Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mind/Body Problem

Michael Engor points out that there are two types of problems related to human consciousness, these are what David Chalmers calls the easy problems and the hard problem. The easy problems are not called that because they are easily solved but rather because we can see how they may yield to future scientific research:

The easy problems are the sort treated routinely by neuroscientists. These are problems such as 'what is the neuroanatomical correlate of arousal?' or 'which neurotransmitters are associated with depression?' Of course, these questions are not easy in a scientific sense, but they are tractable by the methods of science, which are, for the most part, methodologically materialistic.

The hard problem is much different. There seems to be no way of solving it. It appears to be intractable:

The hard problem is this: why are we subjects, and not just objects? Why do we have subjective experiences? Descriptions of neurophysiology are all third-person - neurons do this, serotonin does that. Yet consciousness is experienced in the first person - 'I,' not 'it.' How is the 'third person' matter in our brains related to our actual first person experiences? The easy problems of consciousness relate to objective phenomena - neurotransmitters and action potentials. The hard problem of consciousness is qualitatively different - it's the problem of subjectivity. As Chalmers explains, the hard problem "persists even when the performance of all the relevant functions [e.g. neurochemistry] is explained."

In other words, we have certain subjective experiences which, if we are simply material beings, seem to be inexplicable. How, for example, does matter produce any of the following: self-awareness, appreciation of beauty, gratitude, disappointment, regret, resentment, a wish, a hope, a desire, a doubt, a belief, an intention? How does matter, a series of chemical reactions in the brain, result in understanding, frustration or boredom?

Engor points out that dualistic views are not without their problems:

Indeed, dualism has plenty of problems of its own, and dualists are honest about the problems. For example, how do the mind and brain actually interact?

This is indeed a puzzling question but it should not stop anyone from believing that they somehow do. After all, materialists believe that matter can warp space but I daresay no one knows how it does it. Nor does anyone know how gravity exerts its pull on objects or how similarly charged particles repel each other. The fact that we don't know how mind and matter can interact is no reason not to think that they do.


Santorum's Revenge

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum unloads on John McCain explaining why Senator McCain is not a candidate that conservatives should support. Santorum is a credible voice among conservatives and his criticism of McCain's obstructionism in the Senate could be (should be) harmful to the senator's chances for the GOP nomination.


Mike Nifong and the Golden Rule

I wonder how the disbarred erstwhile North Carolina prosecutor Mike Nifong is feeling now about abusing his power to try to destroy the lives of others evidently for the purpose of advancing his own political career. His life seems to be lying in tatters, which is exactly what he would have done to the lives of the Duke lacrosse players if he could have:

Former Durham prosecutor Mike Nifong has filed for bankruptcy, listing a debt of $180.3 million, according to documents filed Tuesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Durham.

The filing comes on the same day the former Duke lacrosse prosecutor and others involved in the case were to submit responses to a federal lawsuit by the three men he sought to prosecute.

Nifong lists David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann, as well as three other members of Duke University's 2006 men's lacrosse team who filed a separate federal lawsuit - as unsecured creditors, each owed $30 million.

More than 30 other lacrosse players from that team are also listed as creditors, each owed $1; the North Carolina State Bar, owed $8,397.71 for costs related to his disbarment; and nearly 70 other people involved in or associated in some way the nearly yearlong investigation of rape, sexual assault and kidnapping claims by an exotic dancer.

Nifong values his assets, including his house, car and personal belongings, at $243,898.

There are rare occasions when, if we don't treat others the way we would want to be treated, we get treated the way we have treated others.