"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Monday, June 09, 2008

Love is all you need

There's a moment in the film 'Contact' (no idea whether it's in the book) where, after listening to Jodie Foster defend the scientific worldview, Matthew McConaughey asks her if she loved her father. He then asks her to prove it.

She's left stumped.

The same question is wheeled out every so often by religious believers as what they seem to think is a trump card against the empirical view of the world.

Yet, as far as I can see, it's a pretty easy question.

The only real problem with it is our definition of love: If we believe it to be a “simple” physiological state then evidence isn't too difficult to come by – we can look at the person's behaviour (do they behave in a way consistent with people who claim to be in love), check their physical reaction (heart-rate, pupil dilation, etc.), maybe even bring in some neuroscience. If, as I suspect those asking the question do, we believe it to be a “spiritual” state, above and beyond the physical, then the onus is on us to provide a way of studying this state. Neither presents that much of a challenge to the empirical view.

Of course, the question could be seen as challenging the empiricist to prove that they have subjective experiences – but then such an extreme scepticism poses a challenge to all worldviews, including the religious.

Any thoughts?

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11 Comments:

Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

I'm no philosopher of mind (or psychology), but the question of what mental states are is (as far as I know) not an easy one to answer. Your first suggestion, of equivocating mental states like "love" (assuming it is a mental state) to a set of behaviours was thrown out decades ago with logical positivism and radical behaviourism. (NB: This doesn't mean it's not true, but see Kim (2006) on why behaviourism is bunkum.) Your second suggestion is more plausible, but still, equivocation mental states with neurological processes (i.e., saying that a mental state just is a neurological process) is still (I think) controversial among philosophers of mind. Property dualism is still a very live option, though I agree that property dualism doesn't entail some kind of supernaturalism or substance dualism which (I assume) you eschew.

If the reflective theist can find solace in the belief in mental states, it is only because mental states are unobservables and very, very difficult to measure. It's not the atheist qua atheist that the theist trumps here. It is the atheist who is also a logical positivist, the atheist who demands "proof" (esp. of the empirical, quantifiable kind). But whence such atheists? Most atheists accept that unobservables may be believed in as long as there are good reasons to believe in them (e.g., if positing them explains facts about the world).

5:08 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Ya ya, I know, I think I may have pulled something like this out in the past. At the time I was probably reacting against a view of the world that must be quantified in purely physical terms in order to be considered "cognitively meaningful." (e.g. the methodism of logical positivism, as Jon points out.)

I wouldn't at all say it's a trump card against an empirical view of the world, for love is just as empirical (read, experientially based) as anything could possibly be; rather, I'd say attempts to weigh and measure something like love using the methods of the hard sciences (though a perfectly valid scientific pursuit so far as it goes) will always come up a bit short.

Whatever complexities reside within the term "love" there is doubtless a very real physical aspect to it. To the degree that physical sciences can study such things, they are free to do so. There is also a very real sociological and psychological aspect to love. Likewise, the sociological and psychological sciences are encouraged to study these aspects as well. If we ask the question what IS love, the philosophers will then have their hay day. If someone were to say "God is love" or "God loves the world," then the theologian is eager to engage as well.

At any rate, to me, rather than being a "proof" against empirical methods of interacting with the world, love ("true" love, self-giving love) simply make the most sense in a world that is created by and being drawn towards the One who is love. And that's not a proof of anything. It's not even an argument. It's merely how the world looks through my eyes given the experiences I've had.

5:52 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

For what it's worth, this post wasn't aimed at anyone here. I was just too lazy to find a link to the challenge being made on the various atheist/theist forums/blogs around.

the question of what mental states are is (as far as I know) not an easy one to answer

Yeah, I'm no expert either.

But I think there's a lot of persuasive evidence that mental states and brain states are at least linked - changes in one always lead to changes in the other.

So tying the feeling of being in love with the physiological effects is, I'd argue, quite justified.

Can you imagine someone being in love yet exhibiting none of the attendant behaviours, for example?

This isn't top say that the two are identical - just that we're justified in inferring the presence of one from the presence of the other, thus answering the challenge.

6:12 AM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

"Can you imagine someone being in love yet exhibiting none of the attendant behaviours, for example?"

Yes.

QED. Muahahahahahahaha.

More seriously, this is still sounds like Behaviourism, and it's old news that mental states cannot be translated into behaviourist language in the way Behaviourism requires. Well, I'm simplifying: It depends on the sort of Behaviourism one is defending, etc. Again, pick up an introduction to philosophy of mind. I'm not well-versed in the arguments, I just take their word for it and leave Watson, Hull, and Skinner in the dustbin of history. Incidentally, I consider Skinner to be the Darwin of psychology.

More seriously part two: You move on from love being "linked to" certain physiological states to love being "tied to" certain physiological states. Either this is two ways of saying one thing (and therefore there's no argument), or you're trying to claim that the correlation between brain and mental states justified the equivocation of these states. But you claim not to be doing this below. So I am confused.

Finally, a summary of what I think this "argument from love" can do:

1. Show that unreflective atheists' demands for "proof" are naive.

2. Show that unreflective atheists' demands for empirical, quantifiable, physical evidence are naive.

And it achieves 1. by showing that not reasonable beliefs are "provable." And it achieves 2. by showing that not all reasonable beliefs are justified by empirical, quantifiable, physical evidence.

We believe in mental states (e.g., love) for the same reason physicists believe in quarks. Not because they can be seen or measured directly or touched, but because positing them makes sense of a whole bunch of phenomena. And we don't just equate them to the phenomena either.

It's late in the Antipodes. Have I succeeded in making everything clear as mud?

7:06 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Either this is two ways of saying one thing (and therefore there's no argument), or you're trying to claim that the correlation between brain and mental states justified the equivocation of these states.

It's the former.

You'd think by now I'd make myself clearer when making statements about complex issues.

My argument is simply that we can justifiably infer the one from the other: If X presented all the physiological symptoms of being in love whenever Y was around we'd be justified in arguing that X was in love with Y. Similarly, if X presented none of the physiological symptoms while claiming to be in love with Y we'd be justified in doubting the claim.

7:17 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Revvvvvd said,
"Your second suggestion is more plausible, but still, equivocation mental states with neurological processes (i.e., saying that a mental state just is a neurological process) is still (I think) controversial among philosophers of mind."

Really? In terms of the connection between abstract feelings and the mechanics of the brain, we can, and have, discovered many compelling correlations. That, in and of itself, is clearly not sufficient to justify saying something like, "love is completely a manifestations of vibrating head meat" (cum hoc ergo propter hoc &c). However, from these correlations, models have been proposed, hypotheses generated, predictions made, and the validity of these predictions subsequently tested.

The important point is that the neurochemical hypothesis of sensation and perception has stood up well to such testing, making valid predictions &c, and has yet to be falsified.

Clearly, the dualist hypothesis hasn't been falsified either (can it possibly be, I wonder?), but at the same time no predictions have been made and tested on the basis of such a model, and thus no evidence has been produced from which we can induce the validity of this hypothesis. Arguably dualism currently eeks out but a meager survival on the gaps still remaining in the neurochemical explanation.

By inference, as Matt suggests, the neurochemical hypothesis is to be favoured. It might be proven incorrect, but it flows from the strongest inductive line of reasoning available to us to date.

9:04 AM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

Of course, I'm committed to neuroscientific models of psychology. I do think that talk of non-material psychological substances like souls and such is discredited by the correlational and experimental work done in neuroscience. We lesion the frontal lobe, and "Gage is no longer Gage." We stimulate the parietal lobe, and you spontaneously move your arm. We give you epinephrine and show you a beautiful woman, and you claim to have fallen in love. I think we have a case for a causal relationship between brain states and mental states. Furthermore, we have a good case for arguing that all mental states co-occur with brain states. SO far, so good. But what does this mean?

X causes Y does not entail that X = Y.
X co-occurs with Y does not entail that X = Y.

So, isn't it the case that equivocating mental states with brain states is invalid? Or is this not what you're arguing?

I must admit, despite working in the field, I'm very naive on these matters. I'm trying to remedy that by reading some introductory philosophy of mind, but it's slow going. Like you, I suspect, I can't make sense of fluffy things like qualia. Sounds spooky to me. At the same time, though, I'm not sure how to argue that mental states = brain states. Or if, indeed, anyone argues this!

So, I'm left not knowing: What are mental states?

6:03 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Apparently Thomas Nagel* once said something along the lines of: Anyone claiming that the mind and brain are the same thing is in the same position as the Greeks claiming that all matter is made up of atoms - Whether the statement is right or wrong is irrelevant, as there's no way of proving it either way.

(*I think)

The "neurochemical hypothesis" is certainly the strongest (as things currently stand), but the most it allows us to do is say that the brain and mind are linked (affecting one affects the other). So I don't think there's any substantial disagreement among us all.

4:04 AM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

Matt,

I think it's even simpler than all that. I don't always infer what the mental states of human beings and animals are around me. I simply find myself believing that my partner loves me, that my cat is frightened, or that screaming driver has road rage. We are endowed with what Reid called "sympathy," a disposition or set of dispositions, to see other animals as being in certain mental states. Cognitively, we are outfitted with a faculty that allows us to recognize (some of) the mental states of other organisms in our environment. So, I do not need, in general, to compile physiological evidence that so-and-so is in a certain mental state. Our sympathy yields properly basic beliefs about the mental states of other organisms.

7:11 AM

 
Blogger Ruthie said...

I'm not smart enough to comment on this one but I'm certainly enjoying the existing comments...

2:55 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Our sympathy yields properly basic beliefs about the mental states of other organisms.

That's true enough - we rarely need that much evidence to justify to ourselves such beliefs.

But others can still demand objective evidence: If I claim that I love X, others can doubt that claim and ask me to provide hard evidence in support of it - which is where the "neurochemical hypothesis" comes in.

5:46 AM

 

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