Philosophy of mind conversations:

Questions asked by Brandon Fendon, and answers by me (Emanuel Ciobanica). Inspired by “Philosophy of mind ” books By E.J. Lowe and K.T. Maslin

Q: According to Kripke, what is essential to a pain being a pain? And what seems to follow from his answer to this?

A: According to the American Philosopher Saul Kripke, the essential feature of  pain to be a pain is simply that it feels painful. There is no need for all the elements we might be ignorant to, there is no need for C-fibres to fire in order to experience “true” pain. “What happens neurologically is irrelevant” it is the way it feels that makes it pain. You can imagine pain in the absence of C-fibres firing, as a result,  pain is not identical with C-fibres. Thus Kripke has effectively rejected the mind/body identity theory which states that all mental states are simply brain processes. Also in this light we have to rethink Descartes’ statement that he can “imagine” his mind/consciousness not having a body, as being something conceivable given Kripke’s strong arguments. As a result from all this mental states cannot be constituted by the physical. “Thus a complete reductive materialism is not achievable.”


Q: According to Polger, there exists a tension between philosophers who embrace functionalism. Some believe that the legitimacy of psychology is enhanced by the prospect for reduction that functionalism allows, while others believe that the legitimacy of psychology is threatened by that very same prospect of reduction. First, briefly explain each of the views in tension, then state which view you would side with and why?

A: Some philosophers consider that the reduction of psychological to physical is what is going to help Psychology defend itself against other sciences and stand independent. They are looking at reduction as a way of making general rules that will be easy to apply. Allowing a clear explanation of processes (Putnam). By saying that the psychological is nothing “over and above” the physical they are limiting the “mystery” and thus it all seems more grounded.
Other philosophers fear that the same reduction is a potential weak link. They believe that the reason functionalism was suitable in the first place,  because it balanced the existence of physical states with the non-reducibility to only physical and that there is more. The key being that the psychological should not be identical with the physical. And that being said, psychology is potentially an independent and irreducible science, “and the entities that it studies are ontologically real and explanatorily legitimate in their own right”.
The tension is formed because the two sides are torn between loosing grasp of physical by saying that psychology is non-physical or going all in, and saying that it’s identical with physical. By saying the latter, they accept that it will be seen as a study of “physical realizers”.
In my opinion, the first seems an easy and good position because it gives a structure and reference point rooted in the physical, one can agree with this view only in the sense that the psychological is sometimes “reduced” and limited by the physical. But one cannot help but see that the second opinion is much more free and leaves room for individualism, in the sense that we are all different and it is not going to be easy to succeed in reducing all beings to their physical functions.


Q: When examining the experiments performed by Benjamin Libet, what power does Lowe say that consciousness appears to retain? Explain.

A: The neuro-psychologist Benjamin Libet performed an experiment recording the body’s choice of moving and response time by recording electrical activity. What he found was that the motor cortex has a slight electrical potential takes place before the conscious choice was made. The conclusion was that given that the “subject’s conscious choice to make the movement occurs only about one fifth of a second before the movement begins”,  thus significantly later than the “readiness potential“. The reasonable conclusion is that initiated choices are rather unconscious brain-processes. Lowe suggests that if the findings are reliable we can conclude that ‘choice’ is an illusion, and that there is no conscious volition, the movement being caused by prior unconscious activity and that would conclude, says Lowe, that conscious ‘choices’ are “epiphenomenal rather than efficacious”. This is a clear empirical element that we actually lack free will. However there is the fact that all subjects could refrain from completing the movement if so desired, thus there is a way to control choice.

Lowe’s view of consciousness in this case is that acts of will have a genuine causal role in the genesis of bodily movements, our will still seems to be under the “threat” when we think about conscious choices that are “causally determined by prior events and processes”. If our conscious choices are “uncaused”, or not fully causally determined, then what he is asking is whether it is naturally to conclude that conscious is a random occurrence, happening by chance? Thus, are we responsible for them ?


Q: Dennett considers Haugeland’s challenge to artificial intelligence (that nothing could “matter” to an artificially intelligent robot). He then mentions two ways that things could be made to “matter” to a robot. What are they? Give your reasons for either agreeing or disagreeing with Dennett on this point.

A: Haugeland’s claim that was advanced against artificial intelligence in 1985, was the fact that nothing would ever “matter” to such an artificial structure. “Mattering” was seen by him as essence of consciousness. Dennett says that Haugeland restricted his claim to traditional systems and did not consider robots. Thus Dennett stipulates to the fact that there is a possibility that Haugeland might reconsider his claim and that things might matter to “Cog” (humanoid artificial intelligence). But pleasure and pain for Cog are merely an example of simulacrum in their simplicity (Dennett). The burden of proof is shifted to Cog, what we think matters for us and other creatures is just as arbitrary.
I believe that, if Cog redesigns itself and even third parties like the designers have a hard time understanding and keeping track of development, then it is entirely possible that he will be able to get very close to what we perceive as being a conscious being. That does not mean that because it can fool us, then it has to be true. I do not really trust my perceptions beyond all reasonable doubt.


Q: Consider Lowe’s discussion of the notion of ‘self-deception’. Do you think it literally possible for a person to deceive himself or herself? What do you think is going on in cases where people appear to be deceiving themselves?

A: ‘Self-deception’ in this case is used as a defence and denial mechanism, in order to lower the potential emotional impact. It is irrational state, where the person’s desires are far more powerful than the plain facts. When hearing something that we do not agree with, or do not accept as being true, we usually go through the “Kübler-Ross model”, five stages namely: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. We cannot deny that we are capable of deceiving ourselves so much that we can distort any kind of sensory perception, we can alter, deceive, and recreate “reality”/ memory. We are powerful beings, and without proper guidance (philosophy, wisdom, knowledge, critical thinking, maybe psychology? etc.) we are lost in emotional impulses and indeed loose grasp.


Comming soon

Essay based on :

Topic: Consider both substance dualism (either the Cartesian version or Lowe’s version) and the Identity theory (either type-type or token-token) of the mind/body relation. Which view do you think is better able to address the problem of psychophysical emergence? Which view do you think provides a better account of the mind/body relation in general? Defend your choice against two objections.

Emanuel Ciobanica(c)Copyright Notice

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