Life, Consciousness and Reason

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Submitted by Anonymous Guest on Wed, 2007-12-05 22:37

Life, Consciousness and Reason

“The theory is dead, my friend, but the tree of life is everlasting green”

- Goethe

The problem of mind, seemingly, represents a contradiction to Objectivist philosophy. If the mind is physical, as Stolayrov claims, then all its functions are the result of physical processes and therefore are inherently determined. These premises abnegate the notion of free will, choice, reasoning and in short the very essence of the human mind. If the mind is spiritual as Firehammer holds, then it spells a mind-body dichotomy and eventually primacy of consciousness.

I consider this dichotomy as false, and propose to resolve this contradiction by using a teleological approach. My ideas are based on the book of Harry Binswanger, “The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts” (ARI press 1990).

Life

It would be futile to discuss consciousness and mind without full understanding of the concept of life, unless one is an idealist and believes that mind can exist without body.

Life is a self-generated and self-sustained process but is not the only process of its kind. For example, thermo-nuclear reactions in stars also represent this kind of process and can go on for billions of years. However, stars are not living entities. The only difference is that, to stars, it doesn’t matter if they shine or not. They can change their form and become cosmic dust but they cannot die. This difference was not always obvious. For example, Aristotle thought that stars were living conscious beings. Today we know better. Today we know that life is conditional and any living thing is constantly facing the choice - to live or to die - and in order to stay alive it has to act to this end. Therefore life is not only self-generated and self-sustained but is primarily a goal-driven, teleological process whose goal is to sustain and benefit the life. By “goal” I don’t mean consciously chosen object but rather Aristotelian “final cause”.

Despite this process being purely physical by nature it has created a new form of causality-it causes the living being to stay alive as long as possible and to live its life as well as possible. In other words, in living organisms causality causes goal-driven action. The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action. (Ayn Rand) The very requirement of teleological action to sustain life indicates that living beings evidently possess a different kind of identity than unanimated matter.

In Aristotelian terms, life becomes its own efficient cause when the final cause is self-preservation, development and well-being

Therefore the law of causality which rules the “mineral kingdom” is not always applicable to the world of living beings. For example, they are seemingly “refuting” laws of thermodynamics, they can transform kinetic energy to potential energy (no boulder can climb to the top of the hill on its own), they can repair themselves and eventually they can choose. When we understand how a conglomerate of organic molecules started to act toward their self-preservation and self-improvement we’ll understand the origin of life. (Please note that no living organism can act toward self-sacrifice as its ultimate goal-that is why altruism is an anti-life philosophy).

Consciousness

Every living entity is an open thermodynamic system (laws of thermodynamics are obviously applicable to them) and in order to live they have to actively interact with their environment. Pre-sensory interaction of primitive organisms is a well known fact- the amoeba, which is a single-cell organism, escapes from light, plants turn their leaves toward light etc…This process is obviously not conscious since these organisms don’t possess any organs of consciousness ,but nevertheless they have built-in mechanisms of reaction to their environment which enable them to act for their own benefit These mechanisms are no doubt of physical nature (there is no such a thing as entelechy) but their physics have a different kind of causality – that of the living goal-driven entity. With development of multi-cellular organisms certain cells became specialized in receiving and processing sensory data.

During billions years of evolution these mechanisms had developed into the phenomena which we call awareness or consciousness. The whole process of evolution can be explained in terms of gradually increasing levels of awareness-better awareness provides the organism with better tools of survival.

Consciousness therefore can be defined as the faculty of awareness which operates on sensory-perceptual and/or conceptual level and represents a tool of organism’s goal-driven action. In the case of human consciousness, we should talk about purpose-driven action. Purpose is a voluntarily chosen goal and is therefore only applicable to humans.

Reason

Reason is consciousness on a conceptual level, the faculty of abstract thinking, and the ability to make choices. Reason presupposes volition. So how could a deterministic physical process provide us with free will? Physical and biochemical processes inside the human brain are not different from those of unanimated matter or low animals and the most careful examination has so far failed to demonstrate the brain’s volitional centre. And even if such a center would be found, it would leave the question open what causes to this centre to operate?
To answer this question we have to examine the nature of human volition.

As I have mentioned before, awareness is a tool of survival, it is the mechanism of teleological interaction of the living organism with its environment .Plants and animals have built-in mechanisms to adapt themselves to their environment in order to survive. In the process of development of human mind, the level of consciousness had increased enormously –we’ve acquired the ability of conceptual thinking and so, instead of having to adapt or change ourselves, we adapt the environment to our needs. The price of this was the loss of our instinct mechanisms of survival. Our mind is our only tool of survival but its action becomes a matter of our volitional choice. In other words we don’t have any instincts or innate ideas; we only can think or act on will.

We’ve acquired a new identity and, since causality is a corollary of identity, a new and different kind of causality is governing our actions. The goal of these actions is the same goal: survival. However animals cannot survive by the same means of plants and humans cannot survive as animals. Humans can survive only as humans-that is as rational beings, by using their conceptual faculty and this use requires volition.

Therefore, for man, volition becomes the prerequisite of purpose-driven action. The cause of volition is the human mind itself, its efficient cause. Free will is inherent to the human mind’s identity. In short, free will is a property of the human mind. So the question “What is the cause of free will?” is not valid. Free will doesn’t exist outside of the human mind and the human mind is not a product of a biochemical or some mysterious sub-particle process, it’s neither physical nor “spiritual” but an entity on its own.

The crude analogy of relation between mind and brain would be the relation of software and computer. A computer has the ability to process information, and software “knows” how to do that. Software is based on some physical substance like a floppy disc or CD-ROM, but its essence is information on how to process data. The brain is a tool which processes sensory-perceptual data and the mind knows how to do that. The difference is that brain can generate its own software .

In conclusion:

1. Life differs from unanimated matter by the fact that it generates its own agent of action (efficient cause) and the final cause is self-benefit.

2. The mind is a result of a long evolution of awareness. .Awareness evolved from the basic quality shared by all living things which is the ability to interact with environment in order to survive. In human beings this awareness has evolved to become reason, which is the tool of purpose-driven, chosen action. This action, and the use of the mind, requires volition - which is an inherent property of mind. Free will represents efficient cause for the mind’s operation. In other words human mind and volition have evolved from unique quality of every living organism- the ability to act toward its own end.

3. Mind and brain are inseparable and cannot be described in spiritual or physicalist terms. This mind-brain entity has its unique features which should be described in informational and teleological (purpose-driven action) terms.

4. The operation of the mind is not unconditional but volitional. The primary choice is to exercise this faculty of reason or not. The ultimate purpose is existence of man qua man (i.e as befitting to a rational animal).


( categories: )

Essence of life

Leonid's picture

Leonid

Hi William, welcome back. You said "I am not interested in either kook/religious rants about 'life essence' or in mysteries quibbles about 'life essence.'"
If I've created an impression that I'm interested in these rants that's mean I didn't explain myself well enough. I don't want to leave place to any ambiguity in this matter. By essence of life I don't mean entelechia, vital force, animating spirit or any other mystical ideas. Essence of life is a thing which distinguishes living entities from unanimated matter. In other words I attempt to develop the philosophy of life-an area which has been grossly neglected by philosophers since Aristotle's times. Without this, philosophy of mind doesn't have ontological basis since mind is a property of life. You describe life as a process and that is certainly true .Ayn Rand described life as a process of self-sustaining, self-generated action and that is also true. However this is not the all truth. Such actions also take place within non-living entities-for example thermonuclear reaction in the stars which goes on for billions of years, process of radioactive decay, many chemical reactions, climatic processes etc ..Rand also observed that, contrary to non-living objects, living organism is constantly facing the alternative between life and death. Although this is true, it cannot define life. As definition it would be a tautology .What is life? Whatever is living .Science of biology demonstrated that any living organism exists by separation itself from its environment. It creates membranes for this purpose and actively maintains its own internal milieu. This process is happening against the gradient of entropy and requires energy. Since this process is self-initiated, an organism has to seek for energy sources and to develop mechanisms of preservation of its internal structures. In other words, its actions not only self-initiated but essentially goal-orientated. The ultimate goal is survival and flourishing, but this goal is not secured. An organism may exist now and may die minutes later. It acts to prevent undesirable results and to achieve desirable results IN THE FUTURE. The meaning of this is that organism's cause of actions doesn't exist in the moment of initiation of the action. Living organism, therefore, has to have the ability to projects its goals into the future. On presensual level of development the mechanism of projection is encoded in DNA, on sensual level it is simple reflexes, on perceptual level-instincts and conditioning and on conceptual level mind and volition. To summarize: the essence of life is ability of organism to generate self-initiated action accordingly to the goals which organism projects into the future. In multicellural organisms each type of cells has specific function. Neurons contribute to organism’s survival by processing data and so they also act toward the goal of self-preservation. As any other living entity they are goal-orientated, when the goal is organism, and consequently, their own survival.

"Incidentally,it seems,from your postings here,that there is a problem with spaces,in your writing"
I'm suprised.Usually I'm taking great deal of care to edit my posts.I've checked my previous posts and couldn't find any problems with spaces.Apparently I missed something.Humans,contrary to computers,make mistakes.Our actions are self-initiated and theirs-determined by programmers.

A question for the 'special sciences

William Scott Scherk's picture

Hi Leonid,

Forgive me for diverting discussion to kooky Kevin (the sad thing about him is that he is incompetent as a Scientologist. I almost wish he would call in one of his fellow churchmenbers to assist him, but chances are that NZ Scientologists are already wise to his yawningly irrelevant stupidity. I am sure that as long as he pays his fees and drives the occasional idiot into their may, they are content to keep him like a dull but useful pet).

Leonid: [W]hat differentiates [the neuron] from the computer chip is a fact that a neuron is a living thing, its actions are self-initiated, therefore not totally predictable and more than that they are goal-orientated.

Again, I agree and disagree. I will agree to set aside computer analogies if you wish. I agree that neurons are not totally predictable, but disagree that they are 'goal oriented.' The organism may be goal orientated, the nervous system may be goal oriented, but it doesn't follow that the neuron is goal directed on its own. Nor does it follow that a computer is not goal-directed (the goals are those of the operator/programmer).

Computer, however is deterministic machine without any goals of its own and this is essential difference.

Well, there is no single 'essential difference' I would argue, but many -- and the single distinction you make seems a conundrum. What mind/brain incorporates inside a skull (goal and process), in a strictly anaologous computer would be similarly contained. Thus it would be a living thing! But it is not. Thus we agree!

Brain/mind is like computer. Brain/mind does not equal computer (in logical SQL, Brain IS LIKE computer; Brain !== computer; the two statements are compatible, and so an apparent conundrum and obstacle to inquiry dissolves).

-- it might be better to keep in mind both differences and similarities, without being tied up by them. In this way we can use analogy to spur inquiry.

Re: an apparent dichotomy between 'predictable' and 'determined,' I have a shortcut to thinking about determined processes and systems, as a materialist. Earlier we touched on volition/will. My short cut around the the squabbles over 'free will' is to view will as one among many determinants of behaviour. In this sense, I can bridge that gap between the analogy of computer (determined) to brain/mind (unpredictable). And thus approach neuroscientific inquiry into consciousness/volition/etc without being constrained.

No amount of biophysical research can establish the essence of life. This is primary philosophical problem.

No. The essence of life is no longer solely a philosophical problem . . . philosophers must grapple with biology, genetics especially, to make sure that their conclusions aren't undermined by the hard facts of reality.**

In that sense, I find biophysical research, informed by modern philosophy, has indeed established essence[s] of life, and that both enterprises have moved on to further problems and puzzles. I am not interested in either kook/religious rants about 'life essence' or in mysterian quibbles about 'life essence.'

(as a raw sketch of my conception, life is a process, the process ultimately depends on replication (reproduction): in this sense we can limn a difference between the 'almost alive' (viruses, plasmids) and the vast network of living things which has branched and blossomed on earth, from the seemingly simple (bacteria) to staggeringly complex (we humans). I find that Richard Dawkins has a genius for explaining biology, if not biophysics, and that earlier puzzles I have are well-sorted by excursions into molecular biology and genetics)

Incidentally,it seems,from your postings here,that there is a problem with spaces,in your writing,that makes it more difficult,even for a diligent reader,to,when parsing paragraphs,laden with commas,to comfortably read.And.Even.Periods.Seem.Unable.To.Be.Followed.By.Spaces.It would be easier for your discussion partners,such as they are,to read your output,if you could include those marvelous things,spaces.Unlessyouareattemptingtoreproduceancientgreekwritings.

WSS

**"Objectivism rejects the mind-body dichotomy, holding that
the mind and body are aspects (sets of attributes) of the
conscious organism as a single, integral entity. Though
this doctrine may sound like a stance in the philosophy of
mind — a doctrine concerning the relationship between
consciousness (mind) and brain (body) — it is not. Rather,
it amounts chiefly to the assertions that (a) conscious
organisms have both mental attributes and physical
attributes, and (b) both kinds of attributes may
participate in determining the causal powers of the
conscious organism. Whether attributes of either kind, or
their causal powers, can be reductively explained is a
question for what Ayn Rand called "the special sciences
"
rather than philosophy."
Objectivism Wiki | Mind/Body Dichotomy

Another thing that was discovered . . .

William Scott Scherk's picture

Scientologist frontman:

Another thing that was discovered was that consciousness or soul, when the body dies, leaves the body and takes the mind with him/her and all its perceptions [Memories]

Landon: By whom and how?

By L Ron Hubbard, by thinking really really hard.

WSS

Soul and body

Leonid's picture

Leonid
"A soul without a body is a ghost.A body without a soul is a corpse.Both are symbols of death-yet such is their image of man's nature. You are an indivisible entity of matter and consciousness.Renounce your consciousness and you become a brute.Renounce your body and you become a fake.Renounce the material world and you surrender it to evil." Ayn Rand.

Another thing that was

Landon Erp's picture

Another thing that was discovered was that consciousness or soul, when the body dies, leaves the body and takes the mind with him/her and all its perceptions [Memories]

By whom and how?

---Landon

The price of liberty is eternal VIGILANCE.

http://www.myspace.com/wickedlakes

Consciousness is the essence of life

KevinOwen's picture

Consciousness, soul, personality, life force, [what ever you want to call it] gives life to matter [body, cells].

When Consciousness leaves the body, it goes back to matter or dust as it was before.

Another thing that was discovered was that consciousness or soul, when the body dies, leaves the body and takes the mind with him/her and all its perceptions [Memories]

He/she doesn't take the brain with him/her as it is not the Mind or the Indvidual. The body, brain, turns back into dust as without life, [ soul, the person himself ] thats all it is, with a bit of water. Do you know you can buy the chemicals a body is made of, without the water, for a around $2. Don't hold me to that [inflation and all]

What do you athiests, brain worshipers, flat earthers, say about that. That should get you all screaming. Cheers

essence of life There is no

Duncan Bayne's picture

essence of life

There is no such thing - as Huxley put it, the concept of 'élan vital' is equivalent to trying to explain the operation of a train by appealing to an 'élan locomotif'.

 

---
Buy and wear InfidelGear - 100% of all InfidelGear profit goes to SOLO!

Investigate Religion with Spellcheck

William Scott Scherk's picture

Kevin Owen, Scientologist 'healer' and propagandist, claims that "the psychosomatic healer has to have [the essence of life, as a philosophical problem] down to a T."

Which, L Ron Hubbard help me, makes me think of Larry Budd Melman.

Kevin then gives three lines of Scientology slogans, which to make any sense would read:

Religion Without Science Is Religion
Science Without Religion Is Science
Investigate Dianetics and Scientology with reason and you have a body of beliefs and practices that beggars reason.

WSS

Essence of life

KevinOwen's picture

"No amount of biophysical research can establish the essence of life. This is primary philosophical problem."

True, it is a philosophical problem, one the psychosomatic healer has to have down to a T, to carry out any psychosomatic healing.

Religion Without Science Is Blind
Science Without Religion Is Lame
Investigate Religion With Science, DELETE ALL SUPERSTITION and you have Dianetics and Scientology.

Essence of life is philosophical problem

Leonid's picture

Leonid
"A single neuron can establish new connections.."
True,it can do all these things and probably more and that why I think that analogy with computer is misleading.Seemengly a neuron is data-processor unit,like computer chip.However what differentiates it from the computer chip is a fact that a neuron is a living thing,its actions are self-initiated,therefore not totally predictable and more than that they are goal-orientated.Computer,however is deterministic machine without any goals of its own and this is essential difference.No amount of biophysical research can establish the essence of life. This is primary philosophical problem.
P.S Thanks for the link but I already have it. I read "Mind papers" when I have time.

However please note that

William Scott Scherk's picture

However please note that single neuron can do only one thing: to pass electrical signal(1) or to stop it (0)- exactly as computer chip.

No.

A single neuron can establish new connections (dendrites, synapses), can modulate its synaptic 'strengths' individually, can modulate the strengths of its electrical signals[s] -- by frequency modulation [FM] and by establishing long-term potentiation [LTP]. It can also send feedback to the axons with which it connects. It can physically 'bud' and reach out in brain matter; against the matrix of thousands of of interconnected pathways, it can instantly 'electrify' a biological network. It can . . . but you get the point!

So, to my mind there is no truth to the assertion "exactly as computer chip" (and I suspect you meant to say digital computer code).

It is clear, therefore that mind cannot be reduced to the biophysical process in the brain.

Therefore, no. It is not clear.

Leonid, I will consider closely what you have written regarding "All attemts to describe mind in physical terms failed" -- in the context of your earlier remarks about philosophy guiding or subsuming scientific inquiry, and the notion that philosophical constraints will always trump the results of scientific inquiry. I ponder the idea that your statement implies "all such attempts will fail."

What guides my pondering is the enormous amount of present-day philosophy that grapples with the mind. I would ask you to take a look at this link -- especially Part 7, from Mindpapers, A Bibliography of the Philosophy of Thought and the Science of Consciousness.

WSS

Mind and brain is the same

Leonid's picture

Leonid
1.Phylogeneticaly our brain retains old parts which we inherited from our animal ancestors.We have "fish" brain (medulla oblongata),reptilian brain (limbic system),etc...It is quite possible that we also inherited neurophysiological basis which had been responsible for instincts.However instict is not anatomical structure,it is automatic pattern of behavior.From neurological point of view human behavior is ruled by neocortex which is historically "young" thin structure of neurons.From philosophical point of view human behavior in essence is volitional,that is we able to choose our behavioral patterns.Instinct provides only rigid,determined patterns clearly unsuitable for requirements of human life.As animal cannot exist as plant,so man cannot exist as animal.He able to function only on conceptual level.Even if man loses his volition and cognitive ability like in case of lobotomy or disease,instincts don't take over.He doesn't become healthy animal,he becomes cripple human.You said "I am just reading Pinker's "The Stuff of Thought." He comes very close to claiming that humans possess inchoate conceptual frames" I'd agree with it. We born with cognitive mechanism.But its operation is volitional process.Conceptual thinking and volition make instincts superfluous and obsolete.Innate ideas are different cup of epistemological tea.If they exist what is their origin? Plato said it is the world of Forms,Descartes looked for God as source of innate knowledge,contemporary philosophers are looking for Tao world or some other form of transcendental existence.But existence cannot be transcendent,everything which is outside of existence does not exist by definition.To be conscious is to be aware that something exist.Innate ideas allegedly exist prior to existence which is contradiction in terms.
2." The crude analogy of relation between mind and brain would be the relation of software and computer"-"The way I approach this common analogy is to find a disanalogy"
I agree. This is indeed crude and somewhat misleading analogy.I brought it only in order to demonstrate the difference between mind and computer.However please note that single neuron can do only one thing: to pass electrical signal(1) or to stop it (0)-exactly as computer chip.It is clear,therefore that mind cannot be reduced to the biophysical process in the brain.

3.Leonid:"human mind is not a product of a biochemical or some mysterious sub-particle process, it’s neither physical nor “spiritual” but an entity on its own."

William :"This I don't understand."

For centuries philosophers discussed mind in spiritual terms and scientists discussed brain in materialistic terms.The connection between two always has been elusive.All attemts to describe mind in physical terms failed.Nobody ever successed to explain the genius of Einstein by dissecting his brain.I don't think that MRI and PET scans will help because this approach is based on the false notion of brain-mind dichotomy.I reject this dichotomy and stipulate that it is no such a thing as brain or mind. What we have is new entity which I call human mind-brain unit.(MBU) This entity has its own unique properties like volition and concept formation and its own casuation based on its identity of living being.It is teleological tool when telos,end is human survival,flourishing and happiness and therefore has to be described in terms of teleology and informatics.It doesn't operate by instincts but by volitional goal setting. The effective cause of its function is purpose projected to the future.But this is a topic for another long discussion

Mind != Brain

William Scott Scherk's picture

we've acquired the ability of conceptual thinking and so, instead of having to adapt or change ourselves, we adapt the environment to our needs.

Yes. And with Dawkins' notion of the 'extended phenotype' we also are proffered a broad sense of this environmental adaptation in other species.

The price of this was the loss of our instinct mechanisms of survival.

Here we disagree. I don't believe we have utterly lost all of our primate instincts, rather that they are contingent on other advances in human cognition: the constraints and restraints of developed human reasoning and cultures.

Our mind is our only tool of survival but its action becomes a matter of our volitional choice. In other words we dont have any instincts or innate ideas; we only can think or act on will [ . . . ]humans cannot survive as animals

I think I understand the underlying position you take, and agree in broad terms, but I cannot honestly be as categorical. "We don't have any instincts or innate ideas." I am just reading Pinker's "The Stuff of Thought." He comes very close to claiming that humans possess inchoate conceptual frames -- he characterizes an inherited cognitive apparatus structured on 'conceptual semantics' -- moving beyond the language instinct to interrogate a 'language of thought,' putting forth a sketch of mentalese that is inborn.

The crude analogy of relation between mind and brain would be the relation of software and computer. A computer has the ability to process information, and software knows how to do that. Software is based on some physical substance like a floppy disc or CD-ROM, but its essence is information on how to process data. The brain is a tool which processes sensory-perceptual data and the mind knows how to do that.

The way I approach this common analogy is to find a disanalogy: consider that the processing of any given computer does not differentiate between the routines embedded in the motherboard/processor chips and the software that accrues. In this sense there is no software in the brain that is separable from the brain circuits themselves. In a given desktop digital computer, the hardware itself has embedded circuits, and the software extends upon them, as virtual hardware circuits. The hardware contains a hardwired programme without which the extended software is but 1s and 0s. In the end, all is processed as 1s and 0s, and there the analogy with the brain fails. We do not have a digital computer in our skulls. There is no dichotomy between the 'hard' and 'soft' in the wetware. It is a biological thing that has not yet been modelled accurately.

So, in my imperfect understanding, the brain and the mind are not distinct in the sense you put forward. By convention we call that which we are aware of (directly or indirectly) "mind." The 'subconscious mind.' The 'unconscious mind.' The 'mind's eye.' 'Put this in your mind.' "An idea came to mind.' 'Mind the gap!' 'I have half a mind to . . . '

Mind you, there is a difference indeed, but one we haven't satisfactorily explained by computer metaphors. The enduring 'mind-body problem.' Whatever our present facility with fMRI or its newest variant, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), we still haven't limned the relation of mind to brain.

What I find most exciting in neuroscience/neuropsychology/neurophilosoply and allied fields are the glimpses and flashes of insight bearing on the broadest problem. Mirror neurons! Hmmm, what are the implications for empathy, sociality. 'Acquired sociopathic syndromes'! Hmmm, how can a brain injury rob a person of morality. 'Locked-in syndrome' vs 'persistent vegetative states' -- how does consciousness degrade via microscopic lesions. Aphasias and agnosias -- how can one lose the recognition of faces, yet have all other faculties intact? And so on.

[T]he human mind is not a product of a biochemical or some mysterious sub-particle process, it’s neither physical nor “spiritual” but an entity on its own.

This I don't understand.

WSS

Philosophy and science

Leonid's picture

Leonid
Hi William.You wrote very long and,more importantly,very wide response which includes variety of different issues.Just to start to answer them one has to write a book or very long thesis.I maybe mistaken,but I understood that the main subject of your entry is relationship between philosophy and science.I'll try to address this issue.I'm medical doctor by vocation and amateur objectivist.I'm not affiliated with any fraction in objectivism.I have only one autority-my own mind.I think that neurophysiology is fascinated science but I have my doubts whether it'll be ever able to discover the nature of consciousness,mind and volition.This is the task for philosophers.Philosophy is dealing with the widest abstractions,comprehensive view on reality as such and therefore it is a basis for any science.Without philosophy sciencist wouldn't know the meaning of his observations.For example a person who underwent neurosurgery called lobotomy has no volition. Does it mean that volition is located in the frontal lobes of the brain? Can we ever find a neuropeptide responsible for the volition's function? Scientist without any philosophical background may answer affirmative.Philosopher will reject such an idea on the spot.He would point out that volition cannot be reduced to the biochemical reactions since such a reactions are inherently deterministic process.The same thing applicable to attemts to look for the source of volition on atomic or subatomic level.Volition is a property of mind and doesn't exists outside the realm of human consciousness. You said "Some disease processes and brain injuries implicate such a centre/circuit/system. It appears humans can have a type of 'volitional system' knocked out, or degraded/compromised."-and you are right.More than that any antecedent cause,any deterministic process which interferes with the action of mind-brain unit spells disease,malfunction-be it alcohol,drugs,blood clot,infection or bullet in the head.That why people cannot drink and drive.The explanation of this phenomenon is philosophical-mind is property of life and life is self-initiated process.As doctors would say determinism is contraindicated to any life's process , let alone to the mind.

"there are so many investigations of volition/consciousness across so many fields on inquiry, from the strictly philosphical, to AI, from neurology to molecular biology. Neuroscience alone disgorges massive amounts of data, and seems to be in search of an encompassing theory. Randian thought is a theory among others, and one that, in my opinion, must be tested against reality -- against the data."

I actually mean the philosophical nature of volition.My knowledge of neuroscience is very limited (I'm oncologist).However I'd like to emphasize again the difference between philosophy and science.Science is dealing with data.Philosophy,including objectivism is dealing with abstractions,it gives to the science right epistemological tools to integrate its data into concepts in non-contradictory ways.Philosophy is not a science it is its foundation.It is the task of science to test the data against reality -to decide whether this or that particular body of knowledge is true or false.The task of philosophy is to establish what reality is and by which means we can know it.Philosophers including Peikoff and others usually don't deal with scientific methodology but they may critisize science's metaphysics and epistemology-and this is their proper task.

"What kind of research do you follow on "human volition," and relevant fields, Leonid?"
1."Formation of the concept of mind"-by Paul Vanderveen
2."Intuition,the subconsconscious"-by K.Touchstone
3."Volition Synapses"-by S.Boydstun
4."Reality of Mind"-by E.Moses to mention a few.
I wish I could read more but you know how doctors are...

mind and brain is unseparated unit.

KevinOwen's picture

Kevin,as I indicated before,mind and brain is unseparated unit.Memory which is mind ability to retain information is only one of many others mind's properties.

I noted that and with your back ground training, I wouldn't expect any other answer. I don't treat the brain or the body only the Soul[consciousness] and Mind [Memory etc].
I understand that to you [psychiatrists, psychiatry, psychologists, Medicals doctors, etc] they are all one {Brain].

"Should government ban scientology as fraud as well?"

Governments have tried [worldwide] and failed. You have to have fraud before you can procescute someone or an organization for it. Like you governments don't really know what Scientology is. They assume they do know.

If you have some instant of fraud, please inform your closest police station of it?? Let me know when you have.

Behind The World Wide Campaign
http://www.rehabilitatenz.co.n...
Although the forty-year assault against Scientology® assumed large proportions, the source must be remembered-that small but influential circle of psychiatrists and their government stooges. Nor did the means change over the years: false allegations selectively planted in the media, then seeded into even more federal files as background “fact.”

"Would you apply to them psychosomatic treatment or treat the cause of their illness?"

Some of those illnesses could be improved with psychosomatic healing. As you don't deliver that, you might never know, if they could of been helped. Cheers.

The brain's volitional systems

William Scott Scherk's picture

Hi Leonid,

Thanks for the response. It was thought-provoking. I hope you will take my interleaved questions and comments as a goad to further thought and discussion -- not as mere contrarian reaction! My response is extremely long, so I will post it in parts. I would be happy to continue discussions with you offline.

The most careful examination has so far failed to demonstrate the brain's volitional centre

I would agree, and hope study of the brain can draw us closer to such a centre -- or if it there is no 'centre' (as there is no "memory centre") I hope we come closer to understanding how will is deployed in the brain.

Some disease processes and brain injuries implicate such a centre/circuit/system. It appears humans can have a type of 'volitional system' knocked out, or degraded/compromised.

Oliver Sacks notes the ability of L-dopa to re-wire such circuits in his work with Parkinsonians (where mutism and catatonia were temporarily relieved by the drug); the curious cases of people who have 'lost their will' suggest that neuroscience may yet be closing in on an understanding how intact systems of volition operate.

we have to examine the nature of human volition

I agree, and I am sure you would agree this is a hideously complex enterprise. An enterprise that lacks cohesion and integration -- there are so many investigations of volition/consciousness across so many fields on inquiry, from the strictly philosphical, to AI, from neurology to molecular biology. Neuroscience alone disgorges massive amounts of data, and seems to be in search of an encompassing theory. Randian thought is a theory among others, and one that, in my opinion, must be tested against reality -- against the data.

My comprehension is of course extremely limited, but I have a few touchstones to orient me to the vast bubbling mass of work underway. It seems at times that the there is a disinclination among doctrinaire Objectivists to test and retest the assumptions of Rand and her heirs against scientific findings. Often, if such testing is done, it is done incompletely or in dogmatic fashion (as with Peikoff's witless ruminations about physics; as with Harriman's peekaboo critiques). Does it ever seem to you, Leonid, that orthodox Objectivism is often mired in exegisis, avoiding science altogether except to condemn findings that do not fit the absolutes? -- my first venture in the online world of Randians was to wonder if there would be a revision of the absolutism of this view of emotion. With the exception of Marsha Enwright and Steven Shmurak, I found no rigourous work from self-professed Objectivists, and these works have been either ignored or dismissed as intolerable effusions from the intolerable apostates of the Atlas Society.
To give a brief illustration of work that would seem to call for critical engagement of Randians:

Damasio's work suggests that much of the conscious reasonng that subsumes human will/choice is dependent on emotional circuits to fully function. To stretch a point, without functioning emotional circuits, one's ability to choose wisely is tragically compromised.

Pinker's popular works provide also a framework for discovery, at the very least some strong hyptheses to guide inquiry. Great and lesser works of philosophy allied with empirical science also provide guiding lights, a la the Churchlands. As with all such inquiry, everything is contested, of course, so a Searle matches a Churchland, a Fodor matches a Pinker, a nativist paradigm battles a subsiding logical empiricism and the diehards of the SSSM. For a Dawkinsian perspective, a matching Gouldian. And so on . . .

What kind of research do you follow on "human volition," and relevant fields, Leonid?

WSS

Sex and instinct

Leonid's picture

Leonid
1.William,I read Pinker's book and in general I agree that we have inherent ability to learn language.However we know that if child hasn't been exposed to the language untill certain age (usually 6 or 7 years) he never would be able to learn it and no amount of inherent potential ability will help him.
2.Sexual orientation is not instinct.It is simply body's property like skin or eyes colour.In animals instinctive sexual behavior is mating ritual.In people love and sex are response to one highest values.Even play boy who's sleeping around chooses his partners according to certain values,he doesn't sleep with every person he happened to meet.He has some preferences.I disagree that Christianity regards sex as sacred.This doctrine is based on body-spirit dichotomy and regards sex as low bodily function. The only justification for sex according to Christianity is procreation.Yes,there are many different forms of sex,and each of them expresses to certain degree self affirmation,enjoy,positive sense of life.Nobody does sex as punishment,charity or duty except mayby masochists and whores.
3.Obviously instincts can be very complicated programms of behavior,even computer programms are more than simple commands.Instinct allows goal-orientated interaction between an animal and its environment.To certain degree animals can learn.The main difference,however,between instinctive and conceptual behavior is that instinct doesn't have any room for choice.No matter how complex instinctive behavior is the animal cannot decide to do things differently or not to do them at all.And more importantly,no instinct can provide the ability to create new things.How preprogrammed inherent knowledge can tell us to make steel from ore,to build bridge or cyclotron? Creativity is the thing which separates humans from animals.

Pinker's "The Language Instinct"

William Scott Scherk's picture

Sorry, Leonid -- I should have included the link to Steven Pinker's book. I meant you to consider the argument contained therein. I assume you have read this, or a precis. In a nutshell, the language instinct is seen as a instinct to acquire language. All normal humans are born with this innate ability, and once exposed to a particular language, they learn it effortlessly -- and with an acumen that suggests inborn facility. In other words, the mind of an infant is programmed to acquire a language. This is the view of Pinker, and one with which I generally agree.

The Language Instinct.

Do you find your sex partner by instinct,that is by inherent preprogramed behavior,without any use of your mind,without any choice?

I seem to have a 'homosexual instinct.'

I am programmed to respond to males, I suspect. When I 'find a sex partner,' I begin my search under the direction of this general programme. Of course cognition intervenes before the search is complete.

I don't consider instinct in humans to be a complete suite of behaviours; nor does modern development theory. See the excerpt below** (from the World of the Body, Oxford University Press), which captures the meaning I assign to instinct. It could be said that "among mammals, learned behaviour often prevails over instinctive behaviour." Would this mean that there is no general mammallian instinct to procreate, upon which human development imposes cognitive constraints?

If we insist upon a definition of instinct as a complete suite of behaviours, unmodified by experience or cognition, akin to insect instinct . . .

Doesn't sex represent the highest form of self-affirmation,celebration of the sense of life?

The word "sex" has multiple meanings. One view of sex is what you write above, a view shared by Christian doctrine. Sex is sacred. I don't share this view. Sexual congress in humans takes many forms, some ugly and immoral to our personal ethic, some not.

WSS

** The concept of instinct is an attempt to explain why some kinds of behaviour develop consistently in a given species across a wide range of environments. Each species of animal exhibits some characteristic forms of behaviour that have this developmentally robust quality. Bees, for example, dance to indicate the location of pollinating flowers, and they do this with no formal instruction. When a type of behaviour develops in this way, without the need for learning or any other environmental input beyond the bare minimum for physical survival, it is usually attributed to a strong internal force that pushes development in certain directions rather than in others. It is to this idea of a strong internal force that the notion of instinct refers.

Though popular in the nineteenth century, the concept of instinct fell into disrepute during the early decades of the twentieth century. The rise of ethology in the 1940s led to a resurgence of interest in the concept. Led by Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen, the ethologists argued that even learning — a paradigmatically non-instinctive kind of development — often required certain predispositions. The search-space of possible hypotheses was just too large to be explored successfully without the aid of some innate guide. The distinction between instinct and learning was not, therefore, an exclusive one: rather, many forms of learning required an instinctual support.

Though relatively uncontroversial for explaining animal behaviour, applying the notion of instinct to human behaviour has had a much more chequered history (see sociobiology). Nineteenth-century thinkers such as Darwin and Freud were quite happy to explain some human behaviour in terms of instincts, but in the twentieth-century psychologists were much more reluctant to do so. This is because psychology was dominated for much of the century by the view that the mind is a ‘blank slate’ upon which experience writes what it needs. It was not until cognitive scientists, such as Noam Chomsk, began, in the 1950s, to call attention to the problems with this view, that psychologists again began to take seriously the idea of innate constraints on learning.

Chomsky did for language what the ethologists had done for learning in animals: he pointed out that learning a language would be impossible without some predispositions to learn certain things. The distinction between learning and instinct was once again shown to be more subtle than the way in which it was often presented. Language is a good example, because, although it has to be learned, the learning is guided by innate rules, unlike, say, learning to play chess. In Darwin's apt phrase, the ability of humans to learn language is ‘an instinctive tendency to acquire an art’. The psychologist Steven Pinker has made this point vividly in his book The Language Instinct (1994).

The concept of instinct does not, therefore, entail an inflexible notion of development. On the contrary, it is quite compatible with the idea that developmental outcomes are contingent on environmental conditions, and with the idea that learning plays an important part in development. In contemporary cognitive science, developmental outcomes are seen as the result of a complex interplay of innate programs and environmental inputs. The innate programs do not take the form ‘Thou shalt’, but rather specify disjunctive rules such as ‘if … then …’. The environmental inputs determine whether the rules are applied or not. In this model of development, the disjunctive rules correspond to instincts.

— Dylan Evans

It is no such a thing as mind-brain dichotomy.

Leonid's picture

Leonid
Kevin,as I indicated before,mind and brain is unseparated unit.Memory which is mind ability to retain information is only one of many others mind's properties.Its main function is to integrate perceptual data into concepts(thinking) and to do it by choice.This is self-initiated process.Any antecedent cause which interferes whith this process means malfunction,disease.Some psychiatric conditions like major depression or schisophrenia are results of such condition which is chemical imbalance of certain neurotransmittors in the brain-very similar to the effect of hallucinogens.Electic shock and medications are means to restore this balance.It is no such a thing as brain-mind dichotomy.One may have symptoms of acute psychosis as result of brain tumor.Would you object to treat such a person with surgery,radiotherapy and chemotherapy? Patients with Cushing disease which causes high level of corticosteroids often present with symtoms of severe depression. Would you apply to them psychosomatic treatment or treat the cause of their illness? Patients with hyperactive thyroid gland often present with severe anxiety.Would you object to treat them with thyroid gland surgery? If you don't why you object to electric shock and psychiatric medications? This is basically the same.And finaly,since when government became an autority in scientific matters? Should government ban scientology as fraud as well? I,for one ,would object to such a motion.

Sex and language are not instincts

Leonid's picture

Leonid
"So, the human animal has zero instincts, according to this formulation. What about sex?

What about "The Language Instinct"?"

Yes,William,what about sex? Do you find your sex partner by instinct,that is by inherent preprogramed behavior,without any use of your mind,without any choice? Doesn't sex represent the highest form of self-affirmation,celebration of the sense of life? Isn't it true that before you say "I love you" you should be able to say "I"? Can you know the meaning of self-esteem by instinct?
Language instinct is contradiction in terms.First of all language is acquired skill.People have to learn it.Second,use of language means conceptual thinking,ability to create abstracts.Every single word except proper names represents concept.Inherent concepts are innate ideas which is mystical notion. People have inherent ability to learn language,but that doesn't mean they think by instinct.

Instinct

William Scott Scherk's picture

Leonid writes:

Instinct is exactly what man does not possess since instict is preprogrammed knowledge which is usable only in unchanged environment.

-- and --

Instinct is the inherent disposition of a living organism toward a particular behavior.

So, the human animal has zero instincts, according to this formulation. What about sex?

What about "The Language Instinct"?

WSS

consciousness and mind

KevinOwen's picture

"It would be futile to discuss consciousness and mind without full understanding of the concept of life, unless one is an idealist and believes that mind can exist without body."

In my field, consciousness [present time thought] is life and mind is memory [past thought] and then we have body
[brain: main part of the nervous system] All 3 parts working together but separate entities.

When one uses Psychosomatic Healing, he/she gets the person, consciousness, to look into his/her mind [memory]to locate areas of earlier stress.
Consciousness being life and mind being the storage of past information [a persons history down to the last detail]

One can look in a brain physically and see matter [flesh]. One can look in his mind and he sees stored memories, ideas thoughts etc. The next question would be whats looking at and controling the mind?

If one understands the workings of the mind, he would be able to fix one wouldn't he? Your theories are interesting but as you have suggested the only help you can give someone is electric shock treatment and medication

From where I'm sitting [one who can fix the mind and does]
that indicates you have along way to go.,If you knew anything about the mind [not the brain], you wouldn't advocate Electric Shock Treatment to fix problems of the mind. Cheers

ELECTRIC SHOCK TREATMENT
PAIN AND FRAUD IN THE
NAME OF THERAPY

"Electric shock should not be
available as a choice just as
thalidomide is not available
to pregnant woman. After fifty
years of practicing this hoax,
psychiatrists are not likely to
suddenly agree that it is harmful.
As soon as they do, they know there
would be a rush of criminal
and civil suits from
which they would never recover.
Governments should outlaw it."

Dr. Michael Chavin

For more information contact:
Citizens Commission on
Human Rights®
Ph/Fax 09 373 3897
PO Box 5257 Auckland

http://www.cchr.org
cchr@xtra.co.nz

What is instinct?

Leonid's picture

Leonid
Hi,Tim.Thanks for your response. That gives the opportunity to discuss instincts.You said "Really? No innate ideas I can live with but no instincts? I think there is a self-preservation instinct" Instinct in regards to humans became booz-word.One often may hear: don't think,follow your instincts,your heart,your gut-feelings.Usualy this word is used as substitution for emotions.But what is instinct proper?
Instinct is the inherent disposition of a living organism toward a particular behavior. Instincts are unlearned, inherited fixed action patterns of responses or reactions to certain kinds of stimuli. Instinct is an unerring and automatic form of knowledge.A desire to live is not an instinct since it not provide you with the knowledge how to live.As Miss Rand observed " Your fear of death is not a love for live and will not give you the knowledge needed to keep it." A desire to eat doesn't tell you how to get the food and which food is suitable to you.Instinct is exactly what man does not possess since instict is preprogrammed knowledge which is usable only in unchanged environment.The tremendous advantage of the mind over instinct is that mind allows to us not only adjust ourselves to any environment (air,water,vacuum of space etc,)but also to adjust the environment to us and create artificial environment in which most of us are living. We have mind exactly because we don't have any instincts.
"I think what's missing from your formulation is the differentiation between use of the mind and volition. I don't see that the use of one's mind is a matter of choice; one cannot simply switch one's mind off"

One cannot completely switch one's mind off since man cannot exist as animal or plant,but the closest form of mindlessness available to man is evasion-and that what many people do all the time.I think I did describe differentiation between mind and volition.I said "Free will represents efficient cause for the mind’s operation. In other words human mind and volition have evolved from unique quality of every living organism- the ability to act toward its own end." Maybe I should elaborate :volition is ability to set and reset projected goals according to man's priorities.Volition causes mind to work in order to achieve these goals.Without purpose on what you'd think? One cannot think let alone act on nothing in particular.Unless one has epileptic fit or acute psychosis his every action is volitional. However physical facts do negate volition-that why you cannot drink and drive.Since alcohol is antecedent cause it negates volition.One also cannot have mind and volition with the bullet in one's head,infection,cancer,blood clot and many other physical conditions which are interferring with the mind's function since any antecedent cause means for the living process malfunction,disease.By definition living process is self-initiated action.

Instinct and free-will

NickOtani's picture

Really? No innate ideas I can live with but no instincts? I think there is a self-preservation instinct. Humans can override this instinct and act against it, but like the amoeba that instinct is there whether we choose it or not.

Objectivists don't like the use of the word "instinct". Nathaniel Branden wrote an article denouncing its use in scientific journals. It's like a catch-all term which isn't precisely defined and isn't useful in productive explanations. It's like calling something a doohicky. Yes, there are automatic functions and innate drives, and I think even humans share some of these properties on which other living things depend, but it might be more useful to call them something other than instincts.

I think what's missing from your formulation is the differentiation between use of the mind and volition. I don't see that the use of one's mind is a matter of choice; one cannot simply switch one's mind off, just as one cannot choose to stop the blood flowing in one's veins.
However I don't see that this physical fact negates free will, since although we cannot stop our mind from thinking altogether, we can direct the object of our thoughts.

If mind is an ability of the brain, and the brain is completely physical and automatic, how do we have volition? If there are reasons for actions, where is free will? If something causes one to do something, then one is not free to initiate that action for one's self. And, if things are simply given, as in A is A, how does one choose something in the future? If identity is already fixed, then how is one free to become?

BTW, people seem able, to a limited degree, to control the flow of blood in thier veins. It sometimes involves deep breathing and meditation. If we can, to some degree, control our thoughts, then we can make ourselves excited or calm. This influences our blood flow. Unfortunately, we don't seem able to control things beyond our skin with just our minds.

bis bald,

Nick

Good topic

Tim S's picture

Leonid

Thanks for this post.

You wrote: "When we understand how a conglomerate of organic molecules started to act toward their self-preservation and self-improvement we’ll understand the origin of life."

Quite. It seems to me you are saying that the act of self-preservation is a necessary differentiating factor between life and non-organic matter. So far so good.

"The price of this was the loss of our instinct mechanisms of survival. Our mind is our only tool of survival but its action becomes a matter of our volitional choice. In other words we don’t have any instincts or innate ideas; we only can think or act on will."

Really? No innate ideas I can live with but no instincts? I think there is a self-preservation instinct. Humans can override this instinct and act against it, but like the amoeba that instinct is there whether we choose it or not.

I think what's missing from your formulation is the differentiation between use of the mind and volition. I don't see that the use of one's mind is a matter of choice; one cannot simply switch one's mind off, just as one cannot choose to stop the blood flowing in one's veins.
However I don't see that this physical fact negates free will, since although we cannot stop our mind from thinking altogether, we can direct the object of our thoughts.

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