Mind Over Matter

mind_over_matter_by_sarbzIn discussing Mackie’s “Miracle of Theism”, we’ve covered quite a bit about morality, and are now moving into an argument from consciousness.

This was put forward by Locke, and is essentially the idea that mind only comes from mind. If one accepts that, it appears that there must have been some first mind that is the original source of mind.

Leibnitz (of the famous cosmological argument for God’s existence) rejected this argument for what, in my opinion, are more valid reasons than why Mackie does so. That is, Leibnitz pointed out that the argument, if you follow the details, reaches the conclusion that there was always a mind, but not that there is a single, eternal mind.

This option isn’t open to Mackie who, as a materialist, can’t accept the idea that there has always been at least one mind. Instead, he asserts that mind can come from matter alone.

He does so in a fairly standard way: appealing to computer science to question the idea that all material particles can do is “knock, impel, and resist one another”. At the time of writing, it was widely believed that minds aren’t fundamentally different from computers.

But, if that makes Mackie’s (mis)use of the idea understandable, it does not excuse those who are still using it. A computer isn’t anything like a conscious mind, as it is pure supposition to think this explains consciousness.

However, Mackie also makes a much better, and much more interesting objection. He points out that anyone who believes that material substances could be conscious (that is, someone who believes that brains can think) already agrees with the basic idea that matter can give rise to consciousness.

The trouble is that it is only the materialist who believes this.

Brains don’t think; minds think. And it is only by demanding that there is nothing more to the mind that the physical processes going on in the brain that one can make this argument.

But I’ve argued (perhaps ad nauseum) that, unless we’re willing to take a broader definition of “matter” and “physical” than is allowed by science, there is more going on in the mind than just the physical. It has been demonstrated, in many ways, that the actual experiences of everyday life aren’t physical. It isn’t that they aren’t explained by science “yet”; it is that the definition of science forbids it from ever explaining those things.

Mackie knows this, and approvingly quotes this passage from Swineburne:

“Any world-view which denies the existence of experienced sensations of blueness or loudness or pain does not describe how things are–that this is so stares us in the face. Consequently ‘Some kind of dualism of entities or properties or states is inevitable.”

This seems rather obvious. So, what is Mackie’s response? He makes the fairly reasonable point that this only supports property dualism, and otherwise points out that substance dualists haven’t solved “the interaction problem”.

These are both true, but neither of them help Mackie’s case.

First is because theism doesn’t require substance dualism. Modern, atheist philosophers seem to think that this view of the mind is somehow umbilically linked to belief in God in general or Christianity in particular. In fact, Christianity got on for more than a dozen centuries without it. And, yes, it had a well-developed concept of the mind.

To the first point, property dualism isn’t a way out of this bind for the materialist. This is for the very simple reason that property dualism isn’t materialism, but a denial of it. It is the explicit statement that there is more to objects than the physical. If one is willing to concede that much, one has conceded that the entire support for modern atheism is false.

Of course, property dualism has its own problems, and the more it sorts them out, the more it starts to look like either the substance dualism that so many equate with theism or the hylemorphic dualism that Christianity embraced prior to modern philosophy.

Of course, it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that this, by itself, hasn’t proved God’s existence. I find myself in agreement with Leibnitz–that this particular argument does not do so. What is has shown, and what so many devout atheists have been banging their heads against, is that materialism is false.

And that is a point of no small concern.

5 responses to “Mind Over Matter

  • cogitatingduck

    Well explicated. Too bad more people don’t engage critically with a post like this, rather than ones focused on indefensible memes.

    I’m not overly familar with Mackie. Does his work deal with supervenience?

    • Debilis

      Thank you. And, yes, I’m always bothered by the discrepancy in response–not sure what to do about that.

      But all I can say is that Mackie doesn’t speak much to superveniece when he discusses the mind in the book. I’ve not read his other writings.

      But I hope to eventually have some things up about supervenience–as it’s definitely a big part of the conversation on mind.

  • Mark Hamilton

    I find that the less you know about how computers actually work, the more likely you are to believe that they’ll inevitably develop consciousness if we can make them powerful enough. Computers are tools that follow a series of programmed rules to arrive at a conclusion. They don’t think. They don’t even come close to thinking. Nobody says that a mechancial coin sorter can think because it can sort coins, yet because a computer sorts information instead of matter we are easily convinced that it’s a “thinking machine.” In reality the difference between the mechanical coin sorter and the computer is one of degree, not kind. Tell a man that they can make a conscious robot using only clockwork and metal gears and they’d laugh in your face. Tell them that you’ll make it out of silicon instead and they’ll believe it without question.

    • Debilis

      Very well said. I wish I could be that clear and succinct on a point.

      I’ll have to reference people to this comment when next the issue comes up.

    • Frank Morris

      Mark, I have to agree with you on all points.

      Materialists foolishly use “artificial intelligence” as “proof” that consciousness and human intellect can happen by random happenstance. That is so wrong on so many levels.

      It ought to be clear, even to materialists, that robotic and computer “intelligence” is caused by intelligent humans. Computers don’t form themselves, self-program and then tap into and process a power source by luck.

      Intelligence can not be formed by accident under any circumstances.

      Also, as you noted, computers aren’t really intelligent just as “smart phones”: aren’t really smart. They do only what they must do based on human manipulation. They have no choice.

      If you pull the string on a doll and she says “I love you mommy” she doesn’t really love you. Plastic can’t love any more than any material can love or think anything at all.

      As you said, even the most sophisticated computer differs from a common household toaster only in a matter of degree.

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