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The Mystery of Mind

A systematic and critical introduction to the philosophy of mind

 ISBN: 0-595-27329-7 Published: Jun-2003
US copyright registration no. Txu1-091-004

 

Synopsis

As a systematic and critical introduction to the philosophy of mind, The Mystery of Mind is about the trails and tribulations of the human mind toward understanding the wherewithal of its own realization. At issue is what is known in the philosophy of mind as the mind-body problem: how does a body support a mind with its brain?

Pivotal to the book is the author's working out of a concept of mind that is user-friendly to the materialist cause. It is in contrast to the traditional concept of mind that many of us still implicitly subscribe. It is upon the strength of this adverbial concept that the author has come to hold that the conceptual gap between the neurobiological and the psycho-cognitive could in fact be bridged. It is also the author's contention that despite shortcomings of other materialist approaches that have been taken in our time, an intelligible case for the truth of materialism could still be made in the form of a biological emergent two-aspect scenario, i.e., when the adverbial concept of mind he advocates is also brought to bear.

All in all, what The Mystery of Mind offers is a systematic and critical introduction to one of the living philosophical issues that have engaged the human intellects for the last two and a half thousand years. This is also the central issue that has motivated research in artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and the philosophy of mind in our time.

 

Table of Contents

 

Part I - Mind and Matter

 

Chapter One

The Lure of Dualism

 

Chapter Two
The Challenge of Materialism

 

Chapter Three
Mentalism and Neutral Monism

 

 

Part II - The Nature of Mind

 
Chapter Four
Mind and Memory
 
Chapter Five
Perceiving and the Perceived

 

Chapter Six
Reflection and Its Contents

 

 

Part III - Toward a Materialist  Theory of Mind

 

Chapter Seven

Reductive Materialism

 

Chapter Eight

Computational Functionalism

 

Chapter Nine
From the Neurological Point of View

 

Chapter Ten
The Place of Mind in Nature

 

Epilogue

 







 

To Read Excerpts of the Book http://books.google.com/books?id=DzCzKibncmsC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Soul, God, and Morality

A critique of two religious beliefs

 ISBN: 0-595-32207-7 Published: Sept-2004
US copyright registration no. TXu1–162–674

 Synopsis

As a new kind of introduction to the philosophy of religion, Soul, God, and Morality is meant to take care of two religious beliefs: in the existence of God or deities, and the persistence of persons as souls in a spiritual hereafter. In contrast with the normal run of text on the philosophy of religion, it is light on the theism-atheism issue, but heavy-footed against the theory of spiritual souls.

Among other things, what this book presents is one sustained and decisive argument against the belief that a person’s consciousness and memory are carried by the soul capable of persisting into a spiritual hereafter. The author contends that for reason of the problem of unconsciousness, and for what is now known of correlations that exist between brain and mind, the soul theory in all its forms is not trustworthy. As to the existence of God and deities, he further contends that the only justifiable position is to remain agnostically silent.

However, despite the speculative nature of religion, the author believes that the altruistic posture of certain religion 'founders' is yet to be respected. To do so is perhaps what may still be considered religious in an agnostic (with respect to the supernatural) and soul-less (neuroscientific) world. But he also believes that the basis of morality is actually grounded within human nature itself. As such, there is no excuse for not trying to be moral.


Table of Contents

 

Chapter One

The Metaphysics of Souls

 

Chapter Two

Two Explanatory Problems

 

Chapter Three

Two “Not Quite” Solutions

 

Chapter Four

The Idea of Immortality

 

Chapter Five

Brain and Mind

 

Chapter Six

The Supernatural Postulate .

 

Chapter Seven

Religion and Morality

 

Epilogue


 

 To Read Excerpts of the Book

 
 

       

Introduction to The Mystery of Mind

        This book is about the trials and tribulations of the human mind toward  understanding the wherewithal of its own realization. At issue is this mystery. How is it possible for a material thing such as a body-brain to become conscious, remember, and think? Nowadays, most of us would take for granted that one's cognitive capacities are indeed dependent on the operations of one's body-brain. Yet, it is not easy to understand how the cognitive nature of mind could possibly have arisen solely from the interaction of mere material constituents and their processes. Thus enters the question: what reasons do we have to believe that body-brains alone are really sufficient to generate the phenomena of consciousness and mind? The purpose of this book is to show why an intelligible answer to the question is much more difficult than ordinarily assumed, and to see whether or not and to what extent this explanatory difficulty could in fact be overcome.

        Needless to say, whether or not this difficulty is surmountable must depend on two considerations: how the cognitive nature of mind is to be assayed, and what insight, if any, could we draw from the findings of material science. It cannot be dealt with adequately on the basis of either material science or psychology alone. For material science is solely concerned with the nature of things (body-brains included), and psychology is basically about the phenomena of mind. This is why explaining how humans are able to remember and think has, traditionally speaking, always been seen as the business of philosophy. But it is no longer considered to be so. Recent advance made in the area of artificial intelligence and neuroscience has begun to render the question scientifically and technologically relevant. In the opinion of some, to unravel the material source of consciousness, memory, and thought should now be considered as one of the ultimate frontiers of scientific discovery.

        In this light and for purpose of providing a systematic perspective to this very difficult and old problem, I have chosen three related topics to scaffold the structure of this book. They will be labelled respectively as Mind and Matter, The Nature of Mind, and Toward a Materialist Theory of Mind. These will also serve as divisions marking the book into three Parts.

        In Part I, by drumming up the old dualism-materialism issue, I shall familiarize the reader with the history and dialectic of this very old controversy; and hope thereby to wet their appetite for the rest of this book. In the course of weighing arguments raised in support of these two opposing positions, it will be seen that even though classical dualism is not adequate for what it is about, the lures and arguments that could be gathered in its favour are by no means easy for materialism to dispel and counter. The mind-body problemin particular stands in the way. Besides, as far as philosophy is concerned, what also stands in the way is the challenge of mentalism, and a phenomenalistic theory called neutral monism. Mentalism contends that the nature of reality is mental. Neutral monism contends that human reality could be understood as constituted of nothing other than sensory data. For materialism to hold its ground therefore, the basis of mentalism and neutral monism will also have to be examined and disposed.

        Another big obstacle to a materialist theory of mind has been the traditional concept of mind to which many still implicitly subscribe. According to this concept, mind is to be construed of as consisting of mental acts and mental representations. As such, it is extremely user unfriendly to the materialist cause. For this reason, a critical examination of this concept must be included to form part of our overall dialectic. This will be the role of Part II. Its purpose is two fold. To critique this traditional model, and to show that there are actually no mental acts and representational entities in the mind. I shall argue that what are customarily called sensory percepts, mental images, concepts, ideas, propositions, and so on, are not really entities of any kind. I shall also point out that certain puzzles about self-awareness and the seemingly self-transcendence of the conscious subject or 'mind's I'  in particular, are not really as mysterious as they seem. As I shall explain, mind is constituted of cognitive states with cognitive contents, not mental acts on the one hand, and mental entities of a representational kind on the other. And the contents of cognitive states are nothing but our manners and ways of discriminating, visualizing, and expressing facts and possibilities about self and world. But this is not to say that materialism is thus home dry on the merit of this adverbial concept of mind alone. I have only cleared the way toward addressing the central question of how the mind-body problem is to be overcome.

        In Part III, the main explanatory strategies taken by materialism in our time toward tackling this central question will be scrutinized. It will be seen that even though the various approaches taken are either counterproductive or short of the mark, some of their insights are yet not to be ignored. Furthermore, I shall argue that the neurobiolgical in particular is pregnant with clues as to how Nature might have allowed a material thing such as a body-brain to become conscious, remember, and think. The trouble is that there is no straight conceptual bridge between the neurological and the psychological. To try and build a fundamental kind of property dualism out of this fact is also unjustified. A better alternative is perhaps to go for a biological emergent two-aspect scenario, and to call into service the adverbial concept of mind already argued for in Part II. At the end of it all, readers will see that even though the nature of matter is still not completely within our grasp, the wherewithal of mind is for all we know, and to all probability, material. Anyone who is awed by the wondrous and mysterious workings of material nature as already revealed by the findings of science must also find dualism in all its forms to be redundant.

        That, in one rough nutshell, is the tale of this book. For purpose of helping the reader to keep track of its overall dialectic, I shall begin each of the Parts with a synopsis concerning the objective of arguments to be pursued. In this way, it is hoped that no one will loose the forest for some of its trees. It will also allow the reader, if he or she wishes, to tackle each of the Parts on a separate basis pertaining respectively to the dualism-materialism controvery, philosophical psychology, and contemporary materialism. But it is my hope that each of these Parts will be read as an integral part of a larger whole—an essay on the trials and tribulations of the human mind toward understanding the wherewithal of its own realization.

        Finally, a short Epilogue will come at the end to sooth the nerve of those who are religiously dualistic, and to say something about the function of philosophy to which this book belongs. But before we begin, I must put my hand down on one basic philosophical issue that may from time to time interfere in the way. It consists of one principle and two clarifications.

        I shall take for granted one primitive epistemological truth. It is that to be conscious of something is also to be conscious of its existence. Call this the existential principle. It should be observed that on the basis of this principle, it would be silly to say that one is conscious of some phenomenon (facts and events) that does not exist. Those who say so, as far as I am concerned, do not really understand the meaning of 'existence'. For what does not exist for us in fact cannot even be mentioned. However, it is not to say that existence is itself a kind of phenomenon we can refer to or describe. It is neither the property of things nor a relation that stands between them. It is simply our apprehension of a state of being as against that which is nothing. Thus, to say that a phenomenon exists is not to say what it is, but simply that it is—or if you like, that it is 'something' rather than nothing.

        In this connection, two further clarifications will be in order. One, in saying that to be conscious of a phenomenon is also to be conscious that it exits, our existential principle does not legislate that what is not apprehended does not exist, much less that what exist must be perceived. In short, unlike Berkeley's esse est percipi principle (which will be encountered in Chapter Three), our existential principle is silent with respect to anything of which one is not conscious. It takes full cognizance of the fact that our sensory apparatus is both finite and peculiar (a theme to be picked up in Chapter Five). We simply do not know what may or may not lie beyond our ken.

        Two, what is mentionable include at least the real and the possible. The real is perceived by way of the senses. The possible is conceived in thought. The possibility of one's own death is as much a part of one's existence as the reality of one's life. Thus, with respect to any phenomenon, the more crucial question is how its nature is to be assayed. And of more philosophical interest, how it is going to be intelligibly accommodated into the kind of human reality that we have come to experience and know. This is what metaphysics, the ancient 'queen of science', was primarily about. While your ontology tells what you deem exist, your metaphysics tells how you incorporate the nature of what exist in a coherent and systematic way. In other words, unlike science and psychology, metaphysics is not exclusively concerned with either things or mind. It is more concerned with how these drastically different natures could have existed as part and parcel of human reality. This is also what this book is about.

 

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 Soul, God, and Morality 

Introduction

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        Religion, as it is generally known, seeks to inculcate at least one of the following metaphysical beliefs: in the existence and nature of God or deities, and/or the persistence of persons as souls in a spiritual hereafter. These two central themes, or stilts of religion as they could also be called, will be referred to in this book respectively as the supernatural postulate  and the theory of spiritual souls.

        Unlike the normal run of text on the philosophy of religion, much of this book is designed to look after the theory of spiritual souls. This kind of caring will proceed in stages from Chapters One through Five. In Chapter One, the basic structure of this theory will be laid bare. It will be seen that it is the lure of this theory rather than theology that had really gotten religion into big business. I shall further contend that the existence of disembodied souls, let alone their persistence in the hereafter, has in fact never been ascertained—appeal to experiences of the paranormal kind notwithstanding.

        In Chapter Two, I shall further point out that the soul theory has actually been plagued by two very nasty explanatory problems. These will be referred to respectively as the problem of soul-body interaction and the problem of unconsciousness. The first, as we shall see, was as old as it is difficult. The second, as I shall seek to show, is outright detrimental to the theory’s cause. What that means is  that unless soul theorists are able to shed some bolts of extraordinary light on both these problems, their dualistic concept of a human being as consisting of a body and a soul, and that a person’s memory and cognitive identity could actually be carried by the soul into a spiritual hereafter, should have long ago been put seriously to the question.

         In Chapter Three, two historical twist-and-turns out of these jams will be examined for what they are worth. The first will be referred to as minimal dualism. Buying into it, as I shall try to show, may provide the soul theory a plausible way of negotiating with the problem of unconsciousness. Going for the second, to be referred to as mentalism (or idealism as traditionally called), would indeed disarm the problem of soul-body interaction. However, it will be seen that neither of these solutions are able to provide the cure. Not only has minimal dualism left the problem of soul-body interaction untreated, it is also not able to preserve the kind of soul that religion would really like to see. Taking the mentalist turn, on the other hand, would still be hung by the problem of unconsciousness.

        Further, I shall point out in Chapter Four that contrary to religious teachings that have come to be known, minimal dualism has actually been the home of more religious thinkers than one (Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian).  Biblical support in particular for this contention will be pinpointed for reference. On the basis of finer prints to be outlined, I shall show that what was originally deemed to be persisting after bodily death were not personal souls with old memories per se, but impersonal cognitive agents in the one case, and visible incorruptible bodies (not invisible spiritual souls) in the other.

        Moving one step further in Chapter Five, I shall put on the table correlations already known to exist between brain and mind. It is for the consideration of those who would still insist that body-brains would have to be light up by some incarnated power of consciousness. It is my hope that by the end of Chapter Five, readers will come to see that the soul theory upon which religion has been leaning on for so long is really beyond redemption.      

        In Chapter Six, I shall attend to the supernatural postulate. It will be treated with the usual kind of courtesies that it deserves. I shall show that the theism-atheism debate is actually nothing more than a shouting match pitched on nothing other than self-serving presuppositions harboured by both sides. In the ultimate analysis, there is no rational basis to force anyone’s hand on the issue. Neither should anyone mistake human conceptualisations of God and deities for the reality of their presumed referents, supernatural or divine. With respect to the supernatural postulate therefore, it will be seen that it is perhaps better for all concerned to remain humbly and agnostically silent.

       Thus, by the end of Chapter Six, readers will see that unlike the supernatural postulate, the theory of spiritual souls, or the soul postulate that is embedded in it, is not really open to the kind of agnostic plead to which the supernatural postulate is entitled. Of the two central themes or stilts of religion considered therefore, it will be seen that what they really reflect are actually nothing more than the  imaginative capability and self-serving tendencies of the human mind.

        In Chapter Seven, I shall further note that the debt of civilization to religion is yet not to be ignored. For one thing, it has provided for many a cheap kind of psychotherapy with regard to many of their existential and ethical concerns. For another, the ethical ideals as advocated by certain ''founders' of religion are still to be respected. But as I shall also explain, human nature is not really as one-sided as Christianity has taught. The Buddhist and Confucian view of the human kind is more in line with the facts. What this means is that the ground of morality and moral responsibility is actually naturalistic, not transcendental as some religion has taught. As such, there is no excuse for anyone for not trying to be moral.

         One question, however, will be left in the end for the reader to look after. What could religion be in what is becoming an agnostic (with respect to the supernatural) and neuroscientific (or soul-less) world? My own thinking is that if those who claim to be religious are really able to translate the selfless and altruistic stance of Buddha or Jesus into flesh, there may still be a slim chance or two for religion to make a difference, in this all too human and rather uncaring (not to say violent) kind of world. 

    
 


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