Searle in Denial ?

I’ve now read about 40% of Searle’s “Mind”.

For most of the first third he is outlining Philosophy of Mind issues, mainly stemming from Descartes (and other disasters, as he puts it). He outlines the classic mind / matter problems, the standard refutations, and his arguments against the refutations and alternatives. I found myself screaming “No!” at the pages; all just a bit too pat and naive I thought. In one or two places he is very dismissive of alternatives views (Stapp’s quantum based mindfulness for example) and very anti the motives of many arguments – clinging to the defense of religiously held beliefs, etc, rather than positing credible new arguments, he says.

My main disagreements with the arguments so far, has tended to be too naive a view of “physics” and narrow (poorly defined) use of terms like mental, conscious, physical, material, substance, etc. Basic stuff, and over simplified Turing-machine brain-as-computer, mind-as-software metaphors. Schoolboy errors. (I have loads of notes to document my alternative views of the problems, refutations and arguments, but it seems futile, given …

… anyway – good news – in “Consciousness Part I”, ” … forget about history and traditional ways of thinking” he says, let’s just look at what we know. I say history is useful for understanding why things are in the mess they are, and the (religious) intentions behind many of the traditional mind-matter distinctions, but whilst helping avoid pitfalls, it can actually block progress in understanding. Effectively he is saying many of the problems and arguments around Philosophy of Mind are semantic misunderstandings around the traditional terminology. So we’re agreeing there.

He says the solution to the mind-matter problem really is that simple … mentality really is neuro-biological, with chemical / phsyical explanations. The only problem ever was what we though we meant by the mind-matter ontological split.

I still think I’m a “physicalist”, but not “reductionist” (effectively a good old “materialist”, but with a wide definition of “physical”), an epiphenomenologist, but without abandoning causation – roughly, mental is emergent from physical. As a self-proclaimed “biological naturalist” he makes some distinctions worth recognising however ….

Ontological distinctions, classifications, whilst binary, need not be exclusive in terms of entity membership – what is being classified is “aspectual” – an entity is being classified “in terms of” some aspect or properties, or “in some respect” – ie there is a “basis” for its classification.

For “mental” things, a first-personal, subjective ontology exists, whch may not map usefully to any third-personal, objective ontology – (ref qualia, spectrum reversal conundrum). This first person ontology includes “meaning” as well as intrinsic properties.

Identity remains a key knotty problem, given multiple ontological descriptions of the “same” thing. There are functional, intentional distinctions, as well as intrinsic properties, but these are really the first-person ontological distinctions

Causation is not all about sequencing of distinct events – there is an emergent simultaneous causation of underlying continuous micro-effects – like force fields.

Many descriptions are “logically possible” but not “interesting”, not likely to be of any use. (Motorcycle engine made comprising and arrangement of atoms, etc.) There are appropriate “levels” of description. (Interesting + appropriate = pragmatic IMHO)

(He excludes any possibility of “consciousness” existing separate from any material substrate … unnecessarily in my view … but I’d need to expand of “consciousness” to make sense. I’m tempted to use an “ethereal vs substantial” ontology rather than the traditional “mental vs physical”. Substantial is pretty much res-extensa, but the complement is not res-cogitans.)

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