Monday, July 04, 2016

The determinism of logic, and the desire for understanding

This continues a discussion with Stan on how minds work, and to what extent the mind works by natural processes. It picks up with Stan's most recent post and moves on from there.

What if two people were arguing, and had something to prove? Let's say they wanted to do it logically. Sooner or later, they're likely to use a syllogism. Maybe someone would begin like this:
1. "All humans are mammals"
2. "All mammals are vertebrates"
Therefore ...?
I'll come back to that in a moment. First, to clear up a few things that you (Stan) had mentioned:

1. On digestion: you'll notice on a close reading of my prior post that I'm not saying that the stomach is uninvolved in digestion. Though if someone were to ask, "At what point did such-a-nutrient from your lunch become available (etc) ... and what was the corresponding stomach change?", we might have a difficult time pinpointing a stomach change, even though there is no doubt in either of our minds that it's a natural process. The point of this analogy is that, even when we're in agreement that there's a physical system doing 100% of the work, it's still not a simple thing to look at the enduring organs and pinpoint the physical change that corresponds to a particular event, especially when there are layers of processing (such as enzymes). So that if someone asks me, "Show me the physical change in the brain that corresponds to you wanting a peach with lunch" I don't know how much success we'd have there, but that obstacle does not make me think that there's something beyond-the-natural about wanting a peach. We'll come to more interesting examples than peaches shortly.

2. I want to clarify that humans are not analogs of computers, and I'm not saying that we can replicate humans using computers. I expect we can replicate rational thought using computers. Rational thought is one of the easier things to produce deterministically such as in a computer (with the usual acknowledgments that of course we designed the computers in such a way as to make that happen.) To be clear, here, "rational thought" is distinct from irrational thought, creativity, motivation, emotional bonding, and various other kinds of human behavior.

By the point that you (Stan) are contending that we are not automatons, that we do not have automatic responses to all inputs: on that we agree.

It appears to me that the analogs presented are too small, too limited in scope to reflect the actual range of the exquisite capabilities of human minds and intellect

I'd agree about the scope of what I'm saying. I know I've fielded questions on everything from lonely computers to AI bonding, but for my own first argument I'd set out with a more focused scope: "rational thought". I see "rational thought" as things where we can break down our understanding to the level of syllogisms. If you look at the history of humans trying to decide when a thing is proven, syllogisms are forerunners of computer programs. More on that shortly; I wanted to respond to more of your points.

Where we might part company again in some ways (but not others) is where you say,
There is nothing known to physically exist which has the range of capability of the human mind, and which would serve as an adequate analog; the mind is superior to all other systems because it is unfettered by dependence on physics and cause and effect.
You seem to take our range of capability, the fact that we're not automatons (to that point I'd agree), to mean that there's something immaterial going on there, something more than the brain function of the mind. Which brings us to your cat, showing curiosity ...
Because it was an act of intellectual curiosity, his actions were clearly outside the domain of deterministic cause and effect acting on initial conditions.
Are you sure? It seems likely that "intellectual curiosity" is hardwired into brains of a certain complexity. Let's say somewhere above the "flatworm" level but below the "house cat" level, curiosity becomes a fairly standard trait. At some point, animals reach a level of advancement where there's some benefit if it understands more of its world. I'm not convinced that we're outside the domain of deterministic cause and effect at this point ... which I'll explain more as we get deeper into your responses and mine in return.

You also used hardware/software as an analogy for dualism. But software works deterministically. If you're ok with the mind being a deterministic system ... I think it's more likely that I've misunderstood you somewhere, or that I'm reading too much into the choice of analogy, & you were using a convenient one that we'd already discussed.

So (hoping I've cleared up any miscommunication to this point, and with those questions in mind) let me move us onto new ground somewhat:

What if two people were arguing, and had something to prove? Let's say they wanted to do it logically. Sooner or later, they're likely to use a syllogism. Maybe someone would begin like this:
1. "All humans are mammals"
2. "All mammals are vertebrates"
Therefore ...?
Rational thought -- the type that can be broken down into words and expressed in syllogisms -- is a special category in this way: it is defined by the fact that everyone can and should get the same results, given the same input. "Rational thought" is fairly deterministic in its own way (not the physical way). 

If we work through that yawn-inducing syllogism as an example, then anyone who is following the syllogism will come up with the same conclusion from there. "Rational thought" is a specialized area of thought where we do try to show that a certain train of thought must have a fixed outcome. Given certain inputs, we must get a certain result. You even rely on the determinism of logic, and appeal to the determinism of logic, when you say things like:

Therefore Scientism cannot be the case, and it must be false. (emphasis added)
Your appeal is to the determinism of logical argument: Therefore (based on the given input) the outcome must be determined. It's why rational thought is fairly compatible with deterministic systems like computers.

Our claim to rationality, to having other people recognize the validity of our own logic, is based on the "rules of logic" being deterministic after all (after their own rules ... again, more shortly). When it comes to rational thought, if a certain outcome or conclusion weren't inevitable based on the input, would there be any basis for rational proof?

So I'd submit that the act of having a rational discussion -- of presenting evidence and arguments, and expecting them to be taken conclusively --is an acknowledgment that rational thought is in fact supposed to have a predetermined outcome. I'll go one more step: it's not a problem for logic or for rationality that the outcome is predetermined; in fact that inevitability is its main claim to validity.

There's a danger that the words related to determinism can be misunderstood when applied in the two different scenarios. I'd like to draw attention to the fact that, in rational thought (as opposed to, say, laws of motion) the cause of the pre-determination has changed from external physical forces (such as gravity)
to principles of logic. If the outcome of a proof were determined based on processes which operate in ways that are indifferent to the rationality of the outcome (such as gravity), the determinism would be a problem. But here the deterministic nature of the process is logical determinism, not physical determinism. It doesn't actually compromise the rationality of the outcome; in fact the deterministic nature is at that point the guarantee of rationality. In a well-constructed argument with all the facts in hand, there is only one possible conclusion; that is the whole basis of the claim for others to accept a line of logic.

You speak of human minds in a way that assumes (to use your words) "violations of the laws of physics".
I doubt that human minds violate the laws of physics any more than computers violate the laws of physics when the electricity in them jumps through hoops (figuratively speaking) to perform calculations that it wouldn't do except that it's executing instructions to perform some calculation or other function.

You continue:
Both digestion and computers are limited to the predetermined responses of which they are capable ... In order to make the case, it seems that a reason (or reasoning) must be found for the existence of non-determinism in the mind, when the entire physical universe other than the mind is deterministic and obeys laws which have been discovered by physicists, and which are necessary and sufficient for the entire universe, save minds.
Let's start with a few basic assumptions, even if only for the sake of argument. If we suppose that our minds have:
  1. The desire to understand the world
  2. The concept of good / better
  3. The desire to exercise our own agency
Then (to my thinking) that covers the areas of the human condition that we've discussed.

We haven't really gone in-depth on the topic of desire and its place in the question "Is this determinism?" Desires are particular to living things and so are a distinct feature of the living. They are a force of a certain kind, though not in the same sense as when we discuss physics or electromagnetism. I suppose I should mention my working definition of "desire": it is a motive (something that causes action) that may be felt as a need, and attaches to one or a series of goals/objects to satisfy it. That much said: Desire can have a very physical basis.

And that is a good point to pause because here's a question that would affect the course of our conversation: Do you see "desire" as a deterministic thing? Where do you see it fitting into the picture that you outlined before:
when the entire physical universe other than the mind is deterministic and obeys laws which have been discovered by physicists, and which are necessary and sufficient for the entire universe, save minds.
In your thinking, does the mind include desire as one of the inexplicable non-deterministic things?

1 comment:

Stan said...

Hi, my response is here: