[Sequence] Philosophy of Mind

Other People’s Work

Main Sequence

See Also

Jaynes: The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind

On Frazer and Fertility Cults:
The most popular view goes back to the uncritical mania with which ethnology, following Frazier, wished to find fertility cults at the drop of a carved pebble.  But if such figurines indicate something about Frazerian fertility, we should not find them where fertility was no problem.  But we do.  (The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind, Part I, Chapter 1, page 166).

On Ballet and Church Cultural Roots In Oracles:
The golden oracle at Ephesus, famous for its enormous wealth, had traced eunuchs as the mouthpieces of the goddess Artemis. (The style of their vestments, incidentally, is still used today by the Greek Orthodox Church.) And the abnormal dancing on the tips of the toes of modern ballerinas is thought to derive from the dances before the altar of the goddess.
(The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind, Part III, Chapter 1, page 327).

On Jealous Gods:
Every god is a jealous god after the breakdown of the bicameral mind.
(The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind, Part III, Chapter 1, page 336).

On Glossolalia:
As we might expect, glossolalists by the Thematic Apperception Test reveal themselves as more submissive, suggestible, and dependent in the presence of authority figures than those who cannot exhibit the phenomenon.”
(The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind, Part III, Chapter 2, page 360).

On Hypnosis: 
But repeated attempts [at hypnotic induction] on such subjects [who cannot narrow his consciousness in this fashion] often succeed, showing that the “narrowing of consciousness in hypnotic induction is partly a learned ability; learned, I should add, on the basic of the aptic structure I have called the general bicameral paradigm [that encodes collective cognitive imperative, induction, trance, archaic authorization].  
(The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind, Part III, Chapter 4, page 387).

If calling hypnosis a vestige of the bicameral mind is valid, we might also expect that those most susceptible to being hypnotized would be the most susceptible to other instances of the general bicameral paradigm.  In regard to religious involvement, this appears to be true.  Persons who have attended church regularly since childhood are more susceptible to hypnosis, while those who have had less religious involvement tend to be less susceptible.  At least some investigators of hypnosis that I know seek their subjects in theological colleges because they have found such students to be more susceptible.  
(The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind, Part III, Chapter 4, page 396).

On The Dogma Of Science:
We sometimes think, and even like to think, that the two greatest exertions that have influenced mankind, religion and science, have always been historical enemies, intriguing us in opposite directions.  But this effort at special identity is largely false.  It is not religion but the church and science that were hostile to each other. And it was rivalry, not contravention.  Both were religious.  They were two giants fuming at each other over the same ground.  Both proclaimed to be the only way to divine revelation.  
(The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind, Part III, Chapter 6, page 434).

[See Also]

Feser: Aquinas

A disappointing text.

Perhaps my expectations were calibrated too highly. I was hoping for an introduction that would sketch both the theoretical manifold of Thomism, and its motivations. I was only satisfied with the former. The proffered justifications of Thomism seemed targeted towards New Atheists, failing to engage more sophisticated philosophical frameworks. Further, Feser motivates his account by way of spurious empirical examples that I will now proceed to debunk.


Page 21 was particularly disappointing:

> Aquinas would also be baffled by the modern tendency to think of causation as essentially a relation between temporally ordered events.. For Aquinas, it is things that are causes, not events; and the immediate efficient cause of an effect is simultaneous with it, not temporally prior to it.. In the case of the broken window, the key point in the causal series would be something like the pushing of the brick into the glass and the glass’s giving way. These events are simultaneous; indeed, the bricking’s pushing into the glass and the glass’s giving way are really just the same event. Or (to take an example often used to illustrate the Aristotelian conception of efficient causation) we might think of a potter making a pot, where the potter’s positioning his hand in just such-and-such a way and the pot’s taking on such-and-such a shape are simultaneous, and, again, the same event described in two different ways.

Sheets of glass and shards of pottery are physical substances extended in space. Force-carriers do not travel from the point of contact to the rest of the surface instantaneously. Like all other particles, they are constrained by the speed of light. These analogies are empirically bankrupt.


Causal Series.

Feser introduces the concept of causal series in chapter 2. The idea is embedded within the standard Aristotelian Four Causes that Aquinas adopts: material, formal, efficient, and final. A key distinction here is that, whereas modern philosophy tends to read causality in the language of events, medieval philosophy interprets in the language of things. The two types of causal chains considered are the accidens series and the essential series. Let us now examine what Feser means by this distinction.


On page 13, Feser explains how substance and matter change:

> Sometimes change concerns some non-essential feature, as when a red ball is painted blue but remains a ball nonetheless. Sometimes it involves something essential, as when the ball is melted into a puddle of goo and thus no longer counts as a ball at all.. For a ball merely to change its color is for its matter to lose one accidental form and take on another, while retaining the substantial form of a ball and thus remaining the same substance, namely a ball. For a ball to be melted into goo is for its matter to lose one substantial form and take on another.

But this account does not treat the problem of ambiguity. Suppose I am microwaving my red ball:

* Eighty seconds into the process, 60% of Thomists would agree that the ball retains its Form.
* Eighty-one seconds into the process, 60% of Thomists would agree that the ball has traded its Form.

Let us suppose that, per Thomism, my red ball really did lose its form at the eighty-one second mark. What is it about the physical phenomena during that second that differed from the previous eighty seconds? If Forms substitution is really as clean and binary as Aquinas suggests, why don’t Thomists remain equally vulnerable to epistemic disagreement as the rest of us?


On page 15, Feser underscores a Thomistic asymmetry:

> On the hylemorphic analysis, considered apart from the substances that have them, form and matter are mere abstractions; there is no form of the ball apart from the matter that has that form, and no matter of the ball apart from the form that makes it a ball specifically.. While (contra Plato) no form exists apart from some particular individual substance that instantiates it, not every form exists in a material substance. There can be forms without matter, and thus immaterial substances – namely, for Aquinas, angels and postmortem human souls.. This recapitulates an asymmetry noted earlier: just as act can exist without potency even though potency cannot exist without act, so too form can exist without matter even though matter cannot exist without form.

But Feser does not provide an explanation for this curiosity.


This book could have been improved by a treatment of the following topics:

How can { Forms, final causality } be epistemically accessible?
How can the A-T framework mediate intra-group disagreement?
How does change in matter lead to change in substance, or change in Form?


On page 48, Feser presents an argument for teleology:

> As philosopher David Oderberg has noted, it is particularly evident in natural cycles like the water cycle and the rock cycle. In the former case, condensation leads to precipitation, which leads to collection, which leads to evaporation, which leads to condensations, and the cycle begins again. In the latter case, igneous rock forms into sedimentary rock, which forms into metamorphic rock, which melts into magma, which hardens into igneous rock, and the cycle begins again. Scientists who study these processes identify each of their stages as playing a certain specific role relative to the others. For example, the role of condensation in the water is to bring about precipitation; the role of pressure in the rock cycle is, in conjunction with heat, to generate magma, and in the absence of heat to contribute to generating sedimentary rock; and so forth. Each stage has the production of some particular outcome or range of outcomes as an “end” or “goal” towards which it points. Nor will it do to suggest that either cycle could be adequately described by speaking of each stage as being the efficient cause of certain others, with no reference to its playing a “role” of generating some effect as an “end” or “goal.” For each stage has many other effects that are not part of the cycle. As Oderberg points out, sedimentation might (for example) happen to block the water flow to a certain region, the formation of magma might cause some local birds to migrate, or condensation in some area might for all we know cause someone to have arthritic pain in his big toe. But [these examples] are no part of the water cycle. Some causal chains are relevant to the cycles and some are not. Nor is it correct to say that the student of the rock or water cycles just happens to be interested in the way some rock generates other kinds and how water in one form brings about water in another form, and is not interested in [these examples]. For the patterns described by scientists studying these cycles are objective patterns in nature, not mere projections of human interests. But the only way to account for this is to recognize that each stage in the process, while it might have various sorts of effects, has only the generation of certain *specific* effects among them as its “end” or “goal” and that this is what determines its role in the cycle. In short, it is to recognize such cycles as teleological.


> As philosophers like G.F. Schueler and Scott Sehon have argued at length, no attempt to analyze human action in non-teleological terms has succeeded.



On page 52, Feser addresses a counter-argument to the principle of proportionate causality (a cause cannot give to its effect what it does not have itself, whether formally, eminently, or virtually):

> It is nevertheless sometimes suggested that this principle is disproved by evolution, since if simpler life forms give rise to more complex ones then they must surely be producing in their effects something they did not have to give. But this does not follow.. Just as water in conjunction with something else might be sufficient to produce a red puddle even if the water by itself wouldn’t be, so too do the existing genetic material, the mutation, and environmental circumstances together generate a new biological variation even though none of these factors by itself would be sufficient to do so. Thus, evolution [does not] pose a challenge to the principle of proportionate causality. Indeed, as Paul Davies points out in *The Fifth Miracle*, to deny that the information contained in a new life form derives from some combination of preexisting factors – specifically, in part from the organism’s environment if not from its genetic inheritance alone – would contradict the second law of thermodynamics, which tells us that order (and thus information content) tends inevitably to decrease, not increase, within a closed system.

This appeal to the Second Law seems empirically dubious.  In no sense is the Earth’s biosphere a “closed system”.


On page 57, Feser defends Aquinas against Anthony Kenny’s arguments are inadequate from a Fregean perspective.

> As Gyula Klima has said, “it is ludicrous to claim victory by yelling ‘Checkmate!’ in a game of poker. But this is precisely what Kenny seems to be doing whenever he is yelling ‘You are not a good enough Fregean!’ at Aquinas.’ Certainly other conceptions of existence are possible..

Tasteless, and misses the point. In order to sustain their school, Thomists must do more than simply regurgitate theories of a medieval Scholastic. They must engage with the current theoretical climate. If you want to deny Fregean essences wholesale, you must interact with their argumentative traditions.

Feser does later partially address Fregean thought, which to my mind partially redeems the above rhetorical device.


On page 28, Feser explains how Aquinas defends angelic differentiation:

> With what Aquinas calls “separated substances” – immaterial realities like the soul, angels, and God – things are not so straightforward. The soul.. must on Aquinas’s view be conjoined to matter at some point in its existence.. God is necessarily unique, so that the question of individuation cannot arise. But what about angels, which are supposed to be both distinct from one another and yet completely immaterial? An angel, says Aquinas, is a form without matter, and thus its essence corresponds to its form alone. But precisely because there is no matter to distinguish one angel in a species from another, “among these substances there cannot be many individuals of the same species. Rather, there are as many species as there are individuals”.

After this concession, Feser promptly moves on to a separate topic. But consider what this means: besides Triangle and Redness forms, Aquinas affirms that there is also JoeTheAngel form and a RobertTheAngel form. This seems an astonishingly ugly band-aid, and its ontological awkwardness is not acknowledged nor ameliorated.


On page 63, Feser sets the stage for the Quinquae Viae:

> The Summa, it must be remembered, was meant as a textbook for beginners in theology who were already Christian believers, not an advanced work in apologetics intended to convince skeptics. The Five Ways themselves are merely short statements of arguments that would already have been well known to the readers of Aquinas’s day, and presented at greater length and with greater precision elsewhere.

Historically accurate. But, if the Five Ways are not Aquinas’ best case for theism, I would rather attention be devoted to other, more incisive, arguments.


On page 65, Feser insulates Aristotelian metaphysics from Aristotelian physics:

> It has also sometimes been claimed that Aquinas’s proofs rest on outdated Aristotelian scientific theory, and thus are irrelevant in the present day. But as noted in chapter 2, Aristotle’s metaphysics stands or falls independently of his physics and, as we shall see, there is never a point in any of the arguments where appeal need be made to now falsified theories in physics or any of the other sciences.

Perhaps such sharp bifurcations between physics and metaphysics are irredeemably anachronistic. Aristotelian metaphysics were originally motivated by his physics. To insulate the former from the latter is to remove its original motivators.


On page 68, Feser addresses empirical counterexamples:

> As Rudy te Velde has suggested, some critics place too much significance on the physical details of the examples Aquinas gives in the course of the proof, failing to see that their point is merely to illustrate certain basic metaphysical principles rather than to support broad empirical or quasi-scientific generalizations.

If you can’t defend Thomas’ examples, fix them! Immersed in the context of the section, this passage seems to evidence a pathological reluctance to improve upon Aquinas at any point.


I stopped here. Since medieval philosophy poses an interesting challenge to more modern approaches, I hope to locate a more rigorous replacement soon.

Metzinger: The Ego Tunnel

With this book, Metzinger furthers an encouraging trend in academia: superstar theoreticians are writing accounts of their work for the layman.

His book is carved into three parts. The first summarizes his theory of consciousness, as rigorously developed in Being No One. The second introduces his theory of self-hood in the context of clinical neuroscience. The third discusses the imminent social conflict that will erupt as the public acquaints itself with the increasingly-surprising results of cognitive science.


M fails to adequately consider evolutionary mechanisms other than natural selection. Some textual evidence from pg 43: “in principle, consciousness could be a by-product of other traits that paid for themselves, but [its stability] over time suggests that it was adaptive.”

While M excels at presenting cutting-edge research, he often neglects to leave his readers with tools for further research. I kept hoping that he would cite the concepts of “umwelt” and “semiosphere” but he never did. Also, pages 111-113 were stunningly eloquent, but if I had not read the physiological journals beforehand, I would have completely missed the fact that M was describing the theory of pain known as the neuromatrix.

The text is laced with insinuations of consensus. While this is often applicable in surprising ways (scholars agree that thoughts can be inferred from lab equipment), M can cast this authoritative weight inappropriately (his self-less Ego theory is itself immersed in controversy).


M’s exceptionally lucid writing style, combined with a compelling bird’s eye view of genuinely pivotal cogsci research, makes this a compelling read. The wealth of illuminating graphics didn’t hurt either.

Three sections stood out as independently valuable. Chapter 2 explores six themes: the One-World Problem, the Now Problem, the Reality Problem, the Ineffability Problem, and the Who Problem. I found this journey to be compelling, and it left me itching to buy M’s magnum opus (Being No One). In addition to this, Chapter 3’s discussion of Out-Of-Body experiences stitched together a fascinating collection of research. Finally, chapter 7 included a well-overdue discussion of the effects of, and viable policy strategies towards, nootropics.


I warmly recommend this book. A tasty quote to conclude (pg 20):

“The evening sky is colorless. The world is not inhabited by colored objects at all. It is just as your physics teacher in high school told you: Out there, in front of your eyes, there is just an ocean of electromagnetic radiation, a wild and raging mixture of different wavelengths. Most of them are invisible to you and can never become part of your conscious model of reality. What is really happening is that your brain is drilling a tunnel through this inconceivably rich physical environment and in the process painting the tunnel walls in various shades of color. Phenomenal color. Appearance.”

Jaworski: Philosophy Of Mind

Part Of: Philosophy of Mind sequence
Content Summary: 500 words, 5 min reading time

Let me now review this textbook, which I recently had the pleasure of reading.

My Overall Impressions

A thorough survey of philosophy of mind. I enjoyed the author’s style, particularly his accessible vocabulary and propensity for explicitly communicating premises of the more involved bits of argumentation.

This textbook is unusual insofar as it presents novel content, as opposed to only synthesizing current knowledge. In a surprising move, Jaworski devotes two out of eleven chapters exploring an idiosyncratic version of hylomorphism. While regrettably diverting attention from other under-explored areas, I found Jaworski’s blend of Aristotelian and embodied cognition traditions to be worth reading.

High-Level Picture

The book opens with a taxonomic bang, sporting a graphical enumeration of different theories of mind, along with their interrelationships and metaphysical assumptions. Here are the ten leading theories, along with their key beliefs.


We can organize these theories into the following taxonomy:


Chapters 1-2

Here Jaworski does the necessary work of painting the philosophical landscape within which all theories of mind reside. He begins by discussing three problems that theories of mind tend to gravitate towards:

  1. The Problem Of Psychophysical Emergence: “how did mental activity appear within the sparse, particulate sea of the universe?”
  2. The Problem Of Other Minds: “how do people infer facts about the private mental lives of others?”
  3. The Problem Of Mental Causation: “how do mental phenomena affect physical phenomena?”

While these problems motivate mental theories, they do not prepare the reader for the breadth of discussions within the literature. In this light, the mental-physical distinction is explored, as are questions of first-person authority, subjectivity, qualia, mental representation, intentionality, and other topics.

Chapter 3

Substance dualism is discussed. This chapter was unusually well structured, perhaps on account of the length of time that society has countenances its subject. Supporting arguments, grounded in modal conceivability-possibility links, proved inconclusive. Counter arguments (problems of other minds, of interaction, of explanatory impotence) extract the following concessions:

  1. Denying knowledge of the mental states of others.
  2. Discarding conservation of energy *or* mental-physical causation.
  3. Rejecting the need to explain mental-physical correlations.”

Chapter 4

The physicalist worldview is introduced, with some overlap with philosophy of science giants like Hempel. Only eleven pages are devoted to exploring theories of consciousness, including first-order-representation, higher-order-perception, higher-order-thought, and sensorimotor ideas.

Chapters 5-7

Reductive, non-reductive, and other specific physicalist theories are treated. The author was not shy about marshalling arguments against the current philosophic consensus that is realization physicalism. Multiple-Realizability arguments prominently featured in the discussion; I especially enjoyed the typology-based reductivist responses to the MRT.

Chapters 8-9

Dual-Attribute Theory, and other specific non-physicalist theories are treated. An interesting discussion of Dennett’s and Wittgenstein’s arguments against qualia spiced the presentation.

Chapters 10-11

Jaworski’s brand of hylomorphism is presented, along with a related hylomorphic theory of mind. While Aristotelean approaches are becoming more popular within philosophy – notably philosophy of biology – there exists an uncomfortable lack of exposition into its tenets which these chapters help to fill. I found the connections with Morleau-Ponty’s empirical phenomenology, and modern embodied cognition theorists like Noe and Regan, to be a helpful inspiration for future research.

Despite the few targeted criticisms above, I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to efficiently absorb philosophy of mind material.