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[Wittrs] Language, Brains and 'Mereological Fallacy' [message #5267] Fri, 23 July 2010 21:01
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--- In Wittrs@yahoogroups.com[/email][/email], "gabuddabout" <wittrsamr@...[/email][/email]> wrote:

> Hacker thinks that both involve a mereological fallacy. And what is
such a thing.

In Chapter 3 of Part I - "The Mereological Fallacy in Neuroscience" -
Bennett and Hacker set out a critical framework that is the pivot of
the book. They argue that for some neuroscientists, the brain does all
manner of things: it believes (Crick); interprets (Edelman); knows
(Blakemore); poses questions to itself (Young); makes decisions
(Damasio); contains symbols (Gregory) and represents information
(Marr). Implicit in these assertions is a philosophical mistake,
insofar as it unreasonably inflates the conception of the 'brain' by
assigning to it powers and activities that are normally reserved for
sentient beings. It is the degree to which these assertions depart
from the norms of linguistic practice that sends up a red flag. The
reason for objection is this: it is one thing to suggest on empirical
grounds correlations between a subjective, complex whole (say, the
activity of deciding and some particular physical part of that
capacity, say, neural firings) but there is considerable objection to
concluding that the part just is the whole. These claims are not
false; rather, they are devoid of sense.

Wittgenstein remarked that it is only of a human being that it makes
sense to say "it has sensations; it sees, is blind; hears, is deaf; is
conscious or unconscious." (Philosophical Investigations, ยง 281). The
question whether brains think "is a philosophical question, not a
scientific one" (p. 71). To attribute such capacities to brains is to
commit what Bennett and Hacker identify as "the mereological fallacy",
that is, the fallacy of attributing to parts of an animal attributes
that are properties of the whole being. Moreover, merely replacing the
mind by the brain leaves intact the misguided Cartesian conception of
the relationship between the mind and behavior, merely replacing the
ethereal by grey glutinous matter. The structure of the Cartesian
explanatory system remains intact, and this leads to Bennett and
Hacker's conclusion that contemporary cognitive neuroscientists are
not nearly anti-Cartesian enough. Much more of the Cartesian
conceptual scheme needs to be rejected.

Philosophers of mind are themselves prone to similar conceptual
errors. Consider John Searle on pain and the role of the brain:

'Common sense tells us that our pains are located in physical
space within our bodies, that for example, a pain in the foot is
literally inside the area of the foot. But we now know that is false.
The brain forms a body image and pains, like all bodily sensations,
are part of the body image. The pain-in-the-foot is literally in the
physical space of the brain. '(Searle, J., The Rediscovery of the
Mind, MIT Press, 1992: p. 63.)

Bennett and Hacker object on grounds of logical grammar: one does not
have pains "in the brain." Pains (other than headaches) are not "in
the head." If there is a locus of pain it is a distributed feature of
the whole experience, the brain being only one physical part of it.
For the experiencing subject, of course, "His pain is located where he
sincerely suggests it is" (p.123) (phantom pains being in need of
special explanation). This is not to deny that in the absence of a
proper functioning brain, one would feel no pains. But that does not
license the claim that pains "are felt either in or by the brain" (p.
122). What hurts when one breaks one's leg is typically one's leg, not
one's head.

Part III ("Consciousness and Contemporary Neuroscience: An Analysis")
considers the leading work on consciousness as well as neuroscientific
efforts to explain the "mystery" of consciousness. McGinn, Dennett,
Searle, Chalmers and Nagel are just a few of the many philosophers
whose arguments Bennett and Hacker scrutinize with care.
Neuroscientists such as Blakemore, Crick, Damasio, Edelman, as well as
psychologists such as Baars and Weiskrantz, are given equal treatment,
especially their attempts to make the case that the brain is a
conscious organ. Absent the brain, of course, there is no
consciousness, but ascribing consciousness as such solely to the brain
is philosophically suspect.

When it comes to consciousness, no topic will invite more discord than
that of qualia. When Nagel asks "What is it like to be a bat?,"
Bennett and Hacker answer that the question proceeds from a
philosophical confusion. Qualia - the idea that mental states have
qualitative characteristics - is but another example of philosophers
bewitched by a philosophical pseudoproblem.

These are some of the ideas that Bennett and Hacker are eager to

There is a specific way it feels to hear, smell or "to have mental
states" (Block);.

Every conscious state has a certain qualitative feel (Searle);

Each differentiable conscious experience presents a different
quale (Edelman and Tononi) (p. 274).

Suppose, we ask a person who has had his sight or hearing restored
"How does it feel to see (or hear)?" They are likely to answer "Why,
it's wonderful." What we are asking after is the person's attitude
toward his recovery of a faculty, now restored. But what if we ask a
person possessed of normal faculties "What is it like to see a chair
or a table?" Bennett and Hacker aver that the person would have no
idea what we were talking about. Seeing tables and chairs, postboxes
and lampposts are all different experiences. But "[t]he experiences
differ only in so far as their objects differ" (p. 274).

Some neuroscientists have themselves fallen victim to the logical
fallacies of philosophers of consciousness. Damasio, for example,
explains vision as the production of mental images in the brain.
Bennett and Hacker object that this explanatory model makes no sense,
since it raises objections of another kind; the hypothesis that mental
images are real features instantiated in the brain would not seem
subject to empirical verification and, even if it were, it would fail
to illuminate vision as we know it. Of course, there is brain activity
associated with vision. But it is unhelpful and of little value to say
that "we" perceive the image of the apple produced in our brain. The
question Bennett and Hacker ask, "How is it that we see it?" (p. 305)
cannot receive philosophical illumination by the question "Where 'in'
the brain is the image?" The reason is that that question ignores the
all-important one: "Who, or what, is doing the seeing?" The error is
in thinking that seeing an object is itself somehow reducible to a
quale behind vision. But it is not. And the object of normal vision is
not an image of any kind either. Neuroscientists may find inductive
correlations between seeing certain items (e.g. lines, corners,
curves) and brain activity. But finding such correlations is not the
same as reducing one to the other. It is the reduction that leads to a

Part IV ("On Method") has two key features. First is a sustained
argument against the reductionist impulse of contemporary
neuroscience. Second is an explicit articulation and defense of the
philosophical method that informs both the critique of reductionism
and the perspective of the book as a whole. For philosophers, this
second aspect will be the most interesting and surely controversial.

Francis Crick is one neuroscientist who wants to reduce the mental to
the physical. His "astonishing hypothesis" that we are "no more than
the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated
molecules" (Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis, p. 3 (1995)) is
a good example of the sort of explanatory account of human action that
Bennett and Hacker reject as metaphysical nonsense.

In the course of reducing the mental to the physical, the normative
dimensions of social life are lost. Consider this example. Suppose I
place my signature on a document. The act of affixing my signature is
accompanied by neural firings in my brain. The neural firings do not
"explain" what I have done. In signing my name, I might be signing a
check, giving an autograph, witnessing a will or signing a death
certificate. In each case the neural firing may well be the same. And
yet, the meaning of what I have done in affixing my signature is
completely different in each case. These differences are "circumstance
dependent," not merely the product of my neural firings. Neural
firings accompany the act of signing but only the circumstances of my
signing, including the intention to do so, are the significant factors
in explaining what I have done.

Bennett and Hacker conclude their book with two appendices, devoted to
a careful study of the work of Daniel Dennett and John Searle,
respectively. Dennett adopts the posture of Quine, specifically the
thought that philosophical problems can be solved through a
combination of scientific inquiry and empirical evidence (p. 414).
Dennett's attempt to explain intentionality as an interpretive
strategy is grounded in what he refers to as the
"Heterophenomenological Method." Bennett and Hacker argue that the
method is a non-starter because it is incoherent (p. 428). Similarly
with Dennett's attempt to compare our thinking to computer programs.

In the case of Searle, Bennett and Hacker find much with which they
agree. Cartesian dualism, behaviorism, identity theory, eliminative
materialism and functionalism are all rejected, and rightly so. Searle
advocates "biological naturalism," the view that consciousness is a
biological phenomenon, a proper subject of the biological sciences (p.
444). Bennett and Hacker serve up no objection here. It is when Searle
claims that "mental phenomena are caused by neurophysiological
processes in the brain and are themselves features of the
brain" (Searle, Rediscovery, p. 1) that Bennett and Hacker demur.
Searle's claim commits the mereological fallacy discussed earlier.
Brains are no more conscious than they are capable of taking a walk or
holding a conversation. True, no animal could do either of these
things without a properly functioning brain. But it is the person, not
the brain, that engages in these activities.

> I think they don't necessarily involve such a mistake.

Not necessarily, but perhaps. Just what do you think?


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