Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Quote of the Day

The other motive which prompts Naturalism in its attempt to deny the efficiency of mind is of a more positive and ambitious sort. It is, namely, the desire to make all forms of matter, of motion, and of energy susceptible to the same sort of description, explanation, and prediction; the wish to get a single world formula under which everything that happens may be subsumed. "We have achieved the impersonal point of view," hymns one of the most ecstatic of the behaviorists, "in the interpretation of stars and stones and trees and bacteria and guinea pigs. Our next step is to achieve it for the phenomena of human behavior." Thus shall we at length achieve that consummation devoutly to be wishes, that thoroughly scientific point of view, from which we shall be unable to find in man anything essentially different from what we observe in stones, bacteria, and guinea pigs. There is, to be sure, absolutely no evidence to show that such an achievement is possible, no argument to indicate that the actual world is such as to submit to such a formula; but the great longing heart of Naturalism demands that it shall be so, and the naturalistic philosopher solemnly declares that it is so -- it is so because it must be so. It would be impossible to find in the most sentimental and unreasoning forms of religious experience a more extreme case of the pious wish or the Will to Believe. Nor can the annals of Scholastic Philosophy or of Protestant Theology give us a more admirable example of dogma, pure and undefiled. No evidence that Galileo could give as to the motion of the earth had any influence upon his judges; the earth did not move because it could not move. In similar fashion we are assured that the mind cannot move nor influence the movements of the body -- to say that it does so is heresy, for so one would deny the universality of physical law. -- E pur si muove!

Here is the real issue of the mind-body problem, here is the only important question. And looking back over our course with this fact in mind we can now see that there are not, as we had supposed, three or four chief views of this problem, but only two, namely Interaction and its rivals. The various forms of Materialism, of Parallelism, and of Behaviorism are only different ways of saying pretty much the same thing, only varied attempts to prove the same thesis. The aim of all is identical, namely, to write down and explain the whole of reality in physical formulæ, to deny to mind any influence whether direct or indirect upon matter and motion. The first expression of this naturalistic thesis is the blatant form of Materialism. The difficulties to which this gives rise are too patent to permit of its acceptance, so they are later disguised under the gentlemanly costume and the idealistic mask of Parallelism. But the splendid promises of Parallelism lead to disillusion at the end, and the mask which it wore is easily torn from its face. No one weeps its fall, for few besides Fechner and Paulsen were ever very much interested in it except as a means of defeating Interaction and establishing Naturalism. So its old upholders rapidly desert it to give in their allegiance to Behaviorism. Behaviorism, also, would like to avoid the blatancy of Materialism. It has many brave words as to the nobility and the significance of intelligence. But when we get at the real meaning of the words we learn that intelligence is simply a specific form of activity and set in nerves, muscles, and glands. Thus, Behaviorism, in common with its predecessors and allies, is merely a specially devised way of denying the efficiency of consciousness.

And when one stops to face squarely this proposition that mind has no effect on conduct, -- when, I say, one stops to face it squarely, and leaving aside pet theories, gives it serious consideration int he light of all that one knows of oneself and of other men and of human history and civilization -- the proposition reveals itself to the steady gaze as unspeakably preposterous. In the words of Professor Lovejoy, "Never, surely, did a sillier or more self-stultifying idea enter the human mind than the idea that thinking as such -- that is to say, remembering, planning, reasoning, forecasting, -- is a vast irrelevancy having no part in the causation of man's behavior or in the shaping of his fortunes -- a mysterious redundancy in the cosmos which would follow precisely the same course without it."

We are told we must deny the efficiency of consciousness because of the difficulty in believing in any exceptions to the action of mechanical law and the difficulty of imagining how mind can act on matter. I submit that to be so nice with little difficulties, and so omnivorous with monstrosities that approach the mentally impossible is a case of straining at one poor gnat and swallowing a whole caravan of camels. Like others I find it difficult to imagine an idea affecting a brain molecule; but I think I am also like nearly everybody else when I find it impossible to believe that thought and purpose have had nothing to do with building up human civilization and creating human literature and philosophy. How the opponents of Interaction manage to believe these things I confess I find it very difficult indeed to imagine.

I know this is not decisive. I know indeed what the upholder of Naturalism will probably reply. His reply, in fact, will be in substance not very different from that of the Red Queen to Alice, after Alice had told her there were some things she couldn't believe. "Can't you?" said the Queen in a pitying tone. "Try again; draw a long breath and shut your eyes."

"There's no use trying," said Alice, "one can't believe impossible things."

"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

When one remembers the materialistic assertions that consciousness is matter and that logic is ground out by mechanical processes, the parallelistic thesis that the non-existent brain determines wholly the existent mind, the neo-realist denial of all reality to the subjective, the behaviorist identification of thought with the action of the larynx, one sees that Naturalism, like the Red Queen, has had some practice in believing the impossible; that in fact it would be stating its case with great moderation, not to say modesty, if it should claim that sometimes it had believed as many as half a dozen impossible things before breakfast. Moreover, the Red Queen's formula for belief is the one which must necessarily be adopted if we are to imitate successfully the remarkable achievements of Naturalism in the arousal of faith in the impossible, -- namely, "Draw a long breath and shut your eyes!"

I too can believe a good many things with my eyes shut; but if I keep them persistently open I becomes less and less impressed with the ambitious claims and the false dignity of Naturalism. And by Naturalism I mean, of course, not natural science but the unempirical philosophy, the a priori theory, which would extend the formulæ of natural science into spheres in which the true scientist has no ambition to advance. Taken in this sense Naturalism appears to me the great hoax of our times. Its seemingly adamantine fortifications, with their tremendous and terrifying guns, are mostly camouflage. Its walls are enormously impressive; but like those of Jericho they will fall before whosoever has the courage coolly to examine their foundations -- and to blow upon the trumpet.

This being the case, I must also say frankly that Interaction seems to me the inevitable outcome of our argument. It is the only view that makes history and human life really intelligible. Indeed if we were right in believing (and we have seen no reason for doubting) that Materialism, Parallelism, Interaction, and the denial of the mind-body relation are the only answers to our problem worth serious consideration; and if we were justified also in our conclusion that the relation is a real one, and that neither Materialism nor Parallelism is tenable, and that the alleged difficulties of Interaction are much slighter than at first they seem, it follows that we are plainly compelled by the very process of elimination to conclude that Interaction is the true doctrine and that mind has an independence and a power of its own. And now we can begin to understand the wild attempts of Materialism, Parallelism, Neo-Realism, and Behaviorism to invent some method by which Interaction might be avoided. Not for nothing were the strange twistings and writhings of these theories. For if Interaction be accepted a momentous turn has been taken in our philosophy. We shall namely have given in our assent to a Dualism of Process with the universe.

The consequences of such a Dualism of Process are fateful and endless. There is no time to deal with them this afternoon and they must be postponed for consideration to our final lecture. But we can, I think, already begin to form some notion of what is involved in this Dualism of Process, to which, by the force of logic and of experience, we seem to have been driven. Such a world view will mean a profound, if not a fundamental, distinction between matter and spirit. It will mean the return of all sorts of possibilities against which the iron gates of Naturalism were forever closed. It will mean that perhaps Plato and Christianity were right after all.

James Bissett Pratt
Matter and Spirit: A Study of Mind and Body in Their Relation to the Spiritual Life (1922)
(footnotes omitted)


Ilíon said...

1922? And nothing has really changed, has it? The 'naturalists' are *still* closing their eyes so as to believe what is not right in front of them.

Earl Wajenberg said...

Yes, it's surprising how stable the philosophical situation has stayed. One trivial correction: It was the White Queen who spoke to Alice about believing six impossible things before breakfast, not the Red. Carrol once wrote to a fan that it was a bad idea to practice believing impossible things; you'd exhaust your believing faculty and be unable to believe true things. He wrote in jest, but...