Saturday, September 12, 2015

Is dualism and empirical question?

I am not sure that dualism is an empirical question. The implications of materialism might be such that, if materialism were true, no one would believe anything on the basis of evidence. After all, inference based on evidence logically entails mental causation, but if materialism is true, then all causation is physical, and therefore nonmental causation. Thus the success of science doesn't support materialism, it refutes it. The more evidence we have that science works, the more proof there is that there is real mental causation, which is logically incompatible with materialism. 

Is the claim "No one believes anything for a reason" an empirical question? If we look at the world and conclude that that proposition is true, then that would work only if it is possible to reach conclusions on the basis of reasons, which in turn is impossible unless there is mental causation and materialism is false. Science could never reach the conclusion that it is true unless it is prepared to blow itself up and condemn itself and every other human epistemic endeavor as hopelessly irrational.


John B. Moore said...

Why do you think inference based on evidence requires the mind to originate a cause? Maybe the mind is just the juncture where myriad physical causes come together to produce a new kind of output.

That's what evidence is - it's a physical cause like an energy flow from the world into your brain. The neural network structure of the brain produces inferences in a straightforward and purely physical way.

Even though it's completely physical and does not originate causes, our brain could still be a mind. Why not?

entirelyuseless said...

Saying "I believe this because of evidence" means that the formal cause of my belief has reference to evidence. Saying that I believe because of physical causes refers to material and efficient causes. There is nothing to prevent the efficient and material causes being different from the formal cause; in fact, these are normally distinct. So there is no opposition between believing things on account of evidence, and also having physical causes for your thoughts.

And in any case, saying that dualism is not an empirical question because you can settle it by an abstract argument that your mind is not material, is like Zeno and Parmenides arguing that the question of motion is settled by an abstract argument that motion cannot possibly exist in principle. I don't mean that dualism has been disproven. But I do mean that if certain empirical results ended up happening, everyone would conclude that it was false -- for example, if scientists showed an ability to induce particular beliefs and choices by physically modifying someone's brain. If such things could happen they would simply ignore abstract arguments, and rightly so.

B. Prokop said...

"But I do mean that if certain empirical results ended up happening, everyone would conclude that [dualism] was false"

Not everyone - I for instance, wouldn't find anything in entirelyuseless's "empirical result" that disproves dualism. Inducing thoughts and beliefs by physically modifying the brain would say nothing about the independent existence of mind - no more so than would inducing false images in the brain thereby disprove the existence of light, or that by somehow simulating noises by physically manipulating the ear, we must conclude there is no such thing as sound.

Jezu ufam tobie!

entirelyuseless said...

B. Prokop, in the case of light and sound, physically manipulating the brain will result in those sensations, and that is not a reason to think that light and sound don't exist, because the sensations have to come from something.

But it is a reason for thinking that light and sound are physical things. Likewise, if we can induce beliefs and desires by physically modifying the brain, there is still reason to think that beliefs and desires come from something. But it is a reason to think they come from something physical, just like in the case of light and sound.

B. Prokop said...

"But it is a reason to think they come from something physical"

How so? That conclusion does not follow from your experiment. Beliefs and desires are not material*. Show me the physical substance of which they are composed.

* Yet they exist.

entirelyuseless said...

Victor talked about causality in the post, and I said "come from something physical," which is also talking about causality.

First of all this discussion is hypothetical. No one has proved that dualism is false, so I have no reason to "show you" a physical substance of which beliefs and desires are composed.

Second, in the hypothetical case we are talking about, beliefs and desires still would not be something physical. They would come from something physical, however. Beliefs and desires would be qualities of physical things, namely brains, and they would have physical causes, just as color is not a physical thing, but a quality of a physical thing, and has physical causes.

It certainly does follow from my (hypothetical) experiment that beliefs and desires have physical causes, since in the experiment scientists would be producing these beliefs and desires with physical mechanisms. If you wouldn't believe that beliefs have physical causes after that experiment, you would be engaging in that "active act of will" you mentioned a few days ago.

brownmamba said...

"Is the claim "No one believes anything for a reason" an empirical question?"

"No one believes anything for a reason" is a speculative implication of materialism. What to me is clearly an empirical question is "Does the human body/brain strictly obey the rules of physics?". The point is that if materialism is true then the answer would be yes. If dualism is true, then the answer would be no. (Because the soul is not physical, if the soul interacts with the body, the affected physical entities would not act according to physics).

To be honest, the empirical nature of the materialism/dualism debate is not original to me, but was most clearly articulated by Sean Carroll here:
Carroll believes that we know all we need to know to dismiss the existence of the soul.As I mentioned in my blog post reaction to Carroll's essay(which I will shamelessly plug), I think the strongest objection to Carroll is that perhaps the evidence really isn't there. Have scientists really looked hard enough to see violations of physics in the body/brain? Perhaps not.

To be clear, I am not a Richard Dawkins type, who sees little value in conceptual argumentation. (After all, why would I read these blogs?) However, regarding this particular topic, I think empirical evidence carries the strongest weight. Moreover, if it so happens to be that dualism is falsified, then 1. I think materialism's alledged implications on reason should also be rejected 2. The concerns about "reasons/desires/intentionality" shouldn't be ignored, but rather approached in the light of the truth of materialism. Since I agree with Victor that one cannot coherently reject the causal power of reasons, the project would then be to reconcile materialism with the causal power of the mental. This is in fact the project that philosopher John Searle has already taken up.

Victor Reppert said...

Given quantum-mechanical indeterminism, I don't see how science can even settle the question. If there are quantum gaps, how do we decide whether they are really quantum gaps or filled by something nonphysical.

B. Prokop said...

"If you wouldn't believe that beliefs have physical causes after that experiment"

I might go so far as to agree that beliefs can have physical causes, but would still maintain that it would as an exception to the rule (which would be that beliefs are merely influenced by physical causes). It'd be perhaps similar to damming up a river and altering what would have been the normal flow pattern of water. (I'll have to think awhile before I can come up with a better analogy.)

What ultimately defeats the "thought originates in the brain" argument is that its reasoning is circular. Worse, it's more like an eddy, narrowing and narrowing its applicability until you're left with nothing - no thought, no consciousness, no individual identity, no free will, no reason to even debate the issue.

Jezu ufam tobie!

jdhuey said...

"If materialism is true, then all causation is physical, and therefore nonmental causation."

If materialism is true, then all mental processes, including mental causation, are physical processes. The mental is a subset of the physical. There is no logical contradition and therefore no self-refutation.

In order to show that materialism is not true, it would be necessary to show that not all mental processes are physical processes. A bit of logical sleight of hand doesn't do it.

B. Prokop said...

"it would be necessary to show that not all mental processes are physical processes"

This has been done times beyond number. Unfortunately, no materialist will ever acknowledge the fact, since he recognizes the validity of no means of demonstration other than material ones. And naturally, the only results to be expected from material analysis will be themselves material. Any non-material means of showing that "not all mental processes are physical processes" is dismissed out of hand as "logical sleight of hand". How convenient.

Note to Self: File under "Heads I win, tails you lose."

Jezu ufam tobie!

brownmamba said...

"Given quantum-mechanical indeterminism, I don't see how science can even settle the question. If there are quantum gaps, how do we decide whether they are really quantum gaps or filled by something nonphysical."

I'm pretty sure this is wrong. If this is true, then I can't see how science has been able to discover,for example, the formula according to which electrons behave. There must be a way to determine if physical particles are behaving according to certain laws, if the laws are to have an empirical basis.

jdhuey said...


There have been many claims for mental processes that are not physical but none have ever been shown to be not physical. Mentallist acts have been a mainstay of Vegas entertainment for decades, no one but the gullible actually believes that it is anything other than an act. John Edwards pretends to talk to the dead, but he has been debunked so many times it is sad that he is still peddling his sctick. Cat physics will tell you about your cats prior lives in the court of the Pharaoh; Uri Geller is still bending spoons but do you really find this stuff convincing? If not, then you need to apply that same level of skepticism to whatever non-physical mental tricks you think are real.

B. Prokop said...

"whatever non-physical mental tricks you think are real"

I was speaking of logic - what you dismissed as "sleight of hand".

The experiments you just referred to are nothing more than bad empiricism. They still belong to the realm of the material.

jdhuey said...

Logic when used correctly is not "sleight of hand" but, as with just about any tool, it can be used incorrectly. However, I don't see how the concept of logic makes your point. When Aristole developed the first limited form of logic he used the metaphor of "catagories are containers" Based on how things work in the real world with containers and objects ('if object 'A' is in container 'Z' and container 'Z' is in container 'X' then object 'A' is in container 'X'. Logic works because it is based on how the world (or certain aspects of it) work.

When I referred to "sleight of hand" in the original post, I was referring the treating of the catagory 'mental' as still separate from the catagory 'physical' when it was assumed in the argument that materialism is true. If materialism is true then all of container 'mental' is in the container 'physical'. To then argue that the container mental is not inside the container physical is what I called "sleight of hand" - it is a cheat on the rules of logic.

B. Prokop said...

I can see in your posting that you start out with the assumption that materialism is true. But such an assumption is actually the ultimate in logical sleights of hand, because you've placed what ought to be the conclusion as your going-in position. Isn't whether materialism is true or false the question under discussion here? (Or at least one of the questions?)

The idea that one can prove that the physical is "all there is" has a huge problem at its very core. Prof. Gary Morson perhaps says it best HERE, beginning at 43 minutes 48 seconds in, and ending at at approx 46 minutes in.

jdhuey said...


No. I did not start out with the assumption that materialism is true, that is part of Victor's post. I was just adobpting his proposition in order to point out the fallacy that he used to make his point.

Personally, I don't like the term 'materialism' but perfer the term 'Naturalism'. "Materialism" as a term, seems to focus on just the static parts of reality while ignoring the active and vibrant parts. There is energy, there is information, there are processes, and there are quantum fields but while not denied by the term "materialism', they are somewhat deminished. Naturalism, incorpoarates these concepts, on equal terms with the existance of matter. Put into one pithy statement, Materialism is concerned with just how material things work, Naturalism is concerned with how reality works.

Victor Reppert said...

Well, how do you define the physical, or the natural? I would have no problems whatsoever if, for example, the Apostle's Creed were true, but everything was "natural" in some sense. The word "supernatural" does not appear in the Creed at all. So, maybe it's all natural, but nature has more in it than what we used to think it did.

jdhuey said...

I didn't find a single comment by the professor in the time frame you pointed out that I disagreed with. I agree that you can not show that 'soul' does not exist. However, I think it is far, far more important that you can not show that a 'soul' does exist. Given that the number of things that don't exist vastly exceeds the number of things that do exist, then unless there is good reason to believe something exists, the default position should be that it doesn't exist.

I am also very suspicious of determinism. I see that it is a useful approximation to limited systems but I don't see how it can be applied to the unverse as a whole. In physics, a system is a part of the Universe that is treated separately from the rest of the Universe. That is, nothing in the rest of the Universe impacts the system in any way, As an approximation, this is very useful but in the final analysis, no system is closed.

jdhuey said...


I don't think of Nature as something that you define but rather Nature is what you explore.

B. Prokop said...

"the default position should be"

Hmm... I've never cared for people declaring this or that to be the default position. Isn't it rather curious that the proposed default position always seems (just by pure coincidence, of course) to be the speaker's very own position?! I never see anyone saying that the default position ought to be his opponent's.

Now why is that, I wonder...

Bottom Line: There is no default position.

DougJC said...

B. Prokop,

"Beliefs and desires are not material. Show me the physical substance of which they are composed. "

Both the terms "physicalism" and "materialism" I think can be very misleading because one thinks that what is being claimed is that "touchable", "feelable" material is the ultimate explanation for everything. But actually, the most interesting things in life are not matter at all but processes: constrained events that happen over time in specific order and for specific reasons related to the nature of change.

A snowflake is an interesting arrangement of matter, but far more helpful as an explanation are the energy gradients reflected in temperature, pressure and humidity over time that interact with properties of water and air. A DNA molecule is an interesting arrangement of matter, but vastly more interesting and detailed are incredibly complex processes behind it spanning eons that develop and use it. A belief, likewise, is a complex process for which the biological material of the neural network state is just a tiny fraction of the whole picture. The true scope of the processes of consciousness, beliefs, desires span the history of an individual, the history of humanity, the history of sentience.

"Materialism" I think is a term that is so misleading as to be useless today. Naturalism, understood perhaps as the belief that reality consists of physical laws that give rise to incredibly complex processes over time that proceed as the necessary end result of past events and are necessarily directed towards future events, might better capture the modern atheist view.

And I think naturalism can be cleanly distinguished from supernaturalism by an unwillingness to posit the complexity of mind as something underlying reality until simpler explanations have been exhausted.

B. Prokop said...

Very eloquent, Doug, but I ain't buying it. Processes are the means by which things are accomplished, but thought and belief are not (primarily) means to anything, but are rather (principally) entities in themselves. If anything in your schema, they are ends and not means.

Totally different subject, and not part of this "argument", but I was intrigued by your use of "vastly more interesting". I personally find processes far less interesting than existing structures. I know this about myself from my discussions in my astronomy club. Some people at our meetings are all about how some particular object was formed. Others (like myself) would rather talk about the objects themselves, and aren't particularly excited about how they got the way they are. (Example: I couldn't care less how the Moon was formed, but am endlessly fascinated by what it is now, what its surface features are, by its mountains, craters, plains, canyons, volcanoes, etc.) Just a personality trait - not an argument for or against anything.

This is probably why I usually find debates about evolution to be a crashing bore, whereas I absolutely love learning about ecosystems, and how things interact now.

DougJC said...

B. Prokop,

"Processes are the means by which things are accomplished, but thought and belief are not (primarily) means to anything, but are rather (principally) entities in themselves. If anything in your schema, they are ends and not means."

Processes I think are just another term for Aristotle's efficient and/or final causality. What distinguishes life from non-life is that a living being has innumerable processes following the arrow of time that dynamically counteract entropy for the benefit of the being. What distinguishes sentient life from non-sentient life is a neural network that has processes following the arrow of time that dynamically recognize and distinguish self from non-self as an agent. If these processes stop, awareness stops, life stops. The ends are on-going processes themselves. Without the arrow of time, without the fact that material parts operate in a particular order directed towards particular ends by apparent virtue of physical law, all that is left is motionless matter which really can't and won't do anything at all.

grodrigues said...


"Processes I think are just another term for Aristotle's efficient and/or final causality."

You think wrong.