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[Wittrs] Re: merelogical [message #609] Sun, 30 August 2009 12:24 Go to next message
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--- On Sat, 8/29/09, Sean Wilson <whoooo26505@yahoo.com> wrote:

From: Sean Wilson <whoooo26505@yahoo.com>
Subject: [Wittrs] Re: merelogical
To: Wittrs@yahoogroups.com
Date: Saturday, August 29, 2009, 5:01 PM

Sean:.. I think it means reification. If not, it is surely a cousin.

GS: The term mereological is often identified with a particular formalism for the treatment of wholes and parts. However, the term is far older than that, I'm pretty sure. Even if it is not, discussion of the relation between parts and wholes has been around for millenia. The term recently surfaced as a general term in the book by Bennett and Hacker. They spend a GREAT deal of time talking about the "mereological fallacy" which is the practice of talking about a part as if it was the whole. In particular talking about the brain, or parts of the brain in the same terms that one uses to talk about the whole person (i.e., saying things like the brain decides, or believes, or understands, or sees, or thinks etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.). They argue that the practice is widespread in neuroscience and talking that way is literal nonsense and leads to scientific questions that meaningless. Needless to say, I concur. I have read only excerpts from the book and
reviews, but it is stuff that Skinnerians have been saying for decades. I think that the practice leads to a grossly-exaggerated view of how well we understand the physiology of behavior. If one talks about parts of the brain as people, it seems like one is making huge progress just to find some area that appears to be involved in some sort of behavior. This, I think, is what is responsible for the widespread hoopla over modern imaging studies. But the problem is that it makes no sense to attempt a constitutive reductionism while describing the parts in the same terms of that which is to be reduced! The brain making decisions somehow explains people making decisions? This is obviously absurd.

[Wittrs] Re: merelogical [message #628 is a reply to message #609] Sun, 30 August 2009 21:31 Go to previous message
Sean Wilson is currently offline  Sean Wilson
Messages: 793
Registered: August 2009
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... let's do it this way. Imagine two sentences:

1. "The person inside of me thinks."

2. "The brain thinks"

Which would Wittgenstein be more hostile to? Quite clearly it would be 1.  You don't have a little man in the head. And it is talk like this that confused a good deal of philosophical thinking for a long time. Expression 2, however, only commits a similar kind of sin if it purports to divide one's identity. If one means to say in expression 2, "my brain thinks and I do not" -- then we have some trouble with the grammar. But so long as the grammar of expression 2 does not divide identities, one would merely take it as a reductionist statement of what "I" was when in the mode of "thinking." Hence, so long as the person and the brain are not two separate things in the grammar, there is no problem.

Compare: "the car is running" and "the engine is running."

In fact, if one's brain does not think, what in God's name can we put in that sentence that would not raise the ire of Wittgenstein? Compare:

(a) "My brain doesn't think; my mind does."  

(b) "My brain doesn't think, my inner self does"

(c) "My brain doesn't think, I do"

Note that each of these statements purport to divide one's self from the body in some way. One could hurl the charge of metaphysics here. It's not that the "I" or "mind" or "inner self" cannot be usefully deployed in language that is the problem. It is the grammar that tries to extract these notions and juxtapose them against the physical things that ordinarily constitute an integral part of the conditions of assertability for such expressions. Can one talk about an ethereal sort of thing outside of its shell (or inside it) and not face rather serious objections? 

What I want to say is that the grammar of these terms arise from the way the form of life is experienced.

I think a true reading of Wittgenstein sees him against any sort of "identity division" whatsoever. Putting the little man in the head is as problematic as putting him outside the head. Given the way that the form of life is, the person and the brain can only be the same sort of thing -- which means they can only be talked about as if different units of analysis. And so if one says "the brain thinks," and is not dividing identity, it merely means something like, "the person thinks through his thinking-thing."  And if one says "use your inner self, not your brain," one can only have this mean something like "use your deepest feelings and not cold logic."


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From: Glen Sizemore <gmsizemore2@yahoo.com>
To: Wittrs@yahoogroups.com
Sent: Sunday, August 30, 2009 12:24:16 PM
Subject: [Wittrs] Re: merelogical

In particular talking about the brain, or parts of the brain in the same terms that one uses to talk about the whole person (i.e., saying things like the brain decides, or believes, or understands, or sees, or thinks etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.). ...  This is obviously absurd. 

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