Quick notes on mind, brain, will, action, etc.

As John Broughton’s surveys show, physicalism and dual-aspect theory of mind are as naively intuitive (i.e., in the child psyche) as dualism. Cf. Rieber, Body and Mind, pp. 188ff.

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One man, call him Johann, stands before another man, call him Gunther. Johann shouts repeatedly at Gunther’s legs, “Walk now! Go on, move! Walk forward!” But Gunther remains standing.

Johann’s then shifts his gaze to Gunther’s face and tries shouting again. “Go on, move! Hurry up! Walk past me, over there!” But Gunther remains motionless as before.

Finally Johann leans towards Gunther and shouts directly at his forehead, “I’m ordering you, walk away now!” After a moment or two of this, Gunther does walk away. Johann appears relieved.

What can we learn from this?

The brain is a physical organ of the human body. The legs are also human bodily organs (i.e, organoi somatikein (Greek?), tools of the body). According to some, it is the brain itself that perceives, grasps, computes, analyzes, and responds to stimuli, such as Johann’s shrill orders. If this were so, however, why does shouting at a man’s legs seem any more (or less) bizarre than shouting at his brain to compel action? It is the man, not his legs or brain, that initiates motion. Presumably the brain is wired “correctly” to grasp linguistic cues, while the legs lack sufficient complexity or neural sensitivity to “grasps” language. But if the legs are so dumb (or should I say deaf?), then how does the brain, ex hypothesi, “communicate” with them? Presumably, the same auditory “signals” sent by our words to a man’s brain are but coded differently as electrical “impulses” applied to the legs. (Again, though, do we really want to say the legs ‘have’, or perhaps ‘resist’, ‘impulses’ to ‘action’??) If so, this is just a vindication of hylopmorphism, insofar as the same formal order can dematierialize various tracts and levels of matter in the same way.

If the brain “causes” human action based on human signs and orders, how do the legs “respond to” such elevated things as speech and volition? Legs are but bone, nerves, and muscle stitched together, and we all know bones, nerves, and muscle are anything but cognizant. Yet, if I can “talk to” a man’s brain, and his brain can “talk to” his legs, why can’t I talk to his legs directly? (Is speech really just an electrical emisiion??) Do we really want to attribute such ‘translation’ skills to the brain, as one organic clump of matter among many?

Meaning is neither reducible to nor deducible from its constituent elements, not any more than a triangle is reducible to or deducible from its constituent elements. In the same, but metaphysically inverse, way that the phoneme “c” cannot and does not convey “cat”, the single neurons in the parietal auditory cerebral regions cannot and do not grasp the meaning of “cat.” Since neurons can only grasp distinct auditory inputs in spacetime input (viz., “c…a…t”), they cannot grasp “cat” without there being a synthetic organ of cognition. Presumably this is the brain itself, but even then, grasping what “cat” refers to is not the same as grasping what “cat” means. Otherwise, every time we heard “cat” we would look around for a small animal to feed, pet, or disdain. Words are not indices of objects, like bleeding holes are indices of gunshots, but rather signs (Gk., semeia, wonders) which possess an irreducibly intentional and immaterial dimension in which meaning exists––exists as neither a neural nor a cerebral, but rather a whole-person, phenomenon.

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I would also like to note how the title of Ted Honderich’s book How Free Are You? in and of itself seems to vitiate his thesis, namely, that determinism is true and humans lack free will. Free will is predicated on, among other things, the ability to grasp rational directives and truly deliberate between possible rational alternatives and options. In the very act of asking “How free are you?” Honderich presupposes a human capacity for deliberation––which makes no sense on determinism qua lack of a libero arbitrio. My ability to ponder just how free I am itself unveils my theletic dynamism as an agent susceptible to alternative replies to that question. As, I believe, Grisez, Finnis, anfd Boyle argue, the effort to convince non-determinists of determinism performatively undermines determinism. If it’s not up to the readers, or anyone else, to come to an answer on their own, freely and rationally, why bother asking the reader––or, indeed, oneself––how free we are? Why ‘ought’ a determinist get pissed at me, as a metaphysical libertarian, if, according to his own position, there is nothing I can do about my beliefs?

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