[lit-ideas] Consciousness or "Grice" belongs in W2

  • From: Adriano Palma <Palma@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 9 Sep 2015 05:25:11 +0000

On the outer frontiers of knowledge

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Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Logical Corpuscularism

We are considering certain objections (possible or actual -- and 'actual'
as actually raised by Popper) against any type of corpuscularism, logical or
other.

In a message dated 9/8/2015 2:52:58 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
the 'downward causation' of consciousness on its brain, which Popper defends
in "The Self and Its Brain".
It is not the claim that consciousness "produces" the brain - unless we take
this in a way so loose it is unhelpful. It is not suggested that the existence
of the brain depends on consciousness. It is also admitted that consciousness
depends on there being a brain - a physical substrate for its activity. It is
also admitted that consciousness is a product of that physical substrate. What
is claimed, by way of "downward causation", is that consciousness is not
entirely brain-dependent and acquires some autonomy of 'action', and is able
by that autonomous 'action' to interact with its brain - and so exercise some
form of 'downward causation' on the physical brain substrate from which it
emerges. So it is claimed that some mental states exercise some causal affects
on some physical brain states - but it is not necessarily claimed that these
causal effects entirely "produce" the affected brain state (as other brain
states may play a causal role)."

I see some similarity with William James here (and Steven R. Bayne seems to be
the expert here). If I raise my hand, say.

As philosophers of action, like Danto, and Bruce Aune, have noted the
complexities involved here, which are merely (to use McEvoy's example) TOUCHED
in essays like Grice's "INTENTION and UNCERTAINITY" and "Method in
philosophical psychology". In "Intention and Uncertainty", Grice calls himself
a neo-Prichardian, since by that time J. O. Urmson had reprinted some of
Prichard's essays on

willing, intending

Grice was fascinated that Prichard had focused on WILLING-THAT.

I.e.

i. Popper willed that his left arm be raised.
---- Therefore Popper's left arm was raised.

McEvoy here would distinguish between:

A. Popper's brain (composed of corpuscules) B. Popper's consciousness (or nest
of intentions and willings).

For Prichard and Grice, an 'intention' to raise one's arm is understood
CAUSALLY in a rather complex way:

ii. a. Popper wills that his left arm be raised.
--- b. Popper believes that if he wills that his left arm be raised, his left
arm will be raised.
--- c. Popper believes that (a) and (b) CAUSES Popper's raising his left arm.

(I think Grice's example is Prichard scratching his head).

Back to McEvoy's commentary:

"the 'downward causation' of consciousness on its brain",

Grice would not use 'consciousness' (a term of art) but personal identity, and
specific personal identities, say, "Grice", as in

iii. Grice wills to scratch his head.

(vide Grice, "Personal Identity"). 'Consciousness' seems perhaps too abstract.
It's people like Grice who are, on occasion, conscious or not. Grice's essay
deals with Reid's counterexample (alleged) to Locke's memory-based approach of
personal identity as a 'logical' construction out of mnemonic states.

McEvoy continues:

"which Popper defends in "The Self and Its Brain". It is not the claim that
consciousness "produces" the brain - unless we take this in a way so loose it
is unhelpful. It is not suggested that the existence of the brain depends on
consciousness."

Well, from an evolutionary point of view, this is Grice's view of cabbages (and
kings). A brain is what a brain is for (teleo-functionalism). If the whole
point of Grice's brain is that Grice can regard himself as Grice, Grice's brain
does depend on the 'telos' of Grice having a consciousness. In less specific
terms: the human brain, as every physical anthropologist is obsessed with
torturing his students with, the changes in the evolution of the human brain
(to 'Homo sapiens') have to do with things in Homo-sapiens's consciousness
that this or that physical change in the brain of Hominids did produce.

McEvoy:

"It is also admitted that consciousness depends on there being a brain - a
physical substrate for its activity."

This is good. Consciousness or "Grice" belongs in W2, so it's good that Popper
is allowing for W2 items to have a W1-substratum. This being Locke's reading of
Boyle's corpuscular theories, and Locke's explanation of primary and secondary
qualities. Locke's perception of BULK, for example, is PRIMARY, since BULK is
a primary quality of a corpuscule. If Locke takes this bulk of sugar to his
mouth, the taste of sweetness is a secondary quality, because while it depends
on primary qualities, it's not like the corpuscules _per se_ are sweet.

McEvoy:

"It is also admitted that consciousness is a product of that physical
substrate."

This is good from an evolutionary point of view, even if, if we adopt a
teleo-functional approach, we allow that the lung was developed out of the
creature's desire to breath, and the leg (of the animal, not the table)
developed out of the desire of the animal to walk (for Aristotle, plants were
animals that did not walk), and the brain developed out of the problems "Homo
sapiens" found himself having to solve "under the circumstances". A dinosaur's
brain differs from Homo-sapiens brain because they deal with different problems
(And no, the main problem for a dinosaur is NOT to eat a Homo-sapiens, they
were herbivorous on average).

McEvoy, finally, considers what 'downward causation' boils down to for theories
like Boyle's, etc.:

"What is claimed, by way of "downward causation", is that consciousness is not
ENTIRELY [my emphasis -- Speranza] brain-dependent"

This may require a complex analysis in terms of necessary and sufficient
conditions. It reminds me of Mill's generalities about causation in the
sections of inductive logic in "System of Logic".

McEvoy:

"and acquires some autonomy of 'action',"

There may be some category mistake here. Does consciousness act? Grice acts.
Autonomy was I think a keyword in Kant's system. Are we saying Grice is
autonomous. McEvoy had previously used AUTOMATA, which may, ironically, relate!
In previous notes, McEvoy used the abstract (Anglo-Saxon, contra "The
Wake) noun, 'freedom', as in "human freedom". Are we saying Grice is 'free'.
As I say, 'free' can be a problem, and Grice was obsessed with providing a
linguistic botany for the uses of 'free' he encountered: there's free fall,
which is physical (as: "The nurse dropped the patient's brain, and it was a
short, but strict, free fall of the brain to the floor. Fortunately, there was
no damage, and the doctor could proceed with the transplant, and even the
floor was not a mess." Then there's, Grice notes, 'sugar-free' and
'alcohol-free', and finally, Grice is free in that he is not a slave. He can
raise his arm (which is back to the sort of examples that fascinated William
James in his Elements of Psychology -- is there telepathy for example?)

McEvoy:

"and is able by that autonomous 'action' to interact with its brain"

Well, the idea that Grice interacts with his brain has a science-fiction touch
about it.

iv. Grice wills to stop his headache (which he knows it's brain-produced).
---- He believes that if he takes three aspirins, his headache will stop.
---- Therefore he does that. And he no longer has a headache.

But note that it's an aching head (and thus slightly dysfunctional brain --
Grice with a headache, or Witters with a tootache) that brings Grice or Witters
to do, freely, this or that (take three aspirins, remove his head, or go to a
dentist, as the case might be).

McEvoy: "and so exercise some form of 'downward causation' on the physical
brain substrate from which it emerges."

McEvoy nicely manages to insert his favourite keyword (second to 'merely'):
'emerges' -as if to say that Grice-qua-consciousness is a logical construction
of the physical stratum (Grice's body) out of which Grice-qua-person emerges.
When proposing his 'logical construction approach to personal identity', Grice
is dubious:

v. Grice fell from the stairs.

In this case, "Grice" does NOT refer to Grice-consciousnes, but Grice being
the 'complex' body-and-soul. I think this type of theory was later refined by
Strawson and Parfitt ("The concept of a person"). Ayer, too, has an essay on
"The concept of a person" that may relate.

vi. Grice's head was hit by a cricket ball.

seems to refer merely to the physical. While,

vii. Grice KNOWS that he will join the Royal Navy soon.

(He wrote "Personal identity" before the 1939-1945 war) seems to be for Grice
merely 'mental' -- he is playing with approaches to the mind-body problem
after the convoluted theories of Cambridge philosopher Broad and opts for a
'logical construction' theory of the ego).

McEvoy concludes:

"So it is claimed that some mental states exercise some causal affects on some
physical brain states - but it is not necessarily claimed that these causal
effects entirely "produce" the affected brain state (as other brain states may
play a causal role)."

This has a Davidsonian ring to it, and we may want to elaborate on it. For the
refinements may go along the lines:

i. Some mental state (Grice's willingness that his arm be raised) causes a
state in Grice's brain that 'fulfils' this willingness: his brain then proceeds
to interact with Grice's arm and Grice's arm is raised -- so he can scratch
his head and relieve the itch.
ii. "Brain state" seems ambiguous in that we seem to be concentrating on brain
states that have some 'manifestation' in behaviour, to use a
Wittgensteinianism. Grice's willingness to scratch his head has a correlate or
substratum in some state of Grice's brain, but there may be some brain sates in
Grice's brain that have no outward manifestation and about which, to put it
bluntly, Grice could care less (while his wife could NOT care less).

And so on.

Cheers,

Speranza


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  • » [lit-ideas] Consciousness or "Grice" belongs in W2 - Adriano Palma