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Showing posts from January, 2015

Does Time Exist? (Or, how Aristotle got metaphor wrong)

I remember some time ago hearing the physicist Sean Carroll, who's written quite a bit on the subject of time, mention that he and a colleague of his, fellow physicist Julian Barbor, disagreed strongly on the existence of time. Being physicists, they're debating the subject purely from the perspective of whether time can or should be disregarded from equations. But what about the broader idea that time doesn't really exist?

Obviously, it seems prima facie absurd. Time is an absolutely central and fundamental part of the human experience. It's integral to virtually every scientific field, and has been a topic of philosophical musings for millennia. How can time not exist?

But wait a second... couldn't the same have been said of color? Color is a deeply seated part of our phenomenological experience, but cognitive neuroscience has shown that color does not exist "out there", so to speak — that is, it is not a property that inheres in the world, but is an in…

Toward an Understanding of the Mind: We Think in Metaphors

Traditional philosophies of mind have held several tenets about the nature of human reason. A (very) abridged list:

Reason is literal, abstract, and fundamentally unembodied. This does not mean that we don't take in sensory data from our bodies to think; rather, it means that the process of reasoning is not fundamentally connected to our embodiment, such as the contemplation of abstract forms. Reason is primarily conscious, and we can understand our minds through critical self-reflection.Metaphor is primarily poetic and rhetorical, and not part of everyday language or fundamental to our process of reasoning. The findings of cognitive neuroscience reveal all of these tenets, and many more, to be flatly and irreparably wrong. Cognitive neuroscience reveals that: Reason is almost entirely subconscious, and is structured by metaphors.These metaphors are physical connections in the brain which depend on our embodiment.We cannot choose which metaphors structure our process of reasoning. T…

Your narrative has become tiresome

First, a million points to anyone who gets that reference without having to Google it. Anyway... I promise I'll be back on the topic of the mind soon, when I have more time to write. In the meantime, here's another quickie.

Part of the reason I wanted to do a series on the mind is because just as this blog originally started as a way for me to think through a variety of issues by writing them out, I've been doing lots of reading on cognition and it helps me to think it through by writing. I'm not necessarily interested in constructing some sort of logically deductive argument that will be promptly nitpicked by all manner of interlocutors; instead, I'm interested in exploring and articulating the evidence for an empirically-responsible philosophy of mind, and sharing my thoughts with others.

In the past, this blog has hosted many a debate. More often than not, they quickly become tiresome point-counterpoint exchanges, filled with lots of blockquote tags, that leave …

What is Science?

A long time ago, Bud Uzoras of the excellent, now semi-retired blog Dead Logic invited me to do a post on science — specifically, my answer to the question "What is science?". Well, I got sidetracked, forgot about it several times, drafted several posts, forgot about them, and it just never materialized. But, the idea was good. And in my last post on the mind, I offered up a definition on what science is that I thought was concise and complete. So I'm going to take a break from my mind series and talk briefly about what, in my opinion science is.

I think science can be defined simply as follows: the search for stable truths.

In my experience, most define science as the study of the empirical, or of the "natural world", or of physical things. But all these definitions are wanting. What, exactly, is the natural world? Near-death studies attempt (and fail) to quantify the experience of disembodiment and demonstrate that the mind can exist without the body. If they…

Toward an Understanding of the Mind: Problems with Dualism

Dualism comes in a variety of forms. The most common two are Cartesian substance dualism, which says that the mind and body are distinct substances and can exist without one another; and property dualism, which says that the mind has distinct properties from the brain, but emerges from the brain. I mentioned Ed Feser in my last post, and he along with a few other theologians subscribe to what they call hylemorphic dualism, in which they claim that the mind and body are different forms of the same substance.

This can all be a little confusing. Cartesian dualism and hylemorphic dualism entail a supernatural view of the mind, while property dualists may or may not be materialists. For the purposes of this series, I'm not particularly concerned with the minutiae of the different schools of dualistic thought; rather, I'm focused on the overarching thesis that the mind is fundamentally non-physical. That is, the qualia of the mind — abstractions, semantics, and metaphor — all litera…

Toward an Understanding of the Mind: The Mind-Body Problem

I'm thinking about a cat. I can 'see' the cat in my mind's eye, and 'hear' its meows. I can think of a series of events, like me petting the cat and/or launching it from a potato gun into a warehouse full of pillows while it wears a little helmet with flames painted on the side. You can, of course, visualize all this as well.

But what's really going on here? We aren't visualizing a literal cat — that is, there isn't a physical cat lodged in our brains. The cat is some kind of mental representation of something that exists 'out there'. It doesn't seem to make any sense to say it's physical. So, it's an abstraction. But what is that? Semantics, metaphor, abstraction — what exactly are these things? They can't be physical — you can't open up a human brain and find "semantics". But if they're non-physical, what does that mean?

Renee Descartes attempted to capture the mystery of the mind in the Sixth Meditation:

Toward an Understanding of the Mind: Introduction

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I've been fascinated by the mind for as long as I can remember. I minored in psychology in college, and I remember being especially fascinated with cognitive psychology. My psych courses had a habit of disabusing me of many of my long-held beliefs. In one of my first psychology courses, a section on the psychology of possession disabused me of the notion that my 'spiritual' experiences as a young Christian were unique; in fact they were common to people all over the world, from a litany of major, minor, and tribal religions. In part of my cognitive psych course, I was disabused of the romanticized view of dreams, which are little more than random firings of long-term memory, unencumbered by an influx of conscious sensory data. My fascination with the mind has continued over the years — I've read quite a few books on cognition and memory, I follow neurologist Steve Novella at his excellent blog, and I always enjoy the occasional issue of Scientific American Mind
This b…