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Jay Richards: A Short Argument Against the Materialist Account of the Mind

Jay Wesley Richards
Jay Wesley Richards

You can picture yourself eating a chocolate ice cream sundae:

John Searle’s Chinese Room scenario is the most famous argument against the “strong AI” presumption that computation-writ-large-and-fast will become consciousness: … His argument shows that computers work at the level of syntax, whereas human agents work at the level of meaning: …

I still find Searle’s argument persuasive, despite decades of attempts by other philosophers to poke holes in it.

But there’s another, shorter and more intuitive argument against a materialist account of the mind. It has to do with intentional states. Michael Egnor and others have offered versions of this argument here at Mind Matters and elsewhere but I’d like to boil it down to its bare bones. Then you can commit it to memory and pull it out the next time your office mate starts to worry about Skynet or denies that he has free will.

Here goes:

Imagine a scenario where I ask you to think about eating a chocolate ice cream sundae, while a doctor does an MRI and takes a real-time scan of your brain state. We assume that the following statements are true: … More.

Readers? Thoughts? You can’t comment at Mind Matters but you can here. Doe Richards’ argument work?

See also: Jay Richards asks, can training for an AI future be trusted to bureaucrats?


Will AI lead to mass joblessness and social unrest?

The irony is we perceive the material world through our conscious mind, and then use those perceptions to deny the conscious mind. EricMH
Consciousness is a non-material reality, which is why it will never be explained in terms of matter alone. Why should we believe that consciousness and will are wholly due to material agency? For that matter, why should we believe material realities are the only realities, anyway? The notion that material realities are all there is, is contrary to the thought of the vast majority of humanity from time immemorial. Most people believed in non-material realities, although not everybody could articulate exactly why there must be non-material realities. Sometimes the extremely obvious is more difficult to demonstrate with logic than is the mysterious. Such is the case with the existence of non-material realities. Gregory of Nyssa (born c. 335, died c. 394) discusses the non-material mind and soul:
A definition of the soul is then given ... It is a created, living, intellectual being, with the power, as long as it is provided with organs, of sensuous perception. For "the mind sees," not the eye; ... The objection that the "organic machine" of the body produces all thought is met by the instance of the water-organ. Such machines, if thought were really an attribute of matter, ought to build themselves spontaneously: whereas they are a direct proof of an invisible thinking power in man. A work of art means mind: there is a thing perceived, and a thing not perceived. But still, what is this thing not perceived? If it has no sensible quality whatever, where is it? – On the Soul and the Resurrection
Updating Gregory's thinking with contemporary technology: If you closed your eyes and imagined a luscious-looking bright red apple, you would see in your mind's eye an image of an apple. If you kept concentrating on that image of an apple sufficiently, scientists could monitor your brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and actually produce an image of your imagined apple, albeit a blurry one. But the data gathered from monitoring your brain activity is not the image of the apple you are seeing; the data can be mapped to an image though, roughly analogous to the way data in a GIF or JPEG file is translated into an image (fMRI mapping isn't nearly as precise a translation as that of GIF or JPEG data). Just as the binary data in a GIF or JPEG file is not the image itself, the fMRI data is not the image itself. It should not surprise us at all that there is brain activity that corresponds to what you are seeing in your mind's eye that is different from other brain activity, nor that scientists could learn to translate such data into an image. Nor are we surprised that scientists in the distant future, if they found an ancient, well-preserved hard drive from our times, might figure out how to translate those zeros and ones in the GIF and JPEG files on it into the corresponding images. So what does all that have to do with non-material realities? Well, exactly where was that image of an apple you saw in your mind's eye? It existed – you saw it. Where was it? If all the physical matter and electrochemical activity of your brain had been detected and analyzed right down to the last subatomic particle, no image of an apple would have been found. Data that corresponded to your imagining an apple would have been found – data that could even be mapped into an image of an apple – but there was no actual image of an apple to be found in your material brain. Yet an image of an apple existed – you saw it. I ask with Gregory of Nyssa, where was it? It was in the non-material component of your mind. The image of the apple you saw in your mind's eye had no temporal, physical existence. As we already knew 1600 years ago: The non-material mind sees, not the eye. The non-material component of the human mind is, obviously, somehow integrated with our physical brain. We could begin to learn about this integration if we acknowledged the existence of the non-material component of the mind. We could learn of it from its effects on our physical brains, just as we learned much about gravity from its effects alone. That project will most likely have to wait until atheistic, strictly materialistic science ends up in the dustbin of history along with the thinking of Freud, Marx and eventually Darwin. There are non-material realities. Consciousness will never be explained in terms of matter alone. harry
Sev states:
"if there is no plausible “supernatural” or ‘super-material’ account of mind then one possibility we are left with is a materialist or physicalist account, whatever that might be. Neither Searle’s nor Richards’ arguments rule out that possibility."
You are kidding right? The logic is as follows. 1. The Mind of God is either the primary substratum from which everything arises or else some materialist substratum is. 2. Material is not the primary substratum from everything arises, especially consciousness. 3. Therefore the Mind of God is the primary substratum from which everything arises.
The Incompatibility of Physicalism with Physics: A Conversation with Dr. Bruce Gordon - video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wk-UO81HmO4 Divine Action and the World of Science: What Cosmology and Quantum Physics Teach Us about the Role of Providence in Nature - Bruce L. Gordon - 2017 Excerpt page 295: In light of this realization, the rather startling picture that begins to seem plausible is that preserving and explaining the objective structure of appearances in light of quantum theory requires reviving a type of phenomenalism in which our perception of the physical universe is constituted by sense-data conforming to certain structural constraints, but in which there is no substantial material reality causing these sensory perceptions. This leaves us with an ontology of minds (as immaterial substances) experiencing and generating mental events and processes that, when sensory in nature, have a formal character limned by the fundamental symmetries and structures revealed in “physical” theory. That these structured sensory perceptions are not mostly of our own individual or collective human making points to the falsity of any solipsistic or social constructivist conclusion, but it also implies the need for a transcendent source and ground of our experience. As Robert Adams points out, mere formal structure is ontologically incomplete: [A] system of spatiotemporal relationships constituted by sizes, shapes, positions, and changes thereof, is too incomplete, too hollow, as it were, to constitute an ultimately real thing or substance. It is a framework that, by its very nature, needs to be filled in by something less purely formal. It can only be a structure of something of some not merely structural sort. Formally, rich as such a structure may be, it lacks too much of the reality of material thinghood. By itself, it participates in the incompleteness of abstractions. . . . [T]he reality of a substance must include something intrinsic and qualitativeover and above any formal or structural features it may possess.117 When we consider the fact that the structure of reality in fundamental physical theory is merely phenomenological and that this structure itself is hollow and non-qualitative, whereas our experience is not, the metaphysical objectivity and epistemic intersubjectivity of the enstructured qualitative reality of our experience can be seen to be best explained by an occasionalist idealism of the sort advocated by George Berkeley (1685-1753) or Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). In the metaphysical context of this kind of theistic immaterialism, the vera causa that brings coherent closure to the phenomenological reality we inhabit is always and only agent causation. The necessity of causal sufficiency is met by divine action, for as Plantinga emphasizes: [T]he connection between God’s willing that there be light and there being light is necessary in the broadly logical sense: it is necessary in that sense that if God wills that p, p occurs. Insofar as we have a grasp of necessity (and we do have a grasp of necessity), we also have a grasp of causality when it is divine causality that is at issue. I take it this is a point in favor of occasionalism, and in fact it constitutes a very powerful advantage of occasionalism. 118 http://jbtsonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/JBTS-2.2-Article-7.compressed.pdf How exactly did consciousness become a problem? by Margaret Wertheim – Dec. 1, 2015 Excerpt: Heaven and Earth were two separate yet intertwined domains of human action. Medieval cosmology was thus inherently dualistic: the physical domain of the body had a parallel in the spiritual domain of the soul; and for medieval thinkers, the latter was the primary domain of the Real.,,, But perhaps most surprisingly, just when the ‘stream of consciousness’ was entering our lexicon, physicists began to realise that consciousness might after all be critical to their own descriptions of the world. With the advent of quantum mechanics they found that, in order to make sense of what their theories were saying about the subatomic world, they had to posit that the scientist-observer was actively involved in constructing reality.,,, Such a view appalled many physicists,,, Just this April, Nature Physics reported on a set of experiments showing a similar effect using helium atoms. Andrew Truscott, the Australian scientist who spearheaded the helium work, noted in Physics Today that ‘99.999 per cent of physicists would say that the measurement… brings the observable into reality’. In other words, human subjectivity is drawing forth the world.,,, Not all physicists are willing to go down this path, however, and there is indeed now a growing backlash against subjectivity.,,, when I was a physics student the MWI (Many Worlds Interpretation) was widely seen as a fringe concept. Today, it is becoming mainstream, in large part because the pesky problem of consciousness simply hasn’t gone away.,,, https://aeon.co/essays/how-and-why-exactly-did-consciousness-become-a-problem
But there’s another, shorter and more intuitive argument against a materialist account of the mind.
Isn't the whole point that consciousness is such a hard problem because, as has been pointed out, we do not have a materialist account of mind. What we have is an inference, to whit, if there is no plausible "supernatural" or 'super-material' account of mind then one possibility we are left with is a materialist or physicalist account, whatever that might be. Neither Searle's nor Richards' arguments rule out that possibility. Searle's Chinese Room argument is stated as follows:
Imagine a native English speaker who knows no Chinese locked in a room full of boxes of Chinese symbols (a data base) together with a book of instructions for manipulating the symbols (the program). Imagine that people outside the room send in other Chinese symbols which, unknown to the person in the room, are questions in Chinese (the input). And imagine that by following the instructions in the program the man in the room is able to pass out Chinese symbols which are correct answers to the questions (the output). The program enables the person in the room to pass the Turing Test for understanding Chinese but he does not understand a word of Chinese. (1999)
One problem with Searle's argument, as I see it, is as follows. We have an English-speaking person locked in the room with a list of all the symbols used in the Chinese language and a book of instructions on how to manipulate them which must include rules of grammar and syntax. A string of Chinese symbols is passed into the room. By matching the symbols to his list and consulting the book of instructions he is able to identify the symbol string as a question. The problem is that knowing that it is a question does not tell the person what the question is asking and, hence, what the answer should be. In computing terms you could imagine a comprehensive database of all possible questions that could be asked in the Chinese language. You could also imagine a comprehensive database of all the possible answers to each of the questions, given that many questions allow a number of different answers depending on context. It would be a relatively simple process of pattern-matching to identify which particular question is being asked. But without knowing the meaning of the question there is no conceivable way of deciding which of a number of possible answers is the correct one in this case. In fact, it seems to me that in Searle's Chinese room analogy there is no way that the man could construct a correct answer to the question without some means of translating the question into English. No book of instructions could conceivably do that. Without something like that both the man in the room or an equivalent computer program would simply stop and return a message of something like "Input not recognized". All this does is reinforce Chalmers observation that it is very hard to see a way of relating physical processes in the brain with our conscious experience of the world. Seversky

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