Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mental Causation and the Case for Dualism

An interesting blog here.

33 comments:

Mr Veale said...

Vic
I'd be interested to see some philosophical analysis of the placebo effect, and the effects of BCT on the brain.

But, as a dualist, I wouldn't want to commit myself to defending ESP, the psi-effect or alternative medicines like homoeopathy. And this blog would seem to want to make that connection.

Graham

Mr Veale said...

Ooops!

When I said "this blog" I didn't mean Dangerous Idea!


"this blog"=subversivethinking.blogspot.com

William said...

Does top-down causation necessarily imply dualism?

JS Allen said...

I don't get it. He doesn't even present an argument, as far as I can tell. He just baldly asserts that consciousness would be unable to physically alter the brain, under naturalism. Has anyone ever convincingly argued for this assertion? It seems incredible to me.

Shackleman said...

JS Allen,

Your comment doesn't square at all with what I just read. Did you actually read the article? The link I followed here in Dr. Reppert's blog took me to an article on the target blog entitled:

"Causal efficacy of consciousness: empirical evidence for dualism"

In it, he never asserts anything like what you accused him of.

You make it sound as if the focus of the article was an attack on naturalism. It was no such thing. In fact, the term "naturalism" doesn't even exist in the article.

Instead, the focus of the article was quite clearly expressed:

"If mind-body dualism is true, then we'd expect that the soul, spirit or consciousness would cause effects on the brain and the body"

See, he's making a positive claim regarding dualism and says nothing of naturalism. That you jumped to that conclusion is your problem, not his.

Would you really argue against his premise? If dualism were true, would you NOT expect to see empirical changes in the body??

Regardless, after stating his premise, he goes on to flesh out examples in medicine which support the premise. He uses the placebo effect, cognitive behavioral therapy, and brain changes due to mental effort to show at least three examples where the *mental* has a measurable and empirical effect (change) on the material body.

Don't you think that if you're going to accuse someone of "bald assertions" that they should, at minimum, actually baldly assert something?

JS Allen said...

Thanks Shackleman,

I was objecting the his repeated claim that these empirical observations "undermine materialism". He didn't offer any reasons *why* placebo effect and cognitive behavioral therapy undermine materialism. I don't deny that there may be such arguments, but he didn't provide any.

Yes, he also argued that these are to be expected under dualism. But I don't see why they wouldn't also be expected under materialism. Since he says explicitly (i.e. "baldly asserts") that these phenomena would NOT be expected, I am wondering where he's getting that.

JS Allen said...

For example, this: "Materialists have a hard time explaining the placebo effect, since that (as said above) it confirms dualism, and undermine materialism."

I can't think of a single materialist who would agree with this characterization. No materialist I know thinks that placebo effect confirms dualism, undermines materialism, nor that these are the reasons placebo effects are hard to explain. All 3 of the claims he makes there seem patently false.

I also had a tough time swallowing his psychoanalyzing materialists, as well as references to pseudoscience like psychokinesis.

Shackleman said...

JS Allen,

I think you're being very uncharitable with your assessment of the article. I agree there are parts in it that are not well articulated and maybe even allow for inferences which paint materialism in a negative light. But it was hardly meant to be a rigorous argument in the first place. More like an appetizer to get the reader interested in the topic. In fact, he closes the article with a list of 6 resources for the reader to check out which more fully flesh out his primary point. Which again, is a *positive* claim for dualism. Any negative claim against materialism was in passing, or, at most an inferred *secondary* point.

We should treat the author fairly, and consider his offering with the proper context of what he's trying to achieve. Digging in your heels at a passing reference of his, or a secondary point he raises, is missing the point and is quite unnecessary. Doing so only serves to keep onlookers from clicking on the link and reading the article for themselves.

If you're interested in works with more rigorous argument on dualism, I'd suggest Hasker's "Emergent Self". If you're interested in further reading on placebo effects written for a popular audience, I'd suggest O'Leary's "Spiritual Brain". (Not because it's good...I don't think it is...but it's at least more of an entrée on the subject as opposed to the linked-to article's appetizer, and it's an easy read).

Shackleman said...

Also, you state:

"Yes, he also argued that these are to be expected under dualism. But I don't see why they wouldn't also be expected under materialism. Since he says explicitly (i.e. "baldly asserts") that these phenomena would NOT be expected, I am wondering where he's getting that."


Do you really disagree? Given materialism, how would you suppose a placebo effect would even work in the first place? What mechanism would be employed that could cause a particular arrangement of neurons in the brain (beliefs) to make medically significant and empirically measurable physical changes in a different part of the body? I can't imagine any such physical mechanism that could do the job, but then, I'm not a doctor. Perhaps you are?

You say you can't think of a single materialist who would think placebo effects are problematic for their world-view. Name just one. I googled for "Materialists and Placebo Effects" and didn't come up with anything remotely useful to the inquiry. I am genuinely interested in reading what a materialist would have to say about it, so if you could recommend something I'd appreciate it.

Blue Devil Knight said...

JS Allen is right.

Under materialism, placebo effect is brain influencing brain. Since I think that mental events are neuronal events, then mental events influencing brain events becomes pretty trivial: we know the brain has all sorts of complex interactions with itself.

Shackleman said...

Under materialism, placebo effect is brain influencing brain

I'm not a doctor, but I know it's not that simple, BDK. Your bias is showing.

"Thus, in PD patients a clinical placebo response can be
associated with release of endogenous dopamine in the striatum
(de la Fuente-Fernandez et al., 2001) or reduced activity in
single neurons of the STN (Benedetti et al., 2004). As forMDD,
placebo can produce metabolic changes in cortical and
paralimbic brain regions that are relatively similar to those
of fluoxetine (Mayberg et al., 2002). Furthermore, placebo
manipulations can reduce neural activity in pain-responsive
regions such as the rACC, anterior insula, and thalamus (Wager
et al., 2004), and activate the endogenous opioid system in the
DLPFC, pregenual rostral ACC, anterior insular cortex, and
nucleus accumbens (Zubieta et al., 2005). Interestingly, in one
of the experiments conducted by Wager et al. (2004), placeboinduced BOLD signal increases in DLPFC were correlated with
placebo-induced BOLD signal reductions during pain in the
thalamus, insula, and rACC. In addition, in the Zubieta et al.
(2005), endogenous opioid activity in the DLPFC was
significantly correlated with the magnitude of analgesia
expected by the volunteers before placebo administration.
Taken together, the results of the neuroimaging studies of
placebo effect demonstrate that beliefs and expectations can
markedly modulate neurophysiological and neurochemical
activity in brain regions involved in perception, movement,
pain, and various aspects of emotion processing"


(http://www.mapageweb.umontreal.ca/beauregm/Beauregard2007_Progress.pdf)

JS Allen said...

Since his whole paper is premised on the claim that these phenomena cause epistemological anxiety for materialists, one would like to see evidence for that claim. Citing these as positive evidence for dualism doesn't work unless he is also arguing (as he *does* argue) that these phenomena are less likely to be observed under materialism.

When I was an atheist, I was proficient in hypnosis and had some familiarity with cognitive behavior therapy, so I was pretty familiar with the sorts of examples he gave. It never occurred to me that these things might be unexplainable under materialism, nor do they seem unexplainable now. Furthermore, most people doing work in hypnosis and CBT are atheists.

When I was an atheist, I thought it was Christians who were most threatened by the scientific evidence in this area.

Take, for example, the sorts of psychosomatic cures that Milton Erickson was able to effect -- by telling a story, he could heal physical infirmities. How does a Christian explain that? Witchcraft? Demons?

Even if one appeals to woo-woo called "dualism" instead of woo-woo called "witchcraft", it doesn't help the Christian cause much. In this case, the appeal to dualism deposes God, because the people effecting these psychosomatic cures are not doing so in the name of God.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Shackleman that doesn't do anything to show what I said is wrong. If 'beliefs and expectations' are neuronal events, then why would we be surprised that these influence other neuronal events? That's exactly what we expect and see in the data. Placebo effect is not evidene against materialism.

It isn't my bias showing it is an obvious interpretation of the data from a neuronal perspective, just as JS Allen already pointed out.

To flat out say placebo effects show materialism is wrong is to beg the question.

Shackleman said...

BDK and JS Allen,

"If 'beliefs and expectations' are neuronal events, then why would we be surprised that these influence other neuronal events?"

THIS is begging the question. You haven't shown in the least that beliefs are *mere* neuronal events, and the entire foundation upon which the AfR is built is the notion that Reason *cannot* be shown to be mere neuronal events. Further, the notion that they are, runs against every intuition and personal experience of nearly every human on the planet. This is what Hasker's case is built on in the Emergent Self.

And so herein lies the problem. It is not at all obvious that mind = brain. Nor is there any consensus that it's the case. If it was, this blog wouldn't exist in the first place and there would be no need to discuss it.

It is precisely why your bias against dualism is showing in how you view these types of papers and arguments, (even from other qualified neurologists like Dr. Beauregard). You simply assume that mind = brain, and judge these papers and arguments against that belief. (Which, is quite ironic, honestly)---just as my bias in favor of dualism shows in how I judge these types of papers.

The case is FAR from settled. Which is why, JS Allen, one does NOT have to disprove a counter argument in order to show evidence in favor of the original argument.

It seems to me JS Allen, that you're basically promoting a type of Compatibilism, and further, that you think Compatibilism is quite obvious. It's not at all. Most people reject it, which is why many people would think the author of the OP is at least somewhat effective in bringing evidence to light which bolsters the case for Dualism.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Shackelman: if you are using placebo as an argument against materialism, it isn't begging the question to offer a plausible and obvious explanation of the results under a materialist worldview. It's exactly what naturalists would predict, it doesn't decide between naturalism and dualism.

Without evidence that such mental states are nonphysical, the argument is a nonstarter. It's like saying imagining being on a roller coaster increases my heart rate is an argument against naturalism about mind. No, not if imaginings are neuronal states, which is what every naturalist would say.

Shackleman said...

BDK,

We're talking past each other. To the materialist, ALL things are the result of natural, material, physical processes. So of COURSE they would say placebos are caused by natural, material processes. Just like everything else. So all you're doing is restating your premise by saying that placebos are examples of brains affecting brains.

The dualist is starting from a different premise. That IDEAS are affecting brains.

If, like you're doing, you flatly deny the premise, then NO EVIDENCE will count in favor of dualism. You'll just say, it's NOT a "thought" affecting the physical change, because thoughts are physical. And around the circle you will go.

The dualist is at a disadvantage in these discussions because he has to show evidence of two different causal powers (physical and mental), that act against the same medium, the physical.

For sake of argument, grant that some form of dualism is true. What would you think evidence for it would look like? I betcha it'd look sort of like the placebo effect, but if not, could you do better?

I'm struggling with why this is so difficult for you and Mr. Allen to see.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Shackelman: as long as you don't say it is evidence against neuronal theories of mind you'll be OK (because of the obvious rejoinder that I already gave--whether beliefs and such are natural or not is precisely at issue so you can't assume they are nonneuronal in the argument as evidence for dualism).

If dualism were true I'd expect evidence of the violation of natural laws within brains. I'd also like a story, with empirical evidence, about where in individual neurons the mind has its effects.

JS and I aren't having trouble seeing anything: it's just not a good argument. I've seen it trotted out a lot, you are in good company with a bad argument.

Shackleman said...

BDK: "as long as you don't say it is evidence against neuronal theories of mind you'll be OK "

Yes, and that has been my point and beef with Mr. Allen. The OP, in passing really, suggested that it's evidence against materialist theories of mind. You don't think it is. Okay, fair enough. But that's a minor point of the article. The main point of the article (again) was to present evidence *for* dualism.

JS and I aren't having trouble seeing anything: it's just not a good argument. I've seen it trotted out a lot, you are in good company with a bad argument.

Boo. Play nice. Not only are you starting to be snarky, but you ARE missing the point. AGAIN, he wasn't making an *argument*. He was providing *evidence* for a pre-existing argument (dualism). There's a huge difference, and one ought to have different expectations between the two. This really isn't that difficult. Why is that not allowed? Why should he have to rehash the argument in order to produce a piece of evidence? There's already mounds of literature arguing the case for Dualism. There's even different flavors. And they're all familiar to anyone interested in the topic.

Now, you may not like the evidence. You may not find it presuasive or even impactful. You might even think the evidence supports a DIFFERENT argument better. That's all fine and I'd have no beef with any of that. But let's not insultingly accuse him of making an argument when that's not what he's doing. Yeesh!

"If dualism were true I'd expect evidence of the violation of natural laws within brains. I'd also like a story, with empirical evidence, about where in individual neurons the mind has its effects."

Interesting. What would a "violation of natural laws" within a brain look like? I can imagine no such thing. Would a neuron have to violate the laws of gravity or something? I'm having trouble making sense of this. Can you give me a real example in order to illustrate this better?

Also, why single out an individual neuron? Why can't "mind" require a whole network of neurons in order to produce the empirical changes? It seems plausible to me that because "Reason" and "Consciousness" are very complicated and sophisticated things, a single neuron wouldn't be enough to do the job. A network of billions of them however might do it.

JS Allen said...

"But let's not insultingly accuse him of making an argument when that's not what he's doing."

I didn't accuse him of making an argument. I accused him of baldly asserting that placebos and CBT are evidence against materialism. Because, that's exactly what the original paper does. It repeatedly claims that dualism is a more satisfactory explanation of placebo effect than materialism.

It even claims, repeatedly, that materialists try to sweep placebo effect under the rug. I'm not being uncharitable; I'm being factual.

BTW, he doesn't substantiate either of these claims, and both are trivially false.

If he were simply saying, "placebo effect is evidence for dualism", I would agree with you, and we wouldn't be having this conversation. I might still disagree with him, since I don't think placebo effect is easy to explain under substance dualism, and certainly doesn't offer the sort of support to theism that he imagines (which you've conveniently ignored).

But that's not what his paper was about -- his paper explicitly aimed to present evidence that was evidence for dualism and supposedly problematic for materialism.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Shackelman oh stop being oversensitive.

Original post:
Materialists have a hard time explaining the placebo effect, since that (as said above) it confirms dualism, and undermine materialism. As consequence, some materialists have tried to DENY the existence of the phenomenon (dogmatists are experts explaining away facts or evidence inconsistent with their cherished beliefs). However, others materialists have accepted the phenomenon, even if they can't explain it in materialistic terms (admitting that the phenomenon "doesn't make sense"... in a materialistic framework, we could add)

Bologny overselling of the surprise value of placebo. I was experimentally studying placebo effect with Ramachandran 10 years ago. Everyone knows about it, it is known to be real otherwise why would every medical study need to agonize over excluding it as an explanation?

Original article equivocates between 'mind' and 'soul'. Car wreck.

Shackleman said...

JS Allen,

I see now, and admit that I misread your first comment and that got me off onto the wrong track.

That said, he does at least site one substantiating quote which supports the notion that placebo effects are not always respected as good science:

"As has written science journalist Alun Anderson "Trust and belief are often seen as negative in science and the placebo effect is dismissed as a kind of fraud because it relies on the belief of the patient.""

Admittedly, it's not much. But then, the whole article is "not much". Again, just an appetizer.

A second reading of the article, combined with a second reading of your comments, Mr. Allen, and I can say I misjudged what you were saying and can now understand your beef. He does rail on the materialists more than what I saw in my first reading. Your criticisms of my previous comments are fair.

Taken as a whole though, it's still clear to me that, unfortunate snide toward materialists aside, that the main thrust was to present appetite wetting evidence in support of Dualism. It really ought to be taken as such and really isn't worthy of much more comment on either side, honestly, because there's not really enough there to critique. And that's sort of been my point all along. If it gets the reader thinking or interested, then he provides 6 other sources, books and online papers, that actually do present a fuller case for him.

Shackleman said...

BDK,

Not sensitivity. Just an observation. If you don't want to address comments head on, and instead just want to snark, have at it.

As I already pointed out to Mr. Allen, a second reading, and I can see more clearly what yours and his beefs were with the article. They're fair enough.

I am curious though, since you're both a naturalist and a neuroscientist, what your answers would be to my two previous questions. Care to give them a try? What evidence would you accept that would NOT look like the placebo effect?

"Interesting. What would a "violation of natural laws" within a brain look like? I can imagine no such thing. Would a neuron have to violate the laws of gravity or something? I'm having trouble making sense of this. Can you give me a real example in order to illustrate this better?

Also, why single out an individual neuron?"


FYI, my word verification was: "commi". What's up with that?

Blue Devil Knight said...

"What would a "violation of natural laws" within a brain look like? I can imagine no such thing."

Violation of conservation of energy would be one way we could observe this. Violation of the predicted statistical ensembles from quantum mechanics in ion channels or single synapse function (as Eccles hypothesized in his dualistic theory).

Basically, a collapse of the physical portrait of a neuron, a demonstration that it is incomplete.

That's what the dualist needs. Details are up to them to show, as there is no evidence of such incompleteness. Where in individual neurons does the mind act? Not up to me to provide a story.

If you want less snark, don't open with 'your bias is showing' and such overconfidence. You are with Loftus in consisently taking discussions to a weird meta-level instead of sticking with arguments. Why is that....

Mr Veale said...

For a little more light than heat from two trained physicists:

http://www.infj.ulst.ac.uk/~dvglass/Research/Glass-McCartney.pdf

Shackleman said...

It's laughable that *you* of all people would accuse anyone of "over confidence".

Back on track now...

Violation of conservation of energy would be one way we could observe this

Interesting. This seems like a strange demand, honestly. Wouldn't a violation of a law of nature, (like the conservation of energy), be considered equivalent to the "miraculous"? Is there any such way you can imagine, that there could be evidence of a kind which supports dualism that would work *within* the laws of nature?

"Where in individual neurons does the mind act? "

My understanding is that individual neurons don't really do much by themselves---that their "magic" only comes when you combine millions or billions of them into a network. Is this about right? If so, this is why I'm confused why you'd expect to find evidence of "mind" in a single one of them. A single neuron doesn't think. Lots of them do, as the materialist would say.

I interpret the AfR for example, to show how logically the case for materialism can only be derived at using Reason, yet, given materialism, since Reason isn't physical, one would be denied the use of it. This is a type of non-physical evidence that supports some form of dualism. Is it physical evidence? No. Is it logical evidence? I accept it as such. It doesn't prove the case, but it's evidence none the less.

If I'm understanding you correctly, you seem to be saying you'd only accept evidence of a physical kind. But then, that stacks the deck unfairly against dualism since by its nature, it posits that there is something which exists which has causal powers over the physical, which is not itself physical.

I fail to see how any of this is some "weird meta-level" observation or inquiry, but hey, if you say so.

Shackleman said...

Thanks Mr. Veale,

In reading just the abstract and introduction alone, it seems that this paper likely will support the OP's original premise that "science" has a history of scoffing at granting consciousness any serious causal powers.

I look forward to reading it in full.

JS Allen said...

Shackleman,

I don't think the new paper linked by Graham does that, at all.

The paper is a non-controversial review of the most popular interpretations of QM, and what impact these interpretations might have on a materialist conception of consciousness.

The paper simply aims to keep open the possibility that a link between QM and consciousness might exist. Indeed, it concludes:

"the possibility of a connection between consciousness and quantum mechanics cannot be easily disregarded."

Unlike the OP, this paper isn't claiming that consciousness is difficult for a materialist to explain under QM, or that materialists try to sweep the issue under the rug. It simply says that a QM impact on consciousness can't be ruled out. That seems noncontroversial to me.

Mr Veale said...

I think that the Glass/McCartney paper would argue that we cannot rule out a role for consciousness: that consciousness may not be part of the physical world.
At the same time QM doesn't pose a strong threat to materialism either. There's a lot of room for interpretation.
I know that David Glass is a "Cartesian" dualist; I don't know Dr McCartney's views. But I thought the article was very helpful (especially to a math-o-phobe like me!)

Graham

Blue Devil Knight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blue Devil Knight said...

Shackelman: I was talking about interactionist dualism. Whether it's a million or one neurons, there should still be a mechanism of interaction.

Another thing I'd expect with dualism is evidence of conscious experience in the absence of any brain activity.

Main point is that placebo is not good to support dualism over materialism, contrary to original. How the dualist is to show their view is right is up to the dualist to fuss over.

Shackleman said...

BDK: "Another thing I'd expect with dualism is evidence of conscious experience in the absence of any brain activity. "

I don't know how credible they are, but some reports of near death experiences would seem to meet this criteria. I don't take them seriously personally, but I leave room for the possibility. I think in Pam Reynold's case she had near zero brain activity and yet described the OR with enough precision to convince some people.

Not saying I believe it. But, *if* true would seem to satisfy your criteria.

Shackleman said...

BDK: " I was talking about interactionist dualism. Whether it's a million or one neurons, there should still be a mechanism of interaction."

Agreed. But that we have yet to discover the mechanism, doesn't necessarily mean we can't see the effects.

Think Magnetism circa 1200. Even though the mechanism was utterly unknown, the ancient Greeks could still see the effects and therefore knew it was a real phenomenon.

And, evidently I'm still failing at making this point. I'm not asking you what you think evidence of the *mechanism* would look like. I'm asking what you think the *effects* would look like if dualism were true, and how would you imagine those effects would be meaningfully different than what the OP described in the article.

Blue Devil Knight said...

But we already have perfectly good descriptions of neuronal operation in biophysical terms, and no good evidence that anything more is needed. That was my point. They need to show evidence that there is an additional influence (a magnet). I dont' care if they have a mechanism, just evidence that such an effect exists in real neurons would be good, one not explicable in the usual biphysical (hodgkin-huxely) terms. That's the effect I'd be impressed by.