What is the mind?

Anders N Weinstein andersw+ at pitt.edu
Mon Dec 7 13:58:34 EST 1998

In article <36694e2d.0 at ns2.wsg.net>, Ray Scanlon <rscanlon at wsg.net> wrote:
>> But the ordinary everyday environment, the world of
>>relevance to the ends of living organisms, the world in particular of
>>human meaning, goes missing if we allow this dichotomous thinking.
>Teleology belongs to religion, I thought everyone understood that. On

Biology would not exist as a science without teleogy, to say
nothing of ethology, the study of animal behavior.

When one of those nature programs describes features of some animal
form of life, the Galapogos tortoise, say, or the social insects,
they are hardly venturing into religion. Nor are they doing physical
science. You need to recognize there are not two worlds but many.

>>I mostly use common words, and I try to stick to behavior when I talk
>>about behavior. If A snubs B dead, the snubbing is not an event in the
>>neurons, it is something in the open that anyone might see.
>You date yourself. This "common language" stuff came up in the thirties when
>some British philosophers started "doing philosophy in the new way". It died

Right you are. That seems to me to have been the dawning of a golden age 
in philosophical understanding, in which old muddles were cleared away
and the old mysterious bogies and phantasms that haunted philosophical
thinking about the mind since Descartes disappeared in the brilliant 
daylight. Whereas every intrusion of scientific modes of thinking is 
a step back towards the darkness and confusion.

Or so it seems to me.  I think you are the outmoded one, your view of
Nature is stuck on a physicalism that dates from about the 17th

>The reality remains, for Science man is a mammal, a vertebrate, an animal.

But I agree man is an animal and part of the world of living organisms. 
That is my starting point: animate nature.

>Of animals, man is one of those that possess a neural net. All behavior of
>such an animal is driven by its neural net. One attempts to examine the
>neural net to determine which neurons do what. One examines the molecules in
>a neuron to determine which molecules do what.
>This is neuroscience.

This is a crude form of physicalism that simply does not follow. I repeat,
behavior can be taken under many descriptions. Under some descriptions,
neuroscience can explain it; but under others it cannot.

To take one claring example, a neuroscientific explanation must leave
out all features of context that go into the constitution of behavior
as a social act. Paying my rent by mailing a check, for example, is a
form of human behavior. But those neurally produced motions of my body
can only constitute paying rent (or even attempting to pay rent) if
certain human institutions are in effect. But it is no part of
neuroscience to deal with those, i.e. no part of neuroscience to deal
with behavior under these descriptions. So in a way, neuroscience
cannot explain why I paid my rent by check; it only explains why may
arm moved in various ways around ink and paper.

>Those philosophers who attempt teleology without invoking God, drool

A good rule of thumb is that degree of abusive language is inversely 
proportional to quality of argument. 

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