From: Doug Porpora <>
Date: Thu, 15 Jan 2004 22:25:06 -0500

Hi all,

It is very hard for me to tell on this list what is being sent me
privately and what is coming over the list. I am trying to respond
in the mode I received. Sorry for any mistake. Norman and John, I
believe, responded on list, so here goes.

Norman, you say:

>>Also, I'm unable to find a meaningful (to me) argument against
>>reductionism. Why is it in trouble? It seems to me that even a complex
>>human being can be defined in concept by discrete quantum states and
>>particles, atoms and electrical charges. "Thoughts" are therefore NOT
>>infinite because they can be conceptually defined in terms of particles and
>quantum states, and there are not an infinite number of these permutations.

Okay, well here you have just asserted that human beings can be
defined as the sum of discrete quantum states and the like and that
thoughts are therefore not infinite.

If what you suggest is true, then your conclusion would follow. I
claimed, though, that the reductionist thesis is in trouble, and you
asked why. There is a huge literature on emergentism and
reductionism, but let me just stick with the so-called mind-body
issue that Hal also alluded to.

There have been two main reductionist strategies to deal with mental
states, and they both -- to say the least -- have stalled. The two
strategies are:

1. Eliminative materialism
2. Identity theory

Eliminative materialism argued that human behavior could be explained
scientifically without reference to the mental states of folk
psychology. S-R behaviorism -- as in Skinner -- was the great effort
here, and it is now largely judged a failure. We seem to need mental
states to explain human -- and even lower animal -- behavior.

So then there is the identity theory, the attempt to show that each
mental state is identical to some (or finitely many) physical states.
Well, this has not panned out either. At worst, we may be in for
some many-to-many correspondence between mental states and physical
states, which spells doom for identity theory and reductionism.

I probably have not said enough to convince anyone here. This is a
big issue, and much more could be said. I am just trying to
summarize the current status of the mind-body debate. At the very
least, the reductionist argument has been stalemated -- and there are
good reasons, having to do with the role of language, for thinking it
is false.

Norman suggests the upshot for the Tegmark thesis:

>"Thoughts" are therefore NOT
>infinite because they can be conceptually defined in terms of particles and
quantum states, and there are not an infinite number of these permutations.

Well, only if reductionism succeeds. If reductionism fails, then,
unlike universes, which, on my reading of Tegmark, are discrete and
countable, thoughts are not only infinite but uncountably infinite.
In that case, thoughts -- and persons -- comprise an even larger
infinity than universes. And -- although this is another argument --
at least a part of the universe would not behave deterministically.

If you tend to resist what I am suggesting, consider three things:

1. How do you even individuate thoughts so as to count them or
correlate them with physical states? Is the belief that Mark Twain
wrote Huckleberry Finn the same as or different from the belief that
Samuel Clemens wrote Huckleberry Finn? Would that be one physical
state you would seek to correlate with it or two? There are lots of
well-discussed conceptual problems here.

2. The mind-brain relation has sometimes been compared to the
relation between software and hardware in computers. A certain
software function might be endlessly realizable by different physical
(hardware) configurations in different computers. Similarly, I
suppose, the same hardware configuration might realize different
software functions in different computers. The analogy might break
down, but this is the idea.

3. The denial of reductionism does not necessarily entail belief in
what is called "a ghost in the machine," i.e., a soul or other
mystical something. The denial of reductionism may instead imply
that not only is there no ghost, there also is no machine (i.e., we
don't behave in machine-like ways). (This is a point made by Searle.)

John, I am not sure I understand everything you said. One thing I
would say along lines I think you suggest: Determinism suggests a
closed system. If you don't have a closed system, you don't get
deterministic predictiveness. Human thought is both holistic and
unclosable. Those features do not preclude mental causality, but
they do preclude deterministic, causal laws.

Well, I hope I have not bored you all, but I do think that there are
considerations from the social sciences that bear on -- and possibly
challenge -- Tegmark's thesis.

Thanks for your responses.

doug porpora
dept of culture and communication
drexel university
phila pa 19104
Received on Thu Jan 15 2004 - 22:28:42 PST

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