Saturday, May 31, 2014

Are you an illusion?

Finished Are you an Illusion? and it continues to delight. Let me share some more gems, but it has also sparked some thinking which may be the subject of the next post:
  • (Quoting Roger Carpenter) the phonological way of looking at the brain...embodies a simplistic approach long abandoned in genetics...Where is not how; what we really need to know are not the locations of brain activity but the underlying neural mechanisms.
  • When we say that one thing accounts for or explains another we don't usually mean it is the sole cause. We mean it fills a crucial gap in our current explanatory scheme...the kind of explanation that we need depends entirely on which ...questions we think important at the time.
  •  The idea of a sole cause for thought has...been so confidently proposed lately that is seems important to pause here and understand why it can't work...For example, when Einstein...tries out a new approach to a problem, he does indeed need to have his brain in good order...but he needs just as badly to have in his mind the whole background that has made his previous calculations possible. And he needs to go on attending sharply to the work of continuing it...Your mind is not an optional spare part; it is YOU, considered as a thinker, feeler and chooser rather than just as a physical object. At least that is how things are in the present life...If they will be different after death we shall have to deal with that new problem when it arises.  Subjectivity, then, is not an irrelevance, not a shameful secret; it is the basic stuff of human experience.
  • The necessary conditions of thought can never be simple. They radiate out indefinitely in a hundred directions...Mental causes do not block or compete with physical causes. Both are needed and all are equally real. So there cannot be such a thing as a sole cause or a sole explanation.
  • Officially, scientific minded people today are strict materialists...But...in practice...if they are called on to deal with some non-material force - for instance with money, or curiosity, or bad temper...or market forces, or the law - they do not just complain that this force is unreal. Nor do they insist on translating it into the movements of neurons or, indeed, quarks...They simply treat it as real....their professed materialism is not serious..It is a convention...conventions like this...harden cognitive dissonance [and] institutionalise...pseudo-scientific humbug which is a crucial element in the myths that rule us today.
  • Darwin was suggesting that the wishes of hen-phesants - their inner thoughts and feeling as they watched their various suitors - had affected, and finally determined, the design of later generations. This thought is frightening when it comes to animals but even more when it comes to people...which is why TH Huxley's obviously mistaken epihenomenalist doctrine that our  thoughts do not affect our actions still has supporters.
  • The word teleology..does not cover just concious human purposes but the whole of function. Aristotle...never thought of it as arising from purposes of a creative god.
  •  Thus the real point and value of life is held to lie in its producing more life...much like those unlucky people who only know how to make money and never learn how to spend it...[But] in fact living itself provides us with plenty of reasons to go on doing it...Sociobiology's preference for supposed occult dynastic motives over obvious social ones is not a parsimonious way of thinking and neither, as it happens, is it Darwinian. In The Descent of Man Darwin argued strongly that we are no just a sociable species but are naturally more sociable...than any of our relatives.
  • Dawkins's claim that the universe contains "at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good" cannot be right...our own planet - which is certainly part of the universe - is riddled with purpose. It is full of organisms...As for good and evil some quite definite things are good and others evil for each of them...being put under water is fine for fish and bad for zebras...Value...is not an extra feature pasted onto the facts by human observers. It is a real emergent property of situations in the world.
There are so many more gems here (I'm only up to p87) so I'll have to continue in another post. Do read the book!

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