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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

God and the Argument of the Mind Part II

Prerequisite reading for this post is here.

Physicalists view the body as a type of sophisticated machine. They view the mind as electro-chemical machinery … kind of like a sophisticated programmable logic controller (PLC).

What is a PLC? It is one of these thing-a-ma-jigs. I used to market them. They are used in industrial automation applications. A PLC is programmed to respond to digital or analog inputs (e.g. from switches, sensors, transducers, thermocouples etc.) and causes output devices to actuate (switches, motors, servos etc.). Picture a conveyor application in a large mail sorting facility. A photo-sensor detects presence of a package that is cruising down a conveyor. It sends a signal to the PLC, which sends a signal to a switch which fires a motor that causes a robotic arm to extend and push the package into a bin. You get the picture. Inputs cause outputs.

Physicalists see the mind as a type of PLC. It receives signals, creating mind states, and causes outputs. Example, your eye catches an image of a hungry tiger headed your way. A mind state is created … the state of "I am about to be eaten!". Suddenly, your legs begin running. Input => output.

Physicalism is a false view of reality. How do we know this? We know because it falsifies itself.

One who embraces physicalism does so because they presumably have good reasons to accept it. But this implies something. It implies that the necessary preconditions for rationality must exist. This, as it turns out, presents a real conundrum for the PLC view of the mind.

Here are the five preconditions for rationality to be a property of the mind.

One, a mind must have intentionality. It must be capable of having thoughts "about" or "of" the world. Acts of inference are "insights into" or "knowings of" something other than themselves.

Two, reasons, propositions, thoughts, laws of logic, evidence and truth must exist and be capable of being instanced into a person's mind. These kinds of things are not sensory inputs, though, are they? Yet rationality demands a certain type of "oughtness". If you accept that "All men are mortals", and "Socrates is a man", then you ought to accept that "Socrates is a man." It is the rational thing to do. But how does this fit with physical states? It is difficult to see how one physical state exerts "oughtness" over another physical state. Physical states are things that simply are: they are not things that "ought" to be. The connection between premises and conclusion is not a physical relation of cause and effect. It is a logical relation of inference.


Three, it is not enough for there to be propositions which stand in logical relation to one another. You need to be able to "see" the flow of the argument. You need to have rational insight into its form, and be influenced by your perception and form beliefs. This type of "seeing" is not done with eyeballs. It is the "ah hah" type of seeing. The proverbial light bulb turns on. You "get it." This type of "seeing" is difficult to imagine if physicalism is true, and non-physical things like the laws of logic don't really exist.


Four, in order for one to rationally think through a chain of reasoning, and grasp the inferential connections in the chain, the same physical state would have to persist throughout the entire process. The physical state that started the chain would have to be there at the end in order to grasp the logical inference. But physicalism asserts that our mental states (which are merely physical states) are changing from one state to the next. There is no persistence. The physical state you start off with is not where you end up. This flies in the face of rational thinking, however. Rational arguments require a "connecting of the dots."


Five, if one is to be rational, one must be free to choose one's beliefs based on reasons. One cannot be determined to react to stimuli by nonrational physical factors. If a belief is caused by entirely nonrational factors, then it is not a belief that is embraced because it is reasonable.


Ultimately, physicalism implies determinism. Determinism is self-refuting. Why? Because if you are programmed to believe a proposition, then there is no reason to actually believe that the proposition corresponds to reality. You believe it because your mental software makes you believe it … not because it is true. So, if you are a physicalist, then the reason you believe physicalism is true is because your PLC mind made you believe it is true … not because it actually is true.


So if the argument for physicalism commits suicide then where do we go? We entertain some sort of dualism. Most physicalists would prefer epiphenomenalism over and against substance dualism. Guess what. Epiphenomenalism commits suicide too. Fodder for a future post.

2 comments:

1 - Fair enough.

2 - Physical states are the means by which concepts are stored in the brain. The concepts aren't physical states themselves; a picture of a thing isn't the thing.

3 - That's an interesting argument. I claim that it is easy to imagine if the physicalism is true, because physicalism is only the way of representing the concept, not the concept itself.

4 - No they wouldn't. The current understanding of the original state would have to exist, which would encapsulate the starting point and the journey from there to here. Your argument here seems baseless.

5 - Physicality doesn't necessarily imply determinism, at least not the physicality I believe in. We're in an uncontrollable experiment, so I'll never *know* if I have free will (it feels like I do, but that feeling may be predetermined), but it's pretty well demonstrated that all knowledge of a system such as the brain is inherently unmeasurable (as opposed to just being very hard to measure), so there's nothing to prove that given state A and influence B the result has to be state C.

RE: "Physical states are the means by which concepts are stored in the brain. The concepts aren't physical states themselves"

The difficulty is not in asserting how a physical state exists ... such as the storing of an sensory input or concept as you call it. The difficulty lies in establishing non-physical relationships (like inferences) between disparate physical states. You seem to be asserting that something abstract like logic exists as a physical state with awareness of other physical states ... but logic is not an empirically detectable thing ... it is an abstract concept ... moreover, it is not taken into the brain through a sensory input ... it is non-physical. I fail to see how something non-physical could cause one physical state to exert a relationship over another physical state.

"because physicalism is only the way of representing the concept, not the concept itself."

What is an example of a physical representation of the law of non-contradiction, or modus ponens, or the law of the excluded middle (just to pick a few laws of logic)?

Re:"The current understanding of the original state would have to exist"

In physicalism there is no current understanding of an original state ... there is only the current state ... one physical state, then the next, then the next. There is no persistence. You have left physicalism and entered the world of substance or property dualism if you are asserting persistence of conscious thought.

RE: "Physicality doesn't necessarily imply determinism, at least not the physicality I believe in."

Physicalism has to imply determinism. I think the physicality you believe in sounds more like property dualism to me ... where something has physical properties and mental properties. Some argue that property dualism suffers from the same deterministic problems as physicalism ... but I am not convinced of that at this point.

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