You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Philosphy of Mind

Philosphy of Mind is a Modern Scholar lecture course by Professor Andrew Pessin. Professor Pessin gives a deep look at the ideas of the mind and how we think about thinking. He starts with the basic conundrum of mind and body. He describes how the mental is fundamentally different from the physical, including qualitative sensations (qualia) and intentionality (thoughts). Part of philosophy of mind is coming to grips with this different and trying to figure out how thoughts can arise out of inert matter.

Descartes addressed the dualism of mind and body by claiming that they are two different substances (substance dualistm), but had no answer for how they interact other than saying the pituitary gland is the locus. A less strong form of dualism says that the mental and physical are the same substance but have different properties. Physicalism (materialism) says that ultimately there is only the physical. Pessin addresses theories the theories of physicalism. Identity theories says that mental states are identical to brain states. Functionalism says that mental states are defined by their functional roles. Behaviorism all but denies that there is anything internal in anyone's mind. All these theories have flaws.

I enjoyed learning about Language of Thought, which compares the syntax of thought with the syntax of spoken language. It does describe how mental processes resemble sentences. I could have used more analysis of this, but it is a good overview. I may study it further. I also enjoyed hearing about Daniel Dennett's concept of the intentional stance, but I think I need to study more about it before I can really understand it. I also appreciate the review of Searle's Chinese Room analogy, which I first read about in Hofstadter's work. Much of late philosophical theories seem to concern denying the reality of the mental, which is counterintuitive since the mental feels more real than the physical. Objective facts and science cannot break the barrier into a person's personal thoughts and experiences.

One of the concepts that I found most appealing is that of epiphenominalism. This states that the mind-body link is basically one way. The body and brain are completely physical and thus physical principles can explain interaction with the world. Mental states are just byproducts of brain states that have the main effect of driving nerve impulses. This also seems counterintuitive, for it feels that our thoughts direct our actions. But given the state of modern neuroscience, it makes a lot of sense. I do wish that the course had included more discoveries of brain science, since it is illuminating and shows that more and more mental states can be explained by chemistry and electrical impulses. However, the course is a great overview of the thinking about thinking over the last few centuries. A-

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