29 December 2011

The Mereological Fallacy

Philosopher Anderson Brown contends that much of our confusion about the mind-body problem is a "mereological fallacy," a confusion about parts and wholes.

The stomach doesn't "have lunch." The stomach digests, which is part of the process, but we don't accordingly say that the stomach has lunch, and we don't think of the activity of having lunch as internal. It is a fact about our behavior.

Likewise, the brain doesn't think. Brown doesn't give a name to exactly what the brain does -- what is the equivalent of digestion here? "impulse processing"? -- but it isn't "thinking," anyway. A person thinks and, as with lunch, there is nothing internal about it.

I'll reproduce here in italics the comment I made on his site, except that I'll clean it up a bit for this blog.  I was a more-than-usually sloppy typist in the comment section of his.

I'm reminded of one aspect of Julian Jaynes' theories, in his book on the breakdown of the bicameral mind.

I don't have the book with me so I'll work from memory, and more than usually subject to correction. But Jaynes said that the "bicameral mind" was not "conscious" in the way in which we are, NOT just for reasons of neurology, but because certain metaphors hadn't come into use yet. The idea of a sort of theatre "inside" the human body -- chest or head, depending on who is writing -- started as a highly literary metaphor, and gradually became an essential part of how people saw themselves. THAT was the "breakdown" of Jaynes' title, when the metaphor became generally accepted as a literal fact. Thus, "consciousness" pulled itself into existence by imagining itself, if you will.

This seems akin to your point, except for chronology.

Yet implicit in Jaynes' account is the point that we don't really have a choice. Going back to the bicameral mind is not an option. Or, in your terminology, thinking of thought as a fact about behavior, like lunch, isn't really an option either. The notion of an inner space where we deliberate is something more than a useful fiction, it is a constitutive fiction.

Perhaps rather like the fiction that the elite group of white men that gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 had any business speaking for "We, the people" of the United States.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.