[Wittrs] Re: Ontologically Basic Ambiguity: Mode of Existence

  • From: "SWM" <SWMirsky@xxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 22 Mar 2010 16:09:19 -0000

--- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Gordon Swobe <wittrsamr@...> wrote:

> --- On Mon, 3/22/10, SWM <wittrsamr@...> wrote:
> > [Dennett] doesn't say Searle believes in ghosts because that's not
> > his position. He says Searle's argument requires a Cartesian
> > dualist's conception of mind to be considered valid in its
> > conclusion.
> To have a "Cartesian dualist's conception of mind" entails believing in
> ghosts! We inherited from Descartes the idea of the "ghost in the
> machine".

The point is not that Searle ASSERTS a belief in ghosts or that anyone accuses 
him of doing so but that his conception of mind is consistent with a belief in 
ghosts in the machine, even though he doesn't explicitly make any such claim or 
acknowledge that such a claim can be found in the CRA.

So Dennett doesn't accuse Searle of "believing in ghosts" because to believe in 
something (in a case like this) is to espouse a claim asserting its existence.

This is a verbal problem arising from the distinction between implicit and 

> I must concur with Joe that it makes no sense to consider Searle a
> Cartesian, or even to believe that Dennett's insinuations to that effect
> have substance. Looks to me like nothing more than subtle name-calling by
> a philosopher who cannot offer a legitimate argument to refute the third
> axiom of the CRA, except to wave his hands and say "Perhaps understanding
> would happen in the CR if it had 'more of the same'." I don't consider that 
> an argument.

It is if you see the distinction between thinking of understanding as a 
property of a system rather than as a property of a process.

And that IS Dennett's argument. But I suppose it can look like "hand waving" (a 
favorite pejorative on lists like these when the writer doesn't like or agree 
with the claim of another) if one doesn't see the progression of reasons 

Since I've already laid it out, I won't bother to do so again in any detail as 
it's unlikely to do any more good now than before. But suffice it to say that 
Dennett's argument hinges on the idea that consciousness (it's full range of 
features) can be understood as features of a complex system.

Searle's CRA only works if consciousness CANNOT be understood in this way, but 
THAT has the effect of denying that consciousness can be broken down into 
constituents of itself which are not, themselves, conscious. And THAT is to say 
consciousness is ontologically basic, a bottom line feature of the universe not 
dependent for its occurrence on physical phenomena.

Of course Searle ALSO asserts that consciousness is caused by brains, i.e., a 
certain kind of physical phenomenon. So either he is saying that it is a caused 
ontological basic or, if it is in fact reducible to brain processes, then it 
isn't basic in this way in which case he cannot draw the conclusion from the CR 
that he does with the CRA, namely that certain physical processes in machines 
(computational processes running on computers) cannot do what brain processes 
do BECAUSE, on our consideration of them we can see that they are not conscious 
in any of their constituent parts.

> Dennett needs to refute the default position - the null hypothesis - which 
> states that more of the same will lead to more of the same. And he needs to 
> do this *without* begging the question of whether the human brain exists as a 
> computer.
> -gts

He doesn't need to refute any such thing. He only has to show that Searle's 
argument hinges on a conception of consciousness which is not a given, i.e., 
that consciousness may very well be explainable as a system property rather 
than as the process property the CRA presumes it to be.

Searle's argument depends on it being the case that consciousness IS a property 
of some physical processes (brain processes) but not of others (computer 

But there is no evidence that that is the case and it is hardly self-evident, 
contra Searle's own claims, since it could be the case that consciousness is a 
system property. Once we see there is at least one other possibility, there's 
no reason to simply accept Searle's argument.

Moreover, since Searle's argument ONLY addresses one way of understanding 
consciousness, it can have no implications for the possibilities that relate to 
a different way of understanding consciousness.

To put some flesh on this theoretical skeleton: Just because the constituents 
of the CR cannot "cause" (Searle's term here, of course) consciousness in the 
CR is no reason to assume they cannot do it in any other configuration (a more 
robustly specked R, i.e., one with more processes doing more things in an 
integrated/interactive way).

As I have long said, in the end this comes down to competing conceptions of 
consciousness, of mind. That is why it is so important to see what Searle's 
conception really means and where it takes us.


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