Language and the body

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Language and the body

  1. 1. LANGUAGE AND THE BODY-MIND PROBLEM A RESTATEMENT OF INTERACTIONISM Karl R. PopperFirst published in the Proceedings of the 11th International Congress of Philosophy, Vol.VII (1953): 101-107. Reprinted in Karl R. Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: TheGrowth of Scientific Knowledge (New York: Basic Books, 1962).Transcribed into hypertext by Andrew Chrucky, Sept. 12, 1997. 1. INTRODUCTIONThis is a paper on the impossibility of a physicalistic causal theory of the humanlanguage.{1}1.1 It is not a paper on linguistic analysis (the analysis of word-usages). For I completelyreject the claim of certain language analysts that the source of philosophical difficulties isto be found in the misuse of language. No doubt some people talk nonsense, but I claim(a) that there does not exist a logical or language-analytical method of detectingphilosophical nonsense (which, by the way, does not stop short of the ranks of logicians,language analysts and semanticists); (b) that the belief that such a method exists -- thebelief more especially that philosophical nonsense can be unmasked as due to whatRussell might have called type-mistakes and what nowadays are sometimes calledcategory-mistakes -- is the aftermath of a philosophy of language which has since turnedout to be baseless.1.2 It is the result of Russells early belief that a formula like x is an element of x is(essentially or intrinsically) meaningless. We now know that this is not so. Although wecan, indeed, construct a formalism F1 (theory of types) in which the formula in questionis not well-formed or meaningless, we can construct another formalism (a type-freeformalism) F2, in which the formula is well-formed or meaningful. The fact that adoubtful expression cannot be translated into a meaningful expression of a given F1 doesnot therefore establish that there exists no F2 such that the doubtful formula in questioncan be translated into a meaningful statement of F2. In other words, we are never able tosay, in doubtful cases, that a certain formula, as used by some speaker, is meaningless inany precise sense of this term; for somebody may invent a formalism such that theformula in question can be rendered by a well-formed formula of that formalism, to thesatisfaction of the original speaker. The most one can say is, I do not see how such aformalism can be constructed.1.3 As for the body-mind problem, I wish to reject the following two different theses ofthe language analyst. (1) The problem can be solved by pointing out that there are twolanguages, a physical and a psychological language, but not two kinds of entities, bodiesand minds. (2) The problem is due to a faulty way of talking about minds, i.e. it is due to
  2. 2. talking as if mental states exist in addition to behaviour, while all that exists is behaviourof varying character, for example, intelligent and unintelligent behaviour.1.31 I assert that (1), the two-language solution, is no longer tenable. It arose out ofneutral monism, the view that physics and psychology are two ways of constructingtheories, or languages, out of some neutral given material, and that the statements ofphysics and of psychology are (abbreviated) statements about that given material, andtherefore translatable into one another; that they are two ways of talking about the samefacts. But the idea of a mutual translatability had to be given up long ago. With it, thetwo-language solution disappears. For if the two languages are not inter-translatable, thenthey deal with different kinds of facts. The relation between these kinds of factsconstitutes our problem, which can therefore only be formulated by constructing onelanguage in which we can speak about both kinds of facts.1.32 Since (2) is so vague, we must ask: is there, or is there not, the station-masters beliefthat the train is leaving, in addition to his belief-like behaviour? Is there his intention tocommunicate a fact about the train to the signalman, in addition to his making theappropriate movements? Is there the signalmans understanding of the message inaddition to his nderstanding-like behaviour? Is it possible that the signalman understoodthe message perfectly well but behaved (for some reason or other) as if he hadmisunderstood it?1.321 If (as I think) the answer to these questions is yes, then the body-mind problemarises in approximately Cartesian form. If the answer no is given, we are faced with aphilosophical theory which may be called physicalism or behaviourism. If the questionsare not answered but dismissed as meaningless; if, more especially, we are told that toask whether Peter has a toothache in addition to his toothache-like behaviour ismeaningless because all that can be known about his toothache is known throughobserving his behaviour, then we are faced with the positivists mistaken belief that a factis (or is reducible to) the sum total of the evidence in its favour -- i.e. with theverifiability dogma of meaning. (Cf. 4.3, below, and my Logic of Scientific Discovery,1959.)1.4 An important assumption of what follows here is that the deterministic interpretationof physics, even of classical physics, is a misinterpretation, and that there are noscientific reasons in favour of determinism. (Cf. my paper Indeterminism in QuantumPhysics and in Classical Physics, Brit. Journ. Philos. of Science, 7, 1950.)2. FOUR MAJOR FUNCTIONS OF LANGUAGE2. Karl Bühler appears to have been the first to propose, in 1918,{2} the doctrine of thethree functions of language: (1) the expressive or symptomatic function; (2) thestimulative or signal function; (3) the descriptive function. To these I have added (4) the
  3. 3. argumentative function, which can be distinguished{3} from function (3). It is notasserted that there are no other functions (such as prescriptive, advisory, etc.) but it isasserted that these four functions mentioned constitute a hierarchy, in the sense that eachof the higher ones cannot be present without all those which are lower, while the lowerones may be present without the higher ones.2.1 An argument, for example, serves as an expression in so far as it is an outwardsymptom of some internal state (whether physical or psychological is here irrelevant) ofthe organism. It is also a signal, since it may provoke a reply, or agreement. In so far as itis about something, and supports a view of some situation or state of affairs, it isdescriptive. And lastly, there is its argumentative function, its giving reasons for holdingthis view, e.g. by pointing out difficulties or even inconsistencies in an alternative view.3. A GROUP OF THESES3.1 The primary interest of science and philosophy lies in their descriptive andargumentative functions; the interest of behaviourism or physicalism, for example, canonly lie in the cogency of their critical arguments.3.2 Whether a person does in fact describe or argue, or whether he merely expresses orsignals, depends on whether he speaks intentionally about something, or intentionallysupports (or attacks) some view.3.3 The linguistic behaviour of two persons (or of the same person at two different dates)may be indistinguishable; yet the one may, in fact, describe or argue, while the other mayonly express (and stimulate).3.4 Any causal physicalistic theory of linguistic behaviour can only be a theory of the twolower functions of language.3.5 Any such theory is therefore bound either to ignore the difference between the higherand lower functions, or to assert that the two higher functions are nothing but specialcases of the two lower functions.3.6 This holds, more especially, for such philosophies as behaviourism, and thephilosophies which try to rescue the causal completeness or self-sufficiency of thephysical-world, such as epiphenomenalism, psycho-physical parallelism, the two-language solutions, physicalism, and materialism. (All these are self-defeating in so far astheir arguments establish -- unintentionally, of course -- the non-existence of arguments.)
  4. 4. 4. THE MACHINE ARGUMENT4.1 A wall-thermometer may be said not only to express its internal state, but also tosignal, and even to describe. (A self-registering one does so even in writing.) Yet we donot attribute the responsibility for the description to it; we attribute it to its maker. Oncewe understand this situation, we see that it does not describe, any more than my pen does:like my pen it is only an instrument for describing. But it expresses its own state; and itsignals.4.2 The situation outlined in 4.1 is fundamentally the same for all physical machines,however complicated.4.21 It may be objected that example 4.1 is too simple, and that by complicating themachine and the situation we may obtain true descriptive behaviour. Let us thereforeconsider more complex machines. By way of concession to my opponents, I shall evenassume that machines can be constructed to any behaviouristic specification.4.22 Consider a machine (invested with a lens, an analyser, and a speaking apparatus)which pronounces, whenever a physical body of medium size appears before its lens, thename of this body (cat; dog, etc.) or says, in some cases, I dont know. Its behaviourcan be made even more human-like (1) by making it do this not always, but only inresponse to a stimulus question, Can you tell me what this thing is?, etc.; (2) by makingit in a percentage of cases reply, I am getting tired, let me alone for a while, etc. Otherresponses can be introduced, and varied -- perhaps according to inbuilt probabilities.4.23 If the behaviour of such a machine becomes very much like that of a man, then wemay mistakenly believe that the machine describes and argues; just as a man who doesnot know the working of a phonograph or radio may mistakenly think that it describesand argues. Yet an analysis of its mechanism teaches us that nothing of this kind happens.The radio does not argue, although it expresses and signals.4.24 There is, in principle, no difference between a wall-thermometer and the observingand describing machine discussed. Even a man who is conditioned to react toappropriate stimuli with the sounds cat and dog, without intention to describe or toname, does not describe, although he expresses and signals.4.25 But let us assume that we find a physical machine whose mechanism we do notunderstand and whose behaviour is very human. We may then wonder whether it doesnot, perhaps, act intentionally, rather than mechanically (causally, or probabilistically),i.e. whether it does not have a mind after all; whether we should not be very careful toavoid causing it pain, etc. But once we realize completely how it is constructed, how itcan be copied, who is responsible for its design, etc., no degree of complexity will makeit different in kind from an automatic pilot, or a watch, or a wall-thermometer.4.3 Objections to this view, and to the view 3.3, are usually based on the positivisticdoctrine of the identity of empirically indistinguishable objects. Two clocks, the
  5. 5. argument goes, may look alike, although the one works mechanically and the otherelectrically, but their difference can be discovered by observation. If no difference can beso discovered, then there simply is none. Reply: if we find two pound notes which arephysically indistinguishable (even as to the number) we may have good reason to believethat one of them at least is forged; and a forged note does not become genuine becausethe forgery is perfect or because all historical traces of the act of forgery havedisappeared.4.4 Once we understand the causal behaviour of the machine, we realize that itsbehaviour is purely expressive or symptomatic. For amusement we may continue to askthe machine questions, but we shall not seriously argue with it -- unless we believe that ittransmits the arguments, both from a person and back to a person4.5 This, I think, solves the so-called problem of other minds. If we talk to other people,and especially if we argue with them, then we assume (sometimes mistakenly) that theyalso argue: that they speak intentionally about things, seriously wishing to solve aproblem, and not merely behaving as if they were doing so it has often been seen thatlanguage is a social affair and that solipsism, and doubts about the existence of otherminds, become self-contradictory if formulated in a language. We can put this now moreclearly. In arguing with other people (a thing which we have learnt from other people),for example about other minds, we cannot but attribute to them intentions, and thismeans, mental states. We do not argue with a thermometer.5. THE CAUSAL THEORY OF NAMING5.1 But there are stronger reasons. Consider a machine which, every time it sees a gingercat, says Mike. It represents, we may be tempted to say, a causal model of naming, or ofthe name-relation.5.2 But this causal model is deficient. We shall express this by saying that it is not (andcannot be) a causal realization of the name-relation. Our thesis is that a causal realizationof the name-relation cannot exist.5.21 We admit that the machine may be described as realizing what we may loosely call acausal chain{4} of events joining Mike (the cat) with Mike (its name). But there arereasons why we cannot accept this causal chain as a representation or realization of therelation between a thing and its name.5.3 it is naive to look at this chain of events as beginning with the appearance of Mikeand ending with the enunciation Mike.It begins (if at all) with a state of the machine prior to the appearance of Mike, a state inwhich the machine is, as it were, ready to respond to the appearance of Mike. It ends (ifat all) not with the enunciation of a word, since there is a state following this. (All this is
  6. 6. true of the corresponding human response, if causally considered.) It is our interpretationwhich makes Mike and Mike the extremes (or terms) of the causal chain, and not theobjective physical situation. (Moreover, we might consider the whole process ofreaction as name, or only the last letters of Mike, say, Ike.) Thus, although those whoknow or understand the name-relation may choose to interpret a causal chain as a modelof it, it is clear that the name-relation is not a causal relation, and cannot be realized byany causal model. (The same holds for all abstract, e.g. logical relations, even for thesimplest one-one relation.)5.4 The name-relation is therefore clearly not to be realized by, say, an association model,or a conditioned reflex model, of whatever complexity. It involves some kind ofknowledge that Mike is (by some convention) the name of the cat Mike, and some kindof intention to use it as a name.5.5 Naming is by far the simplest case of a descriptive use of words. Since no causalrealization of the name-relation is possible, no causal physical theory of the descriptiveand argumentative functions of language is possible.6. INTERACTION6.1 it is true that the presence of Mike in my environment may be one of the physicalcauses of my saying, Here is Mike. But if I say, Should this be your argument, then it iscontradictory, because I have grasped or realized that it is so, then there was no physicalcause analogous to Mike; I do not need to hear or see your words in order to realize thata certain theory (it does not matter whose) is contradictory. The analogy is not to Mike,but rather to my realization that Mike is here. (This realization of mine may be causally,but not purely physically, connected with the physical presence of Mike.)6.2 Logical relationships, such as consistency, do not belong to the physical world. Theyare abstractions (perhaps products of the mind). But my realization of an inconsistencymay lead me to act, in the physical world, precisely as may my realization of the presenceof Mike. Our mind may be said to be as capable of being swayed by logical (ormathematical, or, say, musical) relationships as by a physical presence.6.3 There is no reason (except a mistaken physical determinism) why mental states andphysical states should not interact. (The old argument that things so different could notinteract was based on a theory of causation which has long been superseded.)6.4 If we act through being influenced by the grasp of an abstract relationship, we initiatephysical causal chains which have no sufficient physical causal antecedents. We are thenfirst movers, or creators of a physical causal chain.
  7. 7. 7. CONCLUSIONThe fear of obscurantism (or of being judged an obscurantist) has prevented most anti-obscurantists from saying such things as these. But this fear has produced, in the end,only obscurantism of another kind.

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