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2011 - Volume 32, Number 3, Summer

Cornering “Free Will”


In order to find a convincing position in the “free will” debate, two sorts of determinism are distinguished. The merits of encompassing determinism, which is determinism as it is usually understood, and individual determinism, which focuses on the agent, are brought to the fore. The existence of encompassing determinism cannot conclusively be proven, but it may be demonstrated, on the basis of individual determinism, that actions come about in a determined way, leaving no room for “free will.” In order to facilitate the discussion, recent scientific developments in such diverse fields as quantum mechanics and neuropsychology are incorporated. Balancing the arguments, a consistent and nuanced viewpoint is aspired to, not eschewing divergent conclusions.

Correspondence for this article should be addressed to Jasper Doomen, P.O. Box 9520, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands. Email: jasperdoomen@yahoo.com

 

Qualia from the Point of View of Language


What is the difference between the discriminations made by a home appliance able to distinguish salt from sugar, and my sensations of salty and sweet? It is never taken into consideration that, in contrast to the appliance, I can have offline sensations, i.e., phenomenal experiences in the absence of direct environmental stimuli, mainly evoked by words occurring into thought, conversation, reading, etc. If we put this detachment stimuli/sensations in relation with the correlative detachment signs/referents inaugurated by the cognitive revolution of symbolic language (the fact that we use signs in the absence of their referents), we might rethink the role played by language in our phenomenal experience as a whole. Qualia can be defined as forms of relationship between organisms and environment, given that human environment is extended to the linguistic dimension, and that the latter has ignited a coevolutionary process with human cognition. The very same properties we attribute to qualia, even when conceiving of them as pre-linguistic phenomenal traits, rely on the cognitive resources that language has made available. The substantialist notion of qualia, I argue, is formed by an online sensation on which the focus shifts from the perceived object to the sensory quality by virtue of linguistic modes of thinking, which are systematically neglected.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Luca Berta, Ph.D., via Monte Piana 29, 30171 Mestre-Venezia, Italy. Email: luca-berta@libero.it

A Human Genetics Parable


Human genetics research appears to be approaching a period of re-examination due to the decades-long failure of molecular genetic research to uncover the genes presumed to underlie psychiatric disorders, psychological traits, and some common medical conditions. As currently dominant theories of genetic causation come more into question, we will see a renewed interest in reassessing the potential roles of genes and environment in these areas. To illustrate the potentially harmful and diversionary impact of emphasizing genetics over the environment, the author tells a story in the form of a parable. In this parable, the citizens of a medium-size city are confronted with the task of dealing with a group of arsonists who are systematically burning down several houses each week. The Mayor argues that the best way to prevent arson is to analyze the types of wood used to build the city’s houses, with an accompanying lack of interest in arresting the arsonists. Her opponents argue that regardless of the type of wood used, the city and its citizens should prevent arson attacks by focusing attention on identifying and arresting the arsonists. The Mayor’s position prevails, and the arson attacks continue for years to come at the same time as researchers continue to study and analyze the wood used to construct the houses. Informed readers will recognize the analogous ideas, research strategies, interest groups, publications, and historical controversies related to “nature–nurture” issues, which encompass every aspect of the parable.

Correspondence for this article should be addressed to Jay Joseph, Psy.D., P.O. Box 5653, Berkeley, California 94705–5653. Email: jayjoseph22@gmail.com

Are Religious Experiences Really Localized Within the Brain? The Promise, Challenges, and Prospects of Neurotheology


This article provides a critical examination of a controversial issue that has theoretical and practical importance to a broad range of academic disciplines: Are religious experiences localized within the brain? Research into the neuroscience of religious experiences is reviewed and conceptual and methodological challenges accompanying the neurotheology project of localizing religious experiences within the brain are discussed. An alternative theory to current reductive and mechanistic explanations of observed mind–brain correlations is proposed — a mediation theory of cerebral action — that has the potential for addressing what Chalmers called the “hard problem” of consciousness.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Paul F. Cunningham, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Rivier College, Nashua, New Hampshire 03060-5086. Email: pcunningham@rivier.edu

 

Consciousness: Sentient and Rational


The evolution of nervous systems culminating in human consciousness might best be studied through an analysis of wakefulness and its constituent functions of sentience and cognition. The operative assumption in this model is that wakefulness emerged at the dawn of phylogeny and has been successively in-formed by an increasing complexity of sensory and cognitive functions. Wakefulness constitutes the essence of human consciousness but the cognitive and sentient functions complicate the analysis of the forms of awareness afforded to lower species. Folk psychology is recognized as a proper starting point for the analysis, as against a philosophical behaviorism that dispenses with the supposition of infrahuman sentience. The concepts of a dim awareness and instinctive automatisms, hitherto applied to non-human animals, are shown to confuse the dimness of primitive sensory and cognitive processing with a phylogenetically invariant wakefulness that, by hypothesis, cannot be attenuated in any species. Mundane behavioral evidence from infrahumans must remain the touchstone by which models of consciousness are to be assessed, not any program interpreting empirical evidence to the end of outlawing phenomenal experience in humans or infrahumans.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Mark Crooks, Institute of Mind and Behavior, P.O. Box 522, Village Station, New York, New York 10014. Email: crooksma@msu.edu or platopenhauer@yahoo.com


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