Big brain evolution: mind/brain philosophy (Evolution)

by dhw, Tuesday, October 16, 2018, 13:01 (59 days ago) @ David Turell

dhw: We have discussed this subject over and over again. What Egnor calls the “mereological fallacy” is his repudiation of “emergence”, though he doesn’t use the term. I remain neutral on the subject of materialism versus dualism, but I cannot accept his dismissal or his complete distortion of the argument as a “fallacy”. I don’t know of any materialist who attributes the abilities of the whole to the part. The argument is that the parts combine to make the whole, which is greater than the sum of its parts. (I like to use the ant colony as an analogy.) Of course I speak using my mouth. But what am “I”? The dualist says “I” am a mixture of immaterial mind and material body. The materialist says that “mind” is what emerges from interaction between billions of neurons, and “I” am therefore the product of my interacting materials. Calling it a “fallacy”, and manufacturing silly examples, does not make it a fallacy.

DAVID: 'Emergence' is as fuzzy a concept as anything we have discussed. Emergence means somehow or other mind appears from the use of the brain. By naming the concept as emergence, what have we done?: given something we cannot explain a grand name that does not advance our knowledge in any way. Note my bold of your comment about materialists: I would note, as for neurological studies of the brain, Egnor is exactly pointing out that those scientists are dividing the brain into parts and implying exact use of the part as if separate modules. It is Egnor who says look at the whole. Egnor's article says we cannot explain mind from brain studies , and never will.

I am not backing materialism over dualism, and I agree that we cannot explain mind from brain studies. What I disagree with is the distortion of the argument. A materialist does not attribute the abilities of the whole to the part. You yourself have pointed out that different parts of the brain are associated with different abilities, but neither you nor anyone else I know goes round saying: “My hippocampus remembers”, any more than we say “my mouth speaks”, or “my feet walk”. I am simply objecting to Egnor setting up these straw men in order to distort materialism so that he can dismiss it as a “mereological fallacy”. The materialist self is a just as much a "whole" as the dualist self, but materialism attributes all its interacting parts and their qualities to materials. This, in my view, is no more and no less "fuzzy" than dualism's concept of an immaterial soul that interacts with materials, which is why I remain neutral.


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