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<PHILOSOPHY IN A WEEK> Part 2

October 20, 2017

We are standing in the line waiting for a taxi without talking for a moment.

"What are you thinking?" X asked.

"Nothing. Just a little bit absent-minded." I replied.

"You must be thinking of something. You are one of those who never stop thinking. Maybe calculating or figuring out what to say next."

"No...It's you who can't stop thinking. You are projecting yourself on me."

"Yes. I thought we were the same."

 

" We can know only our own mind, and are therefore radically alone, surrounded by bodies in which we have to infer that there are other minds similar to our own." Is that a lonely view? Let's take a look.

 

WEDNESDAY

THE PHILOSOPHY OF MIND

 

The philosophy of mind explores what we mean by the ‘mind’ and how it relates to the body. Some argue for materialism - that what we experience as mind is no more than brain activity or a description of physical activity. Other thinkers opt for some kind of dualism, in which the mind is distinct from the body although causally linked to it. Any theory needs to take into account the experienced fact that minds and bodies interact.

Whether it is possible for a computer to reproduce what we mean my mind? How about personal freedom, identity and how we can know and relate to other people?

Today the traditional discussions in the philosophy of mind are set in the broad context of the cognitive science - including neuroscience, pharmacology and creation of AI - but the question remains to our experience of ourselves as thinking, feeling individuals.

 

THE RELATION BETWEEN MIND AND BODY

  • MATERIALISM - the mind or “self” is nothing more than a way of describing physical bodies and their activity. A thought or an emotion is nothing but the electrical impulses in the brain, or chemical or other reactions in the rest of the body.

  • IDEALISM - consciousness is the origin of the world and aim to explain the existing world by mental causes. Much our knowledges of other people is the result of our interpretation of the sense impressions we receive, we are forced by common sense to infer that there really are people with minds and bodies like our own. 

  • DUALISM - mind and body are distinct and very different things. Each is seen as part of the self, part of what it means to be a person, but the questions then becomes: How do these two things interact?

 

NEURONES AND COMPUTERS

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) - uses computers to perform some of the functions of the human brain. It works on the basis of knowledge and response - the computer stores memories and is programmed to respond to present situation which correspond to them. 

  • Neural Computing goes about its task quite differently. It tries to produce a computer which actually works like a human brain - recognizing things, forming mental images, even dreaming and feeling emotions, is like a brain in that it programs itself and learns from its environment.

Intelligent activity is more likely to be seen now as a feature of complexity and of relationships. If something is complex enough, and if its operation is based on a constantly changing pattern of relationships between its memory components, then it appears to evolve in a personal and intelligent way; it takes on character.

 

FREE WILL

Freedom of a will is a major feature in the mind/body debate. If, as a materialist would claim, the mind simply a by-product of brain activity, and if that brain activity, being part of material world,is, in theory, totally predictable, then there is no such thing as free will. We appear to be free only because we not understand the unique combination of causes which force us to make our particular decisions. We are pawns of fate - if all causes were known, we would have no freedom and no responsibility for what we erroneously call out ‘mental’ operations.

 

In effect, the issue here is exactly the same as determinism within the broader scope of the philosophy of science. We live in a world of cause and effect. If casualty is universal (or if, as Kant, we believe that the mind automatically assumes that it is), then it provides a closed loop of explanation for everything that happens. Human beings and their choices, being part of the physical world, come within that loop.

 

Yet many people would want to argue that freedom and morality are an essential part of what it means to be human individual. We are not robots. Our role in the world is proactive, not reactive. We shape the world as much as we are shaped by it. From this perspective, it is difficult to see the mind as ‘nothing more than’ a by-product of brain activity.

 

KNOWLEDGE OF OTHER MINDS

In a strictly dualistic view of bodies and minds, you cannot have direct knowledge  of the minds of others. You can know their words, their actions, their facial and other body signals, but you cannot get access to their minds. For a dualist, knowledge of other minds therefore comes by analogy.

Knowing oneself is rather different, in that we are immediately aware of our own thoughts, whereas the thoughts of others come to us via their words, gestures and appearance. This has led some people to argue that we can know only our own mind, and are therefore radically alone, surrounded by bodies in which we have to infer that there are other minds similar to our own.

 

PERSONAL IDENTITY

In practice, identity is not a matter of body or mind only, but of an integrated functioning entity comprising both body and mind. Identity is therefore a matter of synthesis, not of analysis. You are the sum total, not the parts.

 

COGNITIVE SCIENCE

Cognitive science is an umbrella term for a number of disciplines which impinge upon ideas of the self or mind:

  • Development of AI and neural networking

  • Neuroscience is now able to map out the functions of the brain, identifying areas that are associated with particular mental or sensory processes.

  • Pharmacology is able to control behavior by the use of drugs, bringing a whole new chemical element into our understanding of behavior.

  • How we feel may well reflect what we eat and drink.

  • Clinical psychology looks at the way an individual’s mind functions, talking into a account both its conscious and unconscious workings.

Functionalism sees mental operations as the way in which intelligent life sorts out how to react to the stimuli it receives. A functionalist is able to produce what amounts to a map of the mind that shows the different functions that the mind performs.

 

INTENTIONALITY

The idea of intentionality predates cognitive science, but is relevant to the broad range of issues that it considers. Intentionality, put simply, is the recognition that every perception and every experience is directed towards something. Mental functions shape and interpret what we experience — and we cannot have experience except as experience ‘of’ something.

 

THURSDAY

THE PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION

 

The philosophy of religion offers a rational examination of religious language, religious experience and belief claims made by religious people. It is centrally concerned with the question of what people mean by “God” and whether any such god can be said to exist.

 

It also explores questions about wether religious claims can withstand scientific scrutiny, wether miracles can happen, whether belief in God is compatible with the fact of suffering and evil, and whether psychological and sociological explanations of religion render religious belief redundant.

 

We shall examine one of the arguments for the existence of God — the argument from design — nothing its limitations and how it relates to a scientific view of the world. We shall then move on to examine the greatest challenge to any such belief, namely that of fining a rational way of reconciling a loving omnipotent creator with the experience of suffering.

 

FAITH, REASON AND BELIEF

Is religious belief based on reason? If it were, it would be open to change, if the logic of an argument went against it. 

Within Christianity, there is a tradition — associated particularly with the Protestant Reformation and Calvin — that human nature is fallen and sinful, and that human reason is equally limited and unable to yield knowledge of God. Belief in God is therefore a matter of faith, and any logical arguments to back that belief are secondary.

 

DOES GOD EXIST?

For Judaism, Christianity and Islam, God may be said to be a supreme being, infinite, spiritual and personal, creator of the world. He is generally described as all-powerful (having created the world out of nothing, he can do anything he wishes) and all-loving (in a personal caring relationship with individual believers). Although pictured in human form, he is believed to be beyond literal description ( and is thus not strictly male, although ‘he’ is generally depicted as such).

theism: Belief in the existence of such a god 

atheism: The conviction that no such being exists 

agnosticism: The view that there is no conclusive evidence to decide whether God exists or not 

pantheism: An identification of God with the physical universe 

panentheism:The belief that God is within everything and everything within God 

deism: The idea of an external designer God who created the world, but is not immanent within it

 

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

  • If God created the world

  • And if God is all-powerful and all-loving

  • Then why is there evil and suffering in the world?

Conclusion:

  • Either God is not all-powerful

  • Or God is not all-loving

  • Or suffering is either unreal, necessary or a means to a greater good

  • Or the whole of an all-loving and all-powerful creator God was a mistake in the first place.

The crucial difference between the religious and non-religious evaluation of life, is that — in general — the non-religious approach is that life is of value in itself, not as a preparation for anything beyond this world. The challenge of atheism is the challenge of acceptance of a limited life with unequally distributed mixture of pleasure and pain.

To say ‘yes’ to this life, just as it is, and to be prepared to live this life over and over again, just as it it, is the hallmark of someone radically free from the consolations of religion. Indeed, Nietzsche made such ‘yes-saying’ a key feature of his Ubermensch (superman), the higher form to which humankind is challenged to evolve.

 

To be continued...

 

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