Monday, April 23, 2012

materialistic naturalism is not behaviorism either

This is an addendum to the preceding entry. I tried to draw distinctions between comprehensive materialistic naturalism and the simplistic forms of reductionism or relativism. Materialistic naturalism is the stance that all of reality is natural, and all of it consists of variants of the same material/physical stuff. In particular, if materialistic naturalism is true then it casts doubt on the reality of a ghostly mind, because the usual concept of minds is much too poorly-integrated with proven physical theories. Compared to minds, dark matter's effect on observable parts of reality has more concrete definition and substantiation.

Materialistic naturalism's incompatibility with minds may inspire opponents to equate it to an unappealing philosophical stance known as ("radical") behaviorism. Behaviorism in the bogeyman sense is the proposition that accurate analysis of human thought and decision-making doesn't require any knowledge beyond the plainly-seen external interactions between the human and everything else. In this alleged caricature, minds aren't necessary at all. Most of the proposed attributes of minds aren't easily analyzed or predicted through manifest behavior, so the behaviorist assumes that the attributes are pointless distractions. Humans may assert complex reasons, but their claims are post hoc rationalizations to cover up the real rationales. Behaviors are either inborn or shaped through training. Even a free-will-like rejection of a specific training regimen in the present is probably due to the direct opposing influence of past training regimens which are more strongly ingrained.

Thus bogeyman behaviorism is portrayed as a dehumanizing stance which is self-evidently inadequate to explain the entire range of human experience. Opponents of materialistic naturalism present the dilemma of embracing either the full reality of the mind or the distasteful alternative of behaviorism. I deny the dilemma altogether. Once again the universe is not simple enough to accommodate the old debates.

Indeed, the same detailed evidence that discredits shadowy minds also supports an astoundingly intricate chain of causes for both humans' behavior and inner "mentality". I'm alluding to ongoing research about the brain. The more that we learn and decode what happens in this dense internal space, the less plausible it becomes to revert to either mind-based or behavior-based explanations. Knowledge isn't anywhere near complete, but the trend is suggestive. Brain-based explanations are the future. Minds explain human behavior from the inside-out. Behaviorism explains human behavior from the outside-in. By contrast, brains inside human bodies inside environments are a unitary system of physical behavior.

Having said that, the pragmatic status of these competing explanations is a tricky mixture of qualities. Unlike brains, devices or surgical procedures cannot verify the presence or absence of minds. In that way, minds cannot be as real. Nevertheless, whether the context is the interpretation of another human's behavior or the "location" of conscious sensations, minds work well enough as approximations for the casual purposes of communication and introspection. In that way, the usefulness of the idea of minds is like the usefulness of "real" stuff, i.e. stuff that's verifiable by the multitudinous methods that don't work for minds.

To be more specific, minds are useful to serving the function of intangible inferences. A companion's expressed drowsiness may provoke the comment, "You're feeling sleepy." The comment is an inference about the companion's fictional mind as opposed to a measurement of the quantity of melatonin in the companion's nonfictional body. As long as the state of the "mind" corresponds closely to "real" stuff, it suffices for some aims. The intangibility of drowsiness doesn't destroy its meaningfulness.

Furthermore, within the category of pure human consciousness, other phenomena have similar meaningfulness. "Subjective" thoughts have been shown to have correlates in brain activity. Stimulation of the brain is reflected by occurrences in a subject's "mind", and the currently-predominant factors in a subject's "mind" are reflected by patterns of brain activation. As I mentioned earlier, the amazing mind's material replacement isn't an organic switchboard of behaviorism's straightforward inputs and outputs. It's an equally amazing brain packed with mind-correlates.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:15 PM

    So, what is the connection between them? Why is behaviorism consistent with naturalism?

    ReplyDelete