Wednesday, June 23, 2010

the ghost in the machine

Most of my readers will be familiar with the moment in the Wizard of Oz when the little yapping dog Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal the tiny little guy masquerading as the all powerful wizard. That is a great example of what Gilbert Ryle was first to call "the ghost in the machine." We assume that there is a separate entity most call mind behind each act. The following is from wikipedia's discussion of the "ghost in the machine," a concept Ryle first described in his book, The Concept of Mind.
The Concept of Mind (1949) is a critique of the notion that the mind is distinct from the body, and it is a rejection of the theory that mental states are separable from physical states. According to Ryle, the classical theory of mind, as represented by Cartesian rationalism, asserts that there is a basic distinction between mind and matter. However, the classical theory makes a basic "category-mistake," because it attempts to analyze the relation between "mind" and "body" as if they were terms of the same logical category. This confusion of logical categories may be seen in other theories of the relation between mind and matter. For example, the idealist theory of mind makes a basic category-mistake by attempting to reduce physical reality to the same status as mental reality, while the materialist theory of mind makes a basic category-mistake by attempting to reduce mental reality to the same status as physical reality.

Ryle rejects Descartes’ theory of the relation between mind and body, on the grounds that it approaches the investigation of mental processes as if they could be isolated from physical processes. In order to demonstrate how this theory may be misleading, he explains that knowing how to perform an act skillfully may not only be a matter of being able to reason practically but may also be a matter of being able to put practical reasoning into action. Practical actions may not necessarily be produced by highly theoretical reasoning or by complex sequences of intellectual operations. The meaning of actions may not be explained by making inferences about hidden mental processes, but it may be explained by examining the rules that govern those actions. According to Ryle, mental processes are merely intelligent acts. There are no mental processes that are distinct from intelligent acts. The operations of the mind are not merely represented by intelligent acts, they are the same as those intelligent acts. Thus, acts of learning, remembering, imagining, knowing, or willing are not merely clues to hidden mental processes or to complex sequences of intellectual operations, they are the way in which those mental processes or intellectual operations are defined. Logical propositions are not merely clues to modes of reasoning, they are those modes of reasoning.

The rationalist theory that the will is a faculty within the mind and that volitions are mental processes which the human body transforms into physical acts is therefore a misconception. This theory mistakenly assumes that mental acts are distinct from physical acts and that there is a mental world which is distinct from the physical world. This theory of the separability of mind and body is described by Ryle as "the dogma of the ghost in the machine."

He explains that there is no hidden entity called "the mind" inside a mechanical apparatus called "the body." The workings of the mind are not an independent mechanism which governs the workings of the body. The workings of the mind are not distinct from the actions of the body and may be better conceptualized as a way of explaining the actions of the body.

Cartesian theory holds that mental acts determine physical acts and that volitional acts of the body must be caused by volitional acts of the mind. This theory is "the myth of the ghost in the machine."
Thus is this morning's food for thought. Quite a lot to think about. Naturally, Gilbert Ryle, having spent most of his life at Oxford University, would lay a bit heavier emphasis on thought as "action" than would a craftsman, more attuned to physical reality. But one can thank Ryle's performance as the yapping dog Toto, alerting us that the Wizard is not exactly what we have believed him to be. The photo above is of Gilbert Ryle. You may think that this is an extremely long and boring post that has little to do with the Wisdom of the Hands. The point I would make is that to think that children in schools are "Minds to educate" separate from the needs of their bodies to make, move, express and thus prosper is the greatest of pedagogical errors.

I am preparing for my classes at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, by gathering my tools and thoughts for more practical investigations: Box making!

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