Is Modal Logic – Lame?

March 19, 2007

By this question, I don’t mean so much the ontological commitment – modal realism ect., but just merely, working out problems by adding up the sum total of a bunch of formally stated premesis, especially with modal qualifiers.

I’m all for tightening up arguments and precision. I know…

But I just can’t force myself to study the subject very deeply.  I’ve studied logic with quantification and all that abit, and it’s a little bit interesting in its own right, but here’s the thing. How many philosophy oriented deductive arguments past two or three steps have made a serious difference – or contribution for that matter?

It seems to me that it’s rare to even get agreement on problems that are stated with two or three premesis.  And that’s just standard quantification. Now add in “possibly” and so on, and how many formally stated arguments out there past three steps are generally agreed upon as being true?

Robert Lanza Discovers Idealism

March 14, 2007

See this article in The American Scholar.

A stem cell researcher has discovered the novel idea that the world in whole or in part is a mental construct. Anticipating Immanuel Kant a few hundred years after the fact, Lanza suggests that the mind creates the spacio-temperal world where the rest of reality plays out.

In regard to Lanza’s fascination with Zeno’s Paradox, granted, biology majors wouldn’t necessarily study Aristotle, but aren’t they required to take at least a semester of business calculus?

And quantum mechanics isn’t so mystical these days. The controversial observer-relative “collapse of the wave function” found in the copenhegan interpretation of quantum mechanics isn’t nearly as fashionable to physicists today as it was thirty years ago. Interpretations of QM are the realm of metaphysics, not squarely laboratory and mathematical science.

However, more importantly than the fact that Lanza fails to slay his beast, his arrow doesn’t even release in the right direction. Paraphrasing Chalmers, he sets up his objective:

These theories reflect some of the important work that is occurring in the fields of neuroscience and psychology, but they are theories of structure and function. They tell us nothing about how the performance of these functions is accompanied by a conscious experience

As a solution he offers:

Space and time, not proteins and neurons, hold the answer to the problem of consciousness. When we consider the nerve impulses entering the brain, we realize that they are not woven together automatically, any more than the information is inside a computer. Our thoughts have an order, not of themselves, but because the mind generates the spatio-temporal relationships involved in every experience. We can never have any experience that does not conform to these relationships, for they are the modes of animal logic that mold sensations into objects.

In other words, like Kant, Lanza skirts physicalism and wanders the terrain of functionalism. Chalmers would no doubt have to ask him, “After you’ve delineated the function of the ‘mind’ generating spacio-temperal relationships, where is the conscious experience?” So for all of the gap theorists out there, it looks like consciousness, unfortunately, is still a mystery.

Is Functionalism Physicalism?

March 9, 2007

How does functionalism relate to physicalism? This isn’t a trivial question and this post is just to raise the issue rather than attempt to solve it. One of the things at stake is, if philosopher x is a functionalist and y an opponent, then if they have different definitions of what functionalism is, how they disagree will be less clear.

Ned Block and Jerry Fodor are broadly functionalists save for qualia and some higher cognitive functions (Fodor) while just assuming physicalism is probably true. So for instance, while the inverted spectrum argument is ofted wielded against physicalism, in the case of Block and Fodor, it targets only functionalism. And if functionalism in a strong sense is false but physicalism true, how are they different?

David Chalmers whose key interest is narrowly the ontology of mind, virtually interchanges the terms functionalism and physicalism. He argues the world is causally closed and that everything save conscious experience reduces to the physical. More specifically, he argues that the soft sciences are ultimately linked to the physical by their functionalizability. If something is functional, then it’s physical. How the micro world could specifically be understood on functional terms is unclear, but paragraphs like this are key:

“2. The principle of organizational invariance. This principle states that any two systems with the same fine-grained functional organization will have qualitatively identical experiences. If the causal patterns of neural organization were duplicated in silicon, for example, with a silicon chip for every neuron and the same patterns of interaction, then the same experiences would arise.”

So for him the “causal patterns of neural organization” is the same thing as the “fine-grained functional organization”. He notes later in the paragraph Searle’s disagreement, but where does Searl disagree when his own view champions “causal supervenience?” What is the difference between “causal supervenience” and “causal patterns of neural organization?” I think Searl believes if silicon or biology can truly duplicate physical causality in the right way, then consciousness results. But then, there is no equating for Searle causality with functionality. To sharpen my point here, consider Searle’s rejection of Penrose’s quantum account of mind. Searle affirms that the brian is 1) just a machine 2) a neural net. But isn’t that just what the functionalists have been trying to tell Searle all along?(!)

Not exactly, because the causal account of how that machine IS a machine matters. Modeling the synaptic connections perfectly is for Searle, still just a model. But isn’t Chalmers model going deeper than that? Herin lies where I think they’re talking past each other. At what point are we moving from a functional model to the real thing? When Chalmers says we’ll replace a neuron with a chip performing the same function, he seems to mean, down to the relevant level of physical causality wherever that is. And when Searle rejoinds, he seems to mean, a functional account can’t capture the relevant causal level. Chalmers assumes functionalism is physicalism, and Searle assumes it’s not.

Searle argues that functions are something we ascribe. Is there anything inherently “computational” about an abcabus (someone please tell me how to spell that word)? It’s a kids toy or a door prop as much as it is a calculator depending on how we interpret it. Whereas it would seem there is something more objectively real about physical causality. Now I don’t think that ultimately works because I think that physics is also a product of our interpretation. And more importantly, some of Searle’s more ambitious attempts to trivialize functions (that can be “anything”) have been adequately refuted.

Needles to say, I think Searle and Chalmers are both right in their deeper points. But the whole discussion is problematized by the lack of agreement on what functionalism actually is, and particular, how it relates to physicalism.