The Mind and its World

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This calls for a Copernican shift in vantage point—from within the mind or brain to beyond the brain—in our consideration of mental features. Northoff, a neuroscientist, psychiatrist, and philosopher, explains that empirical evidence suggests that the brain's spontaneous activity and its spatiotemporal structure are central to aligning and integrating the brain within the world. Northoff makes his argument in empirical, ontological, and epistemic-methodological terms. He discusses current models of the brain and applies these models to recent data on neuronal features underlying consciousness and proposes the world-brain relation as the ontological predisposition for consciousness.

This interesting, innovative and closely argued volume is sure to be both productive and controversial. Highly recommended for anyone interested in an alternate future for the science of the mind. This is a highly original and game-changing contribution to understanding the mind-brain and its place in nature. Anyone interested in contemporary neuroscience can learn a lot from this book. Todd E. Sign in Create an account. Syntax Advanced Search. About us. Editorial team.

Gregory McCulloch. Routledge Since Descartes, the mind has been thought to be "in the head," separable from the world and even from the body it inhabits. In The Mind and its World , Gregory McCulloch considers the latest debates in philosophy and cognitive science about whether the thinking subject actually requires an environment in order to be able to think.

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He examines such figures as Descartes, Frege, Locke, and Wittgenstein. His method is comparative, and his insights are illuminating. By pitting Descartes against such thinkers as Wittgenstein and Frege, McCulloch produces a dynamic account of the implications of the Descartian argument about consciousness and the mind.

The contrast evolves into McCulloch's original theory of externalism, the notion that the mind is not in the head, and is constituted by environmental, and linguistic object relations. The Mind and its World is a clearand compelling reading of the one of the dominant elements and debates within Western philosophy. One might require that the explanandum be a priori deducible from the explanans, although it is controversial whether this is either a necessary or a sufficient criterion for explaining consciousness Jackson Its sufficiency will depend in part on the nature of the premises from which the deduction proceeds.

As a matter of logic, one will need some bridge principles to connect propositions or sentences about consciousness with those that do not mention it. If one's premises concern physical or neural facts, then one will need some bridge principles or links that connect such facts with facts about consciousness Kim Brute links, whether nomic or merely well confirmed correlations, could provide a logically sufficient bridge to infer conclusions about consciousness. But they would probably not allow us to see how or why those connections hold, and thus they would fall short of fully explaining how consciousness exists Levine , , McGinn One could legitimately ask for more, in particular for some account that made intelligible why those links hold and perhaps why they could not fail to do so.

A familiar two-stage model for explaining macro-properties in terms of micro-substrates is often invoked. In the first step, one analyzes the macro-property in terms of functional conditions, and then in the second stage one shows that the micro-structures obeying the laws of their own level nomically suffice to guarantee the satisfaction of the relevant functional conditions Armstrong , Lewis Moreover, the model makes intelligible how the liquidity is produced by the micro-properties.

A satisfactory explanation of how consciousness is produced might seem to require a similar two stage story.

Without it, even a priori deducibility might seem explanatorily less than sufficient, though the need for such a story remains a matter of controversy Block and Stalnaker , Chalmers and Jackson Our current inability to supply a suitably intelligible link is sometimes described, following Joseph Levine , as the existence of an explanatory gap , and as indicating our incomplete understanding of how consciousness might depend upon a nonconscious substrate, especially a physical substrate.

The basic gap claim admits of many variations in generality and thus in strength. In perhaps its weakest form, it asserts a practical limit on our present explanatory abilities; given our current theories and models we can not now articulate an intelligible link. A stronger version makes an in principle claim about our human capacities and thus asserts that given our human cognitive limits we will never be able to bridge the gap. To us, or creatures cognitively like us, it must remain a residual mystery McGinn Colin McGinn has argued that given the inherently spatial nature of both our human perceptual concepts and the scientific concepts we derive from them, we humans are not conceptually suited for understanding the nature of the psychophysical link.

Facts about that link are as cognitively closed to us as are facts about multiplication or square roots to armadillos. They do not fall within our conceptual and cognitive repertoire. An even stronger version of the gap claim removes the restriction to our cognitive nature and denies in principle that the gap can be closed by any cognitive agents. Those who assert gap claims disagree among themselves about what metaphysical conclusions, if any, follow from our supposed epistemic limits. Levine himself has been reluctant to draw any anti-physicalist ontological conclusions Levine , On the other hand some neodualists have tried to use the existence of the gap to refute physicalism Foster , Chalmers The stronger one's epistemological premise, the better the hope of deriving a metaphysical conclusion.

Thus unsurprisingly, dualist conclusions are often supported by appeals to the supposed impossibility in principle of closing the gap. If one could see on a priori grounds that there is no way in which consciousness could be intelligibly explained as arising from the physical, it would not be a big step to concluding that it in fact does not do so Chalmers However, the very strength of such an epistemological claim makes it difficult to assume with begging the metaphysical result in question. Thus those who wish to use a strong in principle gap claim to refute physicalism must find independent grounds to support it.

Some have appealed to conceivability arguments for support, such as the alleged conceivability of zombies molecularly identical with conscious humans but devoid of all phenomenal consciousness Campbell , Kirk , Chalmers Other supporting arguments invoke the supposed non-functional nature of consciousness and thus its alleged resistance to the standard scientific method of explaining complex properties e.

Such arguments avoid begging the anti-physicalist question, but they themselves rely upon claims and intuitions that are controversial and not completely independent of one's basic view about physicalism. Discussion on the topic remains active and ongoing. Our present inability to see any way of closing the gap may exert some pull on our intuitions, but it may simply reflect the limits of our current theorizing rather than an unbridgeable in principle barrier Dennett Moreover, some physicalists have argued that explanatory gaps are to be expected and are even entailed by plausible versions of ontological physicalism, ones that treat human agents as physically realized cognitive systems with inherent limits that derive from their evolutionary origin and situated contextual mode of understanding Van Gulick , ; McGinn , Papineau , On this view, rather than refuting physicalism, the existence of explanatory gaps may confirm it.

Discussion and disagreement on these topics remains active and ongoing. As the need for intelligible linkage has shown, a priori deducibility is not in itself obviously sufficient for successful explanation Kim , nor is it clearly necessary. Some weaker logical link might suffice in many explanatory contexts. We can sometimes tell enough of a story about how facts of one sort depend upon those of another to satisfy ourselves that the latter do in fact cause or realize the former even if we can not strictly deduce all the former facts from the latter.

Strict intertheoretical deduction was taken as the reductive norm by the logical empiricist account of the unity of science Putnam and Oppenheim , but in more recent decades a looser nonreductive picture of relations among the various sciences has gained favor. Economics is often cited as an example Fodor , Searle Economic facts may be realized by underlying physical processes, but no one seriously demands that we be able to deduce the relevant economic facts from detailed descriptions of their underlying physical bases or that we be able to put the concepts and vocabulary of economics in tight correspondence with those of the physical sciences.

All that we require is some general and less than deductive understanding of how economic properties and relations might be underlain by physical ones. Thus one might opt for a similar criterion for interpreting the How question and for what counts as explaining how consciousness might be caused or realized by nonconscious items. However, some critics, such as Kim , have challenged the coherence of any view that aims to be both non-reductive and physicalist, though supporters of such views have replied in turn Van Gulick Others have argued that consciousness is especially resistant to explanation in physical terms because of the inherent differences between our subjective and objective modes of understanding.

Thomas Nagel famously argued that there are unavoidable limits placed on our ability to understand the phenomenology of bat experience by our inability to empathetically take on an experiential perspective like that which characterizes the bat's echo-locatory auditory experience of its world. Given our inability to undergo similar experience, we can have at best partial understanding of the nature of such experience.

No amount of knowledge gleaned from the external objective third-person perspective of the natural sciences will supposedly suffice to allow us to understand what the bat can understand of its own experience from its internal first-person subjective point of view. The How question thus subdivides into a diverse family of more specific questions depending upon the specific sort or feature of consciousness one aims to explain, the specific restrictions one places on the range of the explanans and the criterion one uses to define explanatory success.

Some of the resulting variants seem easier to answer than others. Positive answers to some versions of the How questions seem near at hand, but others appear to remain deeply baffling. Nor should we assume that every version has a positive answer. If dualism is true, then consciousness in at least some of its types may be basic and fundamental.

If so,we will not be able to explain how it arises from nonconscious items since it simply does not do so. One's view of the prospects for explaining consciousness will typically depend upon one's perspective. Optimistic physicalists will likely see current explanatory lapses as merely the reflection of the early stage of inquiry and sure to be remedied in the not too distant future Dennett , Searle , P.

To dualists, those same impasses will signify the bankruptcy of the physicalist program and the need to recognize consciousness as a fundamental constituent of reality in its own right Robinson , Foster , , Chalmers What one sees depends in part on where one stands, and the ongoing project of explaining consciousness will be accompanied by continuing debate about its status and prospects for success. The functional or Why question asks about the value or role or consciousness and thus indirectly about its origin.

Does it have a function , and if so what is it? Does it make a difference to the operation of systems in which it is present, and if so why and how? If consciousness exists as a complex feature of biological systems, then its adaptive value is likely relevant to explaining its evolutionary origin, though of course its present function, if it has one, need not be the same as that it may have had when it first arose. Adaptive functions often change over biological time. Questions about the value of consciousness also have a moral dimension in at least two ways. We are inclined to regard an organism's moral status as at least partly determined by the nature and extent to which it is conscious, and conscious states, especially conscious affective states such as pleasures and pains, play a major role in many of the accounts of value that underlie moral theory Singer As with the What and How questions, the Why question poses a general problem that subdivides into a diversity of more specific inquiries.

In so far as the various sorts of consciousness, e. Thus the Why question may well not have a single or uniform answer. Perhaps the most basic issue posed by any version of the Why question is whether or not consciousness of the relevant sort has any causal impact at all. If it has no effects and makes no causal difference whatsoever, then it would seem unable to play any significant role in the systems or organisms in which it is present, thus undercutting at the outset most inquiries about its possible value.

The Spontaneous Brain

Nor can the threat of epiphenomenal irrelevance be simply dismissed as an obvious non-option, since at least some forms of consciousness have been seriously alleged in the recent literature to lack causal status. See the entry on epiphenomenalism. Such worries have been raised especially with regard to qualia and qualitative consciousness Huxley , Jackson , Chalmers , but challenges have also been leveled against the causal status of other sorts including meta-mental consciousness Velmans Both metaphysical and empirical arguments have been given in support of such claims.

Among the former are those that appeal to intuitions about the conceivability and logical possibility of zombies, i. Some Kirk , Chalmers assert such beings are possible in worlds that share all our physical laws, but others deny it Dennett , Levine If they are possible in such worlds, then it would seem to follow that even in our world, qualia do not affect the course of physical events including those that constitute our human behaviors. If those events unfold in the same way whether or not qualia are present, then qualia appear to be inert or epiphenomenal at least with respect to events in the physical world.

However, such arguments and the zombie intuitions on which they rely are controversial and their soundness remains in dispute Searle , Yablo , Balog Arguments of a far more empirical sort have challenged the causal status of meta-mental consciousness, at least in so far as its presence can be measured by the ability to report on one's mental state.

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Scientific evidence is claimed to show that consciousness of that sort is neither necessary for any type of mental ability nor does it occur early enough to act as a cause of the acts or processes typically thought to be its effects Velmans According to those who make such arguments, the sorts of mental abilities that are typically thought to require consciousness can all be realized unconsciously in the absence of the supposedly required self-awareness. Moreover, even when conscious self-awareness is present, it allegedly occurs too late to be the cause of the relevant actions rather than their result or at best a joint effect of some shared prior cause Libet Self-awareness or meta-mental consciousness according to these arguments turns out to be a psychological after-effect rather than an initiating cause, more like a post facto printout or the result displayed on one's computer screen than like the actual processor operations that produce both the computer's response and its display.

Once again the arguments are controversial, and both the supposed data and their interpretation are subjects of lively disagreement see Flanagan , and commentaries accompanying Velmans Though the empirical arguments, like the zombie claims, require one to consider seriously whether some forms of consciousness may be less causally potent than is typically assumed, many theorists regard the empirical data as no real threat to the causal status of consciousness. If the epiphenomenalists are wrong and consciousness, in its various forms, is indeed causal, what sorts of effects does it have and what differences does it make?

How do mental processes that involve the relevant sort of consciousness differ form those that lack it?

Descartes, Rene | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

What function s might consciousness play? The following six sections 6. Though the various functions overlap to some degree, each is distinct, and they differ as well in the sorts of consciousness with which each is most aptly linked. Increased flexibility and sophistication of control. Conscious mental processes appear to provide highly flexible and adaptive forms of control. Though unconscious automatic processes can be extremely efficient and rapid, they typically operate in ways that are more fixed and predetermined than those which involve conscious self-awareness Anderson Conscious awareness is thus of most importance when one is dealing with novel situations and previously unencountered problems or demands Penfield , Armstrong Standard accounts of skill acquisition stress the importance of conscious awareness during the initial learning phase, which gradually gives way to more automatic processes of the sort that require little attention or conscious oversight Schneider and Shiffrin Conscious processing allows for the construction or compilation of specifically tailored routines out of elementary units as well as for the deliberate control of their execution.

There is a familiar tradeoff between flexibility and speed; controlled conscious processes purchase their customized versatility at the price of being slow and effortful in contrast to the fluid rapidity of automatic unconscious mental operations Anderson The relevant increases in flexibility would seem most closely connected with the meta-mental or higher-order form of consciousness in so far as the enhanced ability to control processes depends upon greater self-awareness. However, flexibility and sophisticated modes of control may be associated as well with the phenomenal and access forms of consciousness.

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  5. Enhanced capacity for social coordination. Consciousness of the meta-mental sort may well involve not only an increase in self-awareness but also an enhanced understanding of the mental states of other minded creatures, especially those of other members of one's social group Humphreys Creatures that are conscious in the relevant meta-mental sense not only have beliefs, motives, perceptions and intentions but understand what it is to have such states and are aware of both themselves and others as having them.

    This increase in mutually shared knowledge of each other's minds, enables the relevant organisms to interact, cooperate and communicate in more advanced and adaptive ways.

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