Re: Genes in Brains

From: Dace (
Date: Sun Oct 14 2001 - 20:12:21 BST

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    Subject: Re: Genes in Brains
    Date: Sun, 14 Oct 2001 12:12:21 -0700
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    Everything I ahve been taught is about analysing observables, and
    unfortunately minds aren't in that category.

    Minds are observable both directly and indirectly. We can observe our own minds directly and those of other people indirectly. According to Clark Humphrey, an expert in chimpanzee behavior, the capacity to infer the minds of others based on awareness of one's own mentality gave an edge to some chimps over others. If you recognize that a potential competitor has a mind, you can learn to anticipate and even manipulate the thoughts that appear in that mind. This is why reflexive consciousness was selected for among our primate ancestors. The observability of mentality, both direct and by inference, is essential to its evolution among primates, including us.

    That we observe our minds doesn't mean we observe our brains. To observe your brain, you'd need two things-- a mirror and a hacksaw.

    .......if so what is this "you" that's so positive? Not only do we observe
    mentality but mentality is what does the observing.

    I don't know what this "me" is. I have some gut feelings, but nothing
    approaching a scientific idea. I know what "others" are (oh God, this is
    startingto sound like Sartre, isn't it?), in the sense of corporeal bodies,
    but I'm no more certain about the reality of other minds than I am about
    my own.

    What is it, precisely, that's "certain" or "uncertain"? You're implying your own mental existence even as you deny it.

    I agree that all my observations (scientific or otherwise) present
    themselves to me as qualia - all the figures on the screen, all the graphics
    etc, all are products of my brain in some way, but it's easier if we stick to
    observing stuff that we at least know has some tangible reality.

    A thing is real when it continues to exist regardless of whether or not we continue believing in it. This clearly applies to the mind, which is alive and well even after years of behaviorism and now eliminativism. Belief itself is a mental trait. To believe that mentality is unreal is to assert its reality.

    In summary
    minds observing minds - very difficult
    minds observing mindless objects - a bit easier

    This assumes that objects are somehow more tangible or fundamental or "solid" than minds. This error leads us to imagine that we can understand minds by reducing them to brains. The "mind-body problem" is thus the question of how exactly the brain accounts for mental traits.

    As Chomsky says, in his essay, "Language and Nature," it makes no sense to try to understand mentality in terms of matter when we have no idea what matter is in the first place. In the 17th century it was thought that matter worked entirely according to contact mechanics. Then Newton came along and demonstrated that gravity acts at a distance, setting off a long process in which our common sense notions of matter have been undermined. Here's Chomsky:

    "Newton exorcised the machine, leaving the ghost intact. Furthermore,
    nothing has replaced the machine. Rather, the sciences went on to postulate
    ever more exotic and occult entities: chemical elements whose 'number and
    nature' will probably never be known (Lavoisier), fields and waves, curved
    space-time, the notions of quantum theory, infinite one-dimensional strings
    in space of high dimensionality, and even stranger notions.

    "The criterion of conformity to common sense vanished along with contact
    mechanics. There is also no coherent notion of material, physical, and so
    on. Hence there is no mind-body problem, no question about reduction of the
    mental to the physical, or even unification of the two domains. The
    contemporary orthodoxies seem unintelligible, along with the efforts to
    refute them. Advocates and critics are in the same (sinking) boat, and no
    reconciliation is needed, or possible."


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