Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Shattering Academic Philosophy

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In their paper “What do Philosophers Believe?” (to be published in the journal Philosophical Studies), David Bourget and David J. Chalmers have surveyed the position of thousands of contemporary philosophers around the world on various questions, from the existence of a deity and a priori knowledge to physicalism and Newcomb’s problem. Their paper can be found here.

This post is going to use the data presented in that paper to argue for fairly controversial positions with regards to academic philosophy: (1) the consensus positions they found in academic philosophy only regard trivial truths, such as the existence of a priori knowledge and the ability of our senses to be accurate, that (2) there is very little progress in academic philosophy and that (3) many academic philosophers promote anti-scientific beliefs in their belief in contra-causal freedom and their rejection of mind/brain physicalism. I will also discuss why it is important to move away from a priori armchair reasoning, how to salvage relevant aspects of academic philosophy and integrate them into interdisciplinary scientific research.

Consensus positions in academic philosophy regard trivial truths

So what philosophical issues did Bourget and Chalmers find a consensus position for? Although the percentage support needed for calling something a consensus position is often quite arbitrary, I will use the same percentage that Bourget and Chalmers use (70%). Looking at the main survey results, these were: a priori knowledge (71.1%) non-skeptical realism regarding external world (81.6%), atheism (72.8%) and scientific realism (75.1%).

So after debating thousands of issues for almost 2500 years, academic philosophers have reached a consensus that mathematical and logical knowledge exists, that our senses are able to acquire correct information from the world around us, that there is no evidence for the existence of supernatural deities and that science can describe the real world.

These are at best trivial truths and no surprise to most scientists. After all, they have used mathematics and logic in their research, gained knowledge about the world using their senses enforced by the methods of science all without actively invoking a supernatural deity to explain their results.

The results also goes to show that there is almost no, or at least very little, progress in the field of academic philosophy. The same questions are still being debated. In stark contrast, scientists use empirical evidence and it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain any contrary position as the evidence accumulate. Researchers reach consensus positions and just moves on. There is no scientific controversy regarding the existence of atoms, anthropogenic global warming or the fact of common descent. Certainly, there will always be a residual uncertainty about some details of different consensus positions, but science moves on.

Many academic philosophers promote anti-scientific beliefs

Not only are academic philosophers stuck, some of them are going in the other direction. This is demonstrated by the fact that 43.5% of academic philosophers reject mind/brain physicalism, almost 40% believe that abstract objects exists outside of human cognition in a non-physical world, around 14% believe in contra-causal freedom, 32% believe in the flawed pre-scientific notion of representationalism, and over 23% think that zombies are metaphysically possible.

All of these positions relate in some way to neuroscience denialism. The current mainstream position of neuroscience is mind/brain physicalism and so that means that 43.5% of academic philosophers reject a core scientific consensus position in neuroscience. The mind is what the brain does and since the brain cannot violate the laws of physics, it cannot have contra-causal freedom. Representationalism assumes some form of the Cartesian theater i.e. the notion that information from the outside are represented in some way inside the brain, but there is no homunculus inside the brain that observes these representations. Finally, zombies cannot be metaphysically possible as there is an intrinsic connection between the mind and the brain and so there is no way for a brain X to not have a mind if brain X does the exact same thing as brain Y that has one.

In other words, the most conservative estimate of the proportion of academic philosophers who subscribe to anti-scientific views regarding the brain is at least 43.5. Presumably, the actual figure is higher as there may be some academic philosophers who accept physicalism, but subscribe to at least one of the other positions discussed (i.e. platonism, contra-causal freedom, representationalism and the metaphysical possibility of zombies).

Imagine how absurd it would be if roughly half of all practicing biologists believed that atoms did not exist or that electromagnetism is a spooky supernatural power. Yet when almost half of academic philosophers are neuroscience denialists, it barely makes a ripple.

Academic philosophy is on the losing side of a war of attrition

There are many areas where scientific progress has forced academic philosophy to retreat: the origin of species, the development of the universe, the nature of matter, morality, aesthetics, life after death, the nature of the mind and so on. Can you come up with a single example where genuine philosophical progress has made rational and evidence-based science retreat? If any such example exists, they are extremely rare.

Although talking about vitalism and not academic philosophy, AI researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky makes the following point:

It is a failure of human psychology that, faced with a mysterious phenomenon, we more readily postulate mysterious inherent substances than complex underlying processes.

But the deeper failure is supposing that an answer can be mysterious. If a phenomenon feels mysterious, that is a fact about our state of knowledge, not a fact about the phenomenon itself. The vitalists saw a mysterious gap in their knowledge, and postulated a mysterious stuff that plugged the gap. In doing so, they mixed up the map with the territory. All confusion and bewilderment exist in the mind, not in encapsulated substances.

This is the ultimate and fully general explanation for why, again and again in humanity’s history, people are shocked to discover that an incredibly mysterious question has a non-mysterious answer. Mystery is a property of questions, not answers.

Therefore I call theories such as vitalism mysterious answers to mysterious questions.

This is precisely what I come to think of whenever I read philosophical objections to physicalism or arguments for contra-causal freedom or the metaphysical possibility of zombies. Do these people honestly think that a thought experiment inside their own heads about a fictitious female color scientist has the same evidential merit as scientific evidence?

In the end, academic philosophy is fighting a war of attrition. As more of the questions that academic philosophers regard as “their own” become the subject of empirical research and subsumed under scientific research programs, academic philosophy starts losing ground. It is difficult to find a suitable analogy, but imagine running a local Mom and Pop Store that sells coffee and groceries and one day having a Starbucks and a Wall-Mart supermarket open up next door. Not a comfortable situation, to say the least.

How to salvage academic philosophy

So do we just close all down philosophy departments and fire all philosophers? Of course not!

Instead, I envision the shattering of academic philosophy and that different subfields within philosophy that are worth keeping break off and become integrated with the closest scientific discipline and focus on interdisciplinary empirical research. Moral philosophy and aesthetics could be integrated with neuroscience, logic with mathematics or cognitive psychology, the philosophy of certain other fields (e.g. philosophy of history, philosophy of biology, philosophy of education etc) fully integrated with those fields etc.

Now I do not want this suggestion to be interpreted as merely an organizational change. Rather, it involves a shift in perspective and a way to move away from unproductive and anti-scientific acoustic feedback.

Objections anticipated

Here are some objections that I can imagine that critics could launch and my responses.

You do not understand philosophy.

An assertion is not an argument.

By putting forward those arguments, you are actually advocating a philosophical position (some form of pragmatism) and, ironically, using philosophical arguments to criticize philosophy! Such a move is deeply contradictory and cannot be sustained.

This objection is flawed in three separate ways:

It rests of a fallacious equivocation: it confuses philosophy in the specific sense of academic philosophy with philosophy in a very broad sense of rational thinking. Obviously, I am not arguing against rational thinking, but rather that academic philosophy does not appear to be a productive strategy.

It is circular. If arguments about philosophy presuppose the validity of philosophy, then obviously the defender of philosophy must also presuppose the validity of philosophy. That would mean that in the very act of defending philosophy, such an individual assumes that which he or she is trying to prove.

The structure of the objection is roughly analogous to presuppositional apologetics. That line of reasoning is flawed and so I do not find this objection particular convincing.

Physicalism is a metaphysical position.

When you understand why you do not consider the atomic theory of matter a “metaphysical position” (even though there exists a philosophical school of thought called atomism), you will also understand why I do not consider physicalism to be a “metaphysical position” (even though there exists a philosophical school of thought that has the same name).

Hint: both the atomic theory of matter and physicalism are strongly evidence-based. Either evidence is relevant for deciding whether something is scientific or metaphysical or it is not. If it is, then mind/brain physicalism is a scientific position. If it is not, then all scientific disciplines are metaphysical and the label “metaphysics” hold no rational value in this discussion (since all science attempts to describe the nature of reality).

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78 responses to “Shattering Academic Philosophy

  1. rory May 19, 2013 at 18:13

    This reminds me of something Putnam once said, which was that “scientists who dismiss philosophy of science are tacitly accepting a philosophy of science from 50 years ago.”

    • Emil Karlsson May 19, 2013 at 18:38

      Thanks for commenting!

      My beef was not with philosophy of science per se, but with the discovery that many philosophers subscribe to anti-scientific beliefs. This lead me to conclude that academic philosophy is not as relevant or useful as many people think.

      If you look under “Objections anticipated”, you will see that I already responded to a general version of your argument.

    • rory May 19, 2013 at 19:29

      Yeah, I saw that. Honestly, I do not know where to begin in responding to the argument and your counterarguments. This kind of ties in to bigger problems in the entire article that involve vague uses of broad terms. The most pernicious of these being the latent distinction between pro-scientific and anti-scientific beliefs. Of course if you subscribed to a verification theory of meaning and the analytic synthetic distinction, then the positions you mentioned such as platonism, the rejection of some form of identity theory, and possible world “speculation” would be meaningless and broadly anti-scientific (but of course their opposites would be meaningless too!).

      But, despite that Chalmer’s paper says most philosopher’s nowadays accept the analytic synthetic distinction, I’m sure barely any accept verificationism, and certainly do not accept the antiquated philosophy of science that arises from it.

      But I do not want to uncharitably claim that you are unconsciously a logical positivist (as my first comment jocularly suggested); however, I do believe you are putting a lot of weight on a distinction between science and anti-science, which you do not clearly delineate. For example, all of the “anti-scientific” positions you list may be seen as, in fact, pro-scientific.

      First, to reject some form of mind/brain identity, whether it is type/type or token/token, is not in any way to reject or “deny” the empirical project of neuroscience. For example, functionalism, a position you should call an extremely “scientific” view of the mind, rejects type/type identity. Furthermore, even if one rejects any kind of identity between mind and brain states, as Nagel does, for example, is only really to say that our current notions of identity, reduction, causation, etc. are not capable of capturing the relation between neuron nets or whatever and what we call mental states. They are urging scientists to rethink their basic concepts. An unsettling in basic concepts is of course a feature of all great scientific revolutions, and our scientific revolutions have been essential in expanding human knowledge. In this sense, then, by declaring speculation and criticism of the basic concepts of empirical science as “anti-scientific,” it is conversely you who is hindering science. I will lump in the view of “contra-causal freedom” and zombies with this.

      Second, the impetus for accepting a platonist metaphysics regarding abstract entities stems from a model-theoretic analysis of our best scientific theories. This involves purely “rational thinking,” as you call it.

      Third, I believe you are conflating the “classical” representationalism of Descartes with the modern view of representationalism in the analytic philosophy of mind. They are very different views, and it is unfortunate they are called the same. I, personally, have made this mistake before. Representationalism, in the latter sense, as a theory of perception, and more broadly, “mental content,” is actually fully compatible with a materialistic view of the mind. A representation, in this sense, is fully defineable in terms of its functional profile, and of course it is no mystery how functional profiles can be instantiated in the “hardware” or the brain.

      In any case, to someone who has studied much science, from the past as well as the present, it has become clear that the distinction between science and, say, pseudo-science is ultimately a historical distinction that is loosely derived from the accepted theories of the time. The demarcation between science and pseudo-science is a part of what is called the “method of the time,” and, as anyone who is acquainted with the history of science knows, employed methods are just as transient as accepted theories. Although it is indubitably the case that we have made extraordinary progress in our ability to arrogate ourselves into the natural world and create astounding devices to increase our standard of living, it is nevertheless an insanely arrogant claim that our theoretical understanding of reality is the final truth. Indubitably, there is more progress to be made and revision to our theories. For example, there is a contradiction between our two best theories, quantum mechanics and relativity theory. Scientists are working hard to devise a reconciliation of the two theories, and when that mediation is provided, it may cause us to accept that the ultimate constituents of reality are vastly different than we conceived. In any case, the kind of “scientific revolutions” that are most expedient and ultimately beneficial to the enterprise of science only come about through a challenging and rethinking of basic concepts. The issues are, of course, not directly empirical–at least not in their youth. They are, of course, philosophical questions.

    • Emil Karlsson May 19, 2013 at 19:55

      So instead of responding to the arguments I made in my post, you

      (1) accuse me of being a logical positivst.
      (2) claim that contra-causal freedom, platonism etc. are pro-scientific positions
      (3) straw man my position as mind/brain identity, when in fact, I think the mind is what the brain does.
      (4) assert that the distinction between science from pseudoscience is socially constructed.

      …without providing a shred of scientific evidence.

      It is truly astonishing how far some defenders of academic philosophy are willing to go to prop up their degenerated worldview.

      Tell me, why should I take anything you write seriously?

    • Emil Karlsson May 19, 2013 at 20:01

      While I am at it, you are wrong about fundamental physics.

      They may conflict in a certain very small region, but they are the crowning achievements of 20th century physics and because they are so well-supported by evidence, they will never be refuted.

      What will happen, should a better explanation for that region arise, is that those models will be restricted and patched together. This does not mean that they will be thrown away in a “scientific revolution”. Far from it. Rather, any new model will have to follow the principle of correspondence: it will have to make the exact same predictions as the older models in regions where they both apply. Far from a “scientific revolution” it will just be an additional piece of a puzzle that is already nearing completion.

      As it happens, the history of science has not been characterized by scientific revolutions, but with the steady and progressive expansion of scientific models. The only example of a true scientific revolution according to Kuhn’s criteria is heliocentrism, but that only fits because the data available at the time was patchy and incomplete. All the major scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century, from quantum mechanics and general relativity to biological evolution and PCR is more representative of normal science (I refer you to the above discussion of the correspondence principle) and are only “revolutionary” in the everyday sense of the term.

  2. Jack Cunningham May 19, 2013 at 20:10

    You state that “many academic philosophers promote anti-scientific beliefs in their belief in contra-causal freedom.” and then give us the figure that only 14% of philosophers beleive a rather small figure, my point doesn’t however count against what you wrote in any significant way. You also seem to be claiming that Platonism is un-scientific but lots of great thinkers with a background in mathematics for instance, Godel, Frege, Russell and Quine were Platonists beleiving in the existence of abstract objects.

    What I find interersting is your statement about integrating philosophy subfields with their closest scientific cousin, I think in some cases integration might be ok and in others it would work so well. Lots of great Moral philosophy has little to do with neuroscience: Kant, Mill, Aristotle, Christianity, for example although Nietzsche has used psychology and history for insight into who we are and how we should live, in what way would neuroscience be insightful for moral philosophers?
    As for logic well there are distinctions to be made here Informal logical fallacies have as much relevance for mathematics as ornithology has for birds and I have talked to my mathematician friends and logic has little to do with what they do, although the same cannot be said for computer science. For various reasons full integration is a bad idea.

    I would also distinguish between two ways in which philosophy has been carried out and I have objections to neither. The first would be the approach you would approve of, the idea that philosophy should be part of or is continuous with the natural sciences the view advocated by Russell, Quine and Putnam. Philosophy differs only in the level of their generality as compared to the natural sciences. The other philosophical viewpoint is that as best expressed by Wittgenstein that philosophy is distinct from science and that the point of philosophy is to distinguish sense from nonsense, so that it would be nonsense to say that a brain has freedom becuase it is only of a human being that has freedom, here philosophy clarifies science so that we don’t then begin a neuroscientific reasearch program with the thought that the brain thinks, you consider representationalism to be pre-scientific but it still exists within cognitive neuroscience.

    • Emil Karlsson May 19, 2013 at 20:19

      You state that “many academic philosophers promote anti-scientific beliefs in their belief in contra-causal freedom.” and then give us the figure that only 14% of philosophers beleive a rather small figure, my point doesn’t however count against what you wrote in any significant way.

      The 14% figure was for contra-causal freedom. The bigger problem was that 43.5% reject mind/brain physicalism. I suggest re-reading the post.

      You also seem to be claiming that Platonism is un-scientific but lots of great thinkers with a background in mathematics for instance, Godel, Frege, Russell and Quine were Platonists beleiving in the existence of abstract objects.

      This is the fallacy of appeal to authority. The fact that an authority believes something does not automatically make it justified.

      in what way would neuroscience be insightful for moral philosophers?

      There has already been fairy fruitful interactions between moral philosophy and neuroscience. The book series “Moral Psychology” in three parts (where both moral philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists discuss important questions) attest to this.

      I also do not have anything against using philosophy to separate sense from nonsense. It just so happens, as this study appears to show, that academic philosophers are not always good at such a separation.

    • Dylan May 23, 2013 at 14:57

      “This is the fallacy of appeal to authority. The fact that an authority believes something does not automatically make it justified.”

      This is inanely poor reasoning; the person offering up the names of significant philosophers was not offering them as authorities, but as salient examples of philosophers that seriously considered and understood science and nonetheless incorporated some form of Platonism with this understanding. This at least makes a case that it is not so easy to dismiss all forms of Platonism as anti-scientific.

      The way you are responding to people indicates that you have a default assumption that philosophers do no work whatsoever in providing justification for their claims. It is further evidence that you know almost nothing of philosophy and that you are basing your reasoning (what little there is) here on a single superficial study. It also makes you look sad and angry.

    • Emil Karlsson May 23, 2013 at 16:30

      The fact that there exists/existed famous philosophers who entertain/entertained a certain position is in no way an argument for that position.

      I have already refuted the “you do not understand philosophy” in the original post.

    • Dylan May 23, 2013 at 17:06

      “The fact that there exists/existed famous philosophers who entertain/entertained a certain position is in no way an argument for that position.”

      A wise person might take it as evidence that the position exists.

      “I have already refuted the “you do not understand philosophy” in the original post.”

      Indeed, in, frankly, the dumbest way possible. Your entire response was, “An assertion is not an argument.” This ignores the actual argument of people who point out your ignorance. Their full argument includes something along the lines that you are arguing on incomplete and largely irrelevant evidence in such a way as to draw conclusions that go wildly beyond the scope of your premises. Additionally, your response, while correct that the bare statement you reference is an assertion, also highlights the fact that you are offering many assertions without argument.

      I am sure that you will continue to whine about people not taking your writing charitably while you continue to act uncharitably towards whatever you cannot understand and do not like.

    • Emil Karlsson May 23, 2013 at 19:44

      The existence of a position does in no way entail that it is a rational position, or that the position is based on any kind of scientific evidence. There are people who believe that Obama is an alien reptile that seeks to enslave humanity, but you would hardly consider that position legitimate just because such individuals exists.

      The argument is essentially of the same form as “Newton was a creationist” or “Pauling believes that vitamin C cures cancer”. That is, complete garbage.

      You have provided no arguments and no evidence. Just flawed rhetoric and denialist debating tactics. I suggest that you read point No. 7 in the comment guidelines.

    • Dylan May 23, 2013 at 23:43

      Congratulations. You are so smart and you have won the internet. Looks really good on you.

    • Emil Karlsson May 24, 2013 at 16:35

      Another comment that does not contribute to the conversation.

  3. Jack Cunningham May 19, 2013 at 20:45

    The third point in the second paragraph should be re-written as follows:

    (3) many academic philosophers promote anti-scientific beliefs in their rejection of mind/brain physicalism. I will also discuss why it is important to move away from a priori armchair reasoning, how to salvage relevant aspects of academic philosophy and integrate them into interdisciplinary scientific research.

    I suggest you re-read your own post.

    But isn’t science says it so just an appeal to authority how do we know for sure that everything in the universe is Physical? as Quine wrote in Two Dogmas: “The myth of physical objects is epistemologically superior to most in that it has proved more efficacious than other myths as a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience” i.e physicalism works because pragmatically it has stood the test of time and valid predictions can be made from the assumption that everything is physical, it doesn’t follow that everything really is physical. My point about Platonism was to highlight how those with respect or science and its method were Platonists, Logicism for example argued that numbers were Platonic objects and that there were arguments to make this claim, I just feel that it isn’t un-scientific to beleive in abstract objects.

    I would also add that Wittgenstein conceptual clarity to demarcate sense from nonsense is itself apriori and non-empirical as it consists of “a careful weighing of linguistic facts” (Zettel).

    • Emil Karlsson May 19, 2013 at 20:57

      No, science is not an appeal to authority. Science is based on experimental evidence. It is certainly true that science has not solved all problems or identified everything that exists as physical, but that does not in itself mean that any position that includes supernatural entities can explain anything.

      If your life depended on it, would you bet on a horse that has won a million races (physicalism), or a horse that was won none (any kind of supernaturalism)?

      If you think abstract objects exists apart from the physical universe and mental world of humans, where exactly do they exist? What does it mean for them to be non-physical and exist? How can the human mind interact with a non-physical object without violating e. g. conservation laws?

  4. rory May 19, 2013 at 21:43

    “So instead of responding to the arguments I made in my post, you

    (1) accuse me of being a logical positivst.
    (2) claim that contra-causal freedom, platonism etc. are pro-scientific positions
    (3) straw man my position as mind/brain identity, when in fact, I think the mind is what the brain does.
    (4) assert that the distinction between science from pseudoscience is socially constructed.

    …without providing a shred of scientific evidence.

    It is truly astonishing how far some defenders of academic philosophy are willing to go to prop up their degenerated worldview.

    Tell me, why should I take anything you write seriously?”

    I have endeavored to read your arguments with charity, and I entreaty you to please do the same. We are, after all, engaged in a rational discussion. In my post I explicitly state that I am not accusing you of being a logical positivist, so I am somewhat confused why you are asserting (1).

    In terms of (3) I was not commenting on your position, and thus a fortiori, I was not straw manning your position. I was merely pointing out that there are positions that deny some kind of mind/brain identity and yet would probably be considered scientific by your own lights. Do you not consider functionalism a scientific theory of the mind?

    In terms of (2), you are correct that I believe that. And I gave multiple arguments for those claims. For example, in defense of Platonism as a pro-scientific position, I pointed out that the best contemporary arguments for it arise from applying mathematical analysis to our best empirical theories. I do not understand how you can dismiss this so hastily. I urge you to read with charity and care my posts, as I have done yours. You state that I have not provided “a shred of scientific evidence.” Well, as of yet, you have not provided a clear theory of what you consider the demarcation between science and non-science, so I do not know what you to provide you with. In another sense, this is somewhat begging the question because the validity of a truly meaningful distinction of such a kind is the issue on the table.

    And this leads us perfectly to (4). If by socially constructed you mean it is something that people decide upon, then I accept the demarcation between science and pseudoscience is socially constructed. Science is something people do. Scientific communities decide whether to accept certain theories as true (Remark that I am not claiming that their truthhood is based on human judgment). The proper methods to employ when assessing said theories is also decided and performed by scientific communities. Do you deny that science is a social activity? In any case, however, that is not the interesting question. The relevant question is whether these decisions made by scientific communities are rational. The “social constructivists” that you evidently despise are those who say that science is not a rational process. I, however, believe that it is. I believe that the social decisions of a scientific community are indeed rational.

    Let me try to present you with some “scientific evidence” you may accept. For the broadly aristotelian-medieval scientific community, a theory was considered scientific if its axioms provided intuitive understanding of the essential nature of things. This demarcation criteria followed from their beliefs about the nature of the universe. Namely, that there existed essential natures and that the human mind could grasp them. Therefore, given that one accepts Aristotelian metaphysics, it is rational to accept the corresponding demarcation criteria.

    Descartes, of course, played a big part in radically changing the scientific communities expectations for theories. How Descartes was able to work within yet also overthrow Aristotelian metaphysics and methodology is an extremely interesting matter, yet unfortunately I cannot do it justice in this post. Suffice it to say, the mechanical worldview that he espoused implied that true empirical predictions were more valuable than intuitiveness of axioms. This was, of course, the birth of what we nowadays call “hypothetico-deductivism.”

    I am sure that you accept something along the lines of hypothetico-deductivism. I take no issue with that. I believe that it is the best way we know as of yet to correctly interrogate the natural world. The point I am making now is that HD, as a demarcation criteria, is based on substantive physical theories about how the world is, and thus its adoption was a decision by a community of people, yet was a rational decision because it followed from their best available descriptions of reality. Furthermore, a corollary of this view is that if our theories were to change, than our method, and thus demarcation criteria, may change as well.

    From these examples of Aristotle and Descartes I have given you empirical “scientific” evidence that accepted theories and employed methods of scientific communities change through time. This change, despite being a “social process,” is nonetheless rational. Evidently, the individuals who have made the most progress in western science are able to think through the problems of their age without excessive self-love and self-confidence.

    “While I am at it, you are wrong about fundamental physics.”

    The very next sentence you admit that they may conflict in certain small regions. So do they contradict or not?

    “… they will never be refuted.”

    Again, I am not quite clear of your demarcation between science and anti-science, but it seems to me the dogmatic assertion of the absolute truth of a theory should be considered anti-scientific. If I am not correct, is not the general position of fallibilism accepted by almost all current scientists and philosophers alike?

    “As it happens, the history of science has not been characterized by scientific revolutions, but with the steady and progressive expansion of scientific models. The only example of a true scientific revolution according to Kuhn’s criteria is heliocentrism, but that only fits because the data available at the time was patchy and incomplete. All the major scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century, from quantum mechanics and general relativity to biological evolution and PCR is more representative of normal science (I refer you to the above discussion of the correspondence principle) and are only “revolutionary” in the everyday sense of the term.”

    Consider, for example, the birth of modern chemistry in late 18th century France. Lavoisier constructed a novel language (which, by the way, obfuscated earlier theories: Priestley’s Phlogiston, for example.) What about the development of “deep geological time,” by James Hutton, that occured around the same time, and played a huge role in the biology of Darwin? These are examples of communities having to rethink the basic notions in their discipline. This is what I mean by scientific revolutions, and it would indeed be silly to deny that there won’t be more things like this to come. And yes I do only mean “revolutionary” in the everyday use of the word, yet in studying these historical revolutions, one learns not be so dogmatic about their current beliefs, as it is usually the beliefs that seem most “intuitive” or “scientific” that end up being revised in order for us to come to a novel state of knowledge. I am not, as you perhaps think, merely echoing a kind of naive Khunianism. The scientific enterprise is indeed as rational as it can be, forgiving a few slips here and there, and yet employed methods are just as much susceptible to change as accepted theories. And this is, of course, a good thing. Are you not glad we are no longer Aristotelians?

    In any case, I don’t quite understand our disagreement. We both respect modern science. We both think our current method of theory assessment and demarcation is the best we have so far. Perhaps the difference is that you believe we are at “the end of history,” and have no more genuine conceptual work to do with some of the notions that are used in modern science. I believe that we do, and that “academic philosophy” is the appropriate forum for such a project.

    And, disregarding all these words, I would mainly like a clear statement of what you believe this eternal demarcation criteria is, so that I am able to (scientifically) provide counterexamples from the history of science.

    • Emil Karlsson May 19, 2013 at 22:42

      I have endeavored to read your arguments with charity, and I entreaty you to please do the same. We are, after all, engaged in a rational discussion.

      You have not read my arguments with charity and your latest post has demonstrated that you are not trying to engage in a rational discussion.

      In terms of (2), you are correct that I believe that.

      Then you have disqualified yourself from any rational discussion.

      And I gave multiple arguments for those claims. For example, in defense of Platonism as a pro-scientific position, I pointed out that the best contemporary arguments for it arise from applying mathematical analysis to our best empirical theories.

      You have provided absolutely zero evidence or arguments for the existence of non-physical abstract objects. What evidence do you have for the existence of this non-physical realm that abstract objects exist within? How can our brains interact with a non-physical realm without violating conservation laws? etc.

      You have also provided no evidence for contra-causal freedom. What exact entity has this contra-causal freedom? What evidence is there for the existence of such an entity? How does it act without violating the laws of physics? etc.

      You cannot answer any of these skeptical questions.

      Let me try to present you with some “scientific evidence” you may accept. For the broadly aristotelian-medieval scientific community, a theory was considered scientific if its axioms provided intuitive understanding of the essential nature of things. This demarcation criteria followed from their beliefs about the nature of the universe. Namely, that there existed essential natures and that the human mind could grasp them. Therefore, given that one accepts Aristotelian metaphysics, it is rational to accept the corresponding demarcation criteria.

      So your scientific evidence for the existence of non-physical abstract objects is “well, it is intuitive”? I’m sorry, but the fact that a position is intuitive is a claim about your mental world, not scientific evidence. There are plenty of intuitive positions that are evidentially false.

      Again, I am not quite clear of your demarcation between science and anti-science, but it seems to me the dogmatic assertion of the absolute truth of a theory should be considered anti-scientific. If I am not correct, is not the general position of fallibilism accepted by almost all current scientists and philosophers alike?

      I did not say that they never _could in theory_ be refuted, just that they never _will_ be refuted. This is because the evidence is so strong. It is correct that scientific theories are fallible, but some are much much much less fallible than others.

      Consider, for example, the birth of modern chemistry in late 18th century France. Lavoisier constructed a novel language (which, by the way, obfuscated earlier theories: Priestley’s Phlogiston, for example.) What about the development of “deep geological time,” by James Hutton, that occured around the same time, and played a huge role in the biology of Darwin?

      These alleged examples face the sample problems as the one I discussed above: lack of sufficient scientific data.

      And yes I do only mean “revolutionary” in the everyday use of the word, yet in studying these historical revolutions, one learns not be so dogmatic about their current beliefs, as it is usually the beliefs that seem most “intuitive” or “scientific” that end up being revised in order for us to come to a novel state of knowledge.

      The problem here is that there has never been a time when scientific models have been as evidence-based as they are now and new models will have to follow the correspondence principle (something that e.g. quantum mechanics does). That is where your pessimistic meta-induction completely breaks down: the present is not analogous to the past. Yes, scientists have been wrong in the past, but only because of insufficient data. Sure, a few details here and there may change, but the accumulated evidence is just so strong that it is highly unlikely that we will ever replace them, just modify them in some small regions that we have not properly investigated yet.

  5. Neil Rickert May 20, 2013 at 00:42

    Thanks for an interesting discussion. As a sometime critic of philosophy, I appreciate it.

    There are some very bright philosophers. But they are caught up in an entrenched commitment to tradition which cripples their ability to engage in free inquiry.

  6. BlakeG May 21, 2013 at 13:50

    Hey, thanks for the post. I’d like to see the reason(s) behind your stunning confidence in physicalism/naturalism/materialism. You seem dogmatic about it in the post here, but then at the end you suggest that you have reasons to believe it (over, say, deism or even a rarely intervening theism).
    And no, I haven’t a clue how you’re comparing/relating it to belief in the atomic theory of matter, so you’ll have to flesh that out for me. Thanks in advance.

    • Emil Karlsson May 21, 2013 at 16:49

      I fully discussed the analogy in the post, so I suggest that you re-read that part. As for mind/brain physicalism, try opening any textbook in neuroscience. Much more productive than randomly spouting ” you are dogmatic”.

  7. Debunking debunking denialism May 21, 2013 at 17:05

    I think the above poster wanted you to flesh out your analogy you didn’t fullly discuss it you only spent a few lines on it. I would also warn anyone against reading a neuroscience book on the philosophical issues of the mind a good book would be the Blackwell Anthology on Mind and Cognition not a science textbook which deals the the empirical issues not the philosophical ones. I also think you have misread the above poster who is asking you to provide reasons for why you are a physicalist and generally not just at the mind/brain level.

    • Emil Karlsson May 21, 2013 at 17:40

      There are no “philosophical issues of the mind”. There is only one reality and if one wants to read about the evidence for how the mind is what the brain does, then a neuroscience textbook is the place to start.

      The beauty with mind/brain physicalism is that it disproves a whole host of different kinds of supernaturalism: deities, ghosts, psychics, ESP, contra-causal freedom, p-zombies, the secret etc. The general reply is that physicalism (or more precisely, philosophical naturalism) has a larger prior probability and can account for the evidence than any competing position.

      However, the topic of this post is not the defend physicalism but the fact that a large proportion of academic philosophers promote pseudoscience.

  8. only1humean May 21, 2013 at 18:16

    I think that we are beginning to slowly realise that philosophical issues are actually quite challenging and it is not so easy to dismiss philosophers for being non-physicalists about the mind because these issues require some thought and so it is somewhat to dismiss them as charlatans is somewhat hasty. Identifying the mind with the brain is so obviously wrongheaded that it should even be worthy of serious discussion but since you are so committed to it then I must point out its flaws.
    Would you for example be willing to conceded that a fMRI could actually see ‘thoughts’ as they are the neural firings that take place when it thinks and ‘think’ here would be said to apply to the brain so that the brain is said to think not the human being as a whole that thinks, it is a very interesting statement to say that the ‘brain thinks’ and that it is not the human being that thinks how would we know this to be the case is it empirically debatable whether the brain thinks or not is it a scientific question if it isn’t, also if we say that our ‘brain thinks’ is this not tantamount to claiming that the self is the brain so that the human being is essentially a brain. My position is somewhat different to yours, I regard myself to be a physicalist but I do not identify the mind with the brain, like Eric Matthews when discussing the work of the philosopher not a neuroscientist Maurice Merleau-Ponty I Believe that :
    Being a conscious being is engaging in complex relations with objects, and these relations depend on the whole human being, not simply on the brain; disembodied brains could not be said to have conscious experiences of objects, but only to provide some of the necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for such conscious experiences.

    Evan Thompson Mind in Life:
    The roots of mental life lie not simply in the brain, but ramify through the body and the environment. Our mental lives involve the body and the world beyond the surface membrane of our organism, and therefore cannot be reduced simply to brain processez in the head.

    Andy Clark/ Alva Noe:
    The locus of consciousness is the dunamic life of the whole, environmnetally plugged-in person or animal. Indeed, it is only when we take up this holistic perspective on the active life of the person or animal that we can begin to make sense of the brains contribution to conscious experience … Human experience is a dance that unfolds in the world and with others. You are not your brain. We are not locked up in a prison of our own ideas and sensations. The phenomenon of consciousness, like that of life it self, is a world-involving dynamic process.
    Like me they all share a commitment to “extended functionalism” – Dynamic, embodied, extended and distributed and situated (DEEDS) theories of cognition.
    Developing a cognitive science in which brain, body and world interwine, ‘beyond-the-skin’ factors are given cognitive status.
    W, Teed Rockwell: Consciousness is to be found in a dynamic field that encompasses the extra-cerebral body and the surrounding world as we practically engage with it. “Even the most primitive subjective qualitative aspects of human experience are embodied in the brain-body-world nexus.”

    • Emil Karlsson May 21, 2013 at 18:28

      Identifying the mind with the brain is so obviously wrongheaded that it should even be worthy of serious discussion but since you are so committed to it then I must point out its flaws.

      This means that you are rejecting scientific consensus. You must have strong evidence for your position. Let us examine it.

      Would you for example be willing to conceded that a fMRI could actually see ‘thoughts’ as they are the neural firings that take place when it thinks and ‘think’ here would be said to apply to the brain so that the brain is said to think not the human being as a whole that thinks, it is a very interesting statement to say that the ‘brain thinks’ and that it is not the human being that thinks how would we know this to be the case is it empirically debatable whether the brain thinks or not is it a scientific question if it isn’t, also if we say that our ‘brain thinks’ is this not tantamount to claiming that the self is the brain so that the human being is essentially a brain.

      Is this suppose to be empirical evidence? Is it suppose to be a coherent argument? In fact, it is neither.

      It can easily be disposed once we realize that your argument against mind/brain physicalism assumes the falsehood of physicalism when it states that “it is a very interesting statement to say that the ‘brain thinks’ and that it is not the human being that thinks”. On physicalism, the person is the brain so there is no opposition between “the brain thinks” and “the person thinks”. In fact, it is two different ways to phrase the same basic fact.

      Thus, your assertion that “obviously wrongheaded that it should even be worthy of serious discussion” is false and you have not pointed out any flaws in it. The quotes you posted are simply thinly-veiled appeals to authority.

    • Emil Karlsson May 21, 2013 at 18:32

      Use your words, don’t just post links.

      His main argument is analogous to this: the image of Scarlet Johansson on my computer screen cannot be reducible to 1s and 0s because nowhere in my computer’s hardware is a picture of Scarlet. A patently absurd argument.

  9. only1humean May 21, 2013 at 18:42

    What would be the criteria for us to verify that a brain thinks?

    • Emil Karlsson May 21, 2013 at 18:54

      It has already been corroborated that the brain is involved in thinking. That is because specific brain damage knocks out specific cognitive functions. Again, read any basic neuroscience textbook.

  10. only1humean May 21, 2013 at 19:05

    That the brain is involved in thinking is not the same as saying that the brain is the thing that thinks. Furthermore I understand what it means for a human being to believe, interpret, know, pose questions to itself, make decisions, contain symbols, and represent infomation, but I don’t understnad what it means for a brain to do these things, yet according to you a brain does.

    Which neuroscience textbook that you have read would you recommend?

    • Emil Karlsson May 21, 2013 at 19:36

      Your personal ignorance of how the brain accomplishes a certain task is by no means evidence that it does not. We know that the human brain is necessary and sufficient for these tasks because of scientific evidence.

      There are plenty of good neuroscience textbooks that discuss this in additional detail, such as “Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain” by Mark F. Bear, Barry W. Connors and Michael A. Paradiso or Jamie Wards “The Student’s Guide to Cognitive Neuroscience”.

  11. only1humean May 21, 2013 at 19:53

    Do brains understand langauge?

    • Emil Karlsson May 22, 2013 at 05:09

      Yes, read up on “Wernicke’s area”.

    • only1humean May 26, 2013 at 19:19

      I think this commits the ‘mereological fallcy in neuroscience’

      The mereological fallacy in neuroscience which can be found in Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience by M. R. Bennett and P. M. S. Hacker
      The fallacy is very simple, it consists of ascribing properties of the part of which it only makes sense to ascribe to the whole in the philosophy of mind this amounts to ascribing psychological predicates to the brain when it only makes sense to ascribe to a living conscious human being as Wittgenstein put it:

      Only of a living human being and what resembles (behaves likes) a living human being can one say: it has sensations; it sees; is blind; hears; is deaf; is conscious or unconscious.
      (PI 281).

      The point is summarized here: http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/23573-philosophical-foundations-of-neuroscience/
      In Chapter 3 of Part I – “The Mereological Fallacy in Neuroscience” – Bennett and Hacker set out a critical framework that is the pivot of the book. They argue that for some neuroscientists, the brain does all manner of things: it believes (Crick); interprets (Edelman); knows (Blakemore); poses questions to itself (Young); makes decisions (Damasio); contains symbols (Gregory) and represents information (Marr). Implicit in these assertions is a philosophical mistake, insofar as it unreasonably inflates the conception of the ‘brain’ by assigning to it powers and activities that are normally reserved for sentient beings. It is the degree to which these assertions depart from the norms of linguistic practice that sends up a red flag. The reason for objection is this: it is one thing to suggest on empirical grounds correlations between a subjective, complex whole (say, the activity of deciding and some particular physical part of that capacity, say, neural firings) but there is considerable objection to concluding that the part just is the whole. These claims are not false; rather, they are devoid of sense.

      I agree with them that consciousness is a biological phenomenon, which is to be studied by the biological sciences, so it is science which investigates the nature of consciousness and philosophy clarifies the concepts within that domain so that those concepts are said to make sense. If this is correct that I think it might be right to say ‘every distinction drawn in our experience and our behaviour can be reflected in a distinctive pattern of neural activity.’ So that we will have a ‘neurobiology of consciousness.’ But the brain itself does not understand language but damage to the ‘Wernicke’s area’ say after a stroke may mean that the person no longer understands words in the way in which they used to.

    • Emil Karlsson May 26, 2013 at 20:50

      The claim that physicalism commits the “mereological fallacy” is a circular assertion. The “only makes sense to ascribe to the whole” presupposes the falsehood of physicalism since it is based on the assumption that the brain is not the whole to begin with.

      A half-baked philosophical assertion cannot disprove the avalanche of modern neuroscience. In the end, it is just another example of the arrogance of academic philosophy.

      You claim that the brain does not understand language, yet if this was the case then there is no reason to suppose that specific brain damage destroys the understanding of language, but it does.

    • only1humean May 26, 2013 at 21:15

      It doesn’t presuppose the falsehood of physicalism, and I have no problem with the empirical work of neuroscience, it is only when it is said that the brain is conscious or the brain thinks which is most of the time not to be found in a neuroscience textbook mostly because the issue of consciousness is not explored but when neuroscientists begin to venture into this area they begin to talk about a conscious brain when they do say the brain is conscious they are not expressing a falsehood but saying something that is non-sensical, so it doesn’t disprove neuroscience but is there to make sure that it ascribes psychological phenomena appropriately (also they deflate the notion of ‘qualia’ seeing it as a confused idea, and those pro- qualia tend to be anti-physicalist) For your final claim, the brain is involved in understanding language but it itself does not understand language, as only the human being understands language. When we see areas of the brain light up because someone has understood a sentence is it really right to say that the brain understands the meaning of this sentence? I also think that calling it ‘half-baked’ is a bit off the mark, Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience is a huge book that provides detailed arguments for their claims, the thought that brains think has never been argued for rather it is a tacit assumption that had to be dealt with.

    • Emil Karlsson May 27, 2013 at 18:41

      The fact that you cannot possibly imagine how the brain thinks or understands language or find this notion nonsensical does not, in any way, shape or form disprove the scientific fact that it does. Try performing a Google search for “appeal to ignorance”.

      If you start with the position that the brain does not think, only the whole (whatever that is), you have implicitly assumed that the brain is not the whole (i.e. is not the seat of the personality or cognition of the individual) and therefore that physicalism is false.

      You keep asserting that the brain does not think or understand language, yet you provide no scientific evidence for this claim (a circular philosophical argument is not scientific evidence).

      Why do you feel I should keep arguing with you?

    • only1humean May 27, 2013 at 18:59

      “The fact that you cannot possibly imagine how the brain thinks or understands language or find this notion nonsensical does not, in any way, shape or form disprove the scientific fact that it does. Try performing a Google search for “appeal to ignorance”.”

      What is the reason for thinking that a brain thinks?

      If you start with the position that the brain does not think, only the whole (whatever that is), you have implicitly assumed that the brain is not the whole (i.e. is not the seat of the personality or cognition of the individual) and therefore that physicalism is false.

      I don’t think physicalism is false, I have said this twice now. The whole is the person, I have also said this twice now.

      You keep asserting that the brain does not think or understand language, yet you provide no scientific evidence for this claim (a circular philosophical argument is not scientific evidence).

      Why do you feel I should keep arguing with you?

      The claim is not scientific, I don’t understand why you think it my argument is circular. Could empirical evidence ever ascertain whether brains think? My point is that it doesn’t make sense to ascribe the brain as doing things like thinking.

    • only1humean May 27, 2013 at 20:03

      Just adding to my previous post:
      We can observe whether a human believes something, but what would it be for us to observe that a brain believes as opposed to observing someone’s brain when they believe something, notice how this runs along the lines of something like “what constitutes evidence for us to know whether a brain thinks” so notice how this precedes empirical enquiry, the concern here is whether or not the empirical inquiry would be fruitful or not, if it is senseless to say that a brain thinks then empirical enquiry around this idea would be misguided this is one of the purposes of philosophy, the view championed by Wittgenstein and is in my opinion very useful. This is also linked to the important point that philosophy doesn’t contribute to human knowledge but to human understanding, we know after investigating the use of psychological predicates realise that ascribing to the brain is an odd thing to do and after attaining conceptual clarity we are now better placed to begin experimental investigation. Before we can investigate whether a brain thinks we must be clear on what it would be for a brain to do so.

      The purpose of philosophy to science should hopefully be clear to you:

      Philosophy elucidates or clarifies concepts by describing the rule-governed use of our words which anteced experimental investigation, doing show should allow us to demarcate between sense and non-sense enabling us to point out when we have transgressed the bounds of sense ascribing thoughts to the brain arises from confusing a priori conceptual questions from empirical scientific ones.

    • Emil Karlsson May 27, 2013 at 21:52

      You keep asserting that you feel “it just doesn’t make sense” to consider the brain as thinking. But that is the problem: it is just an assertion about your beliefs. Your personal ignorance about a state of affairs is not an argument and you have provided no evidence whatsoever against the neuroscientific consensus position.

      We have identified specific brain areas that are involved in both thinking and language. These areas can be influenced by lesions, magnetic fields and mental illness and give predictable effects on cognition and capacity for problem solving correlates with the sophistication of brain function, both from a developmental and evolutionary perspective etc. etc. Again, read a basic neuroscience textbook.

      Your stubborn refusal to accept this only makes your position appear even more desperate and far-fetched than it already is.

      You claim that philosophy separates sense from nonsense, but there is a lot of nonsense in academic philosophy (such as non-physicalism, the belief in contra causal freedom etc.) so that cannot be true.

      So again:

      1. Why should we take your personal belief that “it just doesn’t make sense” as an argument?
      2. What scientific can you present for the position that the brain does not think?
      3. If the brain does not think, what is doing the thinking? If you say “the person”, what non-brain aspects of an individual is involved in the thinking process and how do you know?

      I suggest you address these questions carefully and directly.

    • only1humean May 28, 2013 at 00:40

      Do brains hear do they smell things? when a human being smells or hears the brain lights up but it seems wrong to say that the brain smells or hears, it is also wrong to say your ears hear sounds

      I claim that it is senseless or non-sensical if you prefer to claim that a brain thinks, what we mean by the term ‘thinking’ we often say ‘I think about this chair’ or ‘now I think that raspberries are tasty’ or ‘my thoughts’ that is me the individual or has thoughts, my brain doesn’t think raspberries are tasty or that my brain thinks about chairs, my concern is with the use of our words and how it gets distorted by neuroscientists in attributing our psychological capacities as in thinking, remembering and perceiving (if brains perceive why do we have eyes?) to the brain rather than to the person whose brain it is; the brain is necessary for us to believe but it is we who perceives. This is my argument and reason for thinking this is the case, it is neuroscience that claims that a brain thinks yet don’t state why it does, part of this is that we are sometimes inclined to say that our brains are conscious or that we speak metaphorically about how we ‘think really hard with our brains’ but our brains aren’t literally thinking, although they may be working overtime. When you ask for evidence if you mean empirical evidence than I’m afraid you may be disappointed as empirical evidence cannot confirm whether a ‘brain thinks’ or whether it doesn’t the question is whether it is right to say that the brain thinks, section 109 of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations captures what I want to say:

      It was true to say that our considerations could not be scientific
      ones. It was not of any possible interest to us to find out empirically
      ‘that, contrary to our preconceived ideas, it is possible to think suchand-such’—whatever that may mean. (The conception of thought as a
      gaseous medium.) And we may not advance any kind of theory. There
      must not be anything hypothetical in our considerations. We must do
      away with all explanation, and description alone must take its place.
      And this description gets its light, that is to say its purpose, from
      the philosophical problems. These are, of course, not empirical
      problems; they are solved, rather, by looking into the workings of our
      language, and that in such a way as to make us recognize those workings: in despite of an urge to misunderstand them. The problems are
      solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we
      have always known. Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment
      of our intelligence by means of language.

      By describing our use of psychological predicates we can determine whether they are properties of brains.

      “We have identified specific brain areas that are involved in both thinking and language. These areas can be influenced by lesions, magnetic fields and mental illness and give predictable effects on cognition and capacity for problem solving correlates with the sophistication of brain function, both from a developmental and evolutionary perspective etc. etc. Again, read a basic neuroscience textbook.
      Your stubborn refusal to accept this only makes your position appear even more desperate and far-fetched than it already is.”

      I have no problem with your first paragraph, I have not denied these claims. I Will ignore the next paragraph.

      1. My personal belief has justification, or I’ve at least tried to give reasons for why I think it.

      2. I consider the issue to be philosophical not scientific or empirical so the answer to your question is that I have provided no scientific evidence for this claim, that’s right none whatsoever. This is not a scientific issue.

      3. The brain is involved when a human thinks, I don’t see how this question is important.

    • Emil Karlsson May 28, 2013 at 18:49

      Do brains hear do they smell things? when a human being smells or hears the brain lights up but it seems wrong to say that the brain smells or hears, it is also wrong to say your ears hear sounds

      Again, “seems wrong” does not equate to an evidence-based argument. It is merely an assertion.

      Yes, brains hear and smell things. Sensory input enters the relevant organs (eyes and ears), becomes transduced as nerve signals that are sent to the brain. Once they reach the relevant brain area(s), that is when the experience of sound or smell occurs.

      I find the neurobiology of vision very fascinating, as the retina and optic nerve are developmental outgrowths of the brain. In other words, there is a deep connection between the eyes and the brain in more than one way. In fact, the retina is even considered brain tissue.

      I claim that it is senseless or non-sensical if you prefer to claim that a brain thinks, what we mean by the term ‘thinking’ we often say ‘I think about this chair’ or ‘now I think that raspberries are tasty’ or ‘my thoughts’ that is me the individual or has thoughts, my brain doesn’t think raspberries are tasty or that my brain thinks about chairs, my concern is with the use of our words and how it gets distorted by neuroscientists in attributing our psychological capacities as in thinking, remembering and perceiving (if brains perceive why do we have eyes?) to the brain rather than to the person whose brain it is; the brain is necessary for us to believe but it is we who perceives.

      First of all, the reason we have eyes is because eyes transduce light signals to nerve signals.

      Second, the entire issue with “my thoughts” (instead of “my brain’s thoughts”) etc. is an lingustical and historical artifact. The reason we use phrases like “my thoughts” is because when this way of expressing oneself originated thousands of years ago, we did not have a deep understanding of modern neuroscience. Instead, we were intuitive folk psychologists that developed a theory of mind and attributed mental states to individual human organisms instead of their brains.

      When you ask for evidence if you mean empirical evidence than I’m afraid you may be disappointed as empirical evidence cannot confirm whether a ‘brain thinks’ or whether it doesn’t the question is whether it is right to say that the brain thinks section 109 of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations captures what I want to say:

      I can interpret this section in no other way than a tacit admission that you cannot provide a shred of scientific evidence for the position that the brain does not think. This is the problem with this kind of academic philosophy: no scientific evidence, merely quoting alleged philosophical authorities. This perfectly highlights one of the issues I discussed in this blog post.

      As for the three questions I asked, your replies are deeply unsatisfactory. No evidence and no specification of what non-brain part of a human is involved in thinking apart from the brain. Disappointing.

    • only1humean May 28, 2013 at 20:07

      The mereological fallacy will live on through your scientism.

    • Emil Karlsson May 28, 2013 at 20:31

      As has been explained to you before, the alleged “mereological fallacy” (1) is a circular assertion that presupposes the falsehood of physicalism, (2) appeals to purely subjective considerations such as “it seems to me” and (3) is incompatible with the evidence from neuroscience.

      If scientific evidence conflicts with a philosophical argument, the scientific evidence wins no matter how firmly you believe the philosophical argument.

      It is also interesting that you decided to resort to name-calling by condescendingly dismissing modern neuroscience as “scientism” instead of providing scientific evidence for your position.

    • only1humean May 28, 2013 at 20:38

      The above post is filled with misreadings and strawmen

    • Emil Karlsson May 28, 2013 at 21:46

      An assertion is not an argument.

    • only1humean May 28, 2013 at 21:53

      An assertion is not an argument.

    • Emil Karlsson May 28, 2013 at 22:29

      Perhaps you should try to respond to my arguments instead of just repeating what I write?

    • only1humean May 28, 2013 at 23:18

      Annoying isn’t it? Well not to fear my friend but I am hear to hold your hand through the woods of muddled thinking. Where do I start, well ok you write “as has been explained to you before the mereological fallacy is circular” Oh really? well since your so keen on facts and evidence lets check the evidence if we do it is clear that you have not explained it at all you have merely asserted that it is circular, that’s right asserted and as you are so fond of saying an assertion is not an argument.

      Hows does it pressupose the falsehood of physicalism? You claim that becuase it states that the brain is not the whole, well it is not the whole person, umm if you weigh your brain and then weigh a person you gonna get a difference. Also I am a physically, we are not discussing the nature of the mind our dispute is over what it is correct to say that the mind does, this is a linguistic dispute, about the meaning of our words hence empirical evidence will not help!!!!!!!!!!!!
      As for your second claim that I appeal to subjective considerations, seriously? by arguing that we say ‘my thoughts’ instead of ‘my brains thoughts’ is a linguistic artifact you are giving counter-arguments to arguments I have put forward acknowledging that I have more than subjective considerations.

      Neuroscience has not given us the evidence that brains think. Start at 1:13:00 with Peter Hacker and he easily deals with this claim. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZx93eov5i4

      I accuse you of scientism, aside form the mereological fallacy I have no problems with neuroscience. I dislike philosophers interested in neuroscience and consciousness who claim that the brain is analogous to a computer or that pain and consciousness are in the brain.

      I stated that the question wasn’t important when you asked what non-brain part is involved when we think, you have not yet stated why it is important if a brain is involved when we think and no other body parts why does this invalidate my claim that the brain doesn’t think? I quite like this analogy that we can learn much from a PET scanner or fMRI machine about the brains activities, but this is not information that the brain has, brains don’t have thoughts, how could they possibly be owners of thoughts? any more than dendrochronological information about the severity of winters in the 1930s is written in the tree trunk in arboreal patois.

      Yes, brains hear and smell things. Sensory input enters the relevant organs (eyes and ears), becomes transduced as nerve signals that are sent to the brain. Once they reach the relevant brain area(s), that is when the experience of sound or smell occurs.

      I find this quite interesting, if the ears transduce the sounds to nerve signals which signal the
      brain is the brain hearing the sound or just responding to specific nerve signals that interact with specific parts of the brain that then signal the body in certain ways?

      Whenever you respond I do my best to respond to everything you have said, the same cannot be said about you when you often only respond to half of my post at a time, this displeases me.

    • Emil Karlsson May 29, 2013 at 11:20

      Where do I start, well ok you write “as has been explained to you before the mereological fallacy is circular” Oh really? well since your so keen on facts and evidence lets check the evidence if we do it is clear that you have not explained it at all you have merely asserted that it is circular, that’s right asserted and as you are so fond of saying an assertion is not an argument.

      I have not merely asserted that it is circular. In fact, I have gone to great lengths to explain why it is circular.

      You see, the accusation of mereological fallacy is based on the notion that it cannot be the brain that thinks, because the thinking is done by the human person. This presupposes that personhood is somehow separate from the brain, but physicalism and modern neuroscience states that the brain is the center of personhood. Thus, your argument against physicalism presupposes the falsehood of physicalism, making it deeply circular.

      Let us see how you respond to this line of argument:

      You claim that becuase it states that the brain is not the whole, well it is not the whole person, umm if you weigh your brain and then weigh a person you gonna get a difference

      This rebuttal performs the fallacy of equivocation. The word that is being equivocated is “person” and you confuse two different definitions: (1) personhood and (2) the total volume/mass of a human organism.

      Obviously, no one believes that an entire human organism has a smaller mass than that of the brain. Rather, there is no additional tissue outside the brain and nervous system that is involved in thinking and the ability to think is exclusively localized in the brain and depend crucially on brain structure and function.

      When you say that it is not the brain that thinks, but the entire organism, you need to specifically point to other parts of the human body that is involved in thinking besides the nervous system. Listen, I know you are probably use to assertions by some philosophical authority holding a lot of intellectual merits. However, in science, the ideal is that evidence always trumps assertions by authority.

      Also I am a physically, we are not discussing the nature of the mind our dispute is over what it is correct to say that the mind does, this is a linguistic dispute, about the meaning of our words hence empirical evidence will not help!!!!!!!!!!!!

      As I explained in my previous comment, the fact that we are more comfortable saying “I am thinking” instead of “my brain is thinking” or that it seems to us that the individual and not the brain is doing the thinking is merely an artifact from history: humans developed a theory of mind (i.e. the ability to attribute mental states to other individuals) far, far earlier than they developed modern neuroscience (i.e. elucidated the neurological underpinnings of thought).

      As for your second claim that I appeal to subjective considerations, seriously? by arguing that we say ‘my thoughts’ instead of ‘my brains thoughts’ is a linguistic artifact you are giving counter-arguments to arguments I have put forward acknowledging that I have more than subjective considerations.

      The argument you put forward is entirely based on subjective considerations. The fact that one, with severe difficulty, can erect something that resembles an argument based on subjective considerations does not mean there exists anything of intellectual substance in that argument above and beyond that of the subjective considerations.

      I accuse you of scientism, aside form the mereological fallacy I have no problems with neuroscience. I dislike philosophers interested in neuroscience and consciousness who claim that the brain is analogous to a computer or that pain and consciousness are in the brain.

      Far too often, the accusation of scientism is use when someone simply have an emotional problem with the conclusions of modern science: evolution, neuroscience, moral psychology, mental illness etc.

      The computer analogy is helpful for understanding some aspects of the brain and cognition (and it helps us avoid the intuition-pump of substance dualism), but it has limitations. No serious neuroscientist or philosopher of mind thinks otherwise. In fact, an over-reliance on computer metaphors can be refuted by a single word: “plasticity”.

      If you think that pain and consciousness do not exist in the brain, where do they exist? How do you know?

      you have not yet stated why it is important if a brain is involved when we think and no other body parts why does this invalidate my claim that the brain doesn’t think?

      When thinking occurs, something is doing that thinking. I think we at least can agree on this point. Because of the many problems with substance dualism (e. g. would violate conservation laws, it is unclear how matter and the immaterial could interact etc.) it is safe to say that whatever is doing the thinking, it is a physical structure. What is the identity and nature of this physical structure? Modern neuroscience has shown that this is the brain (or more specifically, certain areas).

      Consider blood flow in the body as an analogy. What is doing the pumping? From my perspective, I would say that it is the heart that is doing the main work. From your perspective, you might as well claim that the heart does not pump, because it is the human that does the pumping. I would then point to scientific evidence for the structure and function of the heart, but you could respond with “why it is important if a heart is involved when we pump blood and no other body parts why does this invalidate my claim that the heart doesn’t pump blood?”.

      Clearly, such an objection would be irrational. Similarly, the objection is equally unreasonable when it comes to any other combination of structure and function (heart and pumping blood or brain and thinking).

      I find this quite interesting, if the ears transduce the sounds to nerve signals which signal the brain is the brain hearing the sound or just responding to specific nerve signals that interact with specific parts of the brain that then signal the body in certain ways?

      Those two situations are identical, just at different levels of analysis. Consider bird song as a relevant analogy: How come a bird sings?

      Is it because song has evolved from ancestral sounds?
      Because the relevant brain areas for bird song has developed from when the bird was younger?
      Because air flows over the syrinx in a special way creating the sound?
      Because the bird has learned the song from other birds?
      Because longer days stimulates hormonal changes that promote sining?
      Because it helps the bird to acquire a mate and reproduce?

      None of these explanations are more valid than the others. They are all valid but they approach the situation form different levels of analysis: evolution, development, causation, gene expression, function etc.

      It would be completely irrational to say that the reason that birds sing is because longer days stimulate hormonal changes that promote singing and not because singing has been evolutionary selected for because it promotes mate acquisition and reproduction. Both are just as true, just on different levels of analysis.

      So the answer to your question is along the same lines: when specific nerve signals that interact with specific parts of the brain, that is when an individual experiences hearing the sound.

      These two things (certain brain events and auditory cognition) are just different ways of stating the exact same thing, just on two different levels of analysis. There is no either-or.

    • Emil Karlsson May 29, 2013 at 13:47

      I noticed that you decided not to engage my arguments.

      You linked to a description of embodied cognition. This concept suggests that aspects of the body can influence cognition. This, however, does not suggest that any non-brain or non-nervous system tissue has the capacity for thought.

    • Emil Karlsson May 29, 2013 at 14:10

      Maybe you should try to use actual arguments instead of linking to Wikipedia and blogs?

      Yes, the body influences the mind/brain but that does not mean that there is anything besides the brain that is doing the thinking. The fact that the brain is influenced by the body does not in any way, shape or form contradict mind/brain physicalism or that thinking occurs in the brain.

    • Emil Karlsson May 29, 2013 at 14:14

      I will interpret this as you conceding the argument. Good.

    • Emil Karlsson May 29, 2013 at 14:22

      A refusal to discuss the arguments can be seen no other way in this context. I suggest that you stop posting dramatical comments saying that you are leaving and just do it.

    • only1humean May 29, 2013 at 16:45

      Thinking is an activity that humans engage in. It is what human beings do, personhood is not separate from the brain – stop attributing claims to me, read what I say! FFS! personhood is not the brain. Your circularity claim is quite clearly false.

      If you knew your neuroscience history you would know that thoughts were attribute to the mind then to the brain before neuroscience, it started with Descartes then continued with Charles Sherrington, you should know this. Your point about an artefact from history is completely made up do you have historical evidence because I do I can develop this further if you are not convinced.

      I accused you of scientism as you say that science has forced philosophy to retreat from subjects like morality, the nature of matter, morality, aesthetics and life after death (the others are scientific issues) are you living in a cave? In what universe has science done better than philosophy on these issues.

      Human beings can be in pain and they do thing consciously or are conscious these two things don’t exist in the brain, pain may be in my finger or my brain or leg or whole body.

      No, someone is doing that thinking not something – a person.

      There are neural correlates that accompany thinking, they are not themselves thoughts.

      brains don’t hear sounds!!!1 and where does it say that this area understands language: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wernicke's_area

    • Emil Karlsson May 29, 2013 at 17:11

      Thinking is an activity that humans engage in. It is what human beings do, personhood is not separate from the brain – stop attributing claims to me, read what I say! FFS! personhood is not the brain. Your circularity claim is quite clearly false.

      Let’s go over it one more time then: the accusation of mereological fallacy is based on the notion that it cannot be the brain that thinks, because the thinking is done by the human person. This presupposes that personhood is somehow separate from the brain (if it is not, then stating “the human thinks” is identical to “the brain thinks”), but physicalism and modern neuroscience states that the brain is the center of personhood. Thus, your argument against physicalism presupposes the falsehood of physicalism, making it deeply circular.

      If you knew your neuroscience history you would know that thoughts were attribute to the mind then to the brain before neuroscience, it started with Descartes then continued with Charles Sherrington, you should know this. Your point about an artefact from history is completely made up do you have historical evidence because I do I can develop this further if you are not convinced.

      The fact remains, humans developed a theory of mind (we are talking probably tens of thousands of years here) before neuroscience showed that it was the brain that was responsible for thinking. The fact that people such as Descartes hypothesized such things is irrelevant.

      I accused you of scientism as you say that science has forced philosophy to retreat from subjects like morality, the nature of matter, morality, aesthetics and life after death (the others are scientific issues) are you living in a cave? In what universe has science done better than philosophy on these issues.

      Yes, science has outperformed academic philosophy on issues such as morality, the nature of matter, aesthetics and “life after death” (which does not exist as far as modern science is concerned). This is because academic philosophy is mainly concerned with internal arguments and science with external evidence.

      Human beings can be in pain and they do thing consciously or are conscious these two things don’t exist in the brain, pain may be in my finger or my brain or leg or whole body.

      Both pain and awareness exists in the brain. When you “feel pain in your finger”, it is not the case that the feelings of pain is located in the finger. That feeling is located in the brain. What happens is that pain receptors sense things like damage or heat and sends signals to the brain, which interprets them as pain.

      This is basic neuroscience and it does not matter how much strong your emotional need to have it be false is.

      No, someone is doing that thinking not something – a person.

      Again, you are equivocating the term “person” and you confuse two different definitions: (1) personhood and (2) the total volume/mass of a human organism.

      Obviously, no one believes that an entire human organism has a smaller mass than that of the brain. Rather, there is no additional tissue outside the brain and nervous system that is involved in thinking and the ability to think is exclusively localized in the brain and depend crucially on brain structure and function.

      When you say that it is not the brain that thinks, but the entire organism, you need to specifically point to other parts of the human body that is involved in thinking besides the nervous system. Listen, I know you are probably use to assertions by some philosophical authority holding a lot of intellectual merits. However, in science, the ideal is that evidence always trumps assertions by authority.

      brains don’t hear sounds!!!1

      Again, I have explained this to you in detail earlier. Yes, brains hear and smell things. Sensory input enters the relevant organs (eyes and ears), becomes transduced as nerve signals that are sent to the brain. Once they reach the relevant brain area(s), that is when the experience of sound or smell occurs.

    • Emil Karlsson May 29, 2013 at 17:22

      Checking the spam queue I noticed that the user “Jack Cunningham” that was previously banned attempted to post the exact same comment as only1humean above.

       photo cunningham_zpsdd0e2b9c.png

      I can only conclude that only1humean is a sock-puppet account of Jack Cunningham. I have therefore decided to ban only1humean for the same reason that I banned Jack Cunningham.

      I have also decided to clarify the issue of sock-puppet behavior in the comment guidelines.

    • only1humean May 29, 2013 at 14:42

      Interpret it how you want, cya.

    • Emil Karlsson May 29, 2013 at 14:49

      It is clear that you have nothing else to contribute to this discussion and now you are only attempting to get the final word.

  12. Dylan May 22, 2013 at 12:43

    This post is a great example of how many “skeptics” use incomplete data in order to argue in favour of their own personal biases. The author attacks an entire field on the basis of a survey about superficial issues. The author rejects the idea that there is anything other than physicalism that is consistent with contemporary neuroscience and merely insults and ignores the commenter who points out functionalism. (I’m sure that the author will attack me, too, for being some kind of science denier.) “You do not understand philosophy,” is an assertion. However, it is also a correct assertion, borne out by the author’s words and willingness to claim, on the basis of a broad survey about broad issues, that philosophy has done nothing with various issues. It is also the beginning of a response, “Your comments on philosophy do not seem reasonable or bear serious weight because you do not seem to understand the subject.”

  13. NeuraltNätverk May 22, 2013 at 13:51

    “Can you come up with a single example where genuine philosophical progress has made rational and evidence-based science retreat?”

    Of course not. If philosophy is “the love of wisdom” then it would do no such thing. However, philosophy has caused—or at least started, or contributed to—the retreat of dubiously scientific claims: “scientific materialism”, frequentism (including in the event of misuse and abuse that even other frequentists would disapprove of), naive rational actor hypotheses in economics, etc.

  14. Emil Karlsson May 23, 2013 at 21:05

    Someone by the name of Joshua Stein decided to respond to the above post on his own blog: Philosotroll: Lamenting the end of academic philosophy!.

    Actually, it is enormously generous to call it a “response”. All Stein does is complain about grammar mistakes and repeat the “you do not understand philosophy” argument that was refuted in the blog post.

    He does not bother to engage the central argument, which is that a large proportion of philosophers subscribe to pseudoscience.

    • Emil Karlsson May 23, 2013 at 21:32

      For clarification, the reason I do not list my university degree on the about page is that I do not want people to be influenced by it or be moved to accept what I write simply because I happen to have a degree. It is also quite common for denialists who have a degree to exploit it and I do not feel comfortable with it.

  15. Jack Cunningham May 23, 2013 at 21:13

    “An assertion is not an argument” Your refutation to the claim that you don’t understand philosophy. AWESOME I think we need to update our logic textbooks becuase this is just to good to be left out.

    • Emil Karlsson May 23, 2013 at 21:23

      Apparently, you require additional intellectual hand-holding. Never fear, I shall provide you with it.

      Responding to my arguments by saying “you do not understand philosophy” is a fallacy of irrelevance. Even if I knew absolutely nothing about philosophy, it would not automatically mean that the arguments I discussed are unsound or invalid. It can also be viewed as an argumentum ad hominen (if “[so therefore, you are wrong]” is the implicit next part of the assertion).

    • Emil Karlsson May 23, 2013 at 21:34

      It appears that you have nothing of relevance to contribute to this discussion and because of repeated violations of the commenting guideline point 4 (irresponsible character assassination) and 7 (repeating the same old canards over and over again without addressing counterarguments, being a dishonest troll), I am removing your commenting privileges.

      You claim to be an enlightened philosopher, but I suspect that description of yourself was reaching a bit too far.

  16. Phillip May 23, 2013 at 23:49

    Hi Emil,

    I don’t have the time to engage you in a proper discussion, or any discussion at all. I just want to let you know that, contrary to your assertion in your post, you in fact do not understand philosophy at all. Someone posted this article on my Facebook feed, commenting that “it’s like a car crash and you can’t look away.” That is correct. Everything I have said here is an assertion, yes; however, I assure you that it is correct. I encourage you to read Rory’s excellent posts where he demolishes your positions, and where you respond by changing the subject, saying he “hadn’t provided any evidence”, begging the question or misunderstanding him.

    Philosophy is really fun and helps you to understand the world. Give it a go.

    • Emil Karlsson May 24, 2013 at 16:44

      If you read my post very carefully, you will notice that I never claim to understand philosophy. In other words, you are committing the logical fallacy called straw man. How ironic that you are accusing me of not understanding philosophy, when you yourself cannot raise your discussion above basic fallacies!

      At any rate, your comment does not provide any counterargument or any evidence against the major points in my post: a sizable proportion of academic philosophers reject the consensus position in neuroscience, consensus positions in philosophy regard trivial questions, there is a lack of progress in academic philosophy and there are few, if any, credible examples of where philosophy has advanced and science retreated (but many where the reverse has been the case).

      You claim that philosophy helps you understand the world, yet you provide no evidence for this claim.

      In the end, the acoustic feedback that is academic philosophy does not help you understand the world if it has no empirical input. If it does have empirical input, it has graduated from academic philosophy to science.

  17. Pingback: Mailbag: More Nonsensical Ravings from an Anti-Psychiatry Troll | Debunking Denialism

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