Cognition & Reality

Monday, 23 August 2010

Eliminativism I

Eliminative materialism, which posits the non-reality of consciousness, is right on one score and so off on another that to say that it is wrong does not capture its insanity.

Correct, subjective consciousness is not real. The idea of self, the idea of mind, the idea of the  physical world, the idea of the psychological world, all these are illusions. There is nothing new is such a view, which has been held and developed for millenia by Hindus and Buddhists. I am a story I tell myself.

Eliminativists follow up this insight–or derive it from–an insane ontology, the ungrounded belief, little more than a faith, that cognition can be reduced to brain states that will eventually be elucidated as neuroscience matures. Although it is axiomatic for elimativists that “folk psychology” is nonsense, there is nothing but folk psychology in confounding mental states with neurophysiology. This specific form of reductionism involves the familiar folk confusion of mind and brain, such as describing someone who is very intelligent as having a big brain.

There is a direct connection between this form of philosophical posturing and other errors I point out with regularity. The first is the “innateness” fallacy, the nonsensical though widely held view that what we know is somehow inherent in our physiology, determined by our DNA. The second error is the medical fantasy that all forms of mental disorder are in some measure “genetic” and can be understood as “chemical imbalances.”

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