The chief problem with "Mind is an emergent order"

Hardness is an emergent property of molecules when they join together to form a solid. But it is comprehensible how it emerges: the individual molecules bind to each other with a strength sufficient to prevent the easy incursion of an exterior object into the solid.

But we have nothing at all like that with mind: no one has the least idea, or even the hint of an idea, really, as to how neurons might interact to produce consciousness. Sure, many people have forwarded all sorts of theories as to how neurons form networks that handle inputs in various ways to produce some new output: Hayek's theory of the sensory order is just one example. One or more of these theories may be completely true; that is not the issue. The problem is, all of them just describe how some electro-chemical impulses are transformed into other electro-chemical impulses. We might achieve an extremely detailed map of just how a photon hitting the eye is transformed into something happening in the brain. But this gets us exactly nowhere in answering the question, "But why am I consciously aware that there is a tree in front of me?"

Leibniz, of course, saw the necessary failure of all such "explanations" of mind long ago, but it is good to be reminded of this in these times of sophistry.

15 comments:

  1. Gene, what is the aspect of consciousness that you think that neuron-based explanations are failing to even begin to address? Is it the fact that our thoughts reflect the external world? Is it the fact that we have a "main thought" that is in the forefront of our conscious mind? Is it the fact that we experience indescribable qualia? Or is it the fact that we have first-person awareness?

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    1. Neuron-based explanations do not address any aspect of consciousness whatsoever, so the answer would be "all of them."

      I'm threadjacking my own thread here, but now that I've caught you: I'm a little surprised by your contention that MF *could* have seriously taken what I wrote as a threat. (Thanks for digging it up, by the way: it is even more obviously a joke than I had remembered.) First of all, *I* didn't say I was going to *do* anything, except stop opposing burning heretics in MF's case. But let's say he missed that point: do you really think he is *seriously* worried that I am going to re-establish the Inquisition, try him for heresy, and burn him at the stake?

      But he has spent... what is it, five years?... repeatedly telling people that I "threatened to kill him."

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    2. OK, but which of the things I mentioned would qualify as "aspects of consciousness" in your view?

      As far as Major_Freedom goes, no, I don't think he was ever worried that you were going to restart the Inquisition. But I do think that he may have sincerely believed that if you ever had the means and opportunity to kill him, you would do it. It's akin to how if you're African American and a KKK member said on TV that all black people should be killed, you wouldn't fear for your safety, but you would sincerely believe that if the KKK member was able to kill you he would.

      When Major_Freedom said "If you said that to me in person I'd punch you in the face", it sounded like he was serious. In his worldview, if you're not an anarchist then you're really advocating violence, so he may have taken that comment as "Gene revealing his true colors". And then he would have filed that moment in his brain under the heading "statists who have revealed their true colors". So his behavior to date seems plausible to me; I don't think there's sufficient evidence to conclude that he's been willfully misrepresenting things. (Although I hasten to add that he's completely wrong and he has a crazy worldview.)

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  2. Hello. Have you read Henri Bergson's book "Matter and Memory"?
    I believe that, like human genome, neuroscience contains a major BS assumptions that will result very embarrassing in about fifty years.

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    1. No, Bergson is on my "must read but haven't gotten to" list.

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  3. It seems as though the 'problem of mind' becomes less mysterious when one takes the metaphysical view of Idealism. With Idealist metaphysics, Cartesian substance dualism could be recast as ontological dualism, instead of substance dualism. The (human) mind could be seen as a product of a process - a process which itself is not completely devoid of mentality - and thus the emergent property of (human) minds need not be quite mysterious. Idealist philosopher John Foster took this stance, and I believe that idealist philosopher Keith Ward also holds this view as well. I'm slowly getting into Keith Ward (I have read two of his books as I work my way through his library) but I haven't touched John Foster much at all. I am swamped with Voegelin at the moment!

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  4. 1947:
    "But we have nothing at all like that with proteins: no one has the least idea, or even the hint of an idea, really, as to how DNA might interact to produce protein."

    And, as Keshav's question hints, we *do* have ideas on many things now. One example. We know a lot about how information can be encoded, so we do have some glimmer of how memory can work.

    And MF's claim is bogus through and through.

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    1. So, "producing" consciousness from neurons is the same sort of problem as producing one chemical from another?

      "We know a lot about how information can be encoded..."

      Which gets us to square zero on consciousness. Again, Leibniz demonstrated all this 300 years ago.

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    2. Here's the thing, Ken: no one doubts that we know more and more over time about how mechanisms in the brain work. But so what?

      And we understand *on principle* why this sort of work cannot get us to an explanation of consciousness: modern science was launched by sweeping qualia "under the rug" and focusing only on what can be quantified. That procedure has produced great success at explaining many things that don't involve qualia. But it is quite obviously a nonsense procedure for explaining qualia!

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    3. What essay or book are you referring to with regards to Leibniz and consciousness, Gene?

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    4. "Moreover, we must confess that perception, and what depends upon it, is inexplicable in terms of mechanical reasons, that is through shapes, size and motions. If we imagine that there is a machine whose structure makes it think, sense, and have perceptions, we could conceive it enlarged, keeping the same proportions, so that we could enter into it, as one enters a mill. Assuming that, when inspecting its interior, we will find only parts that push one another, and we will never find anything to explain a perception. And so, one should seek perception in the simple substance and not in the composite or in the machine. "

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    5. Ahhh, yes. We read that for our Modern European philosophy course. I suppose what is relevant... stays relevant. I will have to look that up again.

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  5. Could a machine still conceivably think? Could arranging circuitry in such a way make consciousness arise, just not from the circuitry itself?

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    1. I believe there are plausible metaphysics that result in machines thinking, such as Whitehead's panpsychism.

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