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Neuropragmatism on the Origins of Conscious Minding

Part of the Biosemiotics book series (BSEM,volume 8)

Abstract

The philosophy of pragmatism has much to offer mind and life scientists in their thinking about the origins and nature of experience. In this chapter, I provide an introduction to neurophilosophical pragmatism by reviewing how classical pragmatists, such as John Dewey, reconceived concepts like experience, mind, and consciousness in light of the advances ushered forth by Darwinism. I then elaborate on a recent debate in cognitive science and neurophilosophy over how to think about conscious mental activity. In doing so, I draw on and modify the pragmatist framework sketched in the first part of the chapter.

Keywords

  • Mirror Neuron System
  • Extended Mind
  • Conscious Activity
  • Digestion Model
  • Pragmatist View

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Indeed, it is very much a beginning. Massimo Pigliucci (2008) offers an excellent description of what he calls the “borderlands between science and philosophy.” In it, he notes physicist Steven Weinberg’s essay “Against Philosophy” (1992) as an exemplar of anti-philosophy coming from scientists. This hostility from science toward philosophy recently gained attention when another physicist, Lawrence Krauss, gave an interview in The Atlantic in which he contended that physics has made philosophy irrelevant (Andersen 2012). His mockery and apparent contempt for philosophy—particularly when it came to a philosophical critique of his recent book—received so much criticism that Krauss quickly offered an apology (Krauss 2012). Some might see this apology as half-hearted; regardless, I see it as a bit of progress over the last 20 years.

  2. 2.

    On the details of this evolutionary view of inquiry in Peirce, Dewey, Hickman, and Dennett, see Solymosi (2012a).

  3. 3.

    See Dewey (1969–1972, [1896/EW5]), Rockwell (2005), Chemero (2009), and Solymosi (2011) on Dewey’s critique of the reflex arc concept and the significance of it for contemporary dynamic systems theory.

  4. 4.

    One of the significant characteristics of modern science as opposed to the science or scientia (i.e., systematic knowledge) of antiquity is its emphasis on empirical observation in experimentation. In the next section, I distinguish between a passive sense of experience and an experimental one. For now, it is worth emphasizing that the science with which I am concerned is empirical, that it gains a significant part of its authority from its empirical component, and that, most controversially, all fields, which consider themselves scientific, are empirical even if they insist otherwise. The most obvious example of this would be mathematics. However, as pragmatists have long argued (see Dewey 1981–1991 [1938/LW12]), and as Lakoff and Núñez (2001) have further corroborated, mathematics is based in bodily experience and metaphors and is therefore empirically based. For more details on the empirical nature of scientific activity, see Godfrey-Smith 2003.

  5. 5.

    See Dewey (1981–1991 [1925/LW1]), Dennett (1991), and Solymosi (2011).

  6. 6.

    For Dewey, the contextual whole, what he called a “situation,” is prior to any distinction between organism and environment. If there is difficulty in conceiving of an environment’s dependence on an organism, consider its etymology. Without something to environ—to surround—there can be no environments (no surroundings). See Dewey 1981–1991 [1938/LW12].

  7. 7.

    Rockwell (2005) is the first application of dynamical systems theory to Dewey’s conception of experience. See also Chemero (2009) and Solymosi (2011).

  8. 8.

    Despite Brandom’s useful discernment here, readers should be alerted to the unfortunate misunderstandings Brandom makes in the second half of this article, in which he criticizes classical pragmatism for making semantic mistakes for which there is no warrant as Hickman (2007a) illustrates.

  9. 9.

    On the dynamics of regulatory processes from a neuroscientific and pragmatist perspective, see Schulkin 2003, 2009, 2011a, b. Of particular importance is Schulkin’s distinction between the regulatory processes of homeostasis (which is passive and resistant to change) and allostasis (which is dynamic and anticipates change).

  10. 10.

    Social laws are constructed to manage the behavior of individual persons; there are consequences for violating them. Natural laws are regularities that one ignores at one’s own peril: no matter how hard I try I cannot walk on the ceiling—unless, of course, I learn how to manipulate the natural regularities to work in my favor by substantial experimentation. In which case, what it means to walk on a ceiling has been reconstructed in light of the possibilities created through imaginative scientific activity.

  11. 11.

    Bill Bywater’s recent work on synthesizing Dewey and Goethe (see Bywater unpublished manuscript), and pragmatism with the work of Sterelny 2012 (see Bywater 2012), further corroborates the view put forth here.

  12. 12.

    To put the question in traditional philosophical parlance: “How ought we act in order to live a good life (eudaimonia)?”

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Solymosi, T. (2013). Neuropragmatism on the Origins of Conscious Minding. In: Swan, L. (eds) Origins of Mind. Biosemiotics, vol 8. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-5419-5_14

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