Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Mind-Body Problem

A discussion about the ways we attempt to resolve the seeming contradiction between a metaphysical mind inhabiting a physical body. Featuring Rodrigo Neely and Dr. Ian Norris as special guests.

Video: Rodrigo Neely, discussing the mind-body problem in a lecture to the North Texas Skeptics:


Blogger Dan Sawyer said...

Too bad this bit of news didn't come out yesterday when we recorded the show - it bears directly on the discussion:

5/29/08, 11:27 PM  
Blogger Zachary Moore said...

That's amazing, but still Ian's point about subjectivity isn't affected by this.

5/30/08, 4:35 AM  
Blogger Rodrigo said...

I think this episode came out really well.

5/30/08, 10:50 AM  
Blogger Rodrigo said...

Thats a really cool article Dan.

5/30/08, 10:52 AM  
Blogger Anthony said...

Rodrigo said something in his opening statement that was lightly touched on later, namely, that we can build a "self machine." If that's true, that we can reproduce a mind without reproducing the brain that originally gave rise to it, doesn't that actually strengthen Ian's point, that the mind doesn't just reduce to the brain?

On the other hand, if the mind can only be reproduced by constructing protoplasmic neural tissue, then the mind does reduce only to the brain. Since no one on the panel really seems to believe that, I'm surprised there wasn't a little more sympathy for Ian's position. If the mind can be realized through construction using various alternative materials, then it can't just reduce to any particular set of alternative materials used to synthesize it. So far, the brain (defined as a network of neurons) happens to be the only material way that nature has come up with to realize the mind, but if there are others, how can the mind just reduce to the brain?

6/3/08, 3:32 AM  
Blogger Anthony said...

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6/3/08, 3:37 AM  
Blogger Anthony said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6/3/08, 3:37 AM  
Blogger Damian said...

Excellent, excellent episode guys. I've listened to every episode and have loved every one of them but this topic is one I'm particularly into at the moment and it was good to hear from your guests as well.

I'm sure there is room for at least another episode on the topic and would love to hear you explore more around dualism/freewill and neuroscience. In particular, the fuzzy grey borders and how they fit in with the Christian worldview i.e. where they believe freewill and/or the soul starts and ends in human development, our ancestral past and in other species. And what the latest observational evidence has to say on the issue.

Keep up the great work!

6/4/08, 1:05 PM  
Blogger Ian said...

Anthony's point is dead on. This is an interesting consequence of the reduction issue. Artifical intelligence actually supports an anti-reductionist perspective, because if mind is identical with brain, by definition mind cannot be identical with silicon.

With reference to Damian's suggestion, morality would be a really interesting topic to address. There is a great deal of work on the evolutionary biological foundations of morality, which more than a few scientists and philosophers take as clear evidence against the moral authority of the world's religions. Rather, they see religion as a mass rationalization of our evolved moral intuitions.

I really enjoyed the podcast. Thanks to all of you again.


6/4/08, 6:43 PM  
Blogger Anthony said...

Maybe the reductionist position could be better stated by saying that the mind isn't identical to the brain, but it can be completely accounted for by a complete understanding of the brain. In this case, mind is a function (something the brain does) rather than a structure, and as such is immaterial.

6/5/08, 9:17 AM  
Blogger Dan Sawyer said...

My formulation of the reductionist position - and here may be where we were mis-connecting during the discussion - is that the mind is entirely an effect of the brain and/or can be accounted for by the brain. If we produce general AI that is self-aware, we will have proved two things:
1) the mind is an entirely material phenomenon
2) mind can arise from physical substrates other than the particular sort of meat we have between our ears (assuming the general AI we create has a physical medium other than neurons).

As such, I don't see how the substance dualist position stands up to scrutiny, and I have a difficult time understanding how Ian's functional dualist position is different from the physicalist position in any substantive way (I don't expect to find an answer here - we talked for an hour after we stopped recording the program. It was very productive, but I remain utterly baffled at where the disagreement actually lies).

Definitely one of the most fun episodes we've done in a while!

6/6/08, 3:02 AM  
Blogger Aaron said...

An analogy I think is useful for this subject is to think of the mind as a company and brain cells as the people who work for the company. Just as people join and leave a company so do brain cells grow and die. Just as every person in a company can be replaced over time, including the CEO, president, etc, and the company is able to remain so can every cell in the brain be replaced over time with new cells and the mind is able to remain. Catastrophes can occur that could end the existence of the company or the mind yet the existence of the people or the brain cells would remain. Less catastrophic incidents in company personnel or the health of brain cells can effect the ability of the company or mind to perform it's function. I think more similarities can be drawn from this analogy.


8/6/08, 12:06 PM  
Blogger harpoonflyby said...

I am a property dualist but I agree with Kyle's view that we are more obliged to prove the physical reality than we are our internal subjectivity. That is the reason we look at the stars through telescopes for goodness sakes, but I digress.

Here's how we can prove substance dualism (let's say it's the parent of property dualism for the moment):

1) Individual Mind. Let's say we produce an anatomical clone of Tiger Woods, including his brain, but we wipe out his mind using some sort of Matrix style technology and implant him with the mind of Rush Limbaugh. Would this "Rush Woods" hybrid, ever be able to match or beat the score of the original Tiger Woods? I say no, because the mind component of Tiger's golf game, apart from his learning experience over many years, is what makes him light years ahead of anyone else with the same physical attributes. The materialist would say yes, that Rush Woods could given enough time and quality training learn to someday be as good as Tiger Woods. The same can be said of any phenomenal athlete who for one reason or another possess an "x-factor", the ability to visualize the outcome of physical activity which allows them to surpasses their physical specification and its statistical performance.

2) Collective Mind. The mere fact that we arrive at profoundly different cultures, states of social well being, when you take two populations of the same size, health, age, and status, and put them in exactly the same environment, with the same resources and external influences, but keep them geographically separate from each other. I am not sure if this can ever be proven by history, but, I am more than willing to wager that they would still be profoundly different societies. If you're going to argue that they would result in the same type of society then I think the burden of proof is upon the materialist. Next, if we measure the subjectivity of the "public mind", say through polling or national elections in those societies thus proving themselves to be unique on certain issues, then, it must be said that a public mind exists which is obviously not of a physical substance. Sociologists already can prove that the public mind is different from any individual constituent, therefore a public mind as an agent for affecting the overall society and environment, does exist unique from it's physical circumstances.

We each have our own subjective thresholds of pain, and we each have a distinct capacity to either overcome pain or submit to it. Some of us simply withstand more pain than others, and this fact has proven itself in all of life -> survival of the fittest. I go so far as to even say that if we're all materialists or substance monists, then all of life would have instead of evolving would have progressed equally, except by random factors in the environment. Thus from the beginning, we would not have a need for evolution.

11/19/08, 4:21 PM  
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2/12/09, 8:18 PM  

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