The Purpose of Atheism and Morality

This blog is designed to discuss topics relevant to atheism and morality. While it will not strictly adhere just to these topics, they will be interwoven throughout any posts I write. I welcome you, and would highly suggest that you leave comments and spark some discussion based on whatever I write if you feel remotely interested in doing so. Just make sure you keep whatever you write civil! I am open to hearing from all points of view as well, so if you are religious and would like to defend the religious side of these arguments, you are more then welcome too!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Supervenience of The Mind and The Human Zombie (Part 3)

To further extend my analogy of a computer, let us consider the nature of the data present both in a computer and in a human being as it relates to anomalies of nature, such as genetic mutations (an individual with Down Syndrome for instance). A question to ask is, "How can we account for such anomalies when we consider the nature of human beings as we perceive them a priori?" It would seem that an overwhelming majority of individuals who were asked to describe a human being would not, at least initially, describe the figure of an individual with Down Syndrome (or any other chromosomal anomaly). The a priori judgment that individuals with chromosomal anomalies do not initially fit our perception of a human being, in part due to their significant minority in comparison to the rest of the world, seems like a fair observation.

In a broad sense, it would seem that every being is composed of data, though at different levels. We frequently are caught up in examining the difference between humans and other non-humans, in terms of thought processes and instinct; though all beings exist in a hierarchical system (as dictated by evolution), and are by nature encoded to act and function in such a way. We can consider Social Dominance Theory to further examine and understand the nature of this system.

"Social Dominance Theory begins with the basic observation that all human societies tend to be structured as systems of group-based social hierarchies. At the very minimum, this hierarchical social structure consists of one or a small number of dominant and hegemonic groups at the top and one or a number of subordinate groups at the bottom (Sidanius, 31)."

While the theory pertains primarily to human social constructs, it is easy to imagine this concept being adapted in such a way that we may examine alternative species in relative comparison to our own. Perhaps most relevant to discussion of the similarities between human beings and lesser animals is an issue of how violence plays a vital role in the formation of beliefs, group structures, and hierarchy in general.

"Systematic terror (the use of violence or threats of violence disproportionately directed against subordinates) functions to maintain expropriative relationships between dominants and subordinates and enforce the continued deference of subordinates toward dominants (Sidanius, 41)."

As one may examine, there is little difference (as observations can tell us) between human beings and animals in terms of how power and control is kept. Though, it may be obvious that humans have adapted in such a way that "systematic terror" may be subtler; it still exists and is frequently used in one form or another. The very nature of the police department, for example, is in part to invoke fear into otherwise animalistic and anarchist human beings so they do not act out in morally and ethically apprehensible ways. The importance of understanding social dominance and hierarchy is to allow a realization that the similarities between humans and lesser animals are undeniably close when one removes the idea that humans are "superior" (in that, their actions differ due to "mental" attributes).

In direct relation to chromosomal "anomalies" as discussed earlier, it would appear that, given the nature of the hierarchical system we exist within, any "anomaly" in this system is not truly an anomaly (though it may appear to be at first glance); but simply encoded into the nature of the system in such a way that it is merely a minority. It would appear that, over time, all anomalies would simply come to be viewed as minorities as they find a place in new or adapted physical theories.

Throughout the ages of scientific exploration, human beings are only now beginning to understand the nature of the body; though, in ways that our ancestors may have never been able to dream of or even fantasize about in their imaginations. As time continues, the nature of the physical body is slowly explaining the nature of the "mind" as it has been viewed for millennia. As science furthers the exploration of microbial cells and neurological systems, human beings will be able to make more and more rational judgments regarding why particular sensations are occurring and how elements of our nature function.

To utilize a relatively extreme example, one may consider hallucinogenic drugs and how some individuals claim to have "spiritual" mental experiences. For example, in a study done on the effects of Psilocybin; results were found that Psilocybin "produced a range of acute perceptual changes, subjective experiences, and labile moods including anxiety. Psilocybin also increased measures of mystical experience. At 2 months, the volunteers rated the psilocybin experience as having substantial personal meaning and spiritual significance and attributed to the experience sustained positive changes in attitudes and behavior consisted with changes rated by community observers (Griffins, et al., 1)." By studying science and psychology, one may be able to draw a conclusion that there are simply chemical alterations occurring within the brain (as well as throughout the entire body as a whole).

"Hallucinogenic drugs cause both physical and psychological effects on humans. The physical effects of these drugs include: dilated pupils, elevated body temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure, appetite loss, sleeplessness, tremors, headaches, nausea, sweating, heart palpitations, blurring of vision, memory loss, trembling, and itching. A user of hallucinogenic drugs will also experience a number of psychological alterations in the brain. These drugs may cause hallucinations and illusions as well, as the amplification of sense, and the alterations of thinking and self-awareness (Ebbitt)."

The sensory perception of being out of the body or flying is simply an interaction between physical chemicals and functional mental states, and is therefore an altered physical state. For the many whom cling to conceptions of the supernatural, a materialistic atheist would simply right those experiences off as a delusion.

The mind is constructed through physical processes (as it is in itself an alternative physical state [mental]. When one examines the functionalist theory of the mind, there are many qualities that appear to be accurate a priori. For example, it is reasonable to believe that most rational individuals would, in the least, believe in mental states. This does not force a belief in dualism (or minimally, a strict dualism) as there are no two substances (physical and mental). The fundamental flaw with functionalism is that, as a theory, it seemingly plays it safe by only acknowledging the reality of what most people would agree with. Due to this, the functionalist theory allows too much room for sensible opposition; and as far as my argument for materialism is concerned, allows too much room for an opposing dualist to then insist on two separate substances because there are two different states (mental and physical).

Materialism appears to be the most concise evaluation of the mental and physical, though often it is viewed in such a way that mental states do not exist at all. It would appear to me that the best solution to this dilemma is merging some functionalist ideas with materialism. Functionalists would say that "mental states are functional states." As a materialist, I am pressed to further this logical thought process. Mental states are functional states, and functional states are physical states.

To examine this in a logical equation, it would be as follows:

Mental states (A) are Functional states (B), and Functional states (B) are Physical states (C); therefore Mental states (A) are Physical states (C).

The supervenience of mental states on physical substances appears to be a very logical conclusion to draw, though it may be a matter of sheer linguistics and a common public misconception (the fallacy of argumentum ad populum: "the appeal to the masses") that we perceive the mind as being much more than dependent on physical material.

For those who missed the first two installments of this article series, check out the following links:

The Supervenience of The Mind and The Human Zombie (Part 1)

and

The Supervenience of The Mind and The Human Zombie (Part 2)

Hopefully you enjoyed this rather long article series on the supervenience of the mind and the human zombie. I understand it is a rather complex topic on the whole, so if you have any questions or see any problems with my line of thinking, please feel free to leave a comment and let me know below!

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