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Biological naturalism

Biological naturalism

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Biological naturalism is a monist
Monism
Monism is any philosophical view which holds that there is unity in a given field of inquiry. Accordingly, some philosophers may hold that the universe is one rather than dualistic or pluralistic...

 theory about the relationship between mind
Mind
The concept of mind is understood in many different ways by many different traditions, ranging from panpsychism and animism to traditional and organized religious views, as well as secular and materialist philosophies. Most agree that minds are constituted by conscious experience and intelligent...

 and body
Body
With regard to living things, a body is the physical body of an individual. "Body" often is used in connection with appearance, health issues and death...

 (i.e. brain
Human brain
The human brain has the same general structure as the brains of other mammals, but is over three times larger than the brain of a typical mammal with an equivalent body size. Estimates for the number of neurons in the human brain range from 80 to 120 billion...

), and hence an approach to the mind-body problem. It was first proposed by the philosopher John Searle
John Searle
John Rogers Searle is an American philosopher and currently the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.-Biography:...

 in 1980 and is defined by two main theses: 1) all mental phenomena
Mental event
A mental event is a particular occurrence of something going on in the mind or mind substitute. It can be a thought, a dream, a feeling, a realization, or any other mental activity. Mental events are not limited to human thought but can be associated with animal and artificial intelligence as...

 from pains, tickles, and itches to the most abstruse thoughts are caused by lower-level neurobiological processes in the brain; and 2) mental phenomena are higher-level features of the brain.

This entails that the brain has the right causal
Causality
Causality is the relationship between an event and a second event , where the second event is understood as a consequence of the first....

 powers to produce intentionality
Intentionality
The term intentionality was introduced by Jeremy Bentham as a principle of utility in his doctrine of consciousness for the purpose of distinguishing acts that are intentional and acts that are not...

. However, Searle's biological naturalism does not entail that brains and only brains can cause consciousness. Searle is careful to point out that while it appears to be the case that certain brain functions are sufficient for producing conscious states, our current state of neurobiological knowledge prevents us from concluding that they are necessary for producing consciousness. In his own words:

"The fact that brain processes cause consciousness does not imply that only brains can be conscious. The brain is a biological machine, and we might build an artificial machine that was conscious; just as the heart is a machine, and we have built artificial hearts. Because we do not know exactly how the brain does it we are not yet in a position to know how to do it artificially." (Biological Naturalism, 2004)

Overview


Searle denies Cartesian dualism
Dualism (philosophy of mind)
In philosophy of mind, dualism is a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, which begins with the claim that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical....

, the idea that the mind is a separate kind of substance to the body, as this contradicts our entire understanding of physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

, and unlike Descartes
René Descartes
René Descartes ; was a French philosopher and writer who spent most of his adult life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the 'Father of Modern Philosophy', and much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day...

, he does not bring God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

 into the problem. Indeed, Searle denies any kind of dualism, the traditional alternative to monism, claiming the distinction is a mistake. He rejects the idea that because the mind is not objectively viewable, it does not fall under the rubric of physics.

Searle believes that consciousness "is a real part of the real world
Reality
In philosophy, reality is the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined. In a wider definition, reality includes everything that is and has been, whether or not it is observable or comprehensible...

 and it cannot be eliminated
Eliminative materialism
Eliminative materialism is a materialist position in the philosophy of mind. Its primary claim is that people's common-sense understanding of the mind is false and that certain classes of mental states that most people believe in do not exist...

 in favor of, or reduced to, something else" whether that something else is a neurological state of the brain or a software program. He contends, for example, that the software known as Deep Blue knows nothing about chess
Chess
Chess is a two-player board game played on a chessboard, a square-checkered board with 64 squares arranged in an eight-by-eight grid. It is one of the world's most popular games, played by millions of people worldwide at home, in clubs, online, by correspondence, and in tournaments.Each player...

. He also believes that consciousness is both a cause of events in the body and a response to events in the body.

On the other hand, Searle doesn't treat consciousness as a ghost in the machine
Ghost in the machine
The "ghost in the machine" is the British philosopher Gilbert Ryle's description of René Descartes' mind-body dualism. The phrase was introduced in Ryle's book The Concept of Mind to highlight the perceived absurdity of dualist systems like Descartes' where mental activity carries on in parallel...

. He treats it, rather, as a state of the brain. The causal interaction of mind and brain can be described thus in naturalistic terms: Events at the micro-level (perhaps at that of individual neurons) cause consciousness. Changes at the macro-level (the whole brain) constitute consciousness. Micro-changes cause and then are impacted by holistic changes, in much the same way that individual football players cause a team (as a whole) to win games, causing the individuals to gain confidence from the knowledge that they are part of a winning team.

He articulates this distinction by pointing out that the common philosophical term 'reducible' is ambiguous. Searle contends that consciousness is "causally reducible" to brain processes without being "ontologically reducible." He hopes that making this distinction will allow him to escape the traditional dilemma between reductive materialism and substance dualism; he affirms the essentially physical nature of the universe by asserting that consciousness is completely caused by and realized in the brain, but also doesn't deny what he takes to be the obvious facts that humans really are conscious, and that conscious states have an essentially first-person nature.

It can be tempting to see the theory as a kind of property dualism
Property dualism
Property dualism describes a category of positions in the philosophy of mind which hold that, although the world is constituted of just one kind of substance - the physical kind - there exist two distinct kinds of properties: physical properties and mental properties...

, since, in Searle's view, a person's mental properties are categorically different from his or her micro-physical properties. The latter have "third-person ontology
Ontology
Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations...

" whereas the former have "first-person ontology." Micro-structure is accessible objectively by any number of people, as when several brain surgeons inspect a patient's cerebral hemisphere
Cerebral hemisphere
A cerebral hemisphere is one of the two regions of the eutherian brain that are delineated by the median plane, . The brain can thus be described as being divided into left and right cerebral hemispheres. Each of these hemispheres has an outer layer of grey matter called the cerebral cortex that is...

s. But pain or desire or belief
Belief
Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.-Belief, knowledge and epistemology:The terms belief and knowledge are used differently in philosophy....

 are accessible subjectively by the person who has the pain or desire or belief, and no one else has that mode of access. However, Searle understands mental properties to be a species of physical property—ones with first-person ontology. So this sets his view apart from a dualism of physical and non-physical properties. His mental properties are putatively physical.

Criticism


There have been several criticisms of Searle's idea of biological naturalism.

Jerry Fodor
Jerry Fodor
Jerry Alan Fodor is an American philosopher and cognitive scientist. He holds the position of State of New Jersey Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University and is the author of many works in the fields of philosophy of mind and cognitive science, in which he has laid the groundwork for the...

 suggests that Searle gives us no account at all of exactly why he believes that a biochemistry like, or similar to, that of the human brain is indispensable for intentionality
Intentionality
The term intentionality was introduced by Jeremy Bentham as a principle of utility in his doctrine of consciousness for the purpose of distinguishing acts that are intentional and acts that are not...

. It seems much more plausible to suppose, Fodor thinks, that it is the way in which an organism (or any other system for that matter) is connected to its environment that is indispensable in the explanation of intentionality. It is easier to see how "the fact that one's thought about a desk is causally related with a desk can bear on the fact that person's thought is about a desk than it is to see how the fact that one's thought is made up of hydrocarbons can bear on the fact that one's thought about a desk is about a desk." (Fodor, 1980)

John Haugeland
John Haugeland
John Haugeland was a professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago from 1999 until his death. He was chair of the philosophy department from 2004-2007. He spent at most of his career teaching at the University of Pittsburgh...

 takes on the central notion of some set of special "right causal powers" that Searle attributes to the biochemistry of the human brain. He asks us to imagine a concrete situation in which the "right" causal powers are those that our neurons have to reciprocally stimulate one another. In this case, silicon-based alien life forms can be intelligent just in case they have these "right" causal powers; i.e. they possess neurons with synaptics connections that have the power to reciprocally stimulate each other. Then we can take any speaker of the Chinese language and cover his neurons in some sort of wrapper which prevents them from being influenced by neurotransmitters and, hence, from having the right causal powers. At this point, "Searle's demon" (an English speaking nanobot, perhaps) sees what is happening and intervenes: he sees through the covering and determines which neurons would have been stimulated and which not and proceeds to stimulate the appropriate neurons and shut down the others himself. The experimental subject's behavior is unaffected. He continues to speak perfect Chinese as before the operation but now the causal powers of his neurotransmitters have been replaced by someone who does not understand the Chinese language. The point is generalizable: for any causal powers, it will always be possible to hypothetically replace them with some sort of Searlian demon which will carry out the operations mechanically. His conclusion is that Searle's is necessarily a dualistic view of the nature of causal powers, "not intrinsically connected with the actual powers of physical objects." (Haugeland, 1980 )

Searle himself actually does not rule out the possibility for alternate arrangements of matter bringing forth consciousness other than biological brains. He also disputes that Biological naturalism is dualistic in nature in a brief essay entitled "Why I Am Not a Property Dualist".

See also

  • Chinese room
    Chinese room
    The Chinese room is a thought experiment by John Searle, which first appeared in his paper "Minds, Brains, and Programs", published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 1980...

  • Direction of fit
    Direction of fit
    The technical term direction-of-fit is used to describe the distinctions that are offered by two related sets of opposing terms:* The more general set of mind-to-world vs. world-to-mind used by philosophers of mind, and* The narrower, more specific set, word-to-world The technical term...

  • Evolutionary ethics
    Evolutionary ethics
    Evolutionary ethics could be either a form of descriptive ethics or normative ethics.Descriptive evolutionary ethics consists of biological approaches to ethics based on the role of evolution in shaping human psychology and behavior...

  • Hylozoism
    Hylozoism
    Hylozoism is the philosophical point of view that all matter is in some sense alive. This may include the view that "inanimate" matter has latent powers of abiogenesis, a widely held position in the scientific community...

  • Qualia
    Qualia
    Qualia , singular "quale" , from a Latin word meaning for "what sort" or "what kind," is a term used in philosophy to refer to subjective conscious experiences as 'raw feels'. Examples of qualia are the pain of a headache, the taste of wine, the experience of taking a recreational drug, or the...


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