Biological naturalism

Last updated
Biological Naturalism states that consciousness is a higher level function of the human brain's physical capabilities. Brain chrischan.jpg
Biological Naturalism states that consciousness is a higher level function of the human brain's physical capabilities.

Biological naturalism is a theory about, among other things, the relationship between consciousness and body (i.e. brain), and hence an approach to the mind–body problem. It was first proposed by the philosopher John Searle in 1980 and is defined by two main theses: 1) all mental phenomena from pains, tickles, and itches to the most abstruse thoughts are caused by lower-level neurobiological processes in the brain; and 2) mental phenomena are higher-level features of the brain.

Consciousness state or quality of awareness or of being aware of an external object or something within oneself

Consciousness is the state or quality of awareness or of being aware of an external object or something within oneself. It has been defined variously in terms of sentience, awareness, qualia, subjectivity, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood or soul, the fact that there is something "that it is like" to "have" or "be" it, and the executive control system of the mind. Despite the difficulty in definition, many philosophers believe that there is a broadly shared underlying intuition about what consciousness is. As Max Velmans and Susan Schneider wrote in The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness: "Anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives."

The human body is the structure of a human being. It is composed of many different types of cells that together create tissues and subsequently organ systems. They ensure homeostasis and the viability of the human body.

Human brain Main organ of the human nervous system

The human brain is the central organ of the human nervous system, and with the spinal cord makes up the central nervous system. The brain consists of the cerebrum, the brainstem and the cerebellum. It controls most of the activities of the body, processing, integrating, and coordinating the information it receives from the sense organs, and making decisions as to the instructions sent to the rest of the body. The brain is contained in, and protected by, the skull bones of the head.

Contents

This entails that the brain has the right causal powers to produce intentionality. However, Searle's biological naturalism does not entail that brains and only brains can cause consciousness. Searle is careful to point out that while it appears to be the case that certain brain functions are sufficient for producing conscious states, our current state of neurobiological knowledge prevents us from concluding that they are necessary for producing consciousness. In his own words:

Logical consequence is a fundamental concept in logic, which describes the relationship between statements that hold true when one statement logically follows from one or more statements. A valid logical argument is one in which the conclusion is entailed by the premises, because the conclusion is the consequence of the premises. The philosophical analysis of logical consequence involves the questions: In what sense does a conclusion follow from its premises? and What does it mean for a conclusion to be a consequence of premises? All of philosophical logic is meant to provide accounts of the nature of logical consequence and the nature of logical truth.

Causality is efficacy, by which one process or state, a cause, contributes to the production of another process or state, an effect, where the cause is partly responsible for the effect, and the effect is partly dependent on the cause. In general, a process has many causes, which are also said to be causal factors for it, and all lie in its past. An effect can in turn be a cause of, or causal factor for, many other effects, which all lie in its future. Multiple philosophers have believed that causality is metaphysically prior to notions of time and space.

Intentionality is a philosophical concept and is defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as "the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs". The once obsolete term dates from medieval scholastic philosophy, but in more recent times it has been resurrected by Franz Brentano and adopted by Edmund Husserl. The earliest theory of intentionality is associated with St. Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God, and with his tenets distinguishing between objects that exist in the understanding and objects that exist in reality.

"The fact that brain processes cause consciousness does not imply that only brains can be conscious. The brain is a biological machine, and we might build an artificial machine that was conscious; just as the heart is a machine, and we have built artificial hearts. Because we do not know exactly how the brain does it we are not yet in a position to know how to do it artificially." (Biological Naturalism, 2004)

Overview

John Searle Searle (2).jpg
John Searle

Searle denies Cartesian dualism, the idea that the mind is a separate kind of substance to the body, as this contradicts our entire understanding of physics, and unlike Descartes, he does not bring God into the problem. Indeed, Searle denies any kind of dualism, the traditional alternative to monism, claiming the distinction is a mistake. He rejects the idea that because the mind is not objectively viewable, it does not fall under the rubric of physics.

Physics Study of the fundamental properties of matter and energy

Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its motion, and behavior through space and time, and that studies the related entities of energy and force. Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves.

René Descartes 17th-century French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist

René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. A native of the Kingdom of France, he spent about 20 years (1629–1649) of his life in the Dutch Republic after serving for a while in the Dutch States Army of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange and the Stadtholder of the United Provinces. One of the most notable intellectual figures of the Dutch Golden Age, Descartes is also widely regarded as one of the founders of modern philosophy.

God Divine entity, supreme being and principal object of faith

In monotheistic thought, God is conceived of as the supreme being, creator deity, and principal object of faith. The conceptions of God, as described by theologians, commonly include the attributes of omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful), omnipresence (all-present), and as having an eternal and necessary existence. Depending on one's kind of theism, these attributes are used either in way of analogy, or in a literal sense as distinct properties. God is most often held to be incorporeal (immaterial). Incorporeality and corporeality of God are related to conceptions of transcendence and immanence of God, with positions of synthesis such as the "immanent transcendence". Psychoanalyst Carl Jung equated religious ideas of God with transcendental aspects of consciousness in his interpretation.

Searle believes that consciousness "is a real part of the real world and it cannot be eliminated in favor of, or reduced to, something else" [1] whether that something else is a neurological state of the brain or a computer program. He contends, for example, that the software known as Deep Blue knows nothing about chess. He also believes that consciousness is both a cause of events in the body and a response to events in the body.

Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent, as opposed to that which is merely imaginary. The term is also used to refer to the ontological status of things, indicating their existence. In physical terms, reality is the totality of the universe, known and unknown. Philosophical questions about the nature of reality or existence or being are considered under the rubric of ontology, which is a major branch of metaphysics in the Western philosophical tradition. Ontological questions also feature in diverse branches of philosophy, including the philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mathematics, and philosophical logic. These include questions about whether only physical objects are real, whether reality is fundamentally immaterial, whether hypothetical unobservable entities posited by scientific theories exist, whether God exists, whether numbers and other abstract objects exist, and whether possible worlds exist.

Eliminative materialism Philosophical view that states-of-mind as commonly understood do not exist

Eliminative materialism is the claim that people's common-sense understanding of the mind is false and that certain classes of mental states that most people believe in do not exist. It is a materialist position in the philosophy of mind. Some supporters of eliminativism argue that no coherent neural basis will be found for many everyday psychological concepts such as belief or desire, since they are poorly defined. Rather, they argue that psychological concepts of behaviour and experience should be judged by how well they reduce to the biological level. Other versions entail the non-existence of conscious mental states such as pain and visual perceptions.

Computer program Instructions to be executed by a computer

A computer program is a collection of instructions that performs a specific task when executed by a computer. A computer requires programs to function.

On the other hand, Searle doesn't treat consciousness as a ghost in the machine. He treats it, rather, as a state of the brain. The causal interaction of mind and brain can be described thus in naturalistic terms: Events at the micro-level (perhaps at that of individual neurons) cause consciousness. Changes at the macro-level (the whole brain) constitute consciousness. Micro-changes cause and then are impacted by holistic changes, in much the same way that individual football players cause a team (as a whole) to win games, causing the individuals to gain confidence from the knowledge that they are part of a winning team.

The "ghost in the machine" is British philosopher Gilbert Ryle's description of René Descartes' mind-body dualism. Ryle introduced the phrase in The Concept of Mind (1949) to highlight the view of Descartes and others that mental and physical activity occur simultaneously but separately.

He articulates this distinction by pointing out that the common philosophical term 'reducible' is ambiguous. Searle contends that consciousness is "causally reducible" to brain processes without being "ontologically reducible". He hopes that making this distinction will allow him to escape the traditional dilemma between reductive materialism and substance dualism; he affirms the essentially physical nature of the universe by asserting that consciousness is completely caused by and realized in the brain, but also doesn't deny what he takes to be the obvious facts that humans really are conscious, and that conscious states have an essentially first-person nature.

It can be tempting to see the theory as a kind of property dualism, since, in Searle's view, a person's mental properties are categorically different from his or her micro-physical properties. The latter have "third-person ontology" whereas the former have "first-person ontology." Micro-structure is accessible objectively by any number of people, as when several brain surgeons inspect a patient's cerebral hemispheres. But pain or desire or belief are accessible subjectively by the person who has the pain or desire or belief, and no one else has that mode of access. However, Searle holds mental properties to be a species of physical property—ones with first-person ontology. So this sets his view apart from a dualism of physical and non-physical properties. His mental properties are putatively physical.

Criticism

There have been several criticisms of Searle's idea of biological naturalism.

Jerry Fodor suggests that Searle gives us no account at all of exactly why he believes that a biochemistry like, or similar to, that of the human brain is indispensable for intentionality. Fodor thinks that it seems much more plausible to suppose that it is the way in which an organism (or any other system for that matter) is connected to its environment that is indispensable in the explanation of intentionality. It is easier to see "how the fact that my thought is causally connected to a tree might bear on its being a thought about a tree. But it's hard to imagine how the fact that (to put it crudely) my thought is made out of hydrocarbons could matter, except on the unlikely hypothesis that only hydrocarbons can be causally connected to trees in the way that brains are." [2]

John Haugeland takes on the central notion of some set of special "right causal powers" that Searle attributes to the biochemistry of the human brain. He asks us to imagine a concrete situation in which the "right" causal powers are those that our neurons have to reciprocally stimulate one another. In this case, silicon-based alien life forms can be intelligent just in case they have these "right" causal powers; i.e. they possess neurons with synaptics connections that have the power to reciprocally stimulate each other. Then we can take any speaker of the Chinese language and cover his neurons in some sort of wrapper which prevents them from being influenced by neurotransmitters and, hence, from having the right causal powers. At this point, "Searle's demon" (an English speaking nanobot, perhaps) sees what is happening and intervenes: he sees through the covering and determines which neurons would have been stimulated and which not and proceeds to stimulate the appropriate neurons and shut down the others himself. The experimental subject's behavior is unaffected. He continues to speak perfect Chinese as before the operation but now the causal powers of his neurotransmitters have been replaced by someone who does not understand the Chinese language. The point is generalizable: for any causal powers, it will always be possible to hypothetically replace them with some sort of Searlian demon which will carry out the operations mechanically. His conclusion is that Searle's is necessarily a dualistic view of the nature of causal powers, "not intrinsically connected with the actual powers of physical objects." [3]

Searle himself actually does not rule out the possibility for alternate arrangements of matter bringing forth consciousness other than biological brains. He also disputes that Biological naturalism is dualistic in nature in a brief essay entitled "Why I Am Not a Property Dualist".

See also

Related Research Articles

The Chinese room argument holds that a program cannot give a computer a "mind", "understanding" or "consciousness", regardless of how intelligently or human-like the program may make the computer behave. The argument was first presented by philosopher John Searle in his paper, "Minds, Brains, and Programs", published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 1980. It has been widely discussed in the years since. The centerpiece of the argument is a thought experiment known as the Chinese room.

Epiphenomenalism is a position on the mind–body problem which holds that physical and biochemical events within the human body are causal with respect to mental events. According to this view, subjective mental events are completely dependent for their existence on corresponding physical and biochemical events within the human body and themselves have no causal efficacy on physical events. The appearance that subjective mental states influence physical events is merely an illusion. For instance, fear seems to make the heart beat faster, but according to epiphenomenalism the biochemical secretions of the brain and nervous system —not the experience of fear—is what raises the heartbeat. Because mental events are a kind of overflow that cannot cause anything physical, yet have non-physical properties, epiphenomenalism is viewed as a form of property dualism.

Mind–body dualism Philosophical theory that mental phenomena are non-physical and that matter exists independently of mind

Mind–body dualism, or mind–body duality, is a view in the philosophy of mind that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical, or that the mind and body are distinct and separable. Thus, it encompasses a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, and between subject and object, and is contrasted with other positions, such as physicalism and enactivism, in the mind–body problem.

Functionalism is a viewpoint of the theory of the mind. It states that mental states are constituted solely by their functional role in, i.e. causal relations with, other mental states, sensory inputs and behavioral outputs. Functionalism developed largely as an alternative to the identity theory of mind and behaviorism.

David Chalmers Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist

David John Chalmers is an Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist specializing in the areas of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. He is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University. He is also a University Professor, Professor of Philosophy and Neural Science, and a Director of the Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness at New York University. In 2013, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

In the philosophy of mind, emergentmaterialism is a theory which asserts that the mind is an irreducible existent in some sense, albeit not in the sense of being an ontological simple, and that the study of mental phenomena is independent of other sciences. It primarily maintains that the human mind's evolution is a product of material nature and that it cannot exist without material basis.

Jerry Fodor American philosopher

Jerry Alan Fodor was an American philosopher and cognitive scientist. He held the position of State of New Jersey Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, at Rutgers University and was the author of many works in the fields of philosophy of mind and cognitive science, in which he laid the groundwork for the modularity of mind and the language of thought hypotheses, among other ideas. He was known for his provocative and sometimes polemical style of argumentation and as "one of the principal philosophers of mind of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. In addition to having exerted an enormous influence on virtually every portion of the philosophy of mind literature since 1960, Fodor's work has had a significant impact on the development of the cognitive sciences."

The language of thought hypothesis (LOTH), sometimes known as thought ordered mental expression (TOME), is a view in linguistics, philosophy of mind and cognitive science, forwarded by American philosopher Jerry Fodor. It describes the nature of thought as possessing "language-like" or compositional structure. On this view, simple concepts combine in systematic ways to build thoughts. In its most basic form, the theory states that thought, like language, has syntax.

Property dualism philosophical theory (there is only 1 kind of substance in reality (matter),but that substance has 2 types of properties, material and mental);view that non-physical, mental properties (beliefs,desires,emotions) inhere in physical substances (brains)

Property dualism describes a category of positions in the philosophy of mind which hold that, although the world is composed of just one kind of substance—the physical kind—there exist two distinct kinds of properties: physical properties and mental properties. In other words, it is the view that non-physical, mental properties inhere in or supervene upon certain physical substances. As a doctrine, 'property dualism' is epistemic, as distinct from ontic.

Artificial intelligence has close connections with philosophy because both share several concepts and these include intelligence, action, consciousness, epistemology, and even free will. Furthermore, the technology is concerned with the creation of artificial animals or artificial people so the discipline is of considerable interest to philosophers. These factors contributed to the emergence of the philosophy of artificial intelligence. Some scholars argue that the AI community's dismissal of philosophy is detrimental.

China brain thought experiment: suppose that every Chinese person is asked to simulate the action of one neuron in the brain, using telephones to simulate the axons/dendrites; then would China as a whole have consciousness?

In the philosophy of mind, the China brain thought experiment considers what would happen if each member of the Chinese nation were asked to simulate the action of one neuron in the brain, using telephones or walkie-talkies to simulate the axons and dendrites that connect neurons. Would this arrangement have a mind or consciousness in the same way that brains do?

In philosophy, the computational theory of mind (CTM) refers to a family of views that hold that the human mind is an information processing system and that cognition and consciousness together are a form of computation. Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts (1943) were the first to suggest that neural activity is computational. They argued that neural computations explain cognition. The theory was proposed in its modern form by Hilary Putnam in 1967, and developed by his PhD student, philosopher and cognitive scientist Jerry Fodor in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Despite being vigorously disputed in analytic philosophy in the 1990s due to work by Putnam himself, John Searle, and others, the view is common in modern cognitive psychology and is presumed by many theorists of evolutionary psychology. In the 2000s and 2010s the view has resurfaced in analytic philosophy.

Physical causal closure is a metaphysical theory about the nature of causation in the physical realm with significant ramifications in the study of metaphysics and the mind. In a strongly stated version, physical causal closure says that "all physical states have pure physical causes" — Jaegwon Kim, or that "physical effects have only physical causes" — Agustin Vincente, p. 150.

Philosophy of mind branch of philosophy on the nature of the mind

Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology, nature, and relationship of the mind to the body. The mind–body problem is a paradigm issue in philosophy of mind, although other issues are addressed, such as the hard problem of consciousness, and the nature of particular mental states. Aspects of the mind that are studied include mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness, the ontology of the mind, the nature of thought, and the relationship of the mind to the body.

The argument from consciousness is an argument for the existence of God based on consciousness. The best-known defender of the argument from consciousness is J. P. Moreland.

Mind–body problem open question in philosophy of how abstract minds interact with physical bodies

The mind–body problem is a philosophical problem concerning the relationship between thought and consciousness in the human mind, and the brain as part of the physical body. It is distinct from the question of how mind and body function chemically and physiologically since that question presupposes an interactionist account of mind-body relations. This question arises when mind and body are considered as distinct, based on the premise that the mind and the body are fundamentally different in nature.

This is a list of philosophy of mind articles.

Thinking about Consciousness by David Papineau, is a book about consciousness that describes what Papineau calls the 'Intuition of Distinctness'. He does not so much attempt to prove that materialism is right as analyse why dualism seems intuitively plausible. He makes various propositions for future research in his book.

Interactionism or interactionist dualism is the theory in the philosophy of mind which holds that matter and mind are two distinct and independent substances that exert causal effects on one another. It is one type of dualism, traditionally a type of substance dualism though more recently also sometimes a form of property dualism.

Consciousness after death

Consciousness after death is a common theme in society and culture in the context of life after death. Scientific research has established that the mind and consciousness are closely connected with the physiological functioning of the brain, the cessation of which defines brain death. However, many believe in some form of life after death, which is a feature of many religions.

References

  1. John R. Searle: Thinking about the Real World by Dirk Franken, Attila Karakus, and Jan G. Michel
  2. Fodor, Jerry. (1980) "Searle On What Only Brains Can Do". Behavioral and Brain Sciences. vol. 3. pp. 217–219
  3. Haugeland, John. (1980) "Artificial Intelligence". Behavioral and Brain Sciences. vol. 3. pp. 219–224.