There are several aspects of this issue that I hope to address in this piece:
[Note: Some of this material will be too technical for the average reader; and some too general for the practitioner in the field. I have deliberately tried to be as broad as I could, without too much detail explanation. The citations will have pointers to the relevant bibliographic resources.]
It's a Humpty-Dumpty kinda thing. Since Rene Descartes split the universe into two realms--the material and the spiritual--no one has been able to put it back together again. Theories that the mind/soul (in the 'spiritual' or 'immaterial' world) was causally efficacious on the body (which was in the material, geometric world) were assumed to be true, but not provable. As natural science pulsed forward (generally under the awesome intellects of Christian thinkers--Newton, Boyle, Kepler, for example), this assumption became increasingly difficult to have confidence in. No 'mechanisms' of interfacing between the mind and the brain (or the soul and the body) could be found.
Eventually, as the granularity of science got finer, and the applicability of natural 'law' got more pervasive, there seemed to be NO IDENTIFIABLE POINT of contact between the spiritual and the physical. And, in spite of well-meaning theological protests to the contrary, the philosophical and scientific communities began to assume the opposite--that the spiritual COULD NOT interface with the physical. It is only a short step from that position, of course, to ask the rather obvious question--"if we cannot see it, taste it, touch it, measure it, smell it, weigh it--then why in the world should we believe such a 'soul' even exists?!" And, from the standpoint of the physical worldview of the early 20th century, this seemed an almost ironclad and unambiguously decisive objection to the belief in an 'immaterial part of man' (the older definition of the soul).
In fact, one of the determinative images in both content and in historical placement relative to this issue was developed by Gilbert Ryle in the middle of this century. His illustration of finally driving away the "ghost in the machine" still forms the paradigm for popular pieces and arguments today--in spite of its grossly archaic position (as we shall see below).
The religious believer, the mystic, and normal 'folks' all generally believed in some type of "immaterial part" of humans--the 'self', although the very terminology used ("part" and "interaction") was conceived of from a 'substance' standpoint. The soul was some kind of cloud-like 'matter' (albeit without any physical properties except the ability to influence REAL matter), and the mind was a constitutive part of this 'soul' thing.
The religious believer in the Western traditions believed in a soul that can survive the death of the body. As such, it clearly has an 'existence' of its own (even if it is quasi-dependent on some substrate in some cases). It is thus not IDENTICAL to the body, nor is it rigidly EMERGENT from the body. This belief in the causal efficacy of the soul was rather universal, being virtually assumed by everybody as a practical matter: both as an individual trying to better my life and mind, and as a society, holding people legally accountable for their actions. In addition to these practical arguments for the 'existence' of a soul/mind/consciousness (i.e. teleology/introspection, socio-legal theory), many of the revealed religions contained this as a tenet as well. Within Judeo-Christianity the health, direction, longevity of the soul was frequently a major issue of statements by God. The very moral accountability within theological justice was predicated on the causal efficacy of the soul (as it is in our human legal systems). The very difference between the crimes of "Pre-meditated murder" and "manslaughter" makes no sense whatsoever without the practical belief that a person's "inner life" can have "intentions" , make "choices", and select some goals over other goals.
The belief that a soul or "aware agent" can survive the death of the body is NOT the focus of our study here. It will be sufficient for my purpose to simply provide evidence for the existence of a soul that can survive now! Within the materialist paradigm that was reigning in power in the first half of this century--and even now still has its strong advocates, legacy arguments, and large following--to allow the reality/existence of one solitary something that simply CANNOT EXIST(!) is adequate to demonstrate the inadequacy of the materialist/physicalist position. If it can be demonstrated that phenomenal consciousness can only be explained under an alternate ontology than physcialist, that mental states can measurably and spontaneously change brain/body chemistry, that some contents and/or features of consciousness strongly indicate some kind of dualism, that physicalist theories have major weaknesses or omissions, or that mere will alone can affect the performance of neural and motor systems, or the such like, then the physicalist paradigm will be shown to be fundamentally flawed.
A visitor to the Tank recently wrote:
Hi, Glenn! I'm an ex-Christian (now atheist) who ran across your page about the soul. This was actually one of the key factors in my deconversion (that is, when I discovered that we don't have free will). Anyways...Apart from the rather obvious immediate question as to what this person's prior faith was BASED ON (i.e. a view of psychology RATHER THAN on the historical data about the appearance, disclosure, and subsequent resurrection of the God-man Jesus!), there are several items relevant to our study here.
Duality of body and mind was first thought up by Descartes and even he saw the basic problem with that view, namely how can something which is not material influence something which is? Basic physical law: energy cannot be created out of nothing, ergo: no interaction possible.
The statement shows some of the major issues in this topic: "free" will, the causal efficacy of an immaterial something, and the inviolability of the laws of physics.
Let me make a quick note here about what is NOT at issue. The Christian faith is in no way dependent on what kind of existence a soul 'has' now--it could just as easily be the case that the mind and brain are identical (Christian Identity Theorists) and that God simply rebuilds the whole system as a unit at the Moral Judgment resurrection at the end of time (Rev 20: Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. ). Under this scenario, 'mentalist' terminology is seen under 'aspect' categories. Indeed, in the excellent book by Stephen Davis on the resurrection [RI], he has separate chapters addressed to Christian Dualism and to Christian Physicalism. [However, let me also point out that while a Christian could certainly be a physicalist with regard to the human soul, it is much more difficult to justify the position of a strict physcialist with regard to angelic intelligences and God!]
With this framework in mind (pardon the pun and spatial metaphor!), let's dive in.
In this section I intend to simply sketch out some of the terms in the biblical picture of the 'inner life' and relate those to contemporary categories (which will show up in the actual data and arguments later).
The subject of the "nature" of the soul in scripture is NOT a very simple one, and exploring the subject is complicated by the fuzziness and overlap of the terms. More rigorous treatments of this in theological works would develop the semantic fields and ranges of each of these terms, but I will settle here for a broad-brush model description.
The operative terms include: soul, self, mind, heart, spirit, nature.
Thus, 'heart' looks like the actual engine that "pushes" our life forward. It runs on by itself--churning out behaviors, words, plans-- in whatever operating direction it has built in at that point, but it can be (1) vetoed and (2) re-aimed through modification of the underlying goals and directives. As a seedbed of conflicting goals, its 'coherency' can be modified to produce increasingly self-directed (free) action. The emphasis on striving for self-control, self-discipline, and clear-mindedness in scripture (e.g. Jas 1.8; 4.8; I pet 4.7; Gal 5.23; 2 Pet 1.6; 2 Tim 1.7) indicate that coherence and integration of conscious goals and processes is NOT the standard operating mode of the human soul.
Theologically, this aspect of human 'nature' would refer to biological-plus drives that have been DE-COUPLED from the overall value-teleology of humanity. In other words, the God-given drives for survival, pleasure, significance, celebration, pain-avoidance (for examples) were de-coupled or detached from implicit control mechanisms due to the disintegration of sin/evil. As such, they now tend to run in abject independence from balancing processes of value-creation and value-maintenance. So, for example, the desire for culinary pleasure--a precious gift of God which will be honored in extremes at the Coronation of His Son (e.g. Isaiah 25.6!)--when de-coupled from the desire for equilibrium conditions, becomes gluttony. Hence, the biblical emphasis on self-control in the 'system'--the need to keep these de-coupled drives artificially 're-coupled up' by (1) conscious executive veto mechanisms (Titus 2.12); (2) by conscious integration into healthy theological frameworks (I Tim 4.3-4; Heb 13.4; I Cor 7.3ff + the Song of Solomon!; Rom 12.3); and (3) by conscious priming, activation, sustaining of more "positive" drive-oriented processes (Col 3.2; Phil 4.8).
Self might refer to the internal self-maps of Damasio (CS:DEERHB) plus current acquired and survival goals of the individual. Soul, in its narrowest sense, would refer to phenomenal consciousness/awareness. Mind might refer to our modern notion of 'global workspace', with some extensions into unconscious processes, and without losing the phenomenal experience aspect. Spirit would reflect deep motivational structures--setting pervasive goals on the basis of self-understanding (reflecting survival and growth value--broadly considered). Heart would be a very broad notion, certainly entailing many of the unconscious processes and subsystems. [Even the 'blurting' matches the 'liberation' of unconscious action routines-cf. CS:SAC:423-444.] The 'programming' and 'directing' activities can be seen as attention/distribution and priming mechanisms, and the overriding of action routines in process as the veto/executive function of consciousness (see Libet, CS:TSC:342; JCS:1:1:130). "Sinful nature" would refer narrowly to certain de-coupled unconscious drives, that attempt to dominate behavior.
Thus the biblical usage of these terms has adequate non-technical overlap with our contemporary concepts in the literature.
The problem might be stated concisely as:
The universe as we know it is completely determined, completely closed, and devoid of any non-physical objects. Consciousness, of the sort we seem to experience everyday, CANNOT 'fit' in such a universe. We have not been able to account for the subjective experience of awareness (what it is like, a la Nagel). We have not been able to even imagine a way for these mental/phenomenal states to causally 'do something' in this universe. We have not been able to account for why this consciousness-thing is even here (assuming its non-causal status, and the dominant evolutionary paradigm). And we are not sure how to even approach these three questions...This view of a closed, mechanistic universe forms one pole of the problem, and the popular, "folk" view of consciousness forms the opposite. The physicalist/materialist view asserts that ONLY purely physical "things" can interact, and that ANY OTHER 'meta term' (such as life, evolution, beliefs, justice, semantics) must reduce down to a mixture of these material 'things'--WITHOUT REMAINDER. On the other hand, the folk view of human psychology is the view that mental states (or intentional states such as 'beliefs', 'wishes', 'decisions') play SOME part in influencing or producing human behavior.
The problem is clear: if these mental events are not exactly identical to some physical 'stuff' and/or brain processes, then we have something 'outside' of the physical-material system 'causing' something to occur. If these intentional states are NOT 'outside the system' in some sense, then THEY THEMSELVES are deterministically caused by mindless physical processes (and correspondingly, are in no way affected by independent, conscious processes).
The Physicalist view maintains that there is only physical causation; the non-physicalist maintains that there is also an agent causation. Hodgson (JCS2:1:206f) describes this type of causation as follows:
"We think of people as autonomous agents, who decide what to do on the basis of their beliefs, desires, purposes, aspirations, feelings--in short, their reasons. If we want to predict their conduct, we apply our knowledge of their personalities, of the circumstances which face them, and of human nature. If we want to influence them to behave in particular ways, we put forward considerations which we hope they will find persuasive, and which will thus affect their beliefs and purposes, and thereby their actions.Now, given this thumbnail, what possible 'resolutions' are theoretical options? Let's list a few:
"This concept of causation is different in several ways from the concept of physical causation. I would point out four in particular:
- It presupposes the point of view of a person or agent, who is able to choose between alternatives in deciding what to do.
- It uses characteristic mental concepts, such as beliefs, desires, purposes, feelings, etc.
- It views a decision as a unique efficacious event, rather than an instance of the operation of general laws.
- Unlike physical causes, the reasons which motivate an agent are characteristically inconclusive" [note: this refers to mutually operative and conflicting goals]
The first thing to notice is that options ONE and TWO assume the closed, mechanist, physicalist universe as a fundamental constraint on any theory of consciousness. IF the 'machine' is ALL THERE IS, then either (1) there can be nothing but 'machines' or (2) any non-machine stuff must be produce-able by machines and be detached from the interactions in/around the machine.
But it is this closed, mechanist, Cartesian universe that has been disappearing out from under us for the last 75 years! Even though it is the physicist community that has created and chronicled this de-bunking of the materialist-myth, students of consciousness studies are increasingly following suit.
This is a critical step in understanding the dynamics of the discussion, so I want to document this carefully. Materialism, physicalism, reductionism, and mechanism are simply being abandoned by the scholarly community. Let me produce relevant quotations and references to document this rather critical shift.
"Quantum physics undermines materialism because it reveals that matter has far less 'substance' than we might believe." (p.14)
"Thus the rigid determinism of Newton's clockwork Universe evaporates, to be replaced by a world in which the future is open..." (p. 15)
"There is no doubt that the Newtonian world view, with its doctrine of materialism and the clockwork universe, has contributed immensely to the advance of science...But there is equally no doubt that it has also contributed in large part to alienating human beings from the Universe they inhabit...People feel a sense of helplessness; they are merely 'cogs' in a machine that will lumber on regardless of their feelings and actions. Many people has rejected scientific values because they regard materialism as a sterile and bleak philosophy, which reduces human beings to automatons and leaves no room for free will and creativity. These people can take heart: materialism is dead." (p. 13)
"Today, on the brink of the twenty-first century, we can see that Ryle was right to dismiss the notion of the ghost in the machine--not because there is no ghost, but because there is no machine." (p.308)
"When he speaks of 'reality' the layman usually means something well-known, whereas I think that the important and extremely difficult task of our time is to build up a fresh idea of reality"[CS:MMQM:175]There are two aspects of Pauli's thought to note: (1) a rejection of what we might call today a 'folk physics'; and (2) belief in a transcendental/archetypical world, that 'governs' the principles in the world of physics and the world of psyche. So, in an article exploring the friendship and intellectual interchanges between Pauli and Jung [JCS:3:2,p123], the authors summarize:
"In seems to me--however it is thought, whether we speak of 'the participation of things in ideas' or of 'inherently real things'--that we must postulate a cosmic order of nature beyond our control to which both the outward material objects and the inward images are subject...The ordering and regulating must be placed beyond the difference between 'physical' and 'psychical'..." [CS:MMQM:175]
"Pauli and Jung agreed that matter and psyche should be understood as complementary aspects of the same reality which is governed by common ordering principles: the archetypes. This implies that the archetypes are elements of a realm beyond matter and psyche. Their influence reaches concurrently into both domains."This is, of course, scary ground, and Pauli knew it:
I have here reached the limits of what might be knowable in the framework of contemporary knowledge, and I have even approached the realm of 'magic'...I am very well aware that this amounts to the threatening danger of a regression into most primitive superstition, that this would be much worse than Einstein's regressive obligation to classical field physics..." [cited in JCS:3:2,p124]
"The doctrine of complementarity is a form of philosophical dualism; reduction is the antithesis of dualism. Perhaps it is not surprising, therefore, that Bohr and his disciples became embroiled in the never-ending debate over the virtues of reductionism in biology."
"Scientists other than quantum physicists often fail to comprehend the enormity of the conceptual change wrought by quantum theory in our basic conception of the nature of matter...The shift is from a local, reductionistic, deterministic conception of nature in which consciousness has no logical place, and can do nothing but passively watch a preprogrammed course of events, to a nonlocal, nonreductionistic, nondeterministic, concept of nature in which there is a perfectly natural place for consciousness, a place that allows each conscious event, conditioned, but not bound, by any known law of nature, to grasp a possible large-scale metastable pattern of neuronal activity in the brain, and convert its status from 'possible' to 'actual'."
"this implies that material as well as non-material elements of reality are mandatory for an appropriate conceptual embedding of the notion of complexity. In other words, what is needed is a conceptual framework that includes parts of both sides, that of 'matter' and that of 'mind', of the Cartesian cut." [JCS:1.2:174]
"It is fairly obvious that the property of being complex is not appropriately treatable by an investigation of a system in terms of its decomposition into parts. The same applies to the meaning of a message, a situation, or anything else. This does not merely amount to the phrase 'the whole is more than the sum of its parts', but it points to a totally different perspective if the whole is to be studied instead of its parts." [JCS:1.2:179]
"Although one can understand the view of neurosurgeons and others who see the brain as a lump of warm, wet, biological tissue, it has to be emphasised that such matter, conceived in classical terms, does not in fact exist, and that to discuss the problem as though we lived in a classical world is rather like studying planetary motion without knowledge of gravity."
[Compare Tart's biographical anecdote: "To illustrate the primacy of observation: at the beginning of my career, as a graduate student, I began extensive research on the effects of post-hypnotic suggestions on nocturnal dreaming. In the course of reviewing the literature, I came across a monograph by a philosopher (note: Norman Malcolm, Dreaming, 1959) which logically and conclusively proved that there were no such things as dreams: I had nightmares about it all that night!" (JCS:2.4.362)]
Clarke goes on to suggest that we turn physics around, and start with the whole:
"With Chalmers, I would hold that the basic experiential aspects of consciousness cannot be explained in terms of existing physical categories, but require the addition of a fundamentally new area of science, associated with but not reducible to existing physics, corresponding to experience.
"I suggest that things would be different if we were to turn round our whole pattern of description. First we need to turn round physics, so that we could see the local Newtonian picture as a specially disintegrated case of the fundamentally global reality."
My own view is that this radical incompleteness of natural science with respect to consciousness entails, at the minimum, an equally radical agnosticism about the ontology of minds and persons. It means that we are not in a position to insist that materialism is true, and that therefore nonmaterialistic hypotheses and research programmes cannot be rejected a priori. The appeal of a dual aspect theory is that it avoids the difficulties of ontological dualism, but it is indeed mostly hand waving. It does not explain why it should be that the stuff of the world has irreducibly distinct categories of properties. As I see it, dual aspect theory is largely an attempt to disguise the incompleteness of materialism. It is steadfastly materialistic at the level of 'substance' and quarantines the problems of dualism to the level of 'properties'. Ontological agnosticism is more candid."
"Each of these worldviews had a very different basic paradigm for understanding nature. The Aristotelian view, which had dominated during the middle ages, relied on the notion of organism as its basic explanatory image. The neo-Platonic view took mind, emphasizing mathematics and creative activity, as basic. The materialist-mechanistic view relied on the notion of machines unfolding automatically and unconsciously.
"Thus the modern scientific worldview, regarding the universe as material in nature and unfolding like a machine according to precise, mathematically articulatable laws gained ascendancy and became the context of much of our Western intellectual discourse. Nevertheless, the largely forgotten early puzzle about the role of the mathematics in the physical sciences remained and has continued to draw the attention of influential physicists. For mathematics appears to be paradigmatically non-physical. Its objects are characteristically universal in nature, in sharp contrast to the complete particularity of all physical entities and empirical observations; it is discovered within the realm of thought, not in the physical world; and the truth of its theorems are almost always evaluated completely mentally, rather than by objective scientific investigation. Thus as physics becomes progressively more mathematized, its objects often seem puzzlingly to become more mental than physical."
"Advances in physics, the paradigmatically materialist discipline, have sometimes seemed to reintroduce the notion of consciousness as well. The most extreme example is that of quantum mechanics, where the role of the 'observer' paradoxically seemed to become essential not only for knowing the discrete phenomena of nature, but even for their very existence as discrete phenomena...These interpretations are of course radically counter-intuitive, calling the materialist paradigm directly into question."
"If consciousness is not constitutionally spatial, then how could it have had its origin in the spatial world? ...The only ingredients in the pot when consciousness was cooking were particles and fields laid out in space, yet something radically non-spatial got produced...We seem compelled to conclude that something essentially non-spatial emerged from something purely spatial--that the non-spatial is somehow a construction out of the spatial. And this looks more like magic than a predictable unfolding of natural law."McGinn describes the 'old view' of space--the materialist one--as a 'folk theory' of space [op.cit. 229].
"There is, on this view, a radical incompleteness in our view of reality, including physical reality...in order to solve the mind-body problem we need, at a minimum, a new conception of space.
"the intransitivity of problems down the hierarchy of the sciences is itself a reason to reject any reductionist view of their interrelations."
"The emergence of the Liberal Naturalist is a sign that we are continuing to mature as naturalists. We are now beginning, just beginning, to realize that the natural world we actually live in encompasses the physical, but only as an aspect. Consciousness shows us that our world has another fundamental aspect that we must understand if we are to understand the qualitative character of our mental lives."
"Only in very limited circumstances can 'particles', however understood, be considered as having individual existence; in the absence of measurement, they do not generally have precise position or motion, and they do not have determinate identity or even continuity; and far from the properties of a group of 'particles' depending on the properties of its constituents, the properties of individual particles are non-locally correlated with the properties of the spatially extended group."
"In his book Reality and the Physicist, perhaps the most authoritative discussion of the measurement problem readily available to non-scientists, French physicist Bernard d'Espagnat concludes that a solution which excludes reference to human observers is unlikely. If that is correct, it means that the most successful and fundamental theory of physics makes matter partly dependent on mind--the minds of observers--thus invalidating the materialists' project of reducing mind to physical matter and physical causation." [JCS:1.2.274]
"Clearing the way for the inclusion of the mental in the explanatory scope of the physical sciences has been one major motive behind materialist theories of the mind. For roughly forty years materialist-minded philosophers have labored to remove conceptual and theoretical barriers to holding that the mental can be completely described and explained in physical terms. In recent years, however, many philosophers--even many solidly in the materialist camp--have had a divided reaction to these materialist endeavors. They see them as successful for some kinds of mental states but much less so for other kinds."
"It is a central part of the scientific enterprise, as Crick would clearly agree, to try to explain higher-level phenomena in terms of more basic, lower-level processes. In recent decades the attempt in molecular biology to explain biological phenomena in terms of physics and chemistry has been one of the most striking reductionist scientific enterprises, and it has met with a significant degree of success. The important point, though, is that it has not been completely successful; it has not been possible to show that biology is 'nothing more than' physics and chemistry. Given this lack of any cases of completely successful reductionism in science, it is hard to see where Crick's confidence comes from for his idea that we are 'nothing more than' our neurones."and then points out that "real" reductionism in science is a more pragmatic, two-way scenario:
"This is how pragmatic reductionism actually works in science, and you can see it in the most successful example of reductionism currently available, the reduction of themodynamics to statistical mechanics. What emerges is a kind of two-way reductionism which is prepared to examine both bottom-up and top-down explanations as part of 'two-way reductionism'. If this has proved necessary even within physics, it will surely be all the more important in the biological sciences where top-down explanations are very important alongside bottom-up ones."Note that partial-reductionism is how we work anyway---we make assumptions, hold some variables constant, and 'wiggle' the others. It is strictly the 'without remainder' aspect that is the rub. We EXPECT much of the mind's work to be done by unconscious processes(!).
[From a linguistics perspective, I might add that the four basic categories of semantically-intentional objects--things, events, attributes, relations--are EITHER reducible to each other, OR not reducible at all! (see my Against the Linguistic Wall piece for an exploration of some of this mutual reducibility issue.)]
To come full circle, let me quote a 'practicing' particle physicist. Douglas Bilodeau, particle physicist with the Indiana University Cyclotron Facility--in an article that sounds like the opening quote above about the 'machine' not being there for the ghost(!)--complains about the myth of 'folk physics' as the basis for an ontology of mind [JCS:4.5-6.386]:
"If the foundations of physics are so controversial that no agreement can be reached on the meaning of physical concepts, then physics is hardly suitable as a basis for a discussion of the ontology of mind at all." (!)He goes on in the article to point out that physics has consistently had to re-adjust it categories. The Cartesian-geometric view of physics had to 'add on' dynamics, with its 'laws' and 'causes'--alien notions to geometry (p. 390). The failure of the mechanistic view to explain the electromagnetic field (i.e. describing the 'aether' in terms of the motions of particles) led to acceptance of fields as fundamental units (p.387). At the quantum level we do not have 'building blocks' [this kind of language by some physicists about quarks and leptons was branded as 'naïve' by Heisenberg late in his life (p.392]. Bilodeau's statement of the conflict between physicalism and our belief in consciousness--and the 'real' nature of the conflicting views is forceful (p. 398):
"The hard problem of phenomenal consciousness is really the inconsistency with our own experience of a complex of beliefs about the physical world: matter is 'inanimate' and mechanical, its ontology is mathematical so that all its properties are properties of form or structure, it is divisible into components so that the properties of the whole are implied by the properties of the parts plus their spatial relationships. Phenomenal experience has no place in such a world. A mechanical brain cannot generate a sentient mind. Fortunately, as we has seen above, modern physics has revealed that those beliefs, which once appeared inevitable, are in fact naïve and simplistic. Having driven experience out of our world picture, one's first impulse (desiring to make amends) is to graft it back on, without disturbing the independence of the physical. Any such graft is bound to be rejected by the host. The next step is to transcend the hard problem by accepting a richer nonmechanical ontology. This is not physicalism nor idealism nor dualism, but a view of reality as a unified process in which we are participants and which we conceptualize in many ways in accordance with the many kinds of knowledge we can have about the world."
To further highlight this shift in paradigms, let me simply point out that a recent survey at the 1996 conference in Tuscon ("Toward a Science of Consciousness"), held at the University of Arizona, indicated that only 27% of the respondents believed that "there is no other reality than the physical universe". [data from the Consciousness Bulletin, U of Az, Extended University]
Now, at this point I have shown that there is no NEED for explaining away consciousness; on the other hand, I have NOT given any evidence/arguments FOR the existence and/or causal efficacy of the mind. If we have good reasons to believe that our mental states can have some 'downward causation', then--in the absence of BETTER explanations for that belief--we will be justified (epistemically) in believing in the mind/soul/consciousness.
Now, getting back to the four options...
On OPTION ONE--eliminative materialism: If data exists that supports the claim that mental states can produce effects in the brain--and no data exists that provides a BETTER explanation for that data WITHOUT an agent-mind, then eliminative materialism is thereby weakened. Notice now that the materialism must actually provide hard DATA--not just fall back on some allegedly required reductionism due to the closed-universe, folk physics. It will not do to simply assume reductionism or identity--it must now be DEMONSTRATED by the materialist.
Generally, the EM's accept what I have called 'folk physics' and literally ASSUME WITHOUT ARGUMENT that reductionism MUST BE true. Dennett is of course one of the more outspoken EM's. In a prelude to his presentation at a conference on consciousness, Dennett wrote this (emphasis mine):
"Old habits die hard, especially habits of thinking, and our 'intuitive' ways of thinking about consciousness are infected with leftover Cartesian images, an underestimated legacy of the dualist past. Of course the brain is the seat of consciousness, and all the phenomena that compose our pre-theoretical catalogue of conscious phenomena are ultimately explicable in terms of the activities in our brains and bodies, but the paths of explanation (or 'reduction') are not as direct as many materialists have supposed."Notice that the images of classical matter, reductionism without remainder, and old-style physical monism--ideas which the rest of the world FORMERLY believed and are being quickly abandoned in favor of more current knowledge (as I showed above)--are literally the core of this position!
"I have tried to show theorists in several disciplines how their presumed-to-be-innocent formulations typically harbour Cartesian presuppositions that still need to be discarded and replaced. "
Somehow, in this position, our culture still transmits the view of folk psychology, and the goal of the EM is to get us beyond this.
There are huge problems with this position, the largest of which (IMO) is that it uses the Ostrich approach to the 'hard problems' of consciousness. Dennett's excellent and provocative book Consciousness Explained is often referred to in the field as Consciousness Explained Away, due to the fact it will not even admit the question of 'feel' of experience. His description of the many competing selves will not be very surprising to those of us who live in the world of arbitrating conflicting goals DAILY, and the alleged problem of the Cartesian theater will not impress those of us who were gestaltists all along. And for those of us with "decision making responsibilities" (and/or those of us with research interests in action theory) will recognize the true sterility of approaches that are purely representational.
Chalmers has noted that there are typically three approaches to this issue: ignore it, explain something else, or retreat to mystery. Dennett falls squarely (indeed, deliberately leads the charge) in the first option!
Besides, I have always felt uneasy about someone arguing positions like "I have a belief that beliefs are actually illusions" or "I intend to write a book, explaining that intentions are actually illusions". Although there are responses to my criticisms--reductionist or in some cases, even patronizing ones!--I get a distinct sense (or at least an unconscious physical process that activates more neural circuits than do other unrelated physical processes, and hence achieves relative dominance over subsequent processes used to complete the sentence...heh, heh) that the problem is being addressed by calling for 'more sand'.
There are many, many more issues involved here, and research along materialist paradigms can be very useful (see my later remarks to students), but suffice it to say that the position (at least the Dennett-version, considered an 'extreme' in the field--cf. CS:TSC:619) is:
"I haven't replaced a metaphorical theory, the Cartesian Theater, with a nonmetaphorical ('literal, scientific') theory. All I have done, really, is to replace one family of metaphors and images with another, trading in the Theater, the Witness, the Central Meaner, the Figment, for Software, Virtual Machines, Multiple Drafts, a Pandemonium of Homunculi. It's just a war of metaphors, you say--but metaphors are not 'just' metaphors; metaphors are the tools of thought."[Given the problem the EM has with small-scale semantic objects in Searle's Chinese Room, do I need to point out that this use of metaphor--the GRANDADDY of semantic problems!--suggests that I am uneasy about "I am using metaphors to argue that a primarily syntactical explanation of consciousness will show that higher-order semantic constructs defined by syntactic irrationality (i.e. metaphors) reduce down without remainder to syntax"? The issue of how the mind processes metaphors is incredibly complex, but certainly is more difficult for a mind-as-pure-syntax-processor approach. A syntax processor would recognize the classic example of a nonsense sentence of category mistakes ("green ideas sleep furiously") as exactly that--and never be able to see a metaphorical sense to it. I, on the other hand, as one who has gone to bed at night with a novel, but postponed idea, and troubled by the unresolved cognitive puzzles in it, toss and turn all night as the idea fumes around in my head, have NO trouble recognizing a blatant fact of my existence in that puddle of category mistakes! [For some of the subtleties associated with this, see LS:MAT:42-57 (re:linguistics) and 307-328 (re:psychological processes)]
Let me make this last point clear.
Research in infant cognition (CS:WIK) documents that children display knowledge of others' subjective mental and intentional states quite early:
"We humans seem geared from the start to deal with each others' intentions,
at least to be enormously sensitive to them in their various guises. Positivist
philosophers, like Dan Dennett (1991) may be embarrassed by human intentionality,
deep-freezing them as an 'intentional stance,' but 18-month-olds are not
the least so. I refer again to a Meltzoff (1995) finding. Infants imitate
the intended behavior of an Other and not its surface properties.
In brief, if the outcome of an adult's act is thwarted, infants of 18 months
will imitate it as if it had been carried through right to its goal.
Human infants do easily and naturally (and to the delight of their
caregivers) what Kanzi (the bonobo) does stumblingly, and only if he has
the luck of being raised by that gang of very human and dedicated graduate
students and post-docs at Georgia State." [italics his. Jerome Bruner,
"Human Infancy and the Beginnings of Human Competence", in Unraveling
the Complexities of Social Life: A Festscrift in Honor of Robert B. Zajonc,
John Bargh and Deborah Apsley (eds), Amer Psych Asso:2001, p.137.]
Since my intention for this piece is to focus on the data that is most difficult to interpret apart from some semi-dualist position, I have not gone into much detail on EM (or this various forms) here, nor have I interacted with the position at any significant level in this paper. [And, needless to say, I have not discussed the considerable positive contributions to the field that EM has made.] Nonetheless, the reader should be able to see that the EM position is NO LONGER arguing from a position of strength in mainstream consciousness studies, and that the consensus views are moving into more radical territory to explain the phenomena of the mind. [For an in-depth review of CS:CE, see Roskies and Wood, The Sciences, May/June 1992.]
On OPTION TWO--epiphenomenalism. This is the view that something conscious 'emerges' from the non-conscious, but that it cannot 'do anything'--it is acausal relative to the brain. In this model, the mind has absolutely NO FUNCTION and no way to 'contribute' to the individual or to history.
As you might expect from this description, this position is generally being abandoned due to question about how such a mind could originate. Popper was one of the earliest critics of this position, noting that, operating under the evolutionary paradigm, a non-causal something CANNOT originate. If it adds nothing to the individual or community survival (requiring some type of causal import), then evolutionary theory says it CANNOT develop (or if it DID accidentally develop once, then it would not be 'selected' for survival, since the trait contributes nothing to preservation).
"Popper has had to justify his pluralism against conventional monist theories such as that mental events are brain processes which would take place anyway whether conscious or not. His argument is essentially an evolutionary one. If the processes would take place anyway consciousness would never have evolved. It must confer a biological advantage." [JCS:2.2.189]This criticism can be expanded considerably, and is done so by scientists Hut and Shepard in JCS:3.4.315:
"If conscious experience does not causally affect the course of those physical processes (epiphenomenalism), then: (a) Why does it seem that I can control my own actions (free will)? (b) What function does consciousness serve; and why would it have evolved? (c) What causes some physical bodies (namely, other persons) to make those physical acts (of speech, writing, or typing) that express the (hard) problem of consciousness (including the problems of 'solipsism', of the existence of 'other minds', of whether robots could feel pain, or whether your experiences of red and green are the same as mine or just the reverse, etc.)?"This last point is known as the Bafflement argument. If some entity expresses 'bafflement' about its conscious states, then--by virtue of the fact that it expresses 'bafflement'--those mental states 'caused' something! In other words, the mental state of 'bafflement' CAUSED ME (as a contributing cause--not sole cause, of course) to do something--in this case, to write about how baffled I am. If one mental state or awareness-content can have a causal effect, there is no reason to assume that others could not as well.
The 'intuitive' sense is that options ONE and TWO are simply wrong. We DO seem to differentiate between mental states and physical states, and we DO seem to be able to re-order our physical worlds based on mental events. But option two--asserting that mind IS SOMETHING--is quite weakened by its lack of a plausible genesis account.
To this lack of a theory of origins, must be added the sheer anomaly in the universe such a one-way relationship would represent! The Nobel prize-winning physicist Eugene Wigner, reflecting on the connection between consciousness and the physical world, observed, 'if mind could not affect the physical world but was only affected by it, this would be the only known example in modern physics of such a one-way interaction'" [cited CS:TSOC:152].
On OPTION THREE--panpsychism. This is admittedly one of the stranger views, maintaining that the impossible gap from non-consciousness to consciousness is in fact NOT EVEN THERE. If consciousness exists--in some spectrum of intensity/quality--in EVERYTHING, then how to get a conscious brain is not as quite daunting as first appears. If the rocks have some level of sentience or semi-consciousness--and yet they conform to physical 'law' quite obediently, then why would we have a problem with a brain doing the same thing?
As an explanatory expedient, this is an obvious option, but it has not met with much success for a number of reasons:
"Yet another serious problem arises upon considering the role of mentality in the workings of the world. One might expect that a fundamental feature as significant as consciousness should take some part in the world's causal commerce. But if it does play such a role, then we should expect it to turn up in our investigation of the physical world; we should expect, that is, to see physically indistinguishable systems at least occasionally diverge in their behavior because of the lurking causal powers of their mental dimension. In that case, our physical picture of the world is radically incomplete and many would find this extremely implausible. I often have to worry about whether my car will start, but I thankfully don't have the additional worry about its failing to start even when there is absolutely nothing mechanically wrong with it but just because it 'feels like' staying in the garage today!" [JCS:2.3.281]
On OPTION FOUR--a "new and bigger" view of reality This view holds that we need to incorporate the newer scientific findings of physics, systems, biology into the 'substrate' of the universe, and that such a modified substrate provides requisite avenues for downward causation by the mind. In some cases we have to adjust paradigms 'upward', making our current universe a derivative-subset or disintegrated case of larger-scale hyperdimensional structures (as is being done in the Theories of Everything research endeavors). In ALL cases of these alternative scenarios, the mind is causally efficacious ("downward") on the human organism.
I intend here to demonstrate--by survey--how robust this research is; the sheer range of these proposals is impressive (and a measure of the dissatisfaction with the reductionist/physicalist paradigm). I cannot interact with these here, but will comment on some of the more mainstream ones.
"A progression of quantum models ranging from Bohr, Schrodinger, Pauli, Umezawa and Bohm in the past, to Penrose, Eccles, Beck and Stapp today also address perplexities such as the nature of experience, free will, non-computable processing, a flow of time and pre-conscious to conscious transitions. Obvious questions include how organized macroscopic quantum processes could possibly occur in the brain, and how they might relate to known neural activity. While some quantum models are biologically vague, others are fairly clear, though unproven. For example Beck and Eccles have proposed that the probabilistic release of neurotransmitter vesicles from axon terminals is influenced by quantum uncertainty. In the Hameroff-Penrose model, quantum coherence occurs in neuronal microtubles (isolated by actin gels) and is sustained on the order of tens to hundreds of milliseconds until self-collapse (a 'conscious event') occurs. Along somewhat similar lines, an approach called quantum field theory considers quantum coherent water dipoles in the brain's neurons and glia."
"There are several conceptual innovations in biology that are helping to mediate this transition, and they were extensively explored at the meeting. These include the developments in nonlinear dynamic modelling that form the mathematical foundations of the 'sciences of complexity', including deterministic chaos, fractals and self-similarity, strange attractors, the sudden transitions from chaos to order and the discontinuous bifurcations from one type of order to another that occur in complex systems, of which organisms are paradigmatic examples. The models of living process that are emerging from the use of these concepts to interpret experimentally observed behavior are leading towards the recognition that organisms are simultaneously complex and ordered, creative and intelligible, but above all they represent a distinctive type of being with agency and autonomy. This creates the space required for experience, qualities, and the first-person mode of being in the world."
"Reductionists tend to overlook the fact that neurons are alive and most views of the hierarchical organization of the brain stop at the synapse as the fundamental switch, analogous to states or bits in computer. The complexity of neurons and their synapses, however, are closer to entire computers than individual switches. This implies the mechanism of consciousness may depend on an understanding of the organization of adaptive ('cognitive') functions within living cells.Hameroff's point is simply this: the simplest form of intelligence we know of does NOT depend on neural resources to do intelligent things--the cytoskeleton (present in all neurons) already HAS a rudimentary adaptive/cognitive capability.
"Like the rest of our cells, neurons are eukaryotic cells which, unlike prokaryotic bacteria, have a true nucleus and cytoskeleton and exhibit mitotic cell division. Single eukaryotic cell organisms (protozoa) such as paramecia show remarkable, seemingly intelligent abilities with the benefit of a single synapse!...
"As Sherrington observed, the cytoskeleton may act as the nervous system of single-cell organisms. Paramecia, for example, can apparently learn, remember, and exhibit adaptive responses such as avoidance and habituation which involve movement performed by coordinated actions ('metachronal waves') of hundreds of hair-like appendages called cilia"
"The Hodgkin-Huxley equations, which describe the dynamics of the nerve impulse on an axonal tree, are not, after all, constrained by the conservation of energy. Instead this is a system of nonlinear diffusion equations which--like a lighted candle--balances the rate of electrostatic energy release from the membrane to the power that is consumed by circulating ionic currents. Since the electrodynamics of an individual neuron is not constrained by the first law of thermodynamics, there is little reason to expect this law to constrain a system at higher levels of organization."However, Beck/Eccles had demonstrated that even in their dualist explanation [CS:HSCB], energy WAS conserved (in spite of the classical objection that dualism was killed by this requirement of conservation). It might also be worthy to remember that living organisms are 'exempt' from these laws (and 1st and 2nd laws of thermo) as open systems [see CS:TIC:85]. To prove this that I am an open system, for example, I will take a break now and go eat an Oreo cookie. ...(pause, predatory crunching sounds of ingestion, series of small gulplets)...See, I am an open energy system.)]
[Notice here, by the way--to give a brief commercial for the Christian worldview(!)--is that this problem was literally precluded by the way the universe was formed. In the biblical account, God did not take some physical non-semantic 'stuff' and recombine these brute existence elements; rather, HE spoke the universe into existence. The universe was 'information', semantic, and subjectively experienced BEFORE it was 'objectified'! (Note: actually, it is better than that--as an subjectively/objectively integrated community of conscious agents--the "Trinity"-- intersubjectively experienced the universe, which is what we call 'objectivity' in third-person scientific terminology! The nature of the creative act created adequate levels of objectivity for our lives and our sciences!) It was representational data BEFORE it became termina of relationships in the universe. But more on this later...chuckle]
"In particular there is such a prevalence of authors arguing that mind is located in some higher dimensional space that I need to make a sharp distinction between these authors; and my own views. To begin with let me stress that I am not arguing that mind is extended; rather I am saying that it is not located in space at all. Next I want to go even further, claiming not only that mind is not located in ordinary 3-D physical space but that it is not located in a higher dimensional space and it is not located in a generalized space, for most of the generalized concepts of space that I shall describe shortly."He literally argues that mind is essentially different from matter (p.240): "On this view mind is not extended, because the fundamental quantum world from which mind emerges is prior to space and time."
[Coherence effects show up in both of the preceding options. Coherence 'occurs' when some number of elements in a 'system' (it only takes 1 in 10,000 elements in a superconductor to generate that macro-level behavior shift!) behave the same--giving rise to new characteristics at the macro level. Typical examples given are lasers, superfluids and superconductors (JCS:1.1.92), other Bose-Einstein condensates (such as super magnets, JCS:1.1.103), and various crystalline structures.]
The next step is to examine the data that effected such a large paradigm shift--the data that supports some level of downward causal efficacy of the mind.
This data comes from a very wide range of research. The arguments will range from neurobiology to philosophy to mathematics to psychology. They are not all of equal weight nor credibility, but as a cumulative case, the data is rather overwhelming.
"It may well be, we suspect it is the case, as a matter of contingent fact, that for human beings consciousness does facilitate learning, that it does radically influence behavior, that it does influence higher-level thought processes"
"It would be difficult to overestimate the power and finality that an intending human has as an explanation of some state of affairs in which we find the world...Insofar as humans are taken as a first cause when a crime, accident, or other event has been traced to an intending human, our search for explanation normally stops."
"It has been argued that the appearance of the conscious veto would itself require a prior period of unconscious neural development, just as for conscious intention; in such a case even this conscious control event would have an unconscious initiating process. However, conscious control of an event appears here after awareness of the impending voluntary action has developed. Conscious control is not a new awareness; it serves to impose a change on the volitional process and it may not be subject to the requirement of a preceding unconscious cerebral process found for awareness. In such a view, a potential role for free will would remain viable in the conscious control, though not in the initiation, of a voluntary act. These findings taken together have a fundamental bearing on the issues of voluntary action, free will and individual responsibility for conscious urges and actions."In case you didn't get that--the veto cannot have antecedent unconscious processes (before it becomes aware), since it only appears in as the initiated action has ALREADY become aware--it controls with a go/nogo decision THEN.
[Note: I have some hesitation about accepting Libet's conclusions that
ALL voluntary actions arise before awareness. The nature of his experimental
procedures are such that I find it impossible to agree that the voluntary
movements were 'completely' voluntary (i.e. non-primed). The description
of the instructions to the subjects about the voluntary actions probably
start EMG-measurable influences in ME the reader! It's sorta like the old
impossible instruction: "Do NOT think about elephants!" This is not to
detract from the experimental procedures, but rather to caution on some
aspects of interpretation.]
"If it is the case that a mind can, on occasion, extract information from an object other than its own brain and, if it is the case that a mind can influence intentionally the behavior of an object other than its own brain, it would be futile to doubt that a mind can interact with its own brain in the ordinary course of life."
This is rather strong evidence that concepts of mind are NOT acquired but are part-and-parcel of our very nature, and therefore makes a contribution to our survival, development, and/or actualization.
"Consciousness is the range of my internal processes, namely, the complex pattern of electric currents running within my wires, that are accessible to my direct self-observation. Yet, there is more to it--there is more to my seeing, recognizing, remembering, etc. that I cannot convey by this definition. Do you understand what I am talking about?"We would be forced to admit that something 'else' was in there as well. In other words, the something else CAUSED the machine's bafflement--a distinctly causal force.
And what is really fascinating about this argument, is that it is being accepted--VERY RELUCTANTLY--by a materialist [p.357]!
"If I may be allowed to close with a personal note, I feel there is hardly a reason to rejoice over this conclusion (note: that human bafflement over the mind is evidence of a causal influence of mind). I have always been a materialist, and I would hate to provide arguments in favour of any sort of dualism. Moody seems to be less troubled. Others might claim that the Bafflement Argument does not lend support for dualism. I hope they are correct."
- Some statements about mental states ("I am in pain") are incorrigible (i.e. impossible to be wrong).
- Only statements about my mental states are such--they are mind-dependent statements.
- Mind-dependent statements presuppose mind.
- Therefore, both mind and relevant mental states 'exists'.
The authors of the chapter state (p. 152):
"The foregoing review makes it abundantly clear that consciousness is not a mere epiphenomenon, a derivative of physiological processes, and in itself of no functional significance. As the Nobel prize-winning physicist Eugene Wigner, reflecting on the connection between consciousness and the physical world, observed, 'if mind could not affect the physical world but was only affected by it, this would be the only known example in modern physics of such a one-way interaction'"[Hmmm....Wigner's quote makes me wonder if the reductionist/materialist isn't asking us to believe in something that never occurs in nature anywhere else? Asking us to believe CONTRARY to all we know about science and observed reality, that this relationship is sui generis?!]
Wall contrasts this with the phantom limb effect--where a state is CREATED for one that exists. In the case of a placebo, a state (of pain) is UNCREATED (p.178):
"I consider the placebo effect to be equal but opposite to the phantom in defining the operation of the brain. In one a state is created (note: the phantom limb, in which a person still 'feels' the missing limb), in the other a state is abolished. In the placebo response, there is no known mechanism and no evidence that the activity of the afferent peripheral nerves is changed in any way. Yet the state of the brain is radically changed to a new state. It must be emphasized again that this change is not limited to conscious perception. A patient whose severe cancer pain disappears in response to a placebo not only states verbally that the pain has gone but also shows appropriate changes of blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, gut motility, pupil size, etc. This complete pattern of body and mind alteration differs from some cases of hypnotic suggestion where the verbal report may conflict with autonomic body system changes."This is a staggering reality (Wall proposes a clever conflict-resolution understanding of the phenomena), and one that constitutes hard data for the view of 'downward causation'.
"The most successful uses of psychoactive drugs indicates a need for psychotherapy, and suggests an account of psychological illness that involves a complicated interaction between both psychological and physical factors."Indeed, if folk psychology is wrong (meaning there are no intentional states), then the implication for clinical psych is rather odd: "If eliminativism is right, then much of what goes on in clinical psychology is bound to be useless. People's problems can't be remedied by removing irrational beliefs or making them aware of subconscious desires; there are no such things." (Stich, CS:DTM:116).
"The human brain-mind is capable of voluntarily activating as well as inhibiting various higher cortical functions such as movements, speech, head-eyes-body orientation, sensory perception, remembering the past and anticipating the future, facing and reacting to the current environment cognitively, emotionally as well as physically. The activation of a specific cortical area manifests in a specific conscious activity, whereas the inhibition of a specific cortical area manifests in a specific conscious quiescence..."It should be obvious from the breadth and depth of the data and arguments given above--experimental, clinical, introspective, observational, theoretical, philosophical, anthropological, dynamical, neurological, paranormal, developmental, functional--that there is STRONG support for the view that the mind is "downwardly" causal on the brain/body.
So, what we have seen so far in this piece:
Actually, we could stop here--we have shown that (1) 'classical matter' is not ALL THERE 'is'; and (2) that something ELSE interacts with 'classical matter' as it appears to us. This amounts to some kind of 'mind' or 'soul' already--whether it is identified with quantum effects, non-linear dynamics, other fields, higher dimensions, or ghosts is simply immaterial (pardon the pun). But, since this smacks of what has historically might be termed 'dubious dualism', it may be pertinent to comment on the status of dualism and the status of knowledge in the field.
As you can see, there are some rather fundamental shifts going on in this area, and it is appropriate to ask about the status of older-style dualism. But before I jump into that, let me simply point out that we are just learning in this arena. The old reductionist optimism--that we would be able to unambiguously associate specific neural states to ALL qualia, subjective experiences, intentional states, and executive functions of the consciousness, thereby 'explaining' the latter by the former--has become more of a 'old religion' than a well-grounded prediction. Those closest to the data, the neurologists and physiologists, are the ones describing our limited progress in this descriptive task. To be sure, great and useful progress has been made in associating SOME neuro-data with SOME psycho-data, but the hope of exhaustively and precisely identifying a specific neural state with 'a vision of Pearl's pickup truck'.
There are actually several problems in this area:
Walter Freeman, one of the leading researchers in neurobiology [CS:CRA:86]:
"The problem remains: how to define neural activity. It is not directly observable, and it is not a force, a chemical concentraion, an electric current, or a flow of information. Just as 'force' in physics is defined as a relation (mass to acceleration), neural activity must be defined by the relations between its electrochemical signs and overt behavior"
The EMs Grish/Churchland note [CS:JCS:2.1.10]: "no one would say we pretty much understand the neurobiological mechanisms of consciousness" and "we are still in the very early stages of understanding the nervous system"[p.27].
J.A. Gray (Psychology) reports about a consensus at a recent CIBA conference [CS:JCS:2.1.7,9]:
"The consensus was that there is indeed a genuine problem and that problem I think was nearly encapsulated by one the American philosophers there, Tom Nagel, when he said 'What we do not have is a transparent theory of consciousness'. That is to say, the normal standard of scientific explanation is that you have a theory and, if you understand the theory correctly, the theory gives you an account of the phenomena which is transparent. You can see how the postulates in the theory produce the phenomena that you can measure in an experiment...
"We do not have that in the case of consciousness, what we have is brute correlation. That is to say we have perceptual inputs, we have events that take place in the brain, we have behavioral outputs and we have conscious experience, but we do not at present have an account of how one is linked to the other..."
"At present, however, there is no hint of a theoretical understanding of the nature of that link that would take us beyond brute correlation towards a 'transparent' theory of causal connection"
The entry for 'consciousness' in the International Dictionary of Psychology by Stuart Sutherland (1989), while accused of being unduly pessimistic, is a bit close to home:
"Consciousness: The having of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings; awareness. The term is impossible to define except in terms that are unintelligible without a grasp of what consciousness means...Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon: it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written about it."
Paul Rogers (Univ. of Exeter) describes the lack of consensus that exists in the field of cognitive science [CS:JCS:2.1.82]:
"The cognitive science student deserves our sympathy. It is difficult to think of another area of study where there is so much disagreement amongst the constituent parts, and even within those parts themselves--neuroscience, AI, philosophy, psychology, linguistics, quantum and evolutionary theory.The materialist-majority is long-gone.
Chalmers points out the very methodological problem within the issue [CS:JCS:2.3.208]:
"At the end of the day, the same criticism applies to any purely physical account of consciousness. For any physical process we specify there will be an unanswered question: Why should this process give rise to experience? Given any such process, it is conceptually coherent that it could be instantiated in the absence of experience. It follows that no mere account of the physical process will tell us why experience arises. The emergence of experience goes beyond what can be derived from physical theory."So, we certainly need to be somewhat humble in this field, and recognize that the 'seemingly simpler' answers of materialist reductionism are not a safe haven anymore. A dogmatic position on ANY front is very unwarranted.
This does not mean, however, that researchers do not have strong opinions and positions in the field! But in the absence of clear consensus and unambiguous findings, all too often position-leaders will fall back on pre-theoretical commitments, paradigm commitments, or simple faith (e.g. in introspection, in reductive science, in extrapolating normal mental functioning from diseased/aberrant mental functioning).
This is widely recognized (and often bemoaned):
Guzeldere in surveying the current trends [CS:JCS:2.2,112-143] notes:
"It seems that the opposing attitudes towards consciousness stem largely form pre-theoretical, though (or perhaps therefore) deep-rooted and very strongly held, intuitions." [p.127]J. Shear also highlights how big the 'gap' is [CS:JCS:198]:
"The eliminativists charge the defenders of phenomenal consciousness with believing in a fiction and creating a philosophical problem out of it. In return, the eliminativists get charge with holding the most preposterous philosophical fancy." [p.138]
"Unfortunately, the dialectic of the debate seems to be at an impossible impasse: the contention is at the fundamental level of taking for granted versus denying the existence of a feature of mentality which can at best be defined ostensively...This is unfortunately the kind of philosophical junction at which most worthy disagreements hit rock bottom, and recede into a matter of faith" [p.138]
"Such past successes [of reductionism] have led many influential defenders of the standard paradigm to insist that, whatever the conceptual difficulties, consciousness and its phenomenal content will ultimately turn out to be explicable as and reducible to purely physical phenomena, even if we cannot now foresee how this will happen. However, to others the gap between the qualia-free material world of the physical sciences and the qualia-filled contents of phenomenal awareness at present remains so great that this insistence appears to be little more than an act of faith"And finally, Craig DeLancy [CS:JCS:4.5-6.492]:
"That we are not yet close to a working theory of consciousness--that we are even unsure of what kind of theory a theory of consciousness might ultimately be--has as a consequence that much of the debate about consciousness is reducible to a disagreement of brute intuitions."Now, given this turbulence, re-evaluation, and re-definition going on the field, what is the status of DUALISM?
Well, the first thing that comes to MY mind is that 'dualism' simply changed its public relations firm and won acceptance!
Strangely enough, the way this was accomplished was simply by defining reality 'bigger'. As one allows consciousness or mind INTO 'nature' as a fundamental 'thing' itself (with causal powers), the dual-worlds were simply collapsed into one 'bigger' world that has both elements in it! Dualism (in most, but not all, senses of the term) was simply given a new name, such as "naturalistic dualism" (Chalmers) or "liberal naturalism" (Rosenberg).
No one puts this as clearly as Todd Moody, in responding to someone's 'fear of dualism' [JCS:2.4.371]:
"It's true that I am not troubled by this, in part because I don't find such a sharp line of demarcation between dualistic and materialistic metaphysics in the first place. If we cannot escape the conclusion that the physical description of the world is incomplete (as Elitzur states and many others agree), the main thing is to try to find a more complete one and not worry about whether it resembles previous versions of materialism or dualism"It is very difficult to avoid this conclusion of 'emergent dualism' (chortle, chortle)with all the proposals floating around (reviewed above). The mind as 'immaterial'--in the sense of classical matter--is also accepted as a brute fact! Consider some of the statements and concessions (bold, my emphasis; italics, their emphasis):
"Dualist approaches have been generally shunned for introducing unscientific or antiscientific notions. But this need not be the case. The argument most frequently advanced against mind-brain dualism is that, to assert that nonphysical elements such as mind could affect physical processes in the brain, and ultimately determine behavior, would violate all laws of physics as we know them. Just how fallacious this argument is can be is seen in the following quotation by Dennett..." (he goes on to 'dismantle' a few of Dennett's statements about 'fundamental principles of physics')
"As a model of consciousness, quantum coherence in microtubules is reductionist in that a specific molecular structure is featured as a site for consciousness. It is seemingly dualist in that the quantum realm (which is actually intrinsic to all of nature) is seen to act through microtubules."
"One of the hot topics in this respect concerns the question of whether material reality and its non-material counterpart can indeed be considered as independent from each other as the concept of Cartesian dualism assumes. The most precise and best formalized indications for a negative answer to this question can be found in quantum theory."
"Two important concepts that present evidence against any ultimate relevance of the corresponding dualism are the concepts of complexity and meaning. In addition to quantum theory, these concepts reflect tendencies to bridge the Cartesian cut from both realms, that of physics as well as that of cognitive science..."
"Often I find in this book that the author is almost saying that within a person there is something that is in its essence not physics, but then he realises that this is dualism, which he feels should be avoided, so he tries to escape. These escapes are unsatisfactory."
"The emergence of the Liberal Naturalist is a sign that we are continuing to mature as naturalists. We are now beginning, just beginning, to realize that the natural world we actually live in encompasses the physical, but only as an aspect. Consciousness shows us that our world has another fundamental aspect that we must understand if we are to understand the qualitative character of our mental lives."[In a footnote, he distinguishes his view from physicalism and, at the same time, attempts to bypass anti-dualism attacks by calling it 'naturalism'!]
"Appropriately, the most ambitious chapter of this section is the final one by Willis Harman. Is the conceptual framework of science sufficiently broad to encompass the phenomenon of consciousness, he asks, or must it be somehow enlarged to fit the facts of mental reality? Attempting an answer, he considers the degree to which science can claim to be objective and to what extent it is influenced by the culture in which it is immersed. Those who disagree might pause to consider the religious perspective from which modern science has emerged.This is a telling criticism, and one that SEEMS to be softening in the contemporary scene.
"There is reason to suppose that the roots of our bias toward determinism lie deeper in our cultural history than many are accustomed to suppose. Indeed, it is possible that this bias may even predate modern scientific methods. In his analysis of thirteenth-century European philosophy, Henry Adams (1904) archly observed: "Saint Thomas did not allow the Deity the right to contradict himself, which is one of Man's chief pleasures." One wonders to what extent reductive science has merely replaced Thomas's God with the theory of everything.
"The question of scientific objectivity becomes more compelling when one considers that doubts about the reductive paradigm are by no means new. William James (1890), Charles Sherrington (1951), Erwin Schrodinger (1944, 1958), Karl Popper and John Eccles (1977)--among others--have insisted that the reductive view is inadequate to describe reality. This is not a fringe group. They are among the most thoughtful and highly honored philosophers and scientists of the past century. How is it that their deeply held and vividly expressed views have been so widely ignored? Is it not that we need to see the world as better organized than the evidence suggests?
"Take the matter of "downward causation" to which Harman gives some attention. Why should this be an issue in brain dynamics? As Erich Harth points out in Chapter 44, connections between higher and lower centers of the brain are reciprocal. They go both ways, up and down. The evidence (the scientific evidence) for downward causation was established decades ago by the celebrated Spanish histologist Ramon y Cajal, yet the discussion goes on. Why? The answer seems clear: If brains work like machines, they are easier to understand. The facts be damned!
So, what we have seen so far in this piece:
I just wanted to make a comment here about the various research paradigms.
Although I have defended a specific research/ontic paradigm here, I do not want to discourage researchers (who share my opinions) from working WHOLEHEARTEDLY under leaders in OTHER paradigm communities. I would not hesitate in the least to undertake graduate level research under Eliminative Materialists, for example. And my basic reason is my understanding of how scientific progress is often achieved. I see the universe as unified, but robust. As such, we can study a subject under various perspectives and under different sets of operating assumptions. Since experimentation is often a "hold-one-variable-still-and-wiggle-the-other" method, reductionism (which holds one variable 'still') can still yield important insights by penetration into the 'other' variables.
I have never really believed in the reality of the square root of a negative one, but that has never stopped me from using i in solving higher math problems!
By focusing on different variable sets (e.g. cognitive processing, neurophysiology, psycho-pharmaceuticals, philosophy, psychology, etc.), significant learning can occur in those clusters. Then, perhaps an integrative approach can begin to synthesize this information for usefulness to all.
The above data should be adequate to demonstrate the change in modern perspectives on this question. The world seems to be getting more 'realistic' in its appraisal of what is 'real' and what is 'not'. In some cases of the above 'explanations' for consciousness, it appears that we might be simply explaining one obscurity (i.e. consciousness) by another obscurity (i.e. quantum models), or one inexplicable reality (consciousness) by another inexplicable reality (e.g. emergence of macro-characteristics in non-linear dynamics systems). The Christian theist finds some amusement in these scenarios. The quantum one--in which an observer is required--has a rather staggering possible implication, as noted by physicist John Gribbon in Schrodinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality (p. 15-16):
"Take the Copenhagen Interpretation literally, and it tells you that an electron wave collapses to make a point on a detector screen because the entire Universe is looking at it. This is strange enough; but some cosmologists (among them Stephen Hawking) worry that it implies that there must actually be something 'outside the Universe' to look at the Universe as a whole and collapse its overall wave function" [Note: Gribbon lists himself in the footnote as another who 'worries' about the same thing!]The Christian cannot help but chuckle to himself.
And as for non-linear "emergence" programs, the amazing resurgence of various forms of Platonic thought required to make gestalten-approaches work this powerfully, makes the Christian theist marvel at the 'triumph' of the 'eternal ideas in the Divine mind'. We are back to some kind of Ultimate Gestalten Reference point for Predication...The Christian cannot help but chuckle to himself.
Neurobiology has carved out a place for 'free will'; coherence theories have reinstated the 'unitary agent'; and the executive function of consciousness as a decision-process selecting between multiple conflicting goals has re-legitimized the basis of our legal sytem--the folk psychology of intentions and motives. We are responsible (although embedded) action-agents, praiseworthy and/or blameworthy after all...The Christian cannot help but chuckle to himself.
What's going on?! The frontiers of science keep running into "God"? Even astrophysics--huge in scope, and 'bigger than consciousness'--has run up against what it calls the Anthropic Principle (of various forms). Craig [RF:119] describes Robert Jastrow's (of Nasa) musings on this:
"The book of Genesis declares, 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.' For thousands of years, muses Robert Jastrow, people who have believed this statement have known the truth which scientists have discovered only within the last fifty years. For the rationalistic scientist (and, we may add, philosopher), the story ends, smiles Jastrow, like a bad dream:The Christian cannot help but chuckle to himself...'He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries'
This of course is NOT a 'victory' for the Christian (since they certainly didn't effect the change in the marketplace of ideas, to say the least!) , but is rather a sobering 'call to action' for the serious Christian thinker. It is time to re-engage in the programs of study which now have 'axioms' that are thawing out. It is time to push these new models for implications and possible testing/validation procedures.