Monday, June 06, 2005

Attention dualists: A physicalist challenge from Keith Augustine

Keith Augustine responded to some of the comments that I have blogged. Instead of answering his comments I want to underscore them. This is why physicalists are physicalists.

VR: I thought my point was that sophisticated dualists like Bill Hasker have never denied the extensive relaince of the mind upon the brain.

KA: Acknowledging mind-brain dependence is not the same as making sense of it. If I may quote Paul Churchland in _Matter and Consciousness_:"If there really is a distinct entity in which reasoning, emotion, andconsciousness take place ... then one would expect reason, emotion, andconsciousness to be relatively invulnerable to direct control or pathology by manipulation or damage to the brain. But in fact the exact opposite is true. Alcohol, narcotics, or senile degeneration of nerve tissue will impair, cripple, or even destroy one's capacity for rational thought.... And the vulnerability of consciousness to anesthetics, to caffeine, and to something as simple as a sharp blow to the head, shows its very close dependence on neural activity in the brain. All of this makes perfect sense if reason, emotion, and consciousness are activities of the brain itself. But it makes very little sense if they are activities of something else entirely."Note that this empirical argument would establish the improbability not only of Cartesian dualism, but of any sort of dualism which maintains that the mind is something separable from the brain, whether it is a pure disembodied mind or some quasi-physical astral body made of exotic matter. The mind-brain dependence argument does not establish that the mind depends upon some physical system, but upon a specific organic physical system which decays at death and thus, in all probability, destroys the mind as well.

VR: So we would not be appealing to soul theory to explain the Capgras > problem, for example, or blindsight. In fact, Hasker specifically appeals to these things to argue that a more traditional, Cartesian form of dualism is inadequate, in favor of an emergent kind of dualism in which the soul emerges from the activity of the brain.

KA: I think Jim's point was that such mental disorders, caused by neurological deficits, makes a soul thery--*any* soul theory--scientifically implausible. The issue is not whether emergent substance dualism can explain these syndromes; it is that the details of these syndromes are what we would expect to obtain if physicalism or property dualism were true, but not if substance dualism were true.I don't understand how an emergent *substance* could be highly dependent upon a brain. Emergent properties clearly could be. But a substance by definition is something that can exist independently of other substances. So if at some point in the development of a human being a "soul" emerges from neural activity, that means the brain has just ex nihilo created a soul. It does not explain why, once A has generated B, the states of B continue to depend upon the states of A. If A and B have separate existences now, there should be no dependence between them beyond that of a driver and his car. That is, if one's car engine catches on fire and is destroyed, the driver's heart should not automatically catch on fire too. And yet those who take psychedlic drugs effect the mind *directly*, not merely the mind's ability to control the body--the mind itself. Psychotropic drugs do not merely produce paralysis or cut off one's sensory information--they affect the mind's functioning. That seems to indicate that mental functioning cannot occur without brain functioning.

VR: I don't see how the sort of dualism Hasker has in mind is refuted by these sorts of phenomenon. If I am right a lot of anti-dualist arguments attack a straw man.

KA: Perhaps an analogy is appropriate here.Let's say we have two separate, interacting things: A Predator drone and the remote pilot controlling it from a distance. The drone is captured and its captors start fiddling with its transmitter/receiver. What's the worst the captors can do to the remote pilot, miles away? They can destroy the drone's camera, making it blind. The person controlling the drone will no longer be able to see the environment around the drone. They can destroy the microphone, making it deaf, and again, the radio controller will no longer be able to hear what is going on. Ditto if the wires connecting the camera and microphone to the transmitter are severed. Information from the senses has been cut off. Next, suppose that the wires connecting the receiver to the drone's engines are severed. Now the pilot cannot even blindly control the drone.It seems inescapable to me that any form of substance dualism is committed to predicting that the mind (the controller) is largely independent from the brain (the drone's transmitter/receiver). The worst you can do to the controller by manipulating the drone's transmitter/receiver is make the controller deaf or blind regarding the drone's environment, or unable to move the drone. You cannot affect the the controller's ability to do math, to understand language, or recognize undistorted faces. You cannot get the controller to go into a psychotic rage by manipulating the drone's radio. But you can make someone psychotic by spiking his drink with PCP, or prevent him from being able to do simple addition by lesioning certain areas of his brain. In short, basic neuroscientific facts are simply inexplicable on any variety of substance dualism.

VR: That has the effect of taking away the illusion that the "soul" is something radically separate from the brain. It's matter all right, it just doesn't obey the normal laws of matter.

KA: It doesn't matter (no pun intended) if the soul is a nonphysical substance or a physical substance separate from the brain. The argument from the dependence of consciousness on the brain cuts across both versions of dualism.

VR: The radio receiver analogy looks, on its face, like a good one.I strongly disagree for the reasons above. When I started this e-mail, my computer crashed, and I had to start over.

KA: Yes, but when your computer crashed, you did not have to check into a mental institution. But if your brain "crashed," you would have to--or worse. It's amazing how a ministroke in a specific area of the brain can cause one to behave in a way that seriously jeopardizes one's salvation... as if one freely chose to have a ministroke. And not just a ministroke that causes reflex-like reactions, but a ministroke that affect one's behavior because it affects one's mind. A frontal lobotomy can change one's personality (to say the least!). How, then, can one's personality persist after the full-brain lobotomy called death?

VR: Clearly, deficits and enhancements in my computer result in defecits and enhancements of the message I received.

KA: Certainly. But a distorted message does not affect your IQ, your beliefs, or your desires, in the way that LSD, schizophrenia, or Alzheimer's disease could, does it?Regards, KA


Mike Wiest said...

Victor--Please forgive an only marginally related comment.

I am most interested to hear your thoughts on my suggestion under "The Unity of Consciousness." Did you see it?

Victor Reppert said...

I went back to it, and tracked back to your exchanges with BDK on the other site. I have to admit I'm not too familiar with the way quantum mechanics get brought into the philosophy of mind; is it based of the Penrose book The Emperpr's New Mind?

Chris said...

It seems that many of Keith's objections can be circumvented simply by rejecting his analogy. I don't think the driver/car or remote/probe analogies are adequate to say the least. The mind/brain relationship is two-way, not one way. This is not captured in his analogies, i.e., those examples do not contain two-way causation, so it's no wonder they fail. I think he's begging the question. We need a new analogy where two things are related (a priori)in a two-way causal manner. Any ideas?

Keith said...

As an empirical matter, I don't think that conceding that some parts of the mind are seated within the brain, while others are not, will get you very far. And the reason for this assessment is that the very things that make us who we are are clearly "seated within" the brain. Long-term memory, for instance, is clearly dependent upon the physical connections between synapses in the brain. When an organism learns, certain connections are made, and when the brain decays in Alzheimer's, these connections are destroyed. So the question then becomes "What survives death?" And whatever answer you provide will be something like "whatever remains after we strip away all of one's memories, one's personality traits, one's behavioral dispositions, and so on"--as these are clearly seated in the brain. Whatever remains will no longer be your individuality. You'll be left with some unrecognizable tabula rasa surviving death, which might as well be complete annihilation--for personal survival will not be possible once one's memories, personality, and dispositions are destroyed.

My analogy is one that illustrates the dualist's position, as far as I can see. I did not make up the radio receiver analogy that this is based upon. Dualists have traditionally offered the analogy.

And there is no begging the question involved. (Or if there is, please point out exactly where it is. I don't see anywhere where I say something question-begging like "dualism is false because materialism is true." Rather, I say that dualism is probably false because it conflicts with evidence x, y, z. IMO, any intellectually honest dualist will concede that the evidence for mind-brain dependence at least makes dualism more likely to be false than true.)

If you have a better analogy, I'll be glad to take it on.

By the way, my analogy involves two-way interaction as much as interactionist substance dualism does. For instance, mental-to-physical causation would be thinking of a word and then writing it on the chalkboard. In my analogy, the remote pilot pushing a lever to the left, causing the drone to turn left, would be analogous to such mental-to-physical causation.

Similarly, the pictures and sound of the environment of the drone, sent by the drone's camera and microphone via radio waves to the controller, would be analogous to physical-to-mental causation--specifically, the use of physical sense organs to cause mental images.

So two-way interaction has nothing to do with it. Even the driver/car analogy involves two-way interaction: to control a car one must get "feedback" from it--when you hit the brakes, the car's speed must decline. That's why we sometimes slowly hit the brakes and sometimes floor the brakes. And of course any separable agent *controlling* the body would necessarily require two-way interaction, as my analogies do. You can't control the direction that your body moves in without any sensory input whatsoever, for instance.

CalvinOstrum said...

Keith apparently thinks that "conceding that some parts of the mind are seated within the brain, while others are not, will [not] get you very far", but why not? Does it not depend upon how far you want to go? If you just want to go for the truth about physicalism, then some part of the mind not being "seated within the brain" is plenty enough to show that physicalism is just plain false, even if it is not far enough to get what many people calling themselves dualists really want.

Keith says that his analogy of a pilot remotely controlling an airplane is a good one because it "involves two-way interaction as much as interactionist substance dualism does". But clearly it does not, as he himself points out, since serious damage to the plane for example does not entail damage to the pilot, for example. I do not find it so implausible to imagine that a mind could have, over time, become so intertwingled with the body it is associated with this renders inpossible a clean disengagement analogous to the types of disengagement described in the case of the pilot and plane. The question is really whether mere physical action on the one side could produce such severe mental results on the other side, and whether indeed there is still some room left for mental events at all to show any kind of non-redundant powers of their own, but I don't see why these possibilities at current should be ruled out.

As for what survives death, I don't know why it has to be the case that anything in particular survives death in order for physicalism to be false. And it seems to be a bit of an exaggeration to say that nothing but a "tabula rasa" is left to survive death. All of one's memories may not survive, but this does not mean that the soul has not been significantly shaped in some way or another by its embodied time on earth. This is the position taken by a lot of religious tradition in the East.

It could be that for some reason or other, mental "stuff" is rather weak and ineffective until it manages somehow to hook up with a different sort of causal power inherent in physical stuff. The two then manage to play off one another and get farther than they could have alone and separately. Along these lines (as a suggestion for Chris as well), I might suggest the paper "Consciousness and cosmology: hyperdualism ventilated" by Colin McGinn. In the framework he (fancifully) proposes there, a separately existing mental universe was not much at all until hooked onto and channelled by brains, but it was there nevertheless.

Mike Wiest said...

Dear Victor--

No, the argument for a quantum brain based on the unity of consciousness is NOT the one that Penrose is making in "The Emperor's New Mind" and "Shadows of the Mind." Penrose's argument is based on the Godel-Turing proofs about the limits of formal logic systems or computer algorithms. Penrose argues, following the philosopher Lucas, that humans can see the truth of certain propositions that a computer never could.

That argument is subtle and controversial, so it's difficult to feel confident in one's judgment. (Nevertheless, I tend to think that Penrose/Lucas are correct to conclude, with Searle, that the mind is more than just a computer program.) But the argument from the unity of consciousness is much more straightforward. Furthermore, I think you have already had the crucial insight, as evidenced by your feeling that the unity of consciousness is incompatible with (classical!) physical theory.

I think the clearest statement of the argument from the unity of consciousness was made by Stapp in an article in Psyche. It's here:

There's a bit of math, and unfortunately some parentheses got turned into tildes in the text file at that web site. But the math is not fancy or esoteric, it's just to make the concepts crystal clear and concrete.

I hope you get a chance to check it out. I'd be interested to hear what you think. It seems to me that quantum theory has room for a causally efficacious, ontologically unified consciousness, and moreover it leaves open the possibility of some kind of genuine free will--but that's a separate argument...

Chris said...

Keith – My initial intuition that there was question begging going on here didn’t pan out, so I’ll retract that charge. I couldn’t quite distill from your post exactly how it was question begging. Let me offer these other critiques instead.

Instead of arguing, as many have, that non-physical minds cannot have causal power over brains/bodies, you argue the reverse – that brains/bodies cannot have causal power over non-physical minds. Your argument could be put like this:
(1) If the mind is essentially part of a non-physical, substantial soul, then it should not be affected by malfunctions of the brain/body.
(2) The mind is affected by malfunctions of the brain/body.
(3) Therefore, the mind is not essentially part of a non-physical, substantial soul.

The critical premise here is (1) in my mind (no pun intended). I don’t see how anyone could dispute (2). But your reasons for (1) seem weak. You said, “I don't understand how an emergent *substance* could be highly dependent upon a brain . . . a substance by definition is something that can exist independently of other substances.” Neither of these statements shows that physical brains cannot have causal power over non-physical minds, and that is all that is really required here. In fact, you seem to concede that mental-to-physical causation is possible. So what’s wrong with the reverse?

If I accept your definition of a substance, then why can there not exist a soul, for which independent existence is metaphysically possible, but that still has a deep, 2-way causal relationship with the body? My view of dualism is one in which this independent existence is a possibility, but as long as the body lives, the soul is deeply connected to and affected by it. I have not heard any physicalist explain, in a non-question begging way, why it is impossible for such a causal relationship to exist.

Another issue seems to be confusion over how evidence works. The data you have provided, such as examples of the effects of drugs or the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on the mind, are indisputable, as for as I can see. But of what are they evidence? They are evidence of causation at best, and that is all. If I were a pure Cartesian dualist, then they might count against me. But with a more robust version of dualism (“moderate dualism”) in which 2-way causation is welcomed and important, your data become the gander’s sauce. Instances of malfunctioning brains causing mental malfunction support my position exactly as much as yours! Such a correlation is a prediction of my system and yours.

Regarding the drone/pilot analogy – it is a straw man, even if dualists have used it. If that analogy were correct, then neuroscience would be recalcitrant for dualism. But I reject the analogy completely. As far as an analogy that better illustrates the 2-way relationship between mind and body, I’m still working on that.

HV said...


What you say about Penrose's argument is true, but in those two books he also speculates briefly about a kind of three-level model of reality consisting of a physical world, a mental world, and a "Platonic" world of mathematical truths. (Not dualism but 3-ism?) He seems to think that the mind possesses a kind of time independence that enables it to see the Platonic world. Time independence would allow energy-free interaction between the worlds. Penrose, along with many physicists, seems to think that timelessness should be a fundamental characteristic of future physics. Timelessness ties in with quantum mechanics in that quantum non-locality implies that there is a domain not restricted by the speed of light. He then places the timeless capacity of the mind within this future physics. But when you let timelessness in the door, it becomes hard to distinguish between this kind of super-physicalism and traditional eastern and western concepts of a soul that is in some sense not time-bound.

One distinction I would note between Cartesian dualism and traditional eastern thought is that in the east, the atman or soul is not considered to be the mind or the personality. The mind and the personality are appearances "within" awareness, just as physical phenomena are. The atman corresponds more to just the pure awareness as an entity independent of its "contents".

Blue Devil Knight said...

(1) If the mind is essentially part of a non-physical, substantial soul, then it should not be affected by malfunctions of the brain/body.
(2) The mind is affected by malfunctions of the brain/body.
(3) Therefore, the mind is not essentially part of a non-physical, substantial soul.

I think it would be better to invert the premise: If the mind is nonphysical, then it shouldn't affect the brain/body. If you think the supervenience base of mind is classical then such affects would violate conservation of momentum/energy (I have the classical caveat b/c in QM there can be such violations). That is, dualism violates fundamental laws of physics. Of course, you could turn this around into a dualist prediction that in the brain, conservation laws are violated. Any scientist approaching this question without a bunch of other religious biases would rightly be skeptical of any such theory. But you can do the experiments, I guess.

The data from neuropsychology, which show the tight (and tightening) correlations between mental and neural states, continue to provide strong inductive (rather than deductive) support for some kind of physicalist metaphysics. As I've said before, such data are not knock-down deductive arguments. They are just more facts which make it reasonable to think that mind and brain are correlated because the mind *is* a feature of the brain.

Following up on some of Keith's arguments, when your grandmother with alzheimers dementia dies, is it her demented mind that continues after death? Or, perhaps, her undemented mind was there all along, unchanged, but it is the physical changes of alzheimers that caused strange things to happen in her (perfectly functional) mind. This is not an inconsistent philosophical position, and only time will tell us how outlandish it will (or will not) appear once we have come to understand brains.

Since we observe similar phenomena (e.g., Alzheimers dementia) in nonhuman primates, the dualist will have the added challenge of explaining why monkeys don't also have immaterial souls. You would be left with arguing that a) They don't have sould, but (like Descartes said) are merely unconscious automata, or b) We need to start evangelizing to monkeys. :)

Again, nothing in the world of deductive logic dictates that you give up on substance dualism, but over the past few hundred years it has looked more and more like a degenerative research programme.

Dennis Monokroussos said...

Two side comments to BDK's comment (the one just above the current comment, unless someone finishes writing one before this is done):

1. There's no need to evangelize apes or any other non-humans, because non-humans having immaterial souls, if they do, doesn't imply that those souls are immortal, capable of right and wrong, fallen or in need of salvation.

Nor is this much of a "gotcha" to the dualist - Aristotle and Aquinas both believed that animals had souls, and I see no reason why one must be a Cartesian to be a dualist. (I also don't see why a Cartesian has to deny souls of non-human animals.)

2. Contra the whole Churchland enterprise, I don't see any reason to think of substance dualism as a "research program", failed or otherwise, at least if we're talking about scientific research programs. I doubt that anyone in, say, medieval times reasoned like this:

X just suffered a blow to the head, causing unconsciousness.

We lack a good explanation of how the brain works.

Therefore, substance dualism is true.

Dualism, philosophically speaking, is in large part motivated by the sorts of concerns Victor raises in his book, and given that those worries lead many physicalists to opt for the at least prima facie wildly implausible eliminativist and epiphenomenalist positions, one might be forgiven for thinking that physicalist talk of failed (or degenerative) research programs is an instance of throwing stones from glass houses.

HV said...

A couple of comments on what BDK said: Having dealt with someone with severe dementia on a daily basis, I would say I find it hard to believe that people so affected are not subjects of experience. In other words they are not zombies in the sense that term is used in philosophy of mind. As I said earlier there are eastern traditional systems such as yoga, which are empirically oriented and older than our western religions, that identify the soul with subjectivity, not with thoughts, memories, or personality.

Secondly, it's my opinion that historically, belief in an immaterial soul is based on a different sort of empirical evidence, so-called paranormal phenomena such as telepathy, clairvoyance, etc., and that denial of the existence of such phenomena appears to be ideological.

Blue Devil Knight said...

The conservation of energy concern, which I have mentioned twice, has twice gone unaddressed. I can only assume predictions of such violations, a consequence of interactionist dualism (where the interaction is from mind to brain/body), don't bother its proponents. If this is the case, then we are indeed living in incommensurate conceptual worlds, with very different standards for credibility. As a scientist, violation of COE makes it a theory that I would need a REALLY good primae facie case for before I would even consider taking it seriously, whether it is part of a research programme or not.

I am very happy, though, that my cheeky comment on monkey souls was addressed :-P Like I said, I am sure there are logically possible scenarios where things like bacteria have nonmaterial souls, but the human soul was given immortality by God. Etc. Etc. In fact, it is probably fun for theists to think about such possibilities. Have fun! As an undergrad it was always fun to stay up until the wee hours arguing with my Fundamentalist friends: we would be so angry with each other, arguing for hours. I am now very good friends with some of them, but I am now older and more crotchety, and (partly because of concenrs above) don't have the patience to work through all the convolutions of angels on pins. I'd rather think about neuroscience.

Keith said...

Dear dualists,

This physicalist will assist you in answering BDK's conservation of energy challenge. First I'll note that I think that various objections to substance dualism other than the mind-brain dependence argument have *some* force: (1) how is physical-nonphysical interaction possible; (2) why isn't the mind's influence detectable; (3) wouldn't it be implausible that a nonphysical mind's influence would entail the violation of the conservation of energy in only one place in the universe--human brains. But there are responses to such arguments which make them persuasive, but not quite decisive. It is the mind-brain dependence argument which is decisive to me, as I don't think an adequate response to it exists.

That the sheer variety of responses that *have been* attempted do not converge on the same solution only reinforces my confidence in this. The responses of John McTaggart (Some Dogmas of Religion), William James (Human Immortality), John Beloff (his review of Paul Edwards' Reincarnation in the January 1997 issue of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research), Alan Gauld (Mediumship and Survival), Stephen Braude (Immortal Remains), Douglas Stokes ("Mind, Matter, and Death: Cognitive Neuroscience and the Problem of Survival" in the January 1993 issue of the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research), and William Hasker ("Brains, Persons, and Eternal Life" in Vol. 12, No. 4 [1983] of Christian Scholar's Review) are vastly different from each other.

Anyway, the answer to BDK's challenge is that physical forces (such as the force of gravity and the rotation of the Earth) can cause changes in other physical systems (such as a pendulum) without the introduction of new energy. In The Mind and Its Place in Nature C. D. Broad makes this reply to the challenge that mental causation would entail the violation of energy conservation. But I'm not certain if Broad should get the last word here. Daniel Dennett briefly endorses the argument in Consciousness Explained but without addressing Broad's reply; and not being familiar with the replies to Broad's argument here I can't say whether Broad succeeds in overcoming the objection or not. (If anyone knows where I can find replies to Broad on this, I'd be very interested.) That's the point in a nutshell. Broad develops the details here:

If I may address CalvinOstrum's point, my primary concern is not whether physicalism is true but whether any alternative to physicalism which would allow human survival of bodily death (other than through bodily resurrection) is true. My contention is that the mind-brain dependence argument makes any dualistic form of personal survival scientifically untenable. And, for the record, I'm rather uninterested in whether our minds are annihilated by "absorption" into some Great Cosmic Mind, just as I am uninterested in whether my body is annihilated by being absorbed into the Earth. Hence the importance that what survives death be my personality, my dispositions, my memories, and so on. If you concede that those don't survive death, then you are conceding my point. The mind-brain dependence argument holds whether reductive physicalism, nonreductive physicalism, functionalism, or (interactionist or epiphenomenalist) property dualism is true.

Interestingly, even C.D. Broad realized this. Unlike the posters of this forum, Broad took "the intellectually honest dualist's approach" of conceding the mind-brain dependence argument. For instance, here he writes:

"We find bodies without minds; we never find minds without bodies. When we do find minds we always find a close correlation between their processes and those of their bodies. This, it is argued, strongly suggests that minds depend for their existence on bodies; in which case, though survival may still be abstractly possible, it is to the last degree unlikely. At death there takes place completely and permanently a process of bodily destruction which, when it occurs partially and temporarily, carries with it the destruction of part of our mental life. The inference seems only too obvious. I think it is fair to say that our ordinary scientific knowledge of the relation of body to mind most strongly suggests epiphenomenalism, though it does not necessitate it; and that epiphenomenalism is most unfavourable to the hypothesis of human survival."

This is precisely my point: neuroscientific evidence makes survival after death highly unlikely.

Broad goes on to consider the instrument theory (advanced by William James), finding it inadequate for reasons similar to those offered by Paul Edwards and myself. He then develops a compound theory which sounds like something that would appeal to CalvinOstrum; but note that this theory doesn't allow personal survival other than by bodily resurrection. What survives on compound theory are "psychic traces," not an intelligent, conscious agent. Douglas Stokes says what could survive would essentially be a tabula rasa. (I cover much, but not all, of this in my "The Case Against Immortality.")

The bottom line is that Broad, Beloff, and Stokes actually concede this point about mind-brain dependence--all people familiar with opposing parapsychological evidence, BTW. Beloff admits that mind-brain dependence is strong evidence against survival, but says we have to weigh it against the opposing parapsychological evidence. (Here Beloff and I agree; we part ways with the implicit idea that the current state of parapsychological evidence relevant to survival research could possibly equal or outweigh the neuroscientific evidence for mind-brain dependence.)

Even Bill Hasker rhetorically asks: "If... the mind or soul is generated by the brain and is dependent on it in all the ways already emphasized, how can it fail to perish with the brain?" No wonder Broad says that the conclusion is "only too obvious."

In truth, whether strict physicalism is true or not doesn't really matter much. The vast majority of humanity resists physicalism not because the idea that "everything is physical" is inherently repugnant, but because all physical things are subject to entropy, ruling out the possibility of immortality. Physicalism itself is unobjectionable; if entropy could be stopped death could be overcome. It is the empirical implication of physicalism that we cannot live forever that the vast majority of humanity resists.

CalvinOstrum said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
CalvinOstrum said...

(If I had known that deleting a comment would leave an ugly scar, I would not have bothered to fix a couple of spelling errors...)

I thought the discussion here was supposed to be about physicalism and dualism, not about what, if anything, survives our physical death. Keith has now went so far as to say that whether physicalism is true or not doesn't even matter, since most people don't care about that -- what they care about is survival.

Well, that may be, but if so then I think he should make it clear in the future from the very outset that he is concerned with survival after physical death, and not whether physicalism or dualism of some form or another, or something else again, gives the best charaterization of the fundamental structure of reality. While these questions may be related, they are still fundamentally different and of independent interest.

(I'll decline to enter into the discussion of survival any further, except to say that I don't see why the fact that the brain and the physical world generally can deeply influence the mind, so much so that a large part of the mind ends up deeply embodied in the brain and thus subject to severe damage, entails that all that survives in every case is nothing but a "tabula rasa", or something that could do nothing but "absorb" into some "Great Cosmic Mind". There are a few weak steps in the attempt to draw that conclusion).

I am also a little confused by Keith's remark that "Unlike the posters of this forum, Broad took "the intellectually honest dualist's approach" of conceding the mind-brain dependence argument." I assume he means "some" posters here, and not all of them? Where have I been "intellectually dishonest", for example? For that matter, where has anyone been? It seems simply that Broad has a different evaluation of the evidence. I am not so sure that an evaluation differing with his constitutes "intellectual dishonesty".

As for "Blue Devil Knight's" concern with the principle of the conservation of energy, I really do not understand this. Why is it so important that this be held onto so strongly? One can say it is highly confirmed, but I don't know that this is so in the possibly highly microscopic vicinity of whatever mind-body interactions may occur. And if there is any independent reason to believe in some kind of dualism, it does not seem implausible that this principle would be violated in "only one place", as Keith puts it. In fact, the principle could still be totally true, except where there is mental interaction. Or perhaps there is some "mental energy" that balances things out.

As for Broad's argument on this point: "physical forces (such as the force of gravity and the rotation of the Earth) can cause changes in other physical systems (such as a pendulum) without the introduction of new energy", it is hard to believe it is Broad's argument since it clearly does not apply and is easy to dismiss: for all of the causes acting in such a case are still all physical causes, and the principle of the conservation of energy includes them all (for example, in a pendulum, energy changes over time from potential to kinetic and back again, but it remains conserved).

A potentially useful paper on the subject might be Ulrich Mohrhoff's "The physics of interactionism" (JCS 1999)

Blue Devil Knight said...

As for "Blue Devil Knight's" concern with the principle of the conservation of energy, I really do not understand this. Why is it so important that this be held onto so strongly?

Pace, "I have a theory of mind that implies when I drop an anvil from a bridge, it will not fall to the ground below. I don't understand what the big deal is."

I suppose if the goal is not to provide arguments that would convince someone who isn't already a dualist, there is no problem. Otherwise, COE (conservation of energy) is one of the most basic guiding principles in physics (look in the index of any physics book). The burden of proof is on those skeptical of this well-established principle to come up with arguments why we should take them seriously.

I'm sure that dualists can come up with logically possible worlds in which conservation of energy is violated, but they need to make a VERY strong, non-question begging, primae facie case for why one of the basic principles of physics is violated. We know it is logically possible, but hundreds of years of physics say it is nomically impossible.

As for Broad's argument on this point: "physical forces (such as the force of gravity and the rotation of the Earth) can cause changes in other physical systems (such as a pendulum) without the introduction of new energy", it is hard to believe it is Broad's argument since it clearly does not apply and is easy to dismiss: for all of the causes acting in such a case are still all physical causes, and the principle of the conservation of energy includes them all (for example, in a pendulum, energy changes over time from potential to kinetic and back again, but it remains conserved).

This is an interesting argument, but it sounds like sophistry. Let's think more about a pendulum: for one, a pendulum doesn't start to swing without some energy provided from outside the system. This is needed to build up some potential energy (that is, lifting the end of the pendulum requires energy). If I am a dualist, the brain is like the pendulum before being tweaked, and the mind is the tweaker. That is, the pendulum can start to move even if there are no physical inputs to the system: energy comes from some other place: COE is violated.

You could say we should focus on a pendulum that is already moving, but the point would not change. In this case, the dualist needs the pendulum to swing in a way that violates F=ma/the laws of gravity. This can only happen when COE (conservation of energy) is violated, as any change in velocity of the pendulum outside that allowed by F=ma and gravity implies that momentum (which is equivalent to energy) was not conserved! You can say that the earth or an explosion might knock it off course, but this is trivially part of physics and follows COE.

So I either don't understand, or don't agree with, Broad's claims. I presume the latter. Broad, being a moral philosopher in the head-in-the-sand Oxbridge tradition, likely didn't know what he was talking about.

Also, I think your argument, Keith, from the lack of convergence, is weak. Think of early quantum theory. There was no consensus early on, right before Bohr and Shrodinger built their models. Lack of consensus often preceeds the most interesting developments in a field.

I think all the mind-brain dependence is solid inductive evidence, in part because it is a straight prediction of physicalism but not dualism (which comes out sounding ad hoc when it scurries to deal with such dependencies).

We need to be careful not to overstate how much neuroscience has revealed. I study rat sensory cortex, and did my graduate thesis on the leech nervous system. At a truly fine-grained, explanatory level, neuroscience needs a lot more time to mature. We still don't fully understand how a leech bends! Don't get me wrong: in my opinion there is absolutely no reason to think we'll need more than neurons with their beautiful electrical signals swapping back and forth to handle everything, from consciousness to eye movements, but we are still in our infancy and shouldn't be arrogant. Right now, both materialists and dualists are making predictions about how they will feel once we have a complete understanding of the brain.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Note when I said an argument, quoting CalvinOstrum's post, sounded like sophistry, I wasn't referring to Calvin, but to Broad.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Broad, being a moral philosopher in the head-in-the-sand Oxbridge tradition, likely didn't know what he was talking about.

I wrote too fast here. He did much more than just moral philosophy, and I was not familiar with this. For instance, he was also a diligent student of parapsychology, even becoming the president of the Society for Psychical research. Here is a lecture he gave called Normal Cognition, Clairvoyance and Telepathy.

Chris said...

Keith wrote:
Broad took "the intellectually honest dualist's approach" of conceding the mind-brain dependence argument. For instance, he writes:

"We find bodies without minds; we never find minds without bodies. When we do find minds we always find a close correlation between their processes and those of their bodies. This, it is argued, strongly suggests that minds depend for their existence on bodies; in which case, though survival may still be abstractly possible, it is to the last degree unlikely.”

The problem here, Keith, is that you don’t seem to acknowledge that theistic dualists, such as myself, are working from a set of presuppositions quite different than yours. If physicalism is true, and if God does not exist, then I might consider your view to be the “intellectually honest” one. However, the truth of physicalism is not a given, nor is atheism. If one starts with theism, then dualism is not problematic. Broad’s concern vanishes – God is the paradigm case of a mind without a body.

I think the charge of “intellectual dishonesty” might apply to dualists who are also physicalists and atheists.

BDK wrote:
I think all the mind-brain dependence is solid inductive evidence, in part because it is a straight prediction of physicalism but not dualism (which comes out sounding ad hoc when it scurries to deal with such dependencies).

Historically speaking, I don’t know when more robust versions of dualism (those that embrace a deep, 2-way causal connection) began to emerge, but it would be interesting to see if they preceded the advent of modern neuroscience. If they did, then the charge of “ad hoc” would be unfounded.

In any case, adjustments to a theory are not automatically ad hoc. They are only ad hoc if the adjustments seem somewhat alien and procrustean. It needs to be shown how adjusting dualism to allow for deep, 2-way causal connections is a case of shoe-horning. Failing to improve or fine-tune a theory based on new data would be irresponsible (again, assuming that the data can find a home within the current paradigm). I should add that I do not believe that the mind “emerges” from the brain. If anything, the body and soul of a being would come into existence simultaneously. (This could open a can of worms.)

Keith said...

Chris complains that I do not acknowledge "that theistic dualists ... are working from a set of presuppositions quite different than [mine]."

Frankly, this is irrelevant. Suppose you were investigating some claim made by Scientologists, such as this: the 'reactive mind' "records physically and psychologically disturbing events in this life and prior lives. These include perceived assaults in the womb, the birth process, assaults, injuries etc. They are recorded as engrams which are a form of psychic scar. These engrams are considered 'the single source of all man's insanities, psychosomatic illnesses and neuroses.'"

(Cited from

Now would Chris complain if a non-Scientologist came along and said that this account was highly unlikely given scientific knowledge from psychology? I doubt it. Would he complain that the non-Scientologist is coming at the issue from a different set of presuppositions than the Scientologist? Would this have any relevance to the scientific improbability of the Scientologists' beliefs?

I think not. What do presuppositions have to do with it? The issue isn't "you have your presuppositions, I have mine, let's call the whole thing off." It's not that some people are theists, and some are not, and the evidence doesn't support one belief more than another, so there's no point in theists and nontheists having discussions.

The issue here is that there is strong, publicly-available evidence which implies that substance dualism is false regardless of your presuppositions. That's what evidence is--it's data that you test your hypothesis against. Just because your belief system gives you different hypotheses from someone else's doesn't make the truth or falsity of the respective hypotheses immune from evidence.

But this is what Chris implies when he says: "If physicalism is true, and if God does not exist, then I might consider your view to be the 'intellectually honest' one. However, the truth of physicalism is not a given, nor is atheism. If one starts with theism, then dualism is not problematic."

Yes, and if one starts from Scientology, then belief that neurosis is caused by engrams is "unproblematic" in the same sense--a trivial sense. It is unproblematic for an evidence-disregarding Scientologist's personal beliefs. But it problematic from an evidential point of view. "Psychic engrams" in the Scientologist's sense are highly unlikely given the data of psychology. And substance dualism is highly unlikely given the data of neuroscience.

Moreover, others who do have theistic presuppositions agree with me that neuroscience strongly implies that substance dualism is false, such as Peter van Inwagen and Nancey Murphy. Murphy prefaces Whatever Happened to the Soul? with the evidential point: "We have written from the perspective that views soul as a functional capacity of a complex physical organism, rather than a separate spiritual essence that somehow inhabits a body. We have adopted this position because we believe it is the best way to incorporate and reconcile all the various sources of available data."

So Broad's concern doesn't "vanish" just because your belief system entails something that is not borne out by the evidence--that the mind should function largely independently of the brain. But the evidence implies that one cannot think without a brain any more than one can hear without an ear canal. Acknowledging that the evidence for mind-brain dependence strongly implies that substance dualism is false doesn't require any commitment to physicalism or epiphenomenalism. Is it the simple data of physiological psychology which implies that (to cite Paul Edwards) having a brain is a necessary condition for having a mind.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I am presently reading Broad closely, as well as this excellent discussion of the issue from a Catholic perspective. It is clear and penetrating (as the Catholic philosophers often are). Here is one fun line for example:

[T]he tension of gravitation keeps the earth in its elliptical course round the sun without affecting the quantity of energy possessed by the moving mass. If the enormous force of gravitation were suddenly extinguished, say, by the annihilation of the sun, the earth would fly away at a tangent with the same energy as before.

I plan to think a lot more about this COE argument and will post any interesting stuff I find...At the catholic site they seem to have come upon the exact same solution as Broad: the mind 'redirects' energy (e.g., from chemical to heat), but never changes the total amount. I will need to think about whether they have gotten around this objection.

That said, I must admit my physicalism was always based on neuroscientific and evolutionary considerations, but it will be exciting to have one of my trusty stand-by arguments (for those who push for deductive arguments) refuted!

Perhaps I dismissed Broad too quickly. I've been reading Mind and its Place in Nature: very well written! I always admired the Churchland's clarity of writing, but Broad is close....

Chris said...


Your comments are lucid and reasonable. However, I think we may have a misunderstanding. I was responding to the charge of being "intellectually dishonest," not to the general attack on dualism. If I was merely claiming that, given my presuppositions, dualism is true, then your last post would be on target. That line of reasoning would be open to anyone, no matter how ridiculous their assertion.

In my understanding, intellectual dishonesty is the failure to honestly consider the data because one is fearful of what conclusions it might lead to. It's the "head in the sand" approach. Is this what you meant?

If that is what you meant, then (I suppose I should only speak for myself) I can hardly be accused of this. I am not ignoring or dismissing the neurological evidence. I welcome and embrace it. But data is interpreted depending on the schema with which one is working. There is nothing inconsistent or "dishonest" about incorporating this data into my schema of theistic dualism. Now, don't miss this -- I'm NOT saying that given my schema, dualism is true (that would be question begging). I'm saying that given my schema, I am not being dishonest. THAT was the charge. If I am still missing something here, then please help me see how I am being dishonest. Now, if you would like to take issue with theism per se, then I would be glad to entertain any such arguments. But for the theist, it is clearly false that brains are necessary for minds.

I will close my comments by saying that I enjoyed the exchange and learned a few things in the process! Thanks to Keith & Victor for initiating this helpful dialogue.

Keith said...

I'm glad to see that BDK is giving Broad his due. The Mind and Its Place in Nature is a philosophical classic with insight into the philosophy of mind that still has relevance even 80 years later.

In response to Chris' comment, I think that "intellectual dishonesty" was a bit too loaded of a term. I've looked up the term and Wikipedia defines it in a much stronger sense than I ever intended: "the creation of false impressions or advocacy of false ideas and concepts using rhetoric, logical [fallacies], or insufficient or falsified evidence. It often stems from self-deception or a covert agenda, which is expressed through a misuse of various rhetorical devices. The unwary reader may be deceived as a result." It was certainly not my intent to imply that dualists who don't acknowledge that neuroscience makes substance dualism highly likely to be false were being consciously deceitful. That definition would be more appropriate for something like a religious right organization distributing false health care information for political reasons, such as denying the efficicacy of correct condom use for preventing the transmission of AIDs.

The Wikipedia article goes on to mention the possibility of "unconscious self deception." I think this is closer to what I was implying. My accusation was not about a failure to consider the data but a failure to acknowledge the implications of that data, implications that follow rather straightforwardly regardless of your presuppositions. For instance, when Chris said he could "circumvent" my conclusions, I read that as not taking the implications of the neuroscientific evidence seriously (unlike Broad, Beloff, Stokes, and even Hasker in some revealing comments).

An example of the meaning I intended is found in one of Hume's arguments for the mortality of the soul, in "Of the Immortality of the Soul":

"The souls of animals are allowed to be mortal; and these bear so near a resemblance to the souls of men, that the analogy from one to the other forms a very strong argument. Their bodies are not more resembling; yet no one rejects the argument drawn from comparative anatomy."

In other words, Hume says, survivalists are perfectly willing to grant certain extrapolations about the animal nature of human beings with regard to facts about comparative anatomy; but when the same sort of argument implies something we don't like, like the mortality of the soul, they resist it.

I meant to imply something like this, only with respect to certain neuroscientific facts. I think substance dualists would accept the conclusion of this type of argument in any other circumstance, but not here because the mind-brain dependence argument counts against a substance dualism they are very committed to.

Note that to be an intellectually honest dualist in this sense, I don't require you to conclude that substance dualism is false given the facts of neuroscience. Rather, I require you to conclude, as Voltaire did, that "all the probabilities are against it"--at least with respect to the probabilities given the neuroscientific evidence. I don't deny that parapsychological evidence has the potential to counteract the neuroscientific case against dualism. I just don't think that the actual parapsychological evidence we have accumulated even comes close to doing that. But it could. (Even Richard Swinburne seems to agree on my assessment of the evidence from "survival research": see pp. 301-305 of The Evolution of the Soul.)

I suppose that what particularly troubles me about Chris' response is this comment:

"But data is interpreted depending on the schema with which one is working. There is nothing inconsistent or 'dishonest' about incorporating this data into my schema of theistic dualism."

Could not a Scientologist say the exact same thing about psychological data--that he isn't denying the data, only its interpretation? For various sources of evidence various levels of interpretation are reasonable. But when your "interpretation" of biological evidence for evolution allows 6-day literalist creationism, you are no longer simply interpreting the data. You are denying clear implications of the data for ideological reasons. My accusation is that substance dualists who don't acknowledge that neuroscientific facts strongly count against their dualism are being intellectually dishonest in the same sense.

"But for the theist, it is clearly false that brains are necessary for minds."

Not for theists like Nancey Murphy and Peter van Inwagen with respect to human minds. They readily concede that the evidence strongly counts against substance dualism, and instead argue for a combination of a broad physicalism and theism.

Reckless Divinity said...

I guess I am 3 years late but I thought that the Law of COE only applies to closed systems? Couldn't a case be made that perhaps the non physical aspect of the mind itself is not a closed system? This is just me rambling, I have not postulated this in full with regards to the back and forth comments, this is more of me just trying to see if the idea itself is even plausible. How does quantum entanglement fit into this equation as well?

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dcleve said...

There are multiple ways that substance dualism is able to evade the COE objection to the interaction problem.
a) Physics is incomplete. Hence, mind could be part of "physics", which we currently have no clue about -- like our level of understanding of dark energy and dark matter 50 years ago. This unknown mental physical process would then be subject to COE, and interact with other matter, analogously to how dark energy does.
b) Interaction is non-energetic -- the addition of information or logic state change affect but add no energy to a physical system. This is the approach taken by Eccles, and Penrose. This could be limited to Quanta, or -- if macro-scale chaotic systems are similarly meta-unstable, could in principle be a direct interaction with neuronal patterns.
c) Mind is interactive with physics, and one should treat the combined mind-body as the "closed system" for energy conservation -- and energy could in principle have a mental form. The current status of measurement of energy conservation does not exclude this possibility. This dualism would ultimately trend toward a neutral monism, and the duality would be only one of convenience, not fundamental essence.
d) Energy conservation is not really a "law", and can be and is broken. This actually is the current position of physics, where energy conservation is a local reflection of a gauge symmetry, which can and is spontaneously broken under TBD circumstances. ALL of our symmetry principles, upon which the conservation laws are based, are expected to be only regularities, NOT "laws". One example of broken energy conservation are time crystals. A second is the creation of massive amounts of energy and mass in the inflation phase of the Big Bang. If energy conservation is not a law, then breaking it is not an obstacle to interactive dualism.

Physicists generally do not treat our current understanding of energy conservation as inviolable, because physics is still under construction, and its edges are not defined. Physicists propose variants of these four strategies to address anomalous phenomena all the time -- these are the sorts of proposals one finds in theoretical physics journals. It is generally non-physicists who treat physics as closed and law-bound.