Sunday, 31 July 2011

My Problem with Dualist Arguments

There are plenty of reasons to believe in some sort of physicalist account of mind and reject the notion of dualism. Yet when I talk to dualists about it, they feel the same way about dualism. Of course this should be no surprise, as Catholics tend to feel that there are good reasons to be Catholic, and those who believe in psychic powers don't do so despite thinking there's a weak case for it.

Yet that we can justify what we already believe in doesn't mean that the case is very good. Perhaps the case for physicalism is really poor and the case for dualism overwhelming, from my perspective I try to understand where the case to the contrary is coming from and see whether that fits. At least in my head, I've got a list of certain things that dualism would have to account for in order to be considered a possibility. I've put these forward numerous times to dualists - yet I don't get any answers back at all.

Perhaps from their perspective, the problems are insignificant. Or perhaps I have fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the problems involved in the philosophy of mind. I don't know, all I can do is keep reading, listen to experts, and discuss the issues with others. Which brings me to the point of this post...


When it comes to intelligent design, most arguments for intelligent design fixate around the notion that there are certain patterns we can see in nature that are hallmarks of being designed. How a designer acts in order to design is a different question that a designer was involved - that a watch has a watchmaker can be inferred without knowing how the watch was made. So while evolutionary biologists will ask for a mechanism, the ID proponent doesn't claim to be able to show that - just to show that a designer was involved. This is done by trying to show that natural mechanisms cannot account for what we know designers can.

In a recent discussion with a dualist, I encountered the same such argument. That it didn't matter how mental phenomena worked, but that mental phenomena by definition could account for what physicalist models couldn't - and thus dualism. My objection to this is that labelling them mental stuff doesn't actually explain anything at all, but the goal of the argument isn't there to act as an explanation; it's there to demonstrate dualism - whatever that means. So me calling dualism incoherent and not actually explaining those things any better than a physical model would be missing the point.

Yet to what extent does this explanation carry? To my mind, such arguments are merely labelling our ignorance. What does mental causation mean, for example? To say that mental causation is part of the definition of dualism doesn't give any conception of possibility. A physicalist account involving neural networks and firing synapses is at least an attempt to make sense of mental causation. Dualism makes no such attempt, yet physicalism is judged on what is seen as a failure of explanation.


It's in that respect that explanations like Intelligent Design, God, pyramid-building aliens, or mental forces have a distinct advantage over any naturalistic explanation. The naturalistic explanations try to explain how something works, which for the most part are going to be imperfect and incomplete, yet the failure of such explanations is seen as evidence for explanations that don't even try to explain the evidence. In other words, just arguments are just taking our ignorance and giving it a label.

If such explanations were true, however, they would have empirical consequences. If dualism was true and there was mental causation outside the brain, then that would have empirical consequences. No matter how much personal introspection one does, if the brain is shown to be closed causally, then mental causation has no place in which to operate. This problem was not lost on Descartes, but it seems to be ignored some 400 years later by modern-day dualists. That we're living in an era of exploration of the brain should be all the more reason to be more empirical about it. It says a lot in the age of empirical inquiry that people are avoiding putting would could be scientifically-testable to the test.

Of course, all this might be a rationalisation on my part... but I really don't know why there's not even an attempt to turn dualism into an empirical model that can be tested and potentially falsified by scientific inquiry. Being "not even wrong" shouldn't be a selling point!

26 comments:

Verbose Stoic said...

Hello,

I'm going to comment here to move the discussion from EvolutionBlog to here.

So, the first thing I'd like to say is that for me the best people on both sides of the materialism/dualism divide are those that can see the reasons why the other side might prefer one theory or another and yet still disagree with that choice. In my opinion, people who really care about phenomenal experience are ones who are sympathetic to dualism, since it takes phenomenal experience as its base and builds on it. People who really care about being able to predict and discuss observable behaviour, on the other hand, tend to be staunch materialists because that view does that really well.

Essentially, you could probably define the split as being between those who put the first-person perspective of consciousness first and those who put the third-person perspective of consciousness first. I'm the former, as is Nagel, Chalmers, and at least originally Jackson. I can see what materialists like Dennett are after, but think that they leave out something important when they do so.

So, in my case, I don't think that the problems are insignificant. I just think that they matter less to me than they do to materialists, and vice versa.

I don't think your analogy to ID works. Let's take something like complexity. The ID advocate argues that complexity indicates design, but the evolutionist can offer two responses:

1) They can show how you can get complexity without design.

2) They can claim that the complexity is only apparent, but it isn't really complexity at all without forcing them to abandon any defining trait of organisms.

That doesn't work for dualism. Take mental causation, which is the rather well-defined idea that when you have a specific phenomenal experience, the details of it matter. So when you stop at the red light, the fact that you had a red experience matters and has a causal impact on your stopping your car there, and if you had a different experience but the same beliefs you'd do something else. This can be read straight from our impressions of how the world works, and so seems to be a fairly solid hypothesis. Dualism, therefore, starts from there and says that one of the defining traits of the mental is that it has this sort of causation, as all the first-person observations seem to indicate it is.

How could materialists reply to the dualist?

1) is out; they have no idea how phenomenal experience is generated by neurons and there doesn't seem to be room in a materialist explanation for any cause outside of neurons ... but those neural patterns or chains will proceed regardless of what experience the neurons actually produce.

2) is out as well; the challenge is that this is indeed a hallmark of the mental, and if you can't explain it or have to dismiss it you may well not be explaining the mental anymore.

That, then, is the issue: the clash between the first-person and the third-person view. Those who hold the primacy of the first-person find the third-person oriented explanations of the materialists to not actually explain the interesting phenomena, and interestingly enough the converse is also true.

Onto the empirical. In some cases, dualists will deny that there are empirical tests because they don't think that any third-person empirical test can get at the first-person traits, and there's a ton of literature about that sort of issue. But since I am the person you are referring to I find it odd that you say that dualists ignore the causally closed test because I specifically referenced it: it HAS to be true for materialism to be accepted, and by implication dualism is in trouble if it is true. So, I agree with you on that. But we're nowhere near establishing that, yet. Get back to me, materialists, when you DO settle that.

Kel said...

"I'm going to comment here to move the discussion from EvolutionBlog to here."
Easier for me, though you'll have to put up with comment moderation here. Sorry about that - too many Mabus death threats.

"I don't think your analogy to ID works."
Analogies are always going to be imperfect, but I have seen an almost identical argument from ID proponents. That evolutionists do have an answer is missing the point - what if there was no evolutionist answers (as there wasn't a realistic one before 1859), should that mean that we've gone any way to establishing a designer? It's an argument from ignorance in both cases, it's just in the case of ID there's a good empirical account in its place.

"How could materialists reply to the dualist?"
By pointing out that the dualist by starting with experience doesn't actually know what underlies that experience, then cite various experiments showing how mental phenomena can be manipulated by manipulating the brain. My favourite example was a paper published in Nature in 2002 where Swiss researchers were able to induce an out-of-body experience by using an electromagnetic current on an area of the brain that was active when epileptic patients would have seizures. Or perhaps bring up the Libet experiment, where phenomenal experience was after relevant regions in the brain associated with making that decision.

"Get back to me, materialists, when you DO settle that."
But isn't this making a "god of the gaps"-type argument? Dualism by virtue of not yet showing that it's all in the brain. Yet there hasn't been any observation of anything other than brain activity, or that there's anything outside of that causal chain. How is this challenge any different that Behe's challenge to show a step-by-step pathway to an IC system? Behe contends that the burden of proof is on the evolutionist, much like you're putting the burden of proof on the "materialist". Yet even if it's incomplete, all evidence is pointing overwhelmingly to materialism. That we are in a physicalist universe where we are physical beings with physical components surely is grounds to accept that the mind is physical, and that it's on the dualist to show empirically that there's something else going on outside the brain.


The main thrust of this post was that I found dualist explanations as not even wrong, they don't actually offer a way of explaining anything that the proponents criticise physicalism for, yet it's somehow preferred because of the problems of the physicalist account? Doesn't make sense. One example I like to use is the problem of altruism. For decades, altruistic behaviour perplexed evolutionary thinkers, it was not only unexplained but was counter to evolutionary theory at the time. Yet that didn't mean we should reach for an other-worldly explanation, it meant rethinking the problem. Now there's quite a bit of literature on the evolution of altruism, the problem has effectively gone away. It didn't take an outside hand, just taking what was known and using a new way to look at the process. I'm not worried that physicalist accounts are currently inadequate to explain the mind, but I am worried that people are sneaking in concepts like dualism into a world they don't belong and justifying it at the first sign of a weakness in physicalist theory. I don't know how to explain my phenomenal self, but I'm very protective of my brain - as I'm sure you are too.

Verbose Stoic said...

Kel,

So, first, on the analogy, my whole argument is that it indeed does matter that evolution has both a response to the ID contention of, say, that complexity requires design and that they can deny complexity without denying something fundamental to an organism. If their theory can handle the supposed problem OR can dismiss the idea that there is a problem without risking not explaining the thing that needs to be explained, then they've done their job and at least blunted that objection, even if it isn't totally proven at that point.

But that's not the case with the mental, and with mental causation. It seems fundamental to the idea of consciousness that mental experiences have a causal impact. If you take them out of the causal chain, one starts to wonder what in the world you're talking about when you talk about consciousness or any notion of mind. And materialists don't have any idea how to incorporate that into a materialist story.

You yanked my question about what answer materialists can give to the question of mental causation to seemingly answer a different question, as you went on to talk about OBEs and that experiment about at least some phenomenal experience happening after the supposed decision was made. But none of these answer questions about mental causation, and that's what I was asking that about. And I went on to describe why the materialist COULDN'T give answers like was given for ID.

The other problem is that you're ignoring the history of the debate. We STARTED with dualist accounts, because they made the most sense of the actual evidence we had: phenomenal experience. Now, materialsts over the past little while have been coming in and claiming that they've explained everything, and some people are pointing out that they haven't, and haven't -- in their opinion -- explained any of the really interesting things about minds and consciousness. The burden of proof is not on those people to prove materialism wrong, but on materialists to show that they really can explain the important things or that the things that they can explain really are the important things. No good passing the burden of proof on.

The two examples you gave, BTW, are perfectly compatible with dualism, as is the idea that you can change experiences with drugs or with brain damage, since Cartesian dualism is INTERACTIONIST and so posits that if you change mind you change brain and if you change brain you change mind. Generally.

There are LOTS of problems with materialist accounts, and they all come up when you start getting into phenomenal experience. For example, if phenomenal experience is just brain activity, how come some brain activity produces phenomenal experiences and some doesn't? What's the mechanism there?

Now, you talk about "explanations", but the issue is that the problems raised against materialism don't NEED an explanation -- beyond a description -- for dualism and vice versa. It's ridiculous to ask for an explanation for how dualism incorporates mental causation into the model since that's a fundamental principle of the model, just as it's ridiculous to ask how mental causes can have causal power in a materialist model since, again, that's a fundamental principle (if mental events are physical, they use physical causation). Dualism may have a description to provide for mental causation, but it's easy to see how it fits into the model, and that's not the case in materialism. That's why it's a problem for the latter and not the former.

Anyway, I think I need more specifics of specific issues that are bothering you, so that we can work them through in more detail ... especially why you think that dualism is incoherent.

(As an aside, I take on Lickerman's view of NDEs here:

http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/ndes-and-neurology/ )

Dhorvath said...

"There are LOTS of problems with materialist accounts, and they all come up when you start getting into phenomenal experience. For example, if phenomenal experience is just brain activity, how come some brain activity produces phenomenal experiences and some doesn't? What's the mechanism there?"
If phenomenal experience is something more than brain activity, why does brain activity in decision making precede rather than follow? I would posit that what you refer to as phenomenal experience is lag effect of memory processing and has no impact on the actual functioning of individuals. If we don't make decisions with our conscious experience, what need does it serve?

Kel said...

"So, first, on the analogy, my whole argument is that it indeed does matter that evolution has both a response to the ID contention of, say, that complexity requires design and that they can deny complexity without denying something fundamental to an organism. If their theory can handle the supposed problem OR can dismiss the idea that there is a problem without risking not explaining the thing that needs to be explained, then they've done their job and at least blunted that objection, even if it isn't totally proven at that point."
This is where my fundamental disagreement is. I don't think the arguments from design are good, if only Darwin hadn't gotten in the way - indeed I think the fact that we do have an answer for the complexity illustrates why arguments from ignorance don't get us anywhere.


"

But that's not the case with the mental, and with mental causation. It seems fundamental to the idea of consciousness that mental experiences have a causal impact. If you take them out of the causal chain, one starts to wonder what in the world you're talking about when you talk about consciousness or any notion of mind. And materialists don't have any idea how to incorporate that into a materialist story."
But that concern is for philosophers of language, getting into definitions and meanings. We don't understand the nature of reality that way. When we use words like mental causation and mind, it may not have any more meaning than calling something an apple or engine. That we don't find apples or engines at the level of fundamental particles doesn't seem like such a concern, but how do we know that mental causation isn't brain activity? That what we call the mind isn't just a certain subset of neural activity in the brain? If we have mental causation as something besides brain activity, then how does that feed into us as a physical organism? What is mind, exactly?

"And I went on to describe why the materialist COULDN'T give answers like was given for ID."
Imagine if ID was around 200 years ago, and there wasn't a way to explain the complexity in and of nature. Would that mean that ID would be a valid inference? No! It's still an argument from ignorance, it's just now we have a good explanation and we can use it as an example of why arguments from ignorance are a bad thing. That we don't know now, nor that we don't have a possible explanation at this stage doesn't mean anything otherworldly is going on. There's one claim that a dualist is making that is coherent enough to test - that is something other than brain activity is going on. Why aren't we seeing models of the mind that put something other than the brain into the causal chain? If mental causation has an effect and it is something outside the physical system, then surely we should see something other than a physical system in action.


TBC

Kel said...

"The other problem is that you're ignoring the history of the debate."
That it started with dualism doesn't make dualism any less incoherent an idea. Heck, the history of astronomy and astrophysics is littered with gods, but at any sign of weakness in the nebula hypothesis or any of the calculations describing motions of the planets we don't reach back for the gods - well, some do. The point being that dualism was where it all began (I'm not disputing that) doesn't actually make dualism any more tenable. It would be like saying that we need to take the God of the bible seriously because Genesis 1:1 said "In the beginning" and there was a beginning to the universe. Whether there was or wasn't a beginning to the universe doesn't mean that God is a coherent thought or answer to it.

"Now, materialsts over the past little while have been coming in and claiming that they've explained everything, and some people are pointing out that they haven't, and haven't -- in their opinion -- explained any of the really interesting things about minds and consciousness."
There are plenty of materialists philosophers who will say that we are not there yet, I'm not sure how many would say all the problems are solved - not that it would matter; if there are biologists who say that all the problems of evolution are solved, it wouldn't mean that evolution is it hot water the moment something problematic comes up. The hard problem of consciousness is, well, hard. It doesn't mean that there's anything other than brain activity going on, it's just that we don't know how to explain it yet. But is there anything to suggest it's outside the brain? Having Dennett "fail" to quine away qualia doesn't mean it ain't brain activity...

Kel said...

"The burden of proof is not on those people to prove materialism wrong, but on materialists to show that they really can explain the important things or that the things that they can explain really are the important things. No good passing the burden of proof on."
The burden of proof is passed on for good reason, as Searle put it (paraphrased) "dualism goes against everything we know about how the world works". We're in a physical universe, where we are physical beings shaped by the evolutionary process. At no point do we see a violation of the conservation of energy, at no point do we see anything outside the system interacting with our physical system. We've got nothing to show that the system is anything but physical, and all we get from dualists is an appeal to introspection as if somehow you can prove by thinking about it we can show that it's not a closed system despite no empirical support that there's anything other than brain activity, and good empirical support that it's all brain activity.

"The two examples you gave, BTW, are perfectly compatible with dualism"
What empirical results would be incompatible with dualism? I know what would be incompatible with physicalism - showing that there's something other than brain activity going on. There's a pretty good understanding of how neurons work - yet there's not any observed outside phenomena at all.

"There are LOTS of problems with materialist accounts, and they all come up when you start getting into phenomenal experience. For example, if phenomenal experience is just brain activity, how come some brain activity produces phenomenal experiences and some doesn't? What's the mechanism there?"
That materialist accounts cannot adequately account for phenomenal experience doesn't mean it's anything other than brain activity, it just means they cannot explain it yet. That doesn't give any more recourse for dualism than not being able to explain the evolution of the immune system gives recourse for an intelligent designer. That 2% (or so) of neural activity is conscious is something to take into account in developing a theory of consciousness.

"Now, you talk about "explanations", but the issue is that the problems raised against materialism don't NEED an explanation -- beyond a description -- for dualism and vice versa. It's ridiculous to ask for an explanation for how dualism incorporates mental causation into the model since that's a fundamental principle of the model, just as it's ridiculous to ask how mental causes can have causal power in a materialist model since, again, that's a fundamental principle (if mental events are physical, they use physical causation). Dualism may have a description to provide for mental causation, but it's easy to see how it fits into the model, and that's not the case in materialism. That's why it's a problem for the latter and not the former."
Giving something a name is not the same as how it works. For example, there's a phenomena that psychologists observe they call "promiscuous teleology", where young children especially see the world in terms of function and design. Clouds are for rain, the sun is for light and warmth, etc. Now calling it promiscuous teleology says nothing about how it works, it's just giving a name for what we don't understand. You can't define dualism into existence, by labelling something "mental causation" you're not giving anything other than a label for a phenomena.

I think this is where we hit an impasse. How does mental causation work? Calling it "a fundamental principle of the model" doesn't get us anywhere, it's rhetorical handwaving as far as I'm concerned. It's like saying "then a miracle occurred" and expecting me to nod in agreement.

Kel said...

To quote Dan Dennett "[A]n eternal, immortal, immaterial soul is just a metaphysical rug under which you sweep your embarrassment for not having any explanation."

Verbose Stoic said...

Kel,

First off, I'm not making any claim that dualism is necessarily right and materialism is necessarily wrong. I'm just saying that there's still room for dualism and that it is one theory that is viable and might be the right one, and doing that on the basis of things that the materialist theory doesn't yet explain.

The notion of mental causation is not that dualism has given it a name. Mental causation seems to be a brute fact about whatever it is that we call mental. We do seem to think that mental events impact our behaviour, down to their details. It seems only obvious that mental events have this impact. So it seems, right now, that any theory of the mental is going to have to incorporate that brute fact into their model. And it's hard to see how materialist theories can do that (more on models in a minute).

So, using the ID example, what happened was we started with it seeming obvious that organisms were created and always existed. And then we found that that was wrong. But then the reply came that with complex creatures there's no way to get that without design. Sure, maybe one or two cases, but that many cases of that great a complexity where everything fits together so neatly? Preposterous.

At that point, if the "Complexity of that sort requires a designer" is unchallenged by evolutionary theories, then yeah, it's perfectly reasonable to dismiss evolutionary theories, even as some small pieces of evidence lean that way. Until they can give solid reasons to think that either that complexity is not really there (only apparent) or that their theory can explain. Which, since now they can, eliminates that issues.

But that's not the case for materialism yet.

Verbose Stoic said...

So, onto the "promiscuous teleology" example. So let me extend it to be a proper analogy to what's going on. What we have is, again, what seems like a brute fact: promiscuous teleology. Taking this serious, person A builds theory T that incorporates it directly and treats it as a brute fact of human psychology. Person B, however, creates theory H about human psychology that does explain some things and even overcomes some problems with T; however, under that model it looks like promiscious teleology should never happen. Well, wouldn't you consider that a problem for H?

Now, H has options. H can either show how what's considered promiscious teleology isn't (see, for example, ideas about intentionality in insect swarms to show how things make look intentional but aren't) or show how it does fit into their model. But if B cannot show either of these things, and that has to count against H. And if B simply protests that they'll figure it out eventually, A can surely rationally reply to come back when they do.

This gets even worse when A points out that it seems that this sort of thing is critically required for a model of human psychology according to them and if you haven't explained it you haven't explained human psychology, at least in their view.

That's the case here. There are many mental properties that materialist theories don't seem to be able to incorporate into their models, while dualism builds its models based on these things. Its model says "If you don't have this, you don't have a good model". And that, then, is what pushes the reaction to materialist views.

Verbose Stoic said...

So, onto proof. Interestingly, if you could indeed prove that the brain was causally closed that would be at least a VERY big problem for dualism, and probably an actually damning one. But we aren't anywhere near that level in studying the brain, so we just don't know that yet.

Now, see, I disagree with the claims that dualism goes against everything we know in any interesting way. There's no evidence that interactionist dualism clashes with except this presumption that everything is "physical" -- whatever that term means. And I certainly don't see any need to presume a materialist worldview and then dismiss dualism based entirely on that. And even if materialism is true, that DOESN'T mean it's all in the brain, and again I've raised a few reasons why the brain issue is problematic. We don't even need to keep that soul concept that has Dennett all hot and bothered.

Ultimately, I refuse to consider my theory to be in any way damaged by things that it is completely consistent with or by principles that are mostly guesswork. I'm not saying I'm right, but I am saying that you don't have any actual real evidence for saying taht I'm wrong and you're right.

If I've missed anything important, let me know.

Kel said...

"If I've missed anything important, let me know."
At least from my perspective, you're not addressing my basic underlying concern - the one that this blog post was about. That is that saying things like this: "Mental causation seems to be a brute fact about whatever it is that we call mental. We do seem to think that mental events impact our behaviour, down to their details. It seems only obvious that mental events have this impact. So it seems, right now, that any theory of the mental is going to have to incorporate that brute fact into their model." doesn't actually explain anything. That things fall towards the earth is a brute fact, but no-one would suggest that's the end of the story. If someone suggested that "things fall towards the earth" was foundational in their model, I'd think that model was pretty useless because it's only restating what we know. That mental causation exists might be a brute fact, but calling it a foundation doesn't equip it with any explanatory power. As I tried to illustrate with the design example (which you disagree with anyway) was that saying a designer did it or saying that there's mental stuff external to the physical bodies is making an argument from ignorance.

When you argued on EvoutionBlog about how dualism solves the problems that physicalism can't, I was interested in seeing solutions. Instead I saw the same argument I've heard theists use when it comes to various applications of the design argument (from fine-tuning to ID) where there is no explanation and that somehow is meant to be something other than a label for our ignorance. Yes, physicalists about the mind have a hard time explaining qualia, but how does a dualist explain it? they don't, they just label qualia as mind stuff that's external to the body and somehow that's meant to count as an explanation. It's not, there's nothing being explained whatsoever, yet I'm meant to take that as dualism solving the problems that physicalism can't? It doesn't explain anything at all, just separates them into a different ontological category as if it will dissolve the problem.

To try one more time to illustrate my problem, I'll try to address what I see as the lack of explanatory power in dualism. To the question "how do I think?" a physicalist might reply that we have a complex system of neurons, pathways of neural networks firing in various patterns on which a model is built and decisions are made. What's missing from this account is the phenomenology - and that's a hard problem to face. But what does the dualist response offer? It seems the answer I get is that there's this separate mind stuff and mind stuff by definition does mental things. That, to me, doesn't tell me a damn thing about how the mind works. What am I missing?

Dhorvath said...

"Ultimately, I refuse to consider my theory to be in any way damaged by things that it is completely consistent with or by principles that are mostly guesswork. I'm not saying I'm right, but I am saying that you don't have any actual real evidence for saying taht I'm wrong and you're right."
What is your theory? What does it predict? How do we explore it? So far as I can see you are picking up the things that are so far poorly explained by physicalism and saying that means there is something more, but you don't say what, you don't say how it functions, how it interacts, what it's limits are, or really anything useful. Do you have anything other than lack of understanding driving your concept?

Verbose Stoic said...

So, let me go through this in detail.

Observation: We have mental events -- ie phenomenal experiences -- and they seem to have causal effect on our actions and behaviour, right down to their details (ie seeing red or green).

Question: How does this occur?

Dualism: Well, what we have in dualism are two distinct entities that are causally connected. The phenomenal experiences and mental events are in the Mind, while the behaviour of the body is ultimately driven by the Brain. So the Brain causes things to happen in the Mind, and the Mind changes as a result, and those changes cause changes in the Brain, and thus we have behaviour. Therefore, we explain mental causation.

Materialism: All of these are brain events; the phenomenal experiences are somehow caused by brain events as well as the behaviour. And yes, it is an implication of the theory that if you could reproduce the brain events without producing the experiences -- or while producing different experiences -- if the causal chain in the brain remained the same, so would the behaviour. Which might then mean that in our theory there is no causal link between the details of phenomenal experiences and the ultimate behaviours. Um ... what was the question again?

New question: What mechanism of causation is used in mental causation?

Materialism: Strict physical causation.

Dualism: Well, we have two things that are causally connected, one of which is non-physical and one of which is physical. How do you get causation between a non-physical and a physical thing? Um, err ... I'm sure it works somehow.

That's basically how the theories explain -- or answer -- these questions. My comment on it being fundamental is that dualism formed from mental details itself, and so made sure it allowed for all the things that happen in mind. Materialist theories didn't.

Verbose Stoic said...

So, the problem is that I'm saying that the materialist theory is, in fact, a theory that does something like denying that things fall. That, then, is a pretty big hurdle, something that you can't escape with "Well, maybe we'll figure it out later". Maybe you'll figure out later how to fit "Things fall" into your theory of how things work? I think I'll wait until you do, because no matter how flawed the alternatives are, they at least won't have that one.

This translates into your purported explanation of thinking via materialism:

"To the question "how do I think?" a physicalist might reply that we have a complex system of neurons, pathways of neural networks firing in various patterns on which a model is built and decisions are made."

To which my reply is: So, where's THINKING in all that? You're supposed to be explaining thinking, but all I see is talk of neurons and neural networks, things that fire off even in cases where there's nothing like thinking happening at all. Without the phenomenal, you don't have thinking, and since you admit you don't have the phenomenal yet I can quite reasonably complain that none of this does or can explain thinking until it can make the jump to the phenomenal.

You can deny that, of course, and people like Dennett do. But then you get right back to my intial complaint/comment, which is that the difference in preferring dualist or materialist theories is precisely about what things you consider important to thought/consciousness/whatever.

Kel said...

Okay, let's break this down to see if you can see where my problem lies.

"So the Brain causes things to happen in the Mind"
So where is this interface in the brain? If you're going to talk about causation, surely you're going to substantiate it, right?

"and the Mind changes as a result, and those changes cause changes in the Brain"
How does this happen? Where in the brain do we see an outside force acting in? Again, how is this anything other than a bare assertion?

And that isn't even getting into the fact that Mind is a completely unknown substance here. Might as well say "then a miracle occurred" because we don't know what Mind is.

"and thus we have behaviour. Therefore, we explain mental causation."
But you haven't explained anything. There's nothing in your account that says anything about how it all works - just that there's some part of the process that's not brain activity. That's not, well, anything.

Verbose Stoic said...

Kel,

"So where is this interface in the brain? If you're going to talk about causation, surely you're going to substantiate it, right?"

So tell me why this isn't an argument from ignorance while my arguments somehow are? This sounds a lot like "We don't know all the details yet, so let's drop it", which is doubly odd when we recognize -- as you have accepted -- that materialist theories don't have this "explanation" either.

Okay, maybe you're getting confused over the term "explains". Maybe "accounts for" will work better. What I outlined in my examples are not merely issues of "we don't know yet". They're issues of "It looks like you simply can't account for this at all". That was my point with mental causation: it seems -- at least to me -- that materialist theories ENTAIL epiphenomenalism and so have no way to account for the obvious phenomena of mental causation. If materialist theories are true, it looks at least to me that mental causation does not exist. And that seems absurd. And so materialist theories need to explain that somehow.

You'll note the same thing in my example where dualism fails. Again, it seems that dualism has to have causation where it entails a state -- ie non-physical -- where at least causation between it and the physical seems absurd. That objection, though, is far closer to an argument from ignorance than my above objection to materialism is.

And this carries over to the case where I actually take materialism to task for not explaining something. Recall what I said about your purported explanation for thinking by pointing to neurons: where, in that, do you actually have thought? Sure, you get neural correlates, but you aren't referring to thought at all. That's more than an argument of "We don't know yet" but is an argument of "You haven't even touched the things you were actually supposed to explain".

Now, I have repeatedly said that based on preferences, one can have a reason to think certain things need explaining more than others. For me, that's the phenomenal, and that's what dualism focuses on. For you, it's probably brain/behvaiour, and materialism has done good things there. But that doesn't mean that you're right and i'm wrong, or that I'm right and you're wrong, or that the evidence points to either of ours. We both have a lot of work to do. But in the end, I have principled reasons to oppose your view, and right now all you have is "You have some work to do". Being completely fair, at best we both have work to do, and we can work out specific issues and why we think them more or less important. Where you start from in your critique, though, doesn't foster that.

Kel said...

"So tell me why this isn't an argument from ignorance while my arguments somehow are? This sounds a lot like "We don't know all the details yet, so let's drop it", which is doubly odd when we recognize -- as you have accepted -- that materialist theories don't have this "explanation" either."
Because there are many experiments that show the role of the brain in cognition. Recently I heard of one experiment where if they applied a small amount of electrical stimulation to a certain region of the brain stimulated the desire to move one's tongue, and a bigger current caused the movement. i.e. we know the brain is involved.

"t seems -- at least to me -- that materialist theories ENTAIL epiphenomenalism"
If it's epiphenomenalism, then how could it be material? Surely to talk about a distinction between physical and mental would be incoherent and the problem of epiphenomenalism would just dissolve. In other words, I'm not sure how you can, in a physicalist account, distinguish oneself from one's brain activity. "It wasn't me, it was my neurons" at some point hits an absurdity.

"If materialist theories are true, it looks at least to me that mental causation does not exist."
Mental causation in what sense? In the sense that magic stuff acts magically, therefore cognition? Mental causation might be an incoherent concept to begin with, but any physicalist theory has to take into account the capacity to reason, project into other's minds, decision making, thinking about the future, and acting on the self. These are the capacities of our species, and in some ways they are already being understood in terms of brain function.

"Okay, maybe you're getting confused over the term "explains". Maybe "accounts for" will work better."
A tooth fairy "accounts for" a child receiving money for her tooth. A dragon "accounts for" fires in forests, alien intervention "accounts for" the pyramids, God "accounts for" design in organisms; whatever potential P account for Q doesn't make it anything other than an ad hoc account that raises even bigger problems than it answers.

"Where you start from in your critique, though, doesn't foster that."
Yet you're still not addressing my critique. You haven't shown at all that dualism has any predictive

Kel said...

It's more than just brain / behaviour. We have to contend with other facts about the world - that we are physical beings, that we are evolved, that our psychologies relate to the evolutionary process, that the difference between our mental capacities and other animals is qualitative rather than qualitative, etc. Wire up electrodes to a switch and still the electrodes into the pleasure centre of a mouse, and the organism will kill itself activating the switch instead of eating food - does that mean mouse cognition has a separate phenomenal aspect too?

So many questions arise out of positing an external force. Where does this external substance reside? How did it come about? How does it interact with the brain? How did it come to interact with brains? What is this substance made of? How does it work? These questions don't seem to me unreasonable to ask, yet they identify key problems in positing something external to the brain. It's positing an unknown, unaccounted for substance, of which we have no idea how it comes about, or how it interfaces with our bodies, and which we have no empirical evidence exists. And over and over all I get out of dualists is materialism is incompatible with some aspect of qualia. This is why I think Searle was right to point out that dualism violates nearly everything we know about how the world works, and while there is the unaccounted for inner experience, I suspect dualists won't even bother trying to show otherwise.

Verbose Stoic said...

Kel,

"Because there are many experiments that show the role of the brain in cognition. Recently I heard of one experiment where if they applied a small amount of electrical stimulation to a certain region of the brain stimulated the desire to move one's tongue, and a bigger current caused the movement. i.e. we know the brain is involved."

And of course, even back to Classic Cartesian Dualism the brain has been involved in dualism. There's a reason Descartes posited that the pineal gland was the interface. You'll have to do far more than show that the brain is involved to cast any doubt on interactionist dualism.

"If it's epiphenomenalism, then how could it be material?"

Um, you seem to be misunderstanding what "epiphenomenalism" is:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epiphenomenalism/

"Epiphenomenalism is the view that mental events are caused by physical events in the brain, but have no effects upon any physical events. Behavior is caused by muscles that contract upon receiving neural impulses, and neural impulses are generated by input from other neurons or from sense organs. On the epiphenomenalist view, mental events play no causal role in this process.

...

By contrast, many contemporary discussions work within a background assumption of the preferability of materialist monism. One might have supposed that this position would have put an end to the need to investigate epiphenomenalism; but, as we shall see under Arguments in the Age of Materialism, such a supposition is far from being the case. "

For me, the key is that the content of any mental event -- which would include any experience -- has no causal impact on the system. Materialist views, to me, seem to entail this, and this seems absurd. And I've explained why before.

"Mental causation in what sense? In the sense that magic stuff acts magically, therefore cognition? "

Gee, it would have been nice if I'd thought to define mental causation in a way that wasn't dependent on dualism. Oh, wait, I did:

"Observation: We have mental events -- ie phenomenal experiences -- and they seem to have causal effect on our actions and behaviour, right down to their details (ie seeing red or green)."

What of this do you want to define as magic?

"whatever potential P account for Q doesn't make it anything other than an ad hoc account that raises even bigger problems than it answers."

Well, see, we disagree on that the problems are bigger, as I've said. And I don't care about the predictive power of a theory that has gotten the things we currently observe wrong.

Verbose Stoic said...

Let me deal with your "facts":

"It's more than just brain / behaviour. We have to contend with other facts about the world - that we are physical beings, that we are evolved, that our psychologies relate to the evolutionary process, that the difference between our mental capacities and other animals is qualitative rather than qualitative, etc. Wire up electrodes to a switch and still the electrodes into the pleasure centre of a mouse, and the organism will kill itself activating the switch instead of eating food - does that mean mouse cognition has a separate phenomenal aspect too? "

1) That we are physical beings is not a fact, but an assumption, and the one that's under debate here. You can't assume your conclusion.

2) There is no reason to think that dualism is incompatible with evolution. Physical faculties might have to evolve to use the mental, and mental faculties may be able to evolve themselves depending on how that all works.

3) Whether the difference is quantitative or qualitative is, again, not a fact. It's up for debate, and no one has any idea about that on either side at this time.

4) It doesn't have to, since behaviour doesn't HAVE to be driven by phenomenal experience. See the zombie thought experiments or my pages on consciousness for reasons why, that are too long to go into here.

So, either the facts are accounted for or are not facts.

"So many questions arise out of positing an external force. Where does this external substance reside? How did it come about? How does it interact with the brain? How did it come to interact with brains? What is this substance made of? How does it work? These questions don't seem to me unreasonable to ask, yet they identify key problems in positing something external to the brain. "

The problem is that there are similar unanswered questions for the materialist view. It's simply a reflection of "we don't know yet", which is what you called an argument from ignorance. But if you look at my arguments, you'll see that I, at least, don't stop there. I don't insist that materialists are wrong. I argue two points:

1) It looks like the materialist theory can't accept what we consider to be basic and obvious mental phenomena (mental causation).

2) It hasn't explained what I, personally, want explained about the mental about about consciousness (see the page on my blog about a third-person science of consciousness to really see what my position on this is).

Those are more serious than "We don't have the answers yet". The latter we can agree to disagree on until one theory manages to explain the things the other person thinks important. The former, though, is really a serious problem.

"And over and over all I get out of dualists is materialism is incompatible with some aspect of qualia. This is why I think Searle was right to point out that dualism violates nearly everything we know about how the world works, and while there is the unaccounted for inner experience, I suspect dualists won't even bother trying to show otherwise."

You DO realize that I asked for very specific problems that you didn't really give, right? I also did note that what a non-physical causation would be is an issue (but don't consider it damaging for many reasons, including that dualism can indeed accept that the mind is physical but not the brain.) But the argument -- as I made before -- is that qualia seems to be critically what the mental is. If you can't accept or explain the actual mental, why should anyone think you've explained the mind?

Kel said...

In regards to any materialist theory of mind, mental causation would have to reduce to physical causation - epiphenomenalism doesn't come into it. That is to say someone writing a paper on qualia would either be doing it with no regard to actual qualia (an absurdity), or that qualia play some role in causation. Thus any form of physicalism that entails epiphenomenalism is outside absurd - it doesn't describe the world as we see it.

"What of this do you want to define as magic?"
Just how is it mental events work? Again, saying "things fall down" doesn't actually explain why things fall down. What are mental events made of? How do they function? I honestly don't see how you can think that labelling something as a mental event is anything other than just giving it a name. You haven't established anything other than labelling what we already know.

"And I don't care about the predictive power of a theory that has gotten the things we currently observe wrong."
What is it getting wrong? That it's incomplete is different to it being wrong. Point out where modern neurobiology and neuroscience is making incorrect predictions...

Kel said...

"1) That we are physical beings is not a fact, but an assumption, and the one that's under debate here. You can't assume your conclusion."
It's a well-established empirical fact. These hands are interacting with the keyboard in front of me. My hands are "controlled" by nerves that run up my spine and into my brain. Even Descartes recognised it, and did something that no modern dualist is prepared to do - make an empirical prediction about how the body and mind interacted.

"2) There is no reason to think that dualism is incompatible with evolution. Physical faculties might have to evolve to use the mental, and mental faculties may be able to evolve themselves depending on how that all works."
The point in the appeal to evolution was in that we can see grades of cognitive capacities in other animals. Yes, dualism "could" work, but what predictions are dualistic proponents making for how this works? Does a mouse have something separate from its brain? If so, how can we test it?

"3) Whether the difference is quantitative or qualitative is, again, not a fact. It's up for debate, and no one has any idea about that on either side at this time."
There are plenty of observational studies done, just what do you find lacking in such studies?

"4) It doesn't have to, since behaviour doesn't HAVE to be driven by phenomenal experience. See the zombie thought experiments or my pages on consciousness for reasons why, that are too long to go into here."
Yes, behaviour does HAVE to be driven by phenomenal experience. So what? The zombie thought experiment is crap, for we're talking about zombies that can speak of their inner qualitative experience without actually having an inner qualitative experience; which sounds an absurdity. A zombie might ask "is the red I experience the red that you experience" with no concept of experience or of red? Now that seems the height of absurdity to me!

Of course, zombies are confined to philosophical thought experiments. It's not like we have empirical confirmation of zombies, they're just an intuitive hunch. Show me the evidence zombies actually exist.


"1) It looks like the materialist theory can't accept what we consider to be basic and obvious mental phenomena (mental causation). [...] The former, though, is really a serious problem."
It is a serious problem, but that's no reason to invoke an unaccounted for, unexplainable force, that we can't observe, in order to overcome. I'm with you that any materialist account that doesn't account for mental phenomena is necessarily wrong - but it doesn't change the fact that we have nothing to suggest that there's anything happening outside the brain, and lots to show that it is in the brain. And until you show that there's something other than material going on, we have no reason to think there's anything other than brain activity. Show where something is happening outside the brain, show that the brain is not a closed system.


I'm really sure what else we can do in this discussion. If you're not making predictions, you don't have anything that can contribute to an understanding of nature. Neuroscientists can take the work of other neuroscientists and use it to devise experiments that alter conscious experience. Of course that doesn't prove that dualism is false, but being not even wrong isn't a virtue - and hasn't been for the last few hundred years of inquiry.

Dhorvath said...

Verbose Stoic,
I am still not understanding what you are bringing to the table. Yes, there are things we don't understand about mental functions, particularly from a cause and experience standpoint. We can hardly have something that we don't explain and deny that there is more to the story than what we currently know. It's the leap from that to suggesting that there is something more than just neurons involved: where is the justification?
What does your idea predict? How do we explore it? Without those things you are just blowing smoke, and indistinguishable from someone asserting souls did it.

Verbose Stoic said...

Kel,

Your first comment seems to, in fact, ignore the entire comment that I made that supposedly spawned it.

First, you simply assert that materialism reduces to physical causation and so has no problem with epiphenomenalism despite my providing the quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that basically says "You'd think so, but that doesn't seem to be the case" AND my having explicitly pointed out earlier that reducing to physical causation IS a benefit but not the one required to free materialism from epiphenomenalism AND providing the definition from there so that you could see what I meant. You've, therefore, ignored all of the charges made about how materialism is not immune to claims that it is epiphenomenal.

Second, your reply to my giving a dualism-independent definition of mental causation and asking what is magical about it was simply to assert issues with dualistic notions (or maybe the concept of the mental at all, but you really don't want to go there and be eliminativist) that have nothing to do with the definition of mental causation that I have now said repeatedly. If you aren't going to care what mental causation is supposed to be, what makes you think you can solve the problem of it or even see that it is one?

And recall that not allowing for mental causation IS, in fact, what I said materialist theories just get wrong.

Verbose Stoic said...

Kel,

Onto the second comment:

1) That we are physical beings in some way does not, in fact, refute or impact dualism, since it accepts that. Only if you claim that we are ONLY physical beings do you have an impact on dualism ... but that contention is not only not supported empirically, but is the contention that's under debate here.

For 2) and 3), the question is whether or not cognitive capacites and consciousness are the same thing. I argue that they aren't, in the page from my blog that I recommended. Does a mouse have phenomenal experience at all? I don't know. Personally, I'm convinced there's really no way to find out, but I'm open to being wrong about that. Anyway, what's wrong with the studies is that they don't measure phenomenal experiences at all, just data. I can have the right data without having the right experiences.

"Yes, behaviour does HAVE to be driven by phenomenal experience."

Um, my contention was the opposite, in fact, so was this a typo? The rest of your comment here doesn't seem to suggest it is, but seems to suggest that you don't really get what's at stake here.

"The zombie thought experiment is crap, for we're talking about zombies that can speak of their inner qualitative experience without actually having an inner qualitative experience; which sounds an absurdity. A zombie might ask "is the red I experience the red that you experience" with no concept of experience or of red? Now that seems the height of absurdity to me!"

Do you have to be able to experience red to have the concept of it? I can teach a computer right now to, using language, ask that sort of question, even though it almost certainly doesn't have experiences at all. My example of the phenomenal knave -- someone who always lies about their experiences -- pretty much suggests that you can talk about experiences that you aren't having them as if you were having them. As long as the zombie has all the right data, then, what would stop it from doing something similar?

"And until you show that there's something other than material going on, we have no reason to think there's anything other than brain activity. Show where something is happening outside the brain, show that the brain is not a closed system."

Why shouldn't you show that it IS? Why is the burden of proof on me? The fact is, the issues with materialist theories ARE reasons to think that there's something other than the material going on, though not conclusive ones. That means that you have a burden of proof too ... and you should know how hard settling that "closed system" is going to be.

"Neuroscientists can take the work of other neuroscientists and use it to devise experiments that alter conscious experience."

And you still seem blissfully unaware that, in fact, under dualism all of this can, in fact, still occur. So much for your predictions that work no matter which theory you take ...