Sunday, 28 February 2016

acceleration and mentation

I'm not infrequently in the position of needing to draw convincing parallels to help my line of argument when talking with someone who's convinced that it makes sense - and, damn it, is simply true! - to say that 'the mind is the brain' or 'thinking occurs in the brain'. For what typically happens, when I start trying to reject such claims in some or other way, is that I get (mis)identified as someone espousing 'substance dualism' or some other equally weird doctrine. In this post I proffer the notion of acceleration as a helpful comparator when thinking about the location of mentation.

So the other day someone asked me where, if my thinking does not go on in my head, it does go on. And I answered: well, sometimes in my study, sometimes on the river path between Folly Bridge and Iffley lock, etc. I was slyly trying to remind them of the grammar of our everyday talk of the location of thought - or at least such that there even is of that. But they weren't having any of it. That kind of ordinary language philosophy is just not going to cut it for someone who is already downstream of a more fundamental metaphysical package of mentalistic conceptions of thought as inner process, of consciousness as inner world, etc. Similarly I can remind someone of the ascription conditions for particular thoughts - i.e. conditions such as what someone says, how they respond to questions, what they do etc. But once the aforementioned metaphysical package has already been sucked up such reminders start to look like behaviourism, in a similarly odd way that my refusal to locate thoughts in the head looked like dualism. ("So where are they then?! In 'the soul'? You crackpot...")

Instead I want to suggest a simple analogy. A car accelerates. What makes this possible? What are the causal underpinnings of acceleration? Well, presumably (... to be honest I don't actually know...), more fuel gets pumped into the carburettor or fuel injector. Does this mean that acceleration actually occurs in the carburettor? ... Well, isn't that an odd idea? ... If we locate acceleration anywhere don't we say: the car accelerated as it drove down the motorway? Isn't that where the acceleration occurred?

I submit that we don't really have a language-game which provides the location of acceleration outside of the language-game which places the accelerating object in a context (up the road, say). Similarly, it seems to me, we don't really have a language-game locating thoughts other than that which places the thinker where he was when he had the thought (in the shower, say).

Now, are you going to tell me that I am a dualist about the acceleration if I refuse to locate accelerating in the carburettor? Is it really just obvious that location is given by reference to the material sine qua nons of the situation (if you don't have a brain you can't think; if you don't have a carburettor you can't accelerate; so, allegedly, thinking is in the brain, accelerating in the carburettor?) Don't get me wrong, I don't mind if we invent (but, really, what's the point?) a language-game which says, by way of stipulation, that the acceleration occurs wherever the mechanical change happens that causally sustains it. (If in relation to the acceleration you're a believer in 'the inner', you might like to identify the causal substrate with the goings on in the carburettor. If you're a more funky extended/enactive/externalist acceleration pundit, you might like to locate the acceleration throughout the car and even in the wheels and in the road too which is part of the necessary physical context of and substrate for acceleration. So long as you don't think that one of these stipulations is 'right' then, well, you can say what you please.) So, yes, we can invent whatever language-games we like. But please don't try and pretend that we had them all along and that I'm just being difficult if I claim to have not yet picked up the implicit rules. For it's not unreasonable of me to ask to see the evidence, need to see the paradigms of such usages. So far I've never seen such usages outside of philosophical discussions, and such discussions typically take themselves to be making substantial claims - rather than offering paradigms of meaning - regarding the actual location of thinking. They seem to take for granted that there are some such meaning paradigms - but, strangely enough, the actual paradigms or rules for the ascription of the location of thinking (those we know well when saying 'well I had this great idea in the shower') never seem to be noticed, and instead it is simply presupposed that paradigms for talk of the location of, say, mechanical processes find a clear application here. That, however, is just what we're trying to establish.