Edward Feser reviews Michael Gazzaniga’s Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain in this quarter’s Claremont Review of Books (hard copy only available for now):
For those beholden to scientism, the only alternative to reductionism is ‘eliminativism,’ the view that if some apparent feature of the world cannot be reduced to scientific categories, it should be eliminated altogether. Hence the willingness of some advocates of scientism seriously to entertain the suggestion that free will, consciousness, and thought might simply be illusions.
The trouble with Gazzaniga is that while he admirably resists such extreme conclusions, he is no less beholden than reductionists and eliminativists are to the fallacy that leads to them: the tendency to ‘reify’ abstractions, i.e., to treat them as if they were concrete realities. (Albeit the abstractions in Gazzaniga’s case – ‘modules’ in the brain, an ‘interpreter’ in the brain’s left hemisphere, and the like – derive from neuroscience rather than physics.) . . .
Gazzaniga simply assumes that the higher-level phenomena of consciousness and choice have, if they are to be explained, somehow to ‘emerge’ from various lower-level neural structures and processes – as if the latter ‘wore the trousers,’ metaphysically speaking; and as if they could even be made sense of in the first place apart from the higher-level behavioral and mental phenomena with which they are associated and by reference to which we interpret them.
The end result is that Gazzaniga’s position, like other ‘emergentist’ theories, comes across as obscurantist That is inevitable given that it rests on the same tendency to confuse abstractions with concrete realities that underlies the thinking of his more ruthlessly consistent materialist rivals. Given that starting point, reductionism and eliminativism are bound to seem the only serious options [for materialists] and ‘emergentism’ a dodge.
That last sentence captures well what I was trying to say in “Materialist Poofery”:
Emergence is materialist poofery. Take the mind-brain problem again. The materialist knows that his claim that the mind does not exist is patently absurd. Yet, given his premises it simply cannot exist. So what is a materialist to do? Easy. Poof – the mind is an emergent property of the brain system that otherwise cannot be accounted for on materialist grounds.