Monday, December 24, 2012

Why Have a Driver...

if he can't do anything?

Let's say a manufacturer's rep tells you his company has developed an automobile that it entirely self-operated: in fact, there is not even any mechanism by which a human could intervene in the car's operations.

But when he shows you the vehicle, there is someone sitting in the "driver's" seat.

"What's he there for?"

"Well, he could prove useful."

"How is that?"

"In case something goes wrong."

"But you told me the car is a causally closed system: there is no way for something from outside the car itself to guide its operations."

"That's right."

"So how could the driver be useful?"

"You know, he can reflect on what is going on. Be aware of the environment. Spot dangers."

"So then he could take control of the car, based on the trouble he spots?"

"Oh, no, impossible. The vehicle runs completely automatically."

At this point you would just throw up your hands, because the rep is talking incoherent nonsense, right?

Reductionist materialists are in the exact same position as the rep in the above scenario: On the one hand, they wish to explain consciousness as an evolutionarily useful adaptation. On the other hand, they wish to hold that the world described by physics is causally closed: there simply are no true causes in the world other than the interaction of the particles and fields that physics has discovered.

But it is incoherent to hold both of these views at once. If the car is a causally closed system, there is no usefulness to the driver. If the driver, because he becomes aware of a danger, can do something to change the operations of the car, then the automotive system is not causally closed.

If reductionist materialism is true, then consciousness cannot be useful to organisms. The only way of incorporating consciousness into reductionist materialism is as a useless by-product of mechanisms that actually are useful.

If consciousness is useful to organisms, then reductionist materialism must be false.

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