Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reading Charles Hartshorne tonight. I resisted his appeal in graduate school, but now I have no interest in catching up on MacIntyre, or what people are saying about Yoder, or what Jeffrey Stout might be up to these days, let alone what new insights might be forthcoming in biblical studies about Jesus and politics, etc, etc. All of that seems very past.

Every time I get this stuff out, I re-learn that I really am an intellectual. It's a capacity that I have, and I enjoy it immensely. But it's difficult, like getting on a bike for the first time after not exercising very much for the past seven years. My balance and stamina and power are not what they were, not at all.

So, more about Hartshorne, less about me. I'll try, anyway.

The latest bit I'm reading in Hartshorne (Chapter 8 of The Zero Fallacy, titled "Minds and Bodies") is his attempt to explain why "mind" is everywhere. Everything that is, is (has a?) mind. He says, basically, there are only a few options for the mind/matter relationship. (1) everything is matter, and mind is just a special instance thereof; (2) everything is mind, and matter is just a special instance thereof; (3) pure dualism; (4) everything is a third, neutral substance, of which mind and matter are somehow related things.

He doesn't have much use for #4, or #3 either. This much I remember from the reading. But now I need to go back and re-read and try to really process what I have read.

OK. #4 doesn't work because the "neutral stuff" either has experiences, or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then why not just call it "matter": and if it does, then why not just call it "mind." Really, this isn't so much an argument as an assertion that there's no good reason to believe in #4 without specifying what a #4 might be. This part is just ground-clearing for the more important discussion.

#3 he treats the same way: "the togetherness of mind and matter is mental, material, or neutral." Mind and matter are related, and how they are related has to be specified -- and the relation must somehow cover both terms. "Thus 'dualism' labels the problem, not the solution."

So the problem is how mind and matter relate. This is how I think about it: the most likely materialistic way of seeing the world basically relies on Darwin: in the beginning were things that were not minds, and the mind evolves or emerges from non-mind, or matter. So mind is a special property of matter, as organized in specific ways. "However, the concept of emergence does not necessarily overcome dualism. If, when mind has emerged, it is essentially feeling, remembering, desiring, and the like, rather than merely a special way of moving," then emergence is just a type of dualism, a dualism + chronology, that doesn't resolve the problem but only restates it a different way.

In this, it feels like Hartshorne is trying to solve a scientific problem with a philosophical argument. Which of course would be invalid. Or, no, maybe it's better to say that he's denying that a scientific conclusion leads to the philosophical position that most scientists presume that it does. This second one sounds more likely to be within the realm of philosophy's competence.

I guess the question is, when it is posited that "mind arises from matter" (wow my brain just remembered Godel Escher Bach... which feels apposite ... but I'm not sure if that's actually the same or not. Like I said my power of thinking feels far weaker and less disciplined than it used to be. Ugh.) ... does "mind" really, inherently, mean something that can never be described in material terms. There's the inside of being a person who thinks, and then there's the outside: from the outside, you can describe the patterns in which my neurons are moving, and all of that is "matter" -- but you can't describe what it's like to be on the inside of my head without being there.

All I've done so far is re-pose the question of matter and mind, not get any distance toward solving it, or even understanding or evaluating what Hartshorne is saying. So let's try again.

The emergent-minds hypothesis people are making a bet that, as far as I know, they are in no position to think will pan out: namely, that at some time in the past there will be a way of describing the world of the mind as it appears "from the inside" entirely in terms of the way things move on the outside. And not just as correlations: "you feel happy BECAUSE your brain just released some dopamine" -- but "your feeling of happiness IS the release of dopamine." Now obviously that second sentence is just 100% false and ludicrous. But the emergent mind hypothesis is banking on the theory that for "the relase of dopamine" in that second sentence, some equally objective phrase will be able to be substituted. And that just doesn't seem likely.

Hartshorne's insistence, which he argues for in all sorts of interesting ways, is that everything is already mind. Well, not everything, but every 'singular' thing, down to atoms. Most things we see in the world around us (chairs, microwave ovens, lamp-posts, etc.) are collections of atoms, and hence not singular items at all -- and hence such things do not have minds, any more than a collection of people (a city, say) has a mind. But the individual constituents of the chair do have "minds" in a very minimal sense, which is to say, they have freedom and the ability to choose, within an extremely limited sense. Hartshorne of course appeals to atomic theory here, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and so on: at the atomic level, pure determinism breaks down, every atom and even sub-particles of atoms do not behave deterministically. They have, he thinks, "creativity" and "freedom" in a minimal sense.

And it's all very interesting. Really, it is. Terrific stuff.

It's a way easier solution to the mind/matter problem. "Unfeeling" matter only exists at the level of collectives. Mind is already present in the world, always, even necessarily so. Nothing that exists is completely without mind.

Then the question becomes, why? Why should it be that this particular collection of atoms that combine into neurons should recapitulate and increase in power the same thing that was originally called "mind"? If there's already freedom and creativity on the atomic level, is the idea that freedom and creativity would be seen again and again, on higher levels, via evolution ... for some reason? I can't quite grasp the reason why it would have to do so, or be more likely to do so.

Ultimately, what rests on the claim that atoms / subatomic particles have "mind"? Or, for that matter, on the claim that they do not?

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