[See also: Evidence for the Existence of the Soul and the article on Automaticity/FreeWill. ]
In the vortex, I gave the comic example of the grade school student trying to 'assign' his report card failure to either 'environment' or 'heredity'. I argued there, that the two alternatives of 'caused/capricious' were a false dichotomy or a category mistake when applied to the personal realm (it MIGHT apply to sub-personal realms, but causality in sub-atomic physics has fallen on hard times, as it were).
Tonight I read a passage from a writer I greatly respect (who shall remain nameless) that illustrated the usage of this in a classical theological argument:
So the free-will defense is unbiblical. There are also problems with its internal coherence. If, as in classical Arminianism, our free choices are literally causeless, then they are not caused by our character or our desires any more than they are caused by God. And if this is the case, our 'free choices' are totally accidental happenings unconnected with anything in the past. They are surprises...For this author, a choice is either caused or capricious...the categories are taken from Newtonian determinism. In this case, the sinner or the saint either 'melts into the field of causes' (losing their individuation in the process) or they are 'severed' from the universe without any hope of interacting with it...
On the other hand, if the Arminian-libertarian sees free choice as caused by character and desire, then he is introducing factors which themselves have causes in heredity and environment, causes which precede the conscious life of the individual.
This two-dimensional (or sub-personal) view of personal action seems very reductionistic (at best) or in-coherent (at worst). Some of the 'causes of evil' and 'sovereignty vs. free will' discussions seem to borrow this grid too often for my comfort...I always sense that some transcendental 'relationships' and subjectivity/objectivity 'interactions' are closer to being the correct frame of discussion for these questions.
Daniel C. Dennet, in his book Consciousness Explained (can you tell already that I might consider that an oxymoron?!) opens with the illustration of the 'Brain in the Vat' (pp.3-4):
Suppose evil scientists removed your brain from your body while you slept, and set it up in a life-support system in a vat. Suppose they then set out to trick you into believing that your were not just a brain in a vat, but still up and about, engaging in a normally embodied round of activities in the real world.He goes on to describe the work of the scientists, in terms of stimulating the various feeder nerves to your brain. They pipe stereo music through the auditory, they simulate warmth, and go so far as to send sensations of 'sand' to your brain. In this case, the evil scientists have you believing you are sunning on a beach in the sand (although you cannot see, for some reason).
But now suppose the scientists, having accomplished all this, tackle the more difficult problem of convincing you that you are not a mere beach potato, but an agent capable of engaging in some form of activity in the world. Starting with little steps, they decide to lift part of the 'paralysis' of your phantom body and let you wiggle your right index finger in the sand. They permit the sensory experience of moving your finger to occur, which is accomplished by giving you the kinesthetic feedback associated with the relevant volitional or motor signals..., but they must also arrange to remove the numbness from your phantom finger, and provide the stimulation for the feeling that the motion of the imaginary sand around your finger would provoke.Dennet goes on to argue that the complexity of this task is too overwhelming for practical consideration, so models of consciousness must proceed along a different tack.
Suddenly, they are faced with a problem that will quickly get out of hand, for just how the sand will feel depends on just how you decide to move your finger.
When I first read this section, I was intrigued by the phrase on just how you decide to move your finger. The situation he had described was one of where the environment was acting on the brain (e.g. sensations of music, breezes, warmth) in which the brain was a passive receptor. And then the finger-wiggling was also a passive-receptor model--the scientists were going to send 'data' that the brain interpreted as sensations of sand, motion, internal muscle motion, other tactile info...
But what was missing was something that 'made the brain DECIDE to move a finger'! The issue was not in which 'manner' I moved my finger, but rather how I decided to move a finger at all!
In other words, if I felt my finger moving when I had NOT decided/tried/initiated THAT movement, I would KNOW something was amiss!
What would have been needed was an intermediate step, in which some nerves were stimulated that created in my brain the idea of trying to move my finger, then some decision algorithm inputs (with weighting factors!), and finally some 'trigger' sensation to push the decision over the edge! (Not to mention some timing coordination of all this--if my wiggling-sensations started BEFORE I decided to wiggle, oops!)
Needless to say, this latter requirement is orders of magnitude more complex than even the finger-wiggling complexity nightmare of Dennet. We don't really have a clue as to how a mere sensory input could give rise to an 'idea', much less produce a 'act of decision'!
(Theoretically, of course, the scientists might could simulate an auditory hallucination of a speech-act involving the propositions involved, but it wouldn't look like our 'inner voice'--wherever THAT is).
There may literally not be enough feeder nerves to the brain to communicate such a complex situation and process. We now that the computational requirements for such a process greatly exceeds the amount of data we receive from sensory input (for the cognitive realm of 'ideas', language, and choice) and that the sheer time-to-process argues for radically non-linear processes (e.g. neural/parallel processing).
This raises some serious questions for the physicalist views of consciousness (IMHO) which questions I hope to develop later.
I have indicated earlier that my current model of the spiritual/physical (loosely speaking) interactions is one of where the 'immaterial' part somehow 'steered' and/or 'selected' electrical currents in the brain, perhaps even initiating some through the 'generation' of virtual electrons...
I have just finished reading Damasio's wonderful Descartes' Error--Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain--see Books for bibliox; and am currently working on Hobson's The Chemistry of Conscious States (and Searle too). In both of these works, the phenomena of attention, suggestion (a la Placebo effect), and willpower are discussed, with the honest admission that we DON'T HAVE A CLUE as to how these work--they just don't fit our normal paradigms...
Now, if my understanding of spirit--that of impulse, action, movement, creation, orientation, relative transcendence--is correct, then the interaction with the mind-brain should occur in these latter arenas. (I am talking about 'spirit' at this point, and not notions of 'the self' and consciousness etc...those concepts are slightly different that the issue of spirit IMO.)
But, one of the things predicted by my 'model' is that IF the 'spirit' acts on the brain through minute electrostatic or de-virtualizations of electronic particles, THEN cases of severe physiological damage/dysfunction in the brain, would render the spirit 'unable' to express its 'orientation' through the physical interface...In other words, the minute energy given off by a 'spirit' would be adequate to 'steer the ship' in cases of homeostatic balance, but in cases of abnormal brain patterns, would be 'shouted down' by the aberrant processes/flows. [This does NOT necessarily mean that the 'spirit' would not be able to receive data--that is a separate question--but that it would just not have enough leverage to signal...]
I would think (not being a real neurobiologist, but rather a naive little folk-biologist--"well, at least I am not a homunculus!") that the phenomena of attention, suggestion (a la Placebo effect), and willpower might show up clinically as slightly increased electrical activity in the 'switching systems' (as opposed to the sensory and somatosensory regions). And that, to narrow the search target, we should try experiments in suggestion on patients with a range of different brain abnormalities--to set which areas 'muted' the signals from the spirit...(I know it sounds hokey, but you gotta start the model SOMEWHERE!)...
[I also need to check the literature on measured brain activity in communication attempts upon those who CANT feedback through motor mechanisms (e.g. comatose)...
And I might point out that the question of 'where' the spirit is, is about as meaningful a question as 'where' are the virtual photons before they materialize!]
"Where in the brain does it OPERATE" is a more reasonable question. I have made one suggestion above (for selection), but I suspect that we would find (if our instrumentation was accurate enough) similar phenomena in the 'lower' functions of reaction. (Biblically speaking, we share some functions of 'spirit' with animals--the basic principle of animation/breath.)
Also, there are issues of clarification that I will need to broach on the different activities of spirit--and the delineation of its relationship to soul, consciousness, self, personality--esp. the epistemic and volitional one.
One important piece of data for me is Jesus' words in the Garden of Gethsemene. He asked his disciples to pray, and they fall asleep--in spite of their best efforts not to...He remarks 'the spirit is willing, but the body is weak'...the passage says that 'their eyes were heavy'...this is generally understood as a deep sadness or depression...this MIGHT indicate something along the lines I am conjecturing...their modification-mechanism just couldn't override the physiological extrema.
In has always been interesting to me how my ability to resist temptation is dependent on my biological balance...When I pull three days of all nighters working on my job or this ThinkTank research, and the ensuing biochemical depression takes affect, I approximate something like the emotionless-but-flawed decision-making process (described in Damasio, re. the Phineas Gage story)...but what is curious is that some transcendental part of me is AWARE of that depressed affect, and is CONCERNED over possible breaches of ethics, and endeavors to 'maneuver me' into situations of severely restricted options. And I am aware (as I write this I am on the edge of one such state) of this propensity--and am faced with the decision to 'attend to it' or leave it in background. If i leave it in background, I will 'fall' somehow. If I attend to, and reflect upon it, and 'complain' about it, then I have a much better chance of controlling the thought patterns/behaviors...
I learned early in my second grad school, where situations like this came up ALL THE TIME due to high demands, to follow blindly several rules when in a state of biochemical depression:
What I find instructive about these types of experience is the SELF-AWARENESS and simultaneous experience of transcendence (but an almost hopeless and powerless one)....
Stay tuned...once you hit the tarbaby, you can never get out! (Songs of the South)