Saturday, October 17, 2009

Scientific Research on Top-Down Causation?

I'm redating this post because of BDK's inquiry about dualist-supporting research.

This research proposal hopes to test the possibility of top-down causation in human cognition.

I suppose a real skeptic would have to say that this is methodologically unscientific. Cranes, not skyhooks, you IDiots.


William said...

Showing top down action in microbiology should be easy.

All you have to do is show a change in membrane ion flow as a result of some sort of taxis. Literature review alone should do it.

Showing how logic causes cellular activation under materialistic assumptions should be almost impossible. They would have to create a logic circuit in bacteria, just for starters. Then they would have to connect that logic to the bacteria's native taxis, in order to give it meaning. Or something.

I wish them luck :)

Doctor Logic said...

"Pontifical Gregorian University"

Hee hee hee! Clearly, they need to round out their research team with people from the Jedi Academy.

Victor Reppert said...

"You're only saying that because you're a Catholic." Isn't that the circumstantial ad hominem argument, also known as Bulverism?

Doctor Logic said...

Sorry, I know it's not an argument, but it is *really* funny.

Victor Reppert said...

I looked at who gave the grant, and it was an institution supported by ASU physicist Paul Davies. He's not exactly Richard Dawkins, but this sure doesn't look like Discovery Institute either.

Blue Devil Knight said...

It would be interesting to see results. I wrote a post listing many putative examples of top-down causation in the literature. Perhaps the most famous is Sperry's wheel.

It isn't clear how this relates to dualism, as many of these are straightforwardly natural phenomena.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Victor said: I suppose a real skeptic would have to say that this is methodologically unscientific.

What comes off as unscientific is the lack of specificity in the research proposal. There isn't enough there to evaluate anything about their methodology.

Top-down causation is pretty much established, as I mentioned above many examples. They are all metaphysically innocuous (Bishop's paper on convection is a bit tendentious as comes out hacking about it in the comments to the post).

A wheel rolling down a hill causes a molecule to spin in a certain direction. A molecule in an airplane goes across the country because the airplane is flying across the country. There are the standard types of examples. They don't imply physicalism is false or anything particularly kinky metaphysically. Bechtel has a good paper on it, which I discuss and link to at the above link. He's more in touch with biological practice (and data) than most other philosophers.

Steven Carr said...

I quote from the article.

'Complex systems such as a PC playing Fritz are built up out of basic particles such as electrons and protons, which interact with each other through the electromagnetic force.

It is this force that determines what happens at the micro-level.

How then can there be room -- a causal opening -- for the laws of chess to operate as a viable entity in their own right, enabling Fritz to act, when all the workings of the computer are already determined by micro-level interactions?

A proposal many have made is that there is top-down action in the hierarchy of complexity: just as electrons can act on the brain and influence the mind, so equally the computer program can act, through the hardware, on the micro-components of the computer, in effect telling them what to do (as when you move your arm by activating muscle tissue).

But many scientists are skeptical about this, regarding it as unsubstantiated philosophical speculation.'

Bottom-up causation would be amazing!

Just think, some alcoholic spirits could affect the working of some non-material spirits. That would be totally impossible if naturalism was false.

How could C2H5OH affect the mind? Ridiculous.

Steven Carr said...

'just as electrons can act on the brain and influence the mind'

I'd like to see dualists come up with a way that happens, using their sophisticated powers of philosophical analysis.

Perhaps they could at least try to propose a dualist mechanism for their belief that electrons can influence the mind - a belief that is totally inconsistent with their belief that the mind is not subject to any laws of physics.

William said...

To be even close to correct, that should read "the mind is not subject to any [currently well defined] laws of physics."

If physics is extended with a hypothetical psycho-physics-- if one of the dimensions of string theory turns out to extend in some mental dimension, for example--are we still talking laws of physics? Seems more semantics than anything.

Hypothetical psychophysical laws would (perhaps) work from mind to matter via influencing the outcome of states that are otherwise chaotic in nature, i.e. states where several outcomes are [within measurement error] equally likely.

That this happens is at least superficially obvious, as is influence in the opposite direction (ever had a concussion)?

Proving it is another matter.

Blue Devil Knight said...

He's not exactly Richard Dawkins, but this sure doesn't look like Discovery Institute either.

More impressive would be NIH. :)

Victor Reppert said...

We surely could use some more detail on this proposal.

William said...

Here is the proposal. It seems that they are proposing to use RNA as a substitute for an existing cellular enzyme, and show its downstream effects. The reasoning is that if information processing can occur via several mechanisms that this is top-down processing, since bottom-up effects would not allow for such substitution to work, I think:

Auletta et al 2008

Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks for the reference William. It isn't clear what this means for dualism their examples are pretty straightforwardly naturalistic.