suggestive and instructive on these issues. They teach us to see life and identity as a "story-arch," a kind of narrative. They instruct us to notice alteration and growth, as in the great Shakespearean roles and in the finest painted portraits -- which seem to escape time -- but especially in our religious stories, whose ambiguities and mysteries are deliberate invitations to "interpret." (See Robert Downey's performance in Restoration and Chaplin.) Paul Churchland mentions a sci-fi story by Heinlein that he read as a young man which haunted his imagination for years:

"Its moral is not very useful for day-to-day work, in philosophy or anything else -- what are you supposed to do with it? -- but it has retained a hold on Paul's imagination." (p. 62.)

"What you're supposed to do with it," Paul, is to allow art to open your imagination to new ideas. The lingering aspects of this story suggest that it is important to Mr. Churchland. He should simply reflect and "play" with the ideas in the work, which may lead him to new insights. "The symbol," Paul Ricoeur says, "gives rise to thought." You may begin to see the importance of religion at this point. Unfortunately, neither Larissa nor the Churchlands see that importance.

The symbol of the cross, Star of David, or other symbols hint at a unity of spiritual and material, mind and body, that is the Mystery of humanity as well as the hoped-for unity with God. Such a "hope" is not irrelevant -- not even in a secular society and intellectual discipline -- to our continuing efforts at understanding and integration. Such understanding and integration, with love, is what it means to "be."

A philosopher not mentioned at all in this article, whose work is much better (in my opinion) than what the Churchlands have to say is David Braine. Colin McGinn's work is also not discussed, though there is a vague allusion to philosophers who conclude that consciousness is an irresolvable "mystery" without an adequate explanation of why they believe this. Thomas Nagel gets casual treatment, then a dismissal. Larissa seems to be skating over the difficulties or missing them entirely. I might go on pointing out "difficulties" in this essay. Instead, I will focus on some disturbing political undertones in this piece which merit careful examination.


Despite their interest in science, literary and other figurative language continually turns up at the most interesting points in the Churchlands' conversations. I wonder why that is? Paul Churchland comments on Heinlein's story:

"The story concerned how you treated people who were convicted [thank goodness conviction of crime is still deemed a good idea 'before' alteration!] by criminal trials. Either you could undergo a psychological readjustment that would fix you or, because you can't force that on people, [except in New Jersey, where no crime is necessary to do this secret forcing,] you could go and live in a community that was something like the size of Arizona, behind walls that were thirty feet high, filled with people like you who had refused the operation. The story was about somebody who chose to go in. What annoyed me about it -- and it would annoy you too, I think -- was that Heinlein was plainly on the side of the guy who had refused to have his brain returned to normal. He tells this glorious story about how this guy managed to triumph over all sorts of adverse conditions in this perfectly awful state of nature.'" (p. 68.)

America's Founding Fathers and Mothers would have agreed with that guy -- and so do I. So do several women I love. I don't want my brain to be "normal," whatever that means. I certainly like my mind, also, to be unique. Luckily, Paul and Patricia Churchland are thinking about these issues for the rest us. Someday we may not need to think for ourselves at all:

"You and I have a confidence that most people lack,' he says to Pat. 'We think we can continue to be liberals and still move forward.' [Forwards towards what, Paul?]

"'I'm not so sure,' Pat says." (p. 68.)

Neither am I, Pat. This pleasant and attractive, "well-meaning" couple are providing readers with a prescription for the Gulags and concentration camps of the twentieth century in a sanitized and scientific-sounding language of -- as Mark Green used to say and probably still does -- "noblesse oblige benevolence." The last time I heard Mr. Green use that phrase on a t.v. show, he added: "No thanks." Me too, Mark. Perhaps Mark Green's brain should, forcibly, be returned to "normal." (See the movie "Harrison Bergeron.")

I do not accept and I will not condone interference with my life, violations of my privacy or autonomy rights, suppressions or censorship of my expressions. This will not change no matter how many times you insert "errors" in my writings or prevent the publication of my work. ("How Censorship Works in America.")

The ambition on the part of lawyers and philosophers to "correct" persons and make them "fit" into philosophically perfect utopias is best approached -- by those who love liberty -- with garlic and a crucifix or any religious symbol, along with a copy of the U.S. Constitution. ALL totalitarian schemes, whether Marxist, Freudian, or fundamentalist (religion and fundamentalism are distinct) will fail in the United States of America. They should fail everywhere. By the way, this is something about which Mr. Green and Mr. William F. Buckley, Jr. agreed. None of this precludes people from adopting democratic socialist forms of government, whether derived from humanistic Marxism or other sources. ("Havana Nights and C.I.A. Tapes" and "Time to End the Embargo Against Cuba.")

This fact about the U.S. and the civilization inherited by Americans must not be forgotten, especially by us, no matter what criticisms may be expressed against governmental actions. Americans are a people who will not be ruled by any dictator -- not even by one wearing a lab coat -- and we are confident that others around the world are like us in this yearning for liberty. We are free. We hope that all others can be free, however this concept is defined by them. Americans believe that all of humanity will be free someday. Freedom means daily struggle for that freedom. Our freedom is part of what we are. We do not receive freedom as a result of a government program or concession. This is what persons everywhere in the world using the word "freedom" all-too-easily must ask themselves: "How much do you want freedom?"

Kant and the Framers of the U.S. Constitution, Jefferson and Thurgood Marshall, John Rawls and William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal, as well as Norman Mailer and Cornel West, Angela Davis and Judith Butler, not to mention our almost Mayor of New York, Mark Green -- all agree on this much: Human liberty, the inviolability of conscience, rights to personal autonomy and spiritual life are not gifts of the State. These things are not provided to us because it is convenient or deemed to be "for our own good." They are part of our endowment as human beings, anywhere and everywhere. These are our rights. They are not negotiable. All of us must stand with those asking for recognition of that freedom in Iran, China, Cuba, New Jersey today or anywhere where people ask to speak and worship FREELY.

Millions of men and women fought great wars to preserve these rights for all Americans. They will not be given away in any faculty lounge or in a courtroom that deserves to be called a "Court of Law." No one has the legitimate authority to "correct" others "spiritually" or to decide which persons, who have committed no crimes, deserve or need secret "values-correction" by some self-defined "elite." 1988-today, Terry Tuchin? Discussion, debate, scholarship are welcome; enslavement and torture or censorship are not desired by victims. This ambition to control others is "incorrect" and totalitarian. Such a yearning to correct others is unethical and criminal, as are all forms of secret censorship, and alterations or suppressions of speech. How does any Jew become Dr. Mengele? ("The Torture of Persons" and "What is it like to be tortured?")

Perhaps it is this yearning and need for freedom that explains or defines the mystery of consciousness, as revealed by so much of our art and religious wisdom. A solution to this puzzle for the future may be found, possibly, by returning to those rich symbols at the center of our civilization, both religious and secular symbols, as an inspiration to think again about what they mean for us and what they may mean for our children. As Eve once said to Adam: "Care for an apple?"

If you want to read more:

I recommend a work which seems to be neglected by scholars in this area:

David Braine, The Human Person: Animal & Spirit (Indiana: Notre Dame, 1992), especially pp. 345-397.
Daniel N. Robinson, Consciousness and Mental Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), entirety.

Compare opposing views:

Paul M. Churchland, Matter and Consciousness: A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind (Mass.: MIT Press, 1984).
Patricia Churchland, Neurophilosophy (Mass.: MIT Press, 1986).

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home