Advertisements
atheism, Dualism, epistemology, naturalism, philosophy

If materialism, are there subjects?

In this post I seek to establish one premise: If materialism is true, there are no subjects.

There has been much extended discussion in my post on atheism’s universe, wherein (in the comments) I asserted that, on atheism, there are no subjects. It is high time I clarified my position and drew out its implications.

Materialism and Atheism

My argument is based upon a materialist or physicalist view of reality [I use the terms ‘materialism’ and ‘physicalism’ interchangeably here–I realize they are sometimes used to delineate differences between hard and soft materialists, but for the sake of this post one may assume that any time I mention “physicalism” I mean materialism at large]. I am asserting that: if physicalism is true, there are no such things as “subjects.” I’ve briefly argued elsewhere (see the post linked above) that the only consistent atheism is materialistic. For atheists who are not materialists, I leave it to them to show that their view consistently allows for immaterial entities.

The Nature of a “Subject”

One constant objection to my position is that I never defined what I meant by “subject.” One reason I did not seek to define the term is because  I did not want the debate to boil down into a semantic war over the meaning of subject. There are some features of “subjects” which most parties agree upon, but how to lay out those features is hotly debated. Further, I did not wish to beg the question against the materialist by defining a subject in such a way that no materialist ontology could even attempt to approach it (suppose I defined a “subject” as a “wholly mental feature of reality which acts as the center of consciousness”; in such a case, I’ve added nothing to the discussion because I’ve excluded materialism from the debate without argument).

There is no easy way to define what is meant by “a subject.” I will seek now to define it as broadly as possible, so as to avoid any questions begged.

A Subject: 

  1. Is the referent of the term, “I”
  2. Endures from moment-to-moment as one being. A subject would be the same subject at T2 as it was at T1.
  3. Accounts for any mental states–whether they are actually aphysical or physical.

Hopefully these terms are agreeable to both sides. I’m sure people on either side will want to flesh out the notion of “subject” more, but it seems to me that these points can be acknowledged by all. The first point seems to be fairly clearly true. It is “I” who experience x and not someone else. The second point is necessary for subjects because otherwise “I” would be a different “I” from T1 to T2, and in fact not be the same being at all. The third point, likewise, seems fairly obvious, because it seems mental life is what comprises a subject to begin with. Whether the image in my mind of a cat is a purely physical phenomenon or not, any theory of the mind must take it into account.

Materialism Fails to Account for One and Many

On materialism, what is it that is the referent of the term “I”? Is it my brain (only)? Is it my body? What am “I”? I will here offer a brief argument that no materialist account can take seriously the notion that “I” am distinct from other entities. It is, basically, an offshoot of the “one and the many” problem in philosophy.

Materialism holds that all which exists is matter. Thus, “I” am composed of matter. The problem is distinguishing between everything else and me, for ultimately “I” am just a rearrangement of matter. Suppose that all matter is referred to as (M), and I am referred to by (I). Ultimately, on materialism, (I) is reducible to (M), which is really just all real being on materialism. Why suppose there are separate entities, (I) and (I2) and (I3) when all are, ultimately, (M)? It is much simpler to just suppose that (M) is all and that (I), (I2), and (I3) are (M) in rearranged forms.

Now I don’t suppose for a moment this isn’t highly contentious. Some will come along and say that their own experience is enough to confirm that they are a different being from every other. But why suppose this? Ultimately, that conscious experience is reducible to the brain, which is reducible to matter, which is everything. On materialism, there really is just one “thing”: the material universe as a whole. The “parts” of this “thing” are ultimately reducible to smaller and smaller particles which comprise all the “things” themselves. Ultimately, all is matter, merely arranged in different ways at different times. I’m not suggesting that matter is some kind of single entity. It is particulate. But matter is also one kind of thing. Ultimately, on materialism, all things are just this kind of thing: material. The only way to differentiate between them is by time and place, but even then every individual thing is itself composed of particles of matter. All things are reducible to the same thing.

What can save materialists from this? Materialists would have to embrace a robust metaphysics in order to supply a way out for the problem of “the one and the many.” Yet it seems to me that no materialist can take seriously a robust metaphysics, because they would then have to posit distinctions between entities that are aphysical. Positing such entities or properties would be decidedly contrary to materialism. For example, one solution is that entities are distinct in that all share being itself, but they also have essences which distinguish them from other things (see Clarke, 72ff, cited below). For a materialist to embrace this, they would have to hold that each individual person has an immaterial essence which is such that it makes it distinct from other entities. But of course, that would fly in the face of materialism. It seems to me, therefore, that materialism has no way to answer the problem of “the one and the many.”

Materialism Fails to Provide Enduring Identity

On what basis can a materialist affirm that I, J.W., am the same subject now as I was 20 years ago? All my matter has been replaced. There is no material component of me which is the same as it was back then. Yet my experience tells me that I am the same subject.

How can materialists account for this?

One possibility is that they can simply point out that I am numerically identical to my past self. Although the individual pieces of matter which comprise me are not the same as they were 20 years ago, they were replaced only in portions, during which my body endured as a totality.

The difficulty with this scenario is that it only serves to underscore the problems with materialism. Imagine a mad scientist, who, over the course of a day, cuts my brain into 24 pieces. Each hour, he removes one piece of my brain and places it into another body, which has no brain. He simultaneously replaces the piece of brain with an exact molecular copy. After the day, there is a body which has my brain in it, and my body, which has a copy of my brain in it. Which is me? And, if that question can be answered on materialism (which I doubt), when did my body/brain cease being me and transfer to the other body/brain?

Materialism simply cannot answer these questions. The worldview is baffled by them. Yet in order for something to be a subject, it must endure through time. On materialism, I have not endured through time at all. My entire being–from my fingers to the hairs on my head to my brain–is material, and has been replaced by new material. Where am “I”?

Materialism Cannot Account for Mental States

There are at least five features of mental states which materialism cannot take into account. They are:

  • The feeling of “‘what-it-is-like’ to have a mental state such as a pain”
  • Intentionality
  • Inner, private, and immediate access to the subject
  • Subjective ontology which is irreducible to the third person
  • They lack spatial extension, location, etc. (Adapted from Moreland, 20, cited below)

While delving into these in great detail is beyond the reach of this post, I have already addressed a few of them in my post arguing for Substance Dualism against Monism. It seems that, on materialism, one must embrace supervenience and epiphenominalism in order to preserve mental states. Consider the following:

When I experience thought A’, it is because of a prior brain state, A. My mental states are either identical to, or supervenient upon, the physical state of my brain. The problem with this is that it relegates mental states to epiphenomenalism… This is because the mental state is entirely dependent upon (or identical to) the brain state. On physicalism, a mental state does not occur without a brain state occurring prior to, or in conjunction with, it.

…If it is always the case that Brain state A=> Mental state A’, then Brain state A causes whatever actions we take, for the brain state entails the mental state, which itself is identical to or supervenient upon the brain state to exist. But then, if we cut mental state A’ out of the equation, we would still have Brain state A and the action. Thus, consciousness is entirely superfluous. (Wartick, https://jwwartick.com/2010/11/10/against-monism/)

Reflection upon the supervenience of the mental on the physical leads materialist philosopher Jaegwon Kim to writes:

To think that one can be a serious physicalist and at the same time enjoy the company of things and phenomena that are nonphysical [by this he is referring to consciousness, the causal powers of thought, etc.], I believe, is an idle dream. (Kim, 120, cited below)

Objections

Objection 1: One of the most common objections I have encountered when I reason in this fashion is the common sense objection: “I think, therefore I am a subject!” or, as one commented on another post, “I’m an [atheist]. I have meaning. It’s possible.”

Such notions are scoffed at by materialist philosophers. Paul Churchland, the famed materialist and philosopher of mind, writes:

You came to this book assuming that the basic units of human cognition are states such as thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, desires, and preferences.  That assumption is natural enough: it is built into the vocabulary of every natural language… These assumptions are central elements in our standard conception of human cognitive activity, a conception often called ‘Folk psychology’ to acknowledge if as the common property of folks generally.  Their universality notwithstanding, these bedrock assumptions are probably mistaken.

In other words, the notion that “I’m a subject! I have meaning!” is nothing more than a philosophical dinosaur, a remnant of our ‘folk psychology’ which we should cast off now that we know the truth of materialism. Those who object in such a fashion as materialists seem to be blissfully unaware that they stand aligned against the vast majority of materialistic philosophy of mind. They must justify their position, but cannot, as they arguments above have shown.

Objection 2: Neuroscience has shown that the brain is the center of consciousness. When we think things, we can observe specific areas of activity in the brain. 

This objection is clearly mistaken. The previous arguments have sought to establish the premise: On materialism, there are no subjects. I could easily grant Objection 2 without doing any damage to my arguments. Sure, when we “think thoughts” we may be able to observe effects in the brain. How does it then follow that “we” are subjects? All that this has done–assuming I grant it–is show that our consciousness is somehow related to our brains. It doesn’t demonstrate that mind is identical to brain, nor does it justify the position that “I am a subject.” In fact, it seems to undermine the notion that materialism can explain subjects, because it implies, once more, that “I” am reducible to “my brain” which is, of course, reducible to its component matter as well.

Conclusion: That There Are No Subjects on Materialism and the Implications Thereof

Any one of these problems provides insurmountable problems for materialists who believe they are, themselves, subjects. There is no way, on materialism, to distinguish the one from the many; there is no way for subjects to endure; mental states are reduced to causally inert epiphenomena; and there is no way to account for mental phenomena.

Thus, if atheism is committed to materialism, and materialism cannot account for subjects, it  follows that, without question, there is no meaning on atheism. There cannot even be subjective meaning, for to reference something as a “subject” is, itself, illusory.

Sources

Jaegwon Kim, Mind in a Physical World (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).

J.P. Moreland, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei (London, UK: SCM Press, 2009).

Paul Churchland,The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey into the Brain, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996).

W. Norris Clark, The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics (South Bend, IN: Notre Dame, 2001).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Advertisements

About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

13 thoughts on “If materialism, are there subjects?

  1. My position: I’m a Christian, but I’m a methodological materialist. I don’t rush to fill in knowledge-gaps with spirits or gods. Furthermore, I see no Biblical evidence that the human spirit and human soul are superphysical (so my religion doesn’t compel me to rush anything here, either).

    >>> It is much simpler to just suppose that (M) is all and that (I), (I2), and (I3) are (M) in rearranged forms.

    That’s exactly the supposition that’s made. Some so-called materialists may have a problem with this; those are bad materialists!

    A bin of LEGO pieces can be rearranged in any number of forms. Some of those forms roll along of their own volition. Others of those forms fire little bullets. Some of them just sit there. It’s all the same bin of LEGO pieces, but forms thereof can be functionally distinct. This is generalized functionalism, and functionalism proper (of the mind) handles all of your objections.

    >>> Yet it seems to me that no materialist can take seriously a robust metaphysics, because they would then have to posit distinctions between entities that are aphysical.

    You are conflating “aphysical” with “superphysical.” Materialism is perfectly fine with metaphysics as long as it’s grounded in abstractions of physical things (patterns). Those patterns don’t exist in some superphysical, Platonic world; they “live,” as Aristotle recognized, in the cognitive processing faculties of perceptor-evaluators.

    >>> It seems to me, therefore, that materialism has no way to answer the problem of “the one and the many.”

    Not at all. The solution is “recognition.” All progress in formally solving the problem under materialism has gone toward some form of fuzzy logic, and for good reason: all of this is grounded in faulty, cloudy perception and recognition.

    Is a particular water atom part of the river, the mouth into the lake, or the lake? The answer does not proceed from the non-thinking world. It proceeds from formal recognition, and two authorities (so-called), whether they be humans are A.I.s, can disagree all day about the answer and have nothing to which to appeal to resolve the problem in absolute terms.

    The notion of “recognition by non-thinkers” is analytically false, and is a folk ghost that’s followed philosophy for centuries.

    >>> One possibility is that they can simply point out that I am numerically identical to my past self.

    What?? Who says this? Of COURSE we’re NOT numerically identical. The persistence of ourselves is a matter of qualitative identity which, again, is fuzzy and recognition-based. Consider Star Trek transporters, which destroy people and reconstitute them. Numerical identity has been annihilated, but some kind of qualitative identity persists (which is wholly contingent on perceptor-evaluator recognition). The reason no one cares that Miles O’Brien has been destroyed forever (and that the reconstituted Miles is a facsimile) is because the new Miles is the same as the old in the ways considered meaningful by involved perceptor-evaluators (his friends, his wife, and even himself).

    Every infinitessimal time period, this same thing is happening naturally to us. We are constantly being numerically destroyed, but qualitatively persistent in some ways (and those ways are determined by involved perceptor-evaluators).

    Posted by Stan | December 5, 2011, 1:04 PM
    • You wrote, “This is generalized functionalism, and functionalism proper (of the mind) handles all of your objections.”

      Functionalism has its own slew of extreme difficulties. First, it seems functionalism is reducible to reductionism, if the functions of brain states are to take the place of mental states (as they are in most functionalist models), and so functionalism is subjected to all the difficulties of reductionism. If, on the other hand, one wants to argue that our mental states are not merely functional states, then functionalism does not explain the existence of mental states to begin with. Thus, functionalism is ultimately a different kind of reductionalism, which makes our conscious states superfluous.

      You wrote, “they [metaphysical abstractions] ‘live,’ as Aristotle recognized, in the cognitive processing faculties of perceptor-evaluators.”

      If that is the case, then these metaphysical abstractions must themselves be physical, by your own definition. If materialism is true, then all which is, is physical–including mental states. If the metaphysical abstractions are mental states, then they are physical. Again, we defeat metaphysics.

      You wrote, ” The reason no one cares that Miles O’Brien has been destroyed forever (and that the reconstituted Miles is a facsimile) is because the new Miles is the same as the old in the ways considered meaningful by involved perceptor-evaluators (his friends, his wife, and even himself).”

      It seems pretty obvious that this begs the question–and seems to be false as well. If I were to step in a transporter and know that it was going to completely rip my body apart and then construct a copy of my body at some other point in the universe, I would be very fearful, because I would be going to my death. On the other side of the transporter is not “me,” but a copy of “me.”

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 5, 2011, 5:38 PM
      • >
        >
        >>> Thus, functionalism is ultimately a different kind of reductionalism, which makes our conscious states superfluous.

        It is certainly a kind of redunctionism. Whereas reductionism says that the whole is never more than the sum of its parts (true, in the strictly mechanical sense), functionalism says that the whole CAN be more than the sum of its parts insofar as emergent functional patterns can be apprehended by perceiver-recognizers. In other words, everything is physical alphabet soup, but readers can find words (and refer to these words as “metaphysical”).

        I’m inclined to believe that the superflouousness of our consciousness is accurately modeled in your post’s image. Whatever I consciously perceive as deliberation is, as it turns out, engine exhaust.

        1) That doesn’t mean there’s no deliberation. It just means deliberation is actually happening up in the engine.

        2) Nor does it mean I have no experience of deliberation. The exhaust emitted DOES result from the engine’s deliberation.

        My neural engine makes all of my decisions. My consciousness is a corrupted, abridged, simplified emergent projection of PART of that engine. Projections don’t work backward and affect the filmstrip.

        >
        >
        >>> If that is the case, then these metaphysical abstractions must themselves be physical, by your own definition. If materialism is true, then all which is, is physical–including mental states. If the metaphysical abstractions are mental states, then they are physical. Again, we defeat metaphysics.

        Physicalism doesn’t contradict metaphysics; physicalism IS a metaphysical position. Physicalism is opposed to what one might call “superphysicalism” or “nonphysicalism.” Metaphysics just refers to how we talk about what really exists (and purported to really exist).

        >
        >
        >>>It seems pretty obvious that this begs the question–and seems to be false as well. If I were to step in a transporter and know that it was going to completely rip my body apart and then construct a copy of my body at some other point in the universe, I would be very fearful, because I would be going to my death. On the other side of the transporter is not “me,” but a copy of “me.”

        As a perceiver-recognizer with values, you have every right to be fearful, and you have every right to call it death. Dr. Polaski in TNG Season 2 was totally creeped out by transporters and insisted on shuttles. Meanwhile, Keiko O’Brien, Miles’s wife, is not very fearful at all about transporters, and doesn’t call it death… and she has every right to have the position she has. Miles himself wouldn’t call it death either. But that doesn’t make you wrong, and it doesn’t make them wrong, because it’s entirely about qualitative patterns recognized by perceiver-recognizers. I refer back to the river, mouth, and lake illustration. There’s no way to know of which body a given water molecule is part. You have every right to say that the molecule is still in the river; I have every right to say that it’s now part of the mouth. All qualitative determinations are 100% contingent on perceiver-recognizer evaluations (subjective procession), not the world independent of them (objective procession).

        Every tiny moment, as far as numerical identity is concerned, you are being destroyed. You ‘B’ are not numerically equal to you ‘A’ a moment ago; you’re a copy (with incalculable imperfections in the “copying process”). But A and B (perhaps) have some qualities in common, as recognized by perceiver-recognizers. And those common qualities, if they aren’t very volatile, create notions of qualitative persistence (“You’re the same person you were a moment ago”).

        Imagine if we somehow had super-precise visual faculties, and we could look at a person and see not just their skin cells, but the atoms that compose those skin cells. We’d see a ghastly, swarming colony-cloud, continually writhing and shifting, spitting out and absorbing millions upon millions of particles every second. The illusion of the static creature would be shattered pretty quickly. Instead, our eyesight sucks, and when we look at someone, they look like a cohesive, single entity. They move around a bit, sure, but you see (because your eyesight sucks) and believe that they’re the same “thing” they were a moment ago.

        Posted by Stan | December 5, 2011, 6:32 PM
      • Stan, Thanks again for the thoughtful comment. I apologize for the length you had to wait for my response.

        You wrote, “…functionalism says that the whole CAN be more than the sum of its parts insofar as emergent functional patterns can be apprehended by perceiver-recognizers. In other words, everything is physical alphabet soup, but readers can find words (and refer to these words as “metaphysical”)”

        I appreciate the discussion here, but I must say I have to point out that this seriously begs the question. The very question is “What is the preceiver-recognizer?” To answer that by saying that “Perceiver-recognizers can make more than the sum of parts out of the things they observe” clearly doesn’t answer the question, but assumes its answer to begin with.

        You wrote, “My neural engine makes all of my decisions. My consciousness is a corrupted, abridged, simplified emergent projection of PART of that engine. Projections don’t work backward and affect the filmstrip.”

        This is epiphenominalism, not functionalism. Again, on this position one could hardly say “we” are “subjects.” The supposed mental life we have is “corrupted, abridged, simplified” and “projected.” The things I ‘think’ have no causal power. I appreciate your frank admission here. You have clearly granted my point.

        You wrote, “Physicalism doesn’t contradict metaphysics; physicalism IS a metaphysical position. Physicalism is opposed to what one might call “superphysicalism” or “nonphysicalism.” Metaphysics just refers to how we talk about what really exists (and purported to really exist)”

        I’ll grant that physicalism is a metaphysical system. My point is that it has no way to ground the very study of metaphysics. In part because there are no subjects on physicalism.

        You wrote, “Imagine if we somehow had super-precise visual faculties, and we could look at a person and see not just their skin cells, but the atoms that compose those skin cells. We’d see a ghastly, swarming colony-cloud, continually writhing and shifting, spitting out and absorbing millions upon millions of particles every second. The illusion of the static creature would be shattered pretty quickly. Instead, our eyesight sucks, and when we look at someone, they look like a cohesive, single entity. They move around a bit, sure, but you see (because your eyesight sucks) and believe that they’re the same “thing” they were a moment ago.”

        I’m going to leave aside numerical identity because you’ve totally granted my point there too. The quoted section here is exactly my point. On materialism, there is no identity over time. You’ve essentially just repeated my point. “I” am not the same “me” as “I” was even 10 minutes ago, on physicalism. There is no way to maintain my identity. Yet clearly, identity is part of “subjects.”

        So it seems that you’ve pretty much just granted every point I’ve made. The only way for materialism to maintain that there are subjects is to make the move you have: question beg them into existence.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 8, 2011, 11:57 AM
      • Hey J.W., this is in reply to your “thanks again” post, but it was missing a “reply” button down there… hope this gets posted to the right spot…

        >
        >
        >>> I appreciate the discussion here, but I must say I have to point out that this seriously begs the question. The very question is “What is the preceiver-recognizer?” To answer that by saying that “Perceiver-recognizers can make more than the sum of parts out of the things they observe” clearly doesn’t answer the question, but assumes its answer to begin with.

        I should have been more explicit here. By perceiver-recognizer, I mean ANY mechanism that “observes” and “pattern-recognizes.” We have all sorts of A.I.s (everything from dumb expert systems to neural networks) that do this (e.g., QR scanners).

        >
        >
        >>> The things I ‘think’ have no causal power. I appreciate your frank admission here. You have clearly granted my point.

        Not exactly. Your projected consciousness is simply revealed to be a byproduct of what you ‘think,’ rather than actually what you ‘think.’ In terms of the car, we don’t say that the exhaust does the propulsion. No, the brain is very busy thinking, and our projected consciousness is an inert byproduct of that active thinking.

        >
        >
        >>> The quoted section here is exactly my point. On materialism, there is no identity over time.

        There is no *numerical* identity over time. There IS (or, can be) *qualitative* identity over time. It’s true that persistent identity is required for there to be subjects. Where we disagree is that persistent *numerical* identity is required for there to be subjects. I say that all you need is persistent qualitative identity.

        Posted by Stan | December 12, 2011, 2:45 PM
  2. JW
    This post rocks. I think we all, deep down inside, intuitively understand that you are correct. To give you a little window into my eight-year-old self, I used to (in my own words back then), “get my skeleton mixed up with other people’s skeletons.” I think the profound (for an eight year old) question I was wrestling with back then is, “Why am I me and not someone else?” And, “What differentiates me from other people?”

    Here’s a question that I was asked by an atheist biologist. He asked me, “If I was cloned, would I wake up?” Meaning, if we had the technology to clone people, to exactly copy them, molecule-by-molecule, but you had to be put under anesthetic to have that happen, and then accidentally in the operation, the original you died, and the clone woke up…would that be you? Would you wake up?

    Talking about transporters in Star Trek is a nice anecdote, but it’s science fiction. The reality of cloning is something that we can at least conceive of scientifically (if not actually carry through technologically). So I asked the biologist, “What do you think?” He of course said, “Yes I would wake up.” Then I asked him would he do it. Would he risk it? He said no.

    Kinda makes you wonder. When we get right down to it, intuitively, even though the worldview we profess to believe logically directs us to think we are reducible to matter, when pushed to really, really think about it, we realize that is wrong.

    (Just my opinion though, clearly there are those with stronger backgrounds in philosophy than I who disagree. Such as Stan.)

    Stan…I think there is ample biblical evidence to believe in dualism. I knew a guy from Fuller once who was saying the same thing you are. Student of Nancy Murphree. He never could convince me, though. I wonder what I’m missing?

    Posted by Greg Reeves | December 5, 2011, 11:27 PM
  3. I have been getting computers since the late 80s. I copy things from one computer to the next. If I have data from my original 286 in my MacBook, it is the same data. In the same way, if my cells are replaced, one by one, they carry the same data. I’m still me. Enduring identity.
    In fact, one of the facts of aging is that errors start to be made in the copying of data. These are some of the ways in which we differ from our 20-year-old self.

    Posted by My Philosophy degree is 35 years old. Forgive me for forgetting a lot. | January 2, 2012, 11:38 PM
  4. Whilst I mostly agree with what Stan says in the posts above (about the independence of identity from matter), I don’t think that materialism requires “perceiver-recognizers” (which are external to objects) in order to characterise individuality. Rather, Spinoza’s theory of conatus is a natural way of identifying what it means to be one thing rather than another. From Spinoza’s Ethics:

    E3P6 – Each thing in so far as it is in itself [independent], endeavours to persevere in it’s being.

    &

    E3P7 – The endeavour by which each thing endeavours to persevere in its being is nothing other than the actual essence of the thing.

    This doesn’t just apply to brains, but to any organisation of matter and is compatible with (but doesn’t require) determinism. For instance, vortices form in moving fluids (that are consistent with classical deterministic theories of fluid dynamics) such as rivers and maintain their integrity because the spinning motion retains a structure that is independent of the actual water molecules that make it up. So when we talk about a vortex we are talking about it’s conatus (as Spinoza defines it) not lumping together some particular collection of molecules and giving that an identity.

    If we take a copy of something that we wish to persist (beam me up Scotty), what we need to replicate is the object’s conatus and not the exact environment in which that conatus was striving to persist. For instance if Scotty beams up a water vortex into a different substrate, such as some other liquid, then that conatus would still persist to the extent that the dynamics of the new substrate remain the same as the old. So, the identity of objects is independent of their underlying material composition.

    With respect to minds, then providing that they *are* material and deterministic, this is exactly what we need for a computational theory of mind.

    Posted by Roq Marish (@Roqsan) | November 12, 2012, 2:54 PM

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Atheism’s Universe is Meaningless and Valueless « J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - December 5, 2011

  2. Pingback: Book Review: “Material Beings” by Peter van Inwagen « J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - January 2, 2012

  3. Pingback: Against Christian Materialism | J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - July 8, 2013

  4. Pingback: Take atheism for a test drive! - God Evidence • Does God Exist? - January 8, 2016

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Advertisements

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,342 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason
%d bloggers like this: