Suppose that, like me, one is inclined to believe that type-type identity theory is true. This will mean that the mental state type pain will be identical to some brain state. I have argued that we can class the brain into two kinds of state, brain states (synchronous neural firing in the same frequency) and states of the brain(chemical neuro-modular states). According to such a view mental states will be identical to one or the other (or a combination) of these two kinds of states. In my opinion, a mental state like belief will most likely turn out to be some state of (some part) of the brain against which there will be a certain synchronous pattern of firing. I haven’t argued for this, but it fits nicely with my view that the propositional attitudes consist in a qualitative mental attitude held towards some representational content. At any rate, this is neither here nor there. The question at hand is ‘is such a theory reductive?’
In one sense it is and in another sense it is not. So, in the ontological sense it is NOT a reductive theory. It can’t be. What it says is that there is only ONE thing there, the brain and its various states, and you cannot reduce something to itself! There are not two things, mental states and brain states; there is just one thing (if the identity theory is true). Consider some parallel examples. The musical note named ‘B flat’ and the note named ‘A sharp’ are the same note (ignore the problem of temperament, if you know what it is). There are not two notes here, though you may see some scales written with A sharp and others written with B flat they each tell you to play the same note. In telling you that I did not (ontologically) reduce B flat to A sharp or vice verse. It is useful for us to treat these notes as distinct even though we know that they are not. So too, the type-type identity theory is not an ontologically reductive theory.
In another sense, though, it clearly might be a reductive theory. This is the sense in which we reduce one theory to another theory. Traditionally we do this by positing (theoretical) identities that hold between the terms of one theory and the terms of the other theory. This will allow us to, in effect, deduce the reduced theory from the reducing theory (with the help of the identities). The identity theory has certainly been held in the form, but the reduction here is explanatory not ontological. At the end of a reduction like this we are not left with fewer things in the world, we are left with fewer theories about the world. To explanatorily reduce pain to brain states is to link the terms in our folk psychological/psychological theories to terms in our neuroscientific/physical theories of the world. Some identity theoriests have been reductive in this sense, others have not.
Now, the debate between the dualist and the materialist is clearly a debate about ontology. The dualist claims that there is more stuff in the world than the physical stuff. What this means is that the debate between the dualist and the materialist is NOT a debate about reduction in any sense. To assume that it is a debate about ontological reduction is to beg the question against the materialist, for it is to assume that mental phenomena are non physical from the get go. The fact that there can be coherent identity theories that are not explanatorily reductive (Davidson’s is one example of this kind of view) shows that the debate cannot be about explanatory reduction.
So the debate between the dualist and the materialist is in no way a debate about reduction.
Ok, Ok, I know everyone has moved on from discussing the zombie argument, and I should be grading papers, but I just can’t resist…
In an earlier post I suggested the idea of a non-physical, or reverse-zombie. A reverse-zombie is a creature who is identical to me in all non-physical ways and which lacks conscious experience. Since reverse-zombies are conceivable Dualism is false. This is the zombie argument against dualism.
Imagine a world, W, where there are creatures that have both physical and non-physical properties. Now suppose that God decided to abolish the physical components of this world along with all physical properties. The resulting world would be a world just like W except minus the physical. It is conceivable that the non-physical creatures in W lack phenomenal consciousness. If W had been actual then ‘there are reverse-zombies’ would have been true, so this is a real possibility and therefore dualism is false.
RC objects to this argument and says that we need to ‘build up’ a non-physical description of this world rather than ‘subtract out’ the physical aspects. I disagree, but for the sake of argument let’s agree. So, to adapt a way that Kripke puts the argument. Let’s imagine God making a non-physical world where there are non-physical minds and nothing physical at all, let us specify this world (call it W’) in some non-controvesial non-physical terms and let us call this specificaltion NP. Then the zombie argument against dualism can be stated in exactly the way that Chalmers’ states his argument (where ‘Q’ is there are qualia, or phenomenally conscious experience).
1. NP and ~Q is conceivable
2. If (NP & ~ Q) is conceivable, then (NP & ~ Q) is possible
3. If (NP & ~Q) is possible then Dualism is false
4. Therefore Dualism is false
The trick, of course, is getting (1). How is it conceivable that NP & ~ Q is conceivable? Well, it’s easy. Perhaps the non-physical minds are capable of doing math and logic but they never have pains or itches and tickles. In fact something like this is very likely what Descartes had in mind when he imagined non-physical minds existing seperately from the physical world. So, just like RC and company, I claim that phenomenal consciousness does not follow from a complete non-physical description of the world, and because of that dualism is false.
OK, so the year isn’t over yet…but these are the most view posts so far…
–Runner up– Reverse Zombies, Dualism, and Reduction
Filed under: Consciousness, Is there a God?, Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Logic, Philosophy of mathematics, Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Science, Skepticism, The a priori | Leave a Comment »
So, the Tucson conference is winding down. I may post some thoughts about some of the talks later. But, all in all I have to say that it was disappointing, to say the least. It’s not that the talks were uninteresting, most of them were very interesting. The problem was that, on average, each presentation had about 5 minutes of discussion. This is verging on criminal. I was racking my brain trying to figure out why one Earth the conference organizers would set it up this way. Then a grad student at U of A (who shall remain anonymous) told me that this conference is for profit. That’s right they are in it to make money. No wonder they want to cram as many people into a session as possible. What crap! I had thought that the fees associated with the conference were merely for recouping the money spent organizing the conference. I doubt very much that I will come back to this conference (not that they will miss me