Thursday, 19 March 2015

Self Requisite For Causation? Part IV

In order to maintain our view of the Cartesian picture we tried to account for how the self is involved in the emotional process. What we discovered was we had difficulty attributing mental or physical causation. This is troubling because physical causation bypasses this Cartesian self completely, and mental causation gave that absurd picture of cause and effect. 

Since part of our identity revolves around our emotions we now find we have a hard time accounting for how a self could possibly interact with them. We have simply exposed how it is difficult to maintain these dualistic assumptions when we think about it logically. We will now further investigate our assumptions about self hood, by looking at the consequences of holding on to the idea that the Cartesian picture reflects reality in some way. 

Cartesian Animals

In terms of our Cartesian assumptions about the self, logically we have to deny that animals have any kind of self. This might seem quite contentious as we may or may not believe chimps have a rudimentary mind – whichever camp we may be in. However, trying to hang on to the Cartesian view leads us to another contradiction in the way we attribute the property of self hood to living things. 
Credit: Rob the doodler

In the first instance, Cartesian dualism is a religious theory. If you look back to part I, we were indoctrinated in to a dualistic view of the world at school. We were told by religious do gooders that there is an afterlife, and in popular culture it is taken as a given that the mind (the thinking thing) and the body are two numerically distinct entities. 
Even if we have atheistic tendencies, we might even believe we are some kind of transcendental mind that survives bodily death, even if we do not subscribe to beliefs in a deity.

Cartesian dualism was supposed to reconcile how we are able to survive bodily death in an afterlife. Whilst Descartes can surely be praised for some of his achievements, it was clear that he was unwilling to let go of his belief in god. We need only look at the preface of his famous meditations to see that he was strongly motivated by his religious beliefs, as well as his curiosity. 

It should be clear that in the Cartesian picture, after removing the body there is still a thinking thing which can go to heaven, hell, or whatever. With this in mind (no pun intended), we would be hard pushed to try and suggest that  animals also go to heaven because they have a thinking component. 
In fact, this is expressly forbidden in Cartesian dualism since Descartes regarded animals as automatons. That is to say, he argued cats and dogs are purely physical and lack the subjective experience that we have. 

The upshot of this view is that your dog does not experience pain when you accidentally tread on its paw. Nor does it feel the joy as it excitedly bounds its way to the hallway when it hears the rattle of its chain ready for walkies.

This seems to contradict our experience of animals, especially if you have ever owned a pet. This makes Cartesian dualism deeply counter intuitive from the outset here, but this alone is not sufficient to refute it. We must explore the consequences of this view and see what we else we come up with.

Mind = Soul = Subject

 On Descartes' Cartesian view then, the thinking thing was an incorporeal mind and he used this term interchangeably with the soul. This mind could experience emotions and think etc. Conversely, an animal could not think or experience emotion and consequently did not have a mind or soul. The reason for this was mentioned briefly earlier but is worth expounding in full as it is quite absurd. 

Since Descartes' theory was to garner religious credence, he would have a particularly hard time in those days, trying to convince people that cats and dogs had souls. Since he equated the mind with the soul he had to reject the idea that animals could have minds. 
Otherwise, he would have a hard time trying to theorise how snails and rats could be judged by god as being good or bad (I'm sure you can think up your own errant absurdities). By virtue of this logical absurdity, he had to commit to the idea that animals could only be automatons.

If we deny animals have minds though, we run in to the problem of accounting for how animals are able to solve puzzles or do complex tasks. We need only consider Kanzi the Bonobo cooking marshmallows on a fire he made. Kanzi learned how to do this from copying his handlers and the fascinating story is here.

It would be unrealistic to deny that some kind of rudimentary mind is necessary to undertake this task. Primates have mirror neurons like humans, and in order to complete a sequential task, there must be some kind of faculty to remember the order in which each sub-task is to be completed. For instance, one would have to collect dry wood first before starting the fire. 

To build a fire and cook a marshmallow, we would need to have the faculties to remember the sequence in order to achieve the result - Don't forget, a complex task such as this would be pushing the limits of Kanzi's intellect. Yet, according to the Cartesian view we would have to shrug our shoulders and say that the bonobo has no mind. Now we are left with the complete absurdity of explaining how Kanzi do complex tasks such as this, if Kanzi has no mind.

We could try and rescue a dualism claim by simply holding on to the notion that Kanzi is a automaton and has no phenomenal experience. 

This would entail that Kanzi is zombie like and then we do not have to explain away how animals might have some kind of mind/soul. We might even look at the phenomenology of how we made a camp fire in the past. Did we have to think out each step in a linear sequence or did we just do it in order without having to think too much about it?

This might suggest that Kanzi could do the task without having propositional content, or phenomenal concepts like 'wood' and 'fire' as such. However, it would be counter intuitive to say we didn't have a mind, simply because we were not intimately conscious of a schematic, or detailed plan of how to achieve toasted marshmallows. In virtue of our exhibiting behavioural intentionality, this suggests some kind of intelligence which we attribute to a mind, even if this 'mind' be basic or rudimentary. 

Even if we are unwilling to let go of this line of reasoning here, this stead fast conviction faces an even more devastating objection. 

If we were to ask how do you know your parents have a mind? You will find that you infer they do from their displays of intelligent behaviour. However, we have just denied that displays of intelligent behaviour are a sufficient condition to have a mind, when we deny Kanzi has a mind. That is to say, the intelligent behaviour we used to reason other people have minds formed the basis of this inference. 

If we deny that intelligent behaviour presupposes a mind, then how can we be sure that other human beings have minds? The assertion of whether humans or brutes are imbued with minds stands or falls on exactly the same ground.

This brings us right to the problem of 'other minds' which we will look into it in more detail another time. Just to outline it briefly, a Cartesian view means we have difficulty in asserting that the are other minds, besides our own. How can we be sure that everyone around us is not really a zombie, when we are trying to argue that we are some kind of special incorporeal non-physical mind inhabiting this body? 

Are there only zombies out there?
 We could only ever infer that there are other humans out there with a special class of thinking substance which we can only postulate exists. 

Hence we can never be certain that other people have phenomenal experience, or 'minds' on the Cartesian view* 

(* Footnote: a true sceptic would already reason this problem is also insoluble for anyone who subscribes to idealism. Scientific naturalism overcomes this difficulty by claiming the mind is numerically identical with the brain – i.e. we all have brains and so do many animals).

To bring this to a close, we now need to bring together the threads we have pulled and return to our non-conscious actions category once again. 

Part V Here...


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