Picture: correspondent. I mentioned that Mike Spenard has written a book about dualism: Duelling with Dualism. He gives a nice account of the history and arguments: if you’re wondering how things turn out for dualism, the subtitle – “the forlorn quest for the immaterial mind” – offers a hint.

One point in Mike’s account that struck me was a comparison he makes in passing between the discussion of dualism and ancient discussions of what the fundamental substance of the world might be – water, fire, earth or what. We don’t talk about that any more, and if there is an equivalent discussion it’s going on in physics, not philosophy. So why do we still seem concerned about dualism versus monism?

I think in many cases it is really a particular dualism we are concerned with rejecting: ‘dualism’ is often just a more neutral way of referring to religious belief in souls and spirits. So long as that is clearly ruled out, we perhaps don’t feel so worried about the apparent dualism of mental and physical or abstract and concrete. We all accept that the world can profitably be addressed on not just two, but several levels of interpretation (though why that is the case, and whether it’s a feature of the world or of the way we see the world are questions to which I personally have no clear answer).

The best reason for doing without traditional souls may actually not be the dualism involved, but the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any soul theory. If there was an account of the spiritual world which explained how our conscious life works, it would certainly be worth a look, but the traditional view seems to take it that once we’ve attributed the self or volition or moral responsibility to the spiritual realm, the need for explanation somehow lapses.

The book is a solid, convincing account of the issue, well worth a look.


  1. 1. micha says:

    Just FYI, I want to provide an existence proof… I’m a monist who believes in souls.

    What Qabbalah does is take the physical-spiritual dichotomy and portray it as a continuum from God to inert tangible objects. This allows the soul to occupy a “length” along that continuum, with the brain (or maybe the form of the brain, in classical terms, rather than the substance) to be an endpoint.

    I assume that the details of one school of Qabbalah’s view of souls isn’t of interest to most of this blog’s readers. (You might recall, I’m the token rabbi among us.) I just wanted to defuse your and Spenard’s assumption that belief in souls necessitates dualism.

  2. 2. micha says:

    BTW, I would love it if you put in a Facebook and/or Google+ plugin so that I can more easily point people to posts that intrigue me.

  3. 3. Kar Lee says:

    That is a rather interesting concept: A continuum from God all the way to the brain. Could you elaborate more? For example, is the soul part of God, or how are they related? And when an entity has both a soul and a brain, how are the two related? How are the two regions in the continuum related to each other? I would be interested in knowing how this “model” works.

  4. 4. John says:

    Luke 17:21
    For the Kingdom of God is already among/within you.

    This does not need dualism. If there were a spiritual aspect to life it would be here, now, we would just be too daft to see it. Take a look at The Nature of the Soul

  5. 5. Peter says:

    A respectful hat-tip to religious monists. Micha, thanks, I’ll look at a plugin.

  6. 6. Kar Lee says:

    Could you elaborate more on the philosophy side of how the physical-spiritual dichotomy can be portrayed as a continuum from God to inert tangible objects? It may be quite interesting.

  7. 7. Kar Lee says:

    Sorry, just testing…can’t seem to post

  8. 8. Richard J R Miles says:

    Yourself, like it or not, is what you have got, you had no initial choice in who or what your variations are a self-conscious human being.
    The soul is the effect of the human self-conscious inability in trying to understand the unconscious autonomic part of the self, which many people do not realise they have, like or dislike, could not care less about or choose to ignore, but cannot live without.
    Others look to make believe, like religion for false reasons for their existance to relieve the torment of this and other unknowns. This self-conscious inability causes endless variations of what is considered to be the soul.

  9. 9. Peter says:

    Apologies for the fact that the anti-spam software has been running riot in the lst few days and blocking many comments for no reason: I’m away at the moment and have limited access, so have been slow to pick it up. Sorry.

  10. 10. John says:

    Richard, in the philosophy of mind there seem to be several distinct groups:

    The Direct Realists think that their perceptual experience is identical to the physical world beyond their bodies. The problem of mind is then the problem of the functions that process this perceptual experience.

    The Presentists believe that only the present instant exists. The present instant is a boundary between the past and the future, it contains no time. Presentists are infinitely sceptical because every experience can be false, even while it is happening. Most Direct Realists are Presentists.

    The True Scientists say that experience is in the brain, they are Indirect Realists because the scientific evidence against Direct Realism is overwhelming. They admit that they cannot fully explain experience, only the neural correlates.

    The Empiricists say that perceptual experience contains relationships within it and has properties that are peculiar to it. These relationships and properties need to be explained.

    The Dualists describe those parts of experience that cannot be explained as “supernatural”.

    You say “The soul is the effect of the human self-conscious inability in trying to understand the unconscious autonomic part of the self” this sounds like Direct Realism. The soul has always been regarded as the content of the “mind” (See Aristotle: On the Soul). An empiricist would point out that mental experience is objects arranged in space and time and this arrangement has an unexplained geometry and an unknown location, the mind is still unexplained although its contents clearly come from processes including some such as you describe.

  11. 11. Richard J R Miles says:

    John, It seems I am the only one who really thinks it is time to stop beating about the bush and to say that the soul does not exist at all. I do not have any evidence for the existance of a soul and I do not suppose anyone else has. Aristotle considered the soul causal. I think we do not have a soul at all and think it’s ‘hocus pocus’ persistance is getting in the way of scientific progress. I can understand why some people think they have a soul, but as I have said ‘the soul is the effect of the conscious/self-conscious inability to understand our unconscious self in general’, or put simply, the soul effect is the relationship between our conscious and our unconscious brain and body. We look for answers in an attempt to satisfy our need. If we were not self-conscious we would not recognise ourselves at all, let alone ask questions. Thanks for your succinct view of the philosphy of mind, it can sometimes be helpful to categorize. I do not take the naive view of consciousness as being in complete control of decision making, more as a somatic servant of the unconscious autonomic nervous system.
    I think consciousness evolved long ago out of the survival advantage of having a part time resting and sleeping,, conscious somatic nervous system servant, to assist the continuous function of the autonomic nervous system, which looks after us 24/7 and does not sleep. A tree for example does not need to evolve consciousness in its fixed environment to survive, just as some creatures do not. Consciousness has slowly evolved to conscious self awareness. We have more knowledge now thanks to the scientific effort and information from Peter, Arnold and you John and that so many others provide. Long may it continue.

  12. 12. Justin Wolfson says:

    Hi. Has anybody watched Athene’s Theory of Everything on Youtube?
    Here’s what I gather: It’s just a primer (53 minutes) and this guy has yet to publish a paper on it.
    But he has an equation for consciousness that supposedly marries Einstein physics with the quantum world. And the theory seems to have ethical implications that align with people like Eckhart Tolle.
    The documentary is also filled with some unpalatable bravado that I take to be an unfortunate byproduct of his years as a professional video gamer; so I’m trying to look past that. Anyway, sorry to threadjack, I don’t really know where else to put this. So, does anyone have any thoughts on the theory?

  13. 13. John says:

    I use the term “conscious experience” or more simply “current experience” to avoid “conscious”. A good example of current experience is this writing on a screen in front of you. Can you describe the physics of this experience, including its geometry?

  14. 14. John says:

    Oh – the last comment was for Richard but anyone else may take up the challenge…

  15. 15. Mike Spenard says:

    What kind of description? As Simon points out there are two options: A state description (e.g., a circle is the locus of all points equidistant from a point) provide a way to identify or model objects. While a process description (e.g., spin a compass on a point till arm has reached start)provide the means to create such an object. A blueprint in contrast to a recipe. It is the latter, a recipe like process description, to which DNA is analogous, and makes it more than strongly analogous to a computer program. Of which do you ask for?

  16. 16. John says:

    Newton’s great breakthrough was to put process on a par with “state”. The equation a = dv/dt allows us to plot change as a geometrical entity on a graph. So, if you believe that experience is a mixture of state and process, please feel free to include both.

    As an example, I could use geometrical optics to describe the formation of the images in the retinas and represent the light rays by lines in a ray diagram. Each line on the drawing is a vector, a directed path, so corresponds to a 4D state (a process occurring in space). Using geometrical optics I can produce a decent explanation of the two, different, inverted images in the eyes. This explanation is scientific and produces predictions that can be used to make spectacles etc.

    So, I have got to a decent, scientific description of the retinal images. Can I relate these images to experience? Well, if I use only one eye there is a good correspondence between the relations in the retinal image and experience but the relations between the ray diagram of my geometrical optics and my experience is odd.

    This leads to the first problem in the physical description of experience. The retinal image is just an arrangement in space. So why does my experience contain a spatio-temporal displacement, why is there separation from the components of the retinal image along the viewing axis in experience but not in the image on the retina? Why is the text on this screen not stuck in your eye but ‘out there’ in the world? How on earth is that done? It seems like we are looking through time, along the 4D vectors, it seems like we have made a process, the motion of light, into a geometrical form. How is that done?

    Of course, the plot thickens when you realise that our experience actually directly correlates with events deeper in the brain than the retinal images and understand that the world is 4D anyway….

  17. 17. Vicente says:

    Sorry, I don’t understand this question:

    why is there separation from the components of the retinal image along the viewing axis in experience but not in the image on the retina?

    Could you please provide some brief clarification. Thank you.

  18. 18. John says:

    “why is there separation from the components of the retinal image along the viewing axis in experience but not in the image on the retina?”

    Take any image. The image itself is defined as a two dimensional arrangement of objects, usually with little depth. This screen contains an image, photographs and paintings are images as is the pattern of light in the image created by a lens. An image in itself has no viewing point or directedness of its components, each point of the image is just a point, “.”.

    If we introduce a viewing point the image can have many relations, for example, the pattern “dddd” is “bbbb” from behind and “|” from the side and each point is “.” from within. The fact that our monocular experience containing “dddd” is indeed “dddd” shows that it corresponds to a viewing point that is in front of, and along the optical axis from, the pattern on the screen. Most crucially the “dddd” is SIMULTANEOUS at the viewing point. Optometrists usually stop their analysis here and just assume that the optical centre of the lens system of the eye is a “viewing point”. This is absurd but it saves them from thinking about what sees what the eye sees.

    The simultaneity of monocular experience is perplexing. Certainly the “dddd” could form another image “dddd” in our brains or somewhere else but then there is no viewing point and no possibility of a physical description of our experience. Just copying an image from place to place will not do the job.

    As scientists we have an easy way out of the impasse, we model it with maths. The parts of the image in experience are simultaneous at a point therefore the equation of the distribution of the parts of the image is:

    0 = x^2 + y^2 + z^2 – (kt)^2

    Where x,y,z are the coordinates of the parts of the image relative to a viewing point and, in a simple material system kt would be equivalent to vt, the product of the velocity of the carriers of signals from the parts of the image times the time taken to travel from the image to the viewing point.

    This immediately creates a problem because material signals would all get mixed up in a point and, anyway, could not simultaneously be in a point. However, if we move into twentieth century science we would notice that

    0 = x^2 + y^2 + z^2 – (kt)^2

    looks a lot like:

    0 = x^2 + y^2 + z^2 – (ct)^2

    where c is a constant that converts seconds to metres and this can be interpreted as a description of how space and time themselves interact. As every schoolboy knows, if you travel on the back of a photon you can travel from A to B in no time at all and A and B have no separation… What schoolboys do not know is that if the universe is four dimensional the path traversed by a photon remains even when the photon has gone, indeed, the path is there even if the photon never went down it at all. If dimensional time exists then events can be simultaneous AT a point without being IN the point. This discussion would be highly pertinent if the image on the retina formed an image somewhere in the brain and virtual photons (ie: interactions without material transfer along the paths discussed above) could affect the brain…

  19. 19. Arnold Trehub says:

    My claim is that, from a biological stance, if you try to explain the 3D perspectival transformation from the 2D retinal image in our phenomenal experience, you need a brain mechanism with the neuronal structure and dynamics of the retinoid system. See here: http://www.people.umass.edu/trehub/where-am-i-redux.pdf.

  20. 20. Mike Spenard says:

    Ok, a hybrid description.

    Also, how are our intuitions to fit into this description? Are they to operate as constraints on what is acceptable? Or, can we take account of them, by fitting them within a description as expected but yet non-binding on the validity of our answer? To put this another way:

    Of late I’ve been thinking of the dilemma in terms of epistemic priority. 1) Realists prioritizing microstructural properties xyz, context c, and disposition d. And 2) Experientialists prioritizing the “looks red”. Thus, I think we have three options priorities 1 or 2, or non-priority.


  21. 21. Mike Spenard says:

    I should have added. Jackson’s Color Scientist is an obvious example of this prioritization fight; with few people taking a non-priority stance. (Perhaps Davidson does with anomolus monism?). Anyhow, IMHO determining these explicatory standards is crutial.

  22. 22. Mike Spenard says:

    Also also, (pardon these post arrays, im on my phone), determining the explicatory standard is crucial, but not simply in it’s choice. I’ve been thinking perhaps that if we explain why we have this apparent dichotomy of priorities we can make good traction. We ask, “what is the root cause of our antithesis within philosophy of mind?” and understand this prior to resolving the nature of qualia.

  23. 23. John says:

    Mike, suppose we take one thing at a time. How do we even explain monocular experience using physics?

    I put this forward as a challenge to Richard but it is open to anyone. I tried to help out with my own stab at the physical modelling of visual experience above.

    On the subject of the inclusion of intuitions and processes, if you accept dimensional time as a possibility then processes are spatio-temporal states (ie: physical states). Curiously there is no reason to reject dimensional time but philosophers are nearly all utterly opposed to it, it seems that opposition to dimensional time is a predictor of whether or not a person is a philosopher.

    I would go along with much of what Arnold says in http://www.people.umass.edu/trehub/where-am-i-redux.pdf but with the caveat that the self locus is truly spatio-temporal and not just a spatial point. Incidently, Arnold’s paper is worth a good read, much of the problem of visual space-time is considered and Arnold is considering a full blown virtual reality. I agree with this, in his consideration of out of body experience he shows that the “I!” will never escape the body, I agree but it probably still exists in the past…

  24. 24. Mike Spenard says:

    Well, I’m afraid I’m just not understanding you. And it’s a waste of time laying out an articulation of ‘redness’ if someone feels the draw of Leibniz’s Mill. Which is why I asked some ground-floor questions.

  25. 25. Mike Spenard says:

    For instance, “the self locus is truly spatio-temporal”. What does that mean?

  26. 26. Vicente says:

    John, thank you for the clarification. I think I now see what you mean, but I don’t share your concern.

    One thing is the problem of image formation of extended objects. This problem is well known in astrophysics, where the large interferometric telescopes with antennas arrays spread over large geographical areas have to account for the time lag due to different path lengths, and compensate it when constructing the image. I believe, this does not apply to retina, even if you consider each retina cell as a receptor (like a CCD?), the aberration caused by this effect would be neglectable.

    The problem is the subsequent image formation in the brain, “the phenomenal image”. For the analysis of this problem we can ignore any previous optics, or relativistic effects, or simultaneity problems, we can even ignore the retina. In the particular case of “visual perception”, just consider that the retina gathers “blur” information from the world (with many inaccuracies due to all the effects you mentioned and many physiological others), and sends it to the brain. Then the brain processes it to somehow produce a phenomenal image.

    This can also be done using imagination, or dreaming, or by direct stimulation of the brain….

    The problem is what and where is this phenomenal image (and of course the observer). I don’t see how you can even assign space(-time) coordinates to its “pixels”, assuming it is compound of pixels (which I doubt). Therefore, your concern, about the physical mapping between the world picture and the phenomenal image, doesn’t make much sense to me, since I hardly know how to handle the latter.

    In a way, this is in the core of this post topic. Just to consider dualism as some kind witchery approach to scientific problems is quite poor and unfair.

    Dualism can also be understood as a personal position resulting from the verification of the inability of science to explain fundamental aspects of our existence. And this is said from the most respectul and admiring and loving position towards science.

    Not only consciousness lacks of scientific theories to explain it, the very ontological foundations of our Universe are in a similar situation.

    I believe Mike was unfair compairing the current dualism formulation with the mythological literature of ancient times. Great and laureate scientists and thinkers of the modern era have joined dualistic positions, mainly because their broad and profound knowledge of science made them notice the dreadful voids that dwell in the heart of scientific knowledge.

    Unfortunately, unlike some of the problems in the frontier, like dark energy or the origin of life, or quantum gravitation, that can be tackled in scientific terms, consciousness does not (beyond the bounds of science by definition).

    As a dualist, my claim is: We need a new knowledge body, an extended “scientific” methodology, if we really want to cover all aspects of our reality. I don’t talk of souls or ghosts.

    Just to finalise, I took advantage of the summer break to go back to the origins… Tallis pushed me to revisit Parmenides and I realised (or it seems to me) that he makes and distinction between “to be” and “to exist”, I am persuaded that this is in the root of dualism.

  27. 27. John says:

    Vicente: “The problem is what and where is this phenomenal image (and of course the observer). I don’t see how you can even assign space(-time) coordinates to its “pixels”, assuming it is compound of pixels (which I doubt).”

    Science works by guessing a model for a phenomenon (usually a mathematical model) and then exploring whether the relations in the model correspond to the relations in the phenomenon. This process, as you point out, depends on the level of measurement. Certainly, at present, I cannot stick a measuring device into my brain to measure the extent of an imaginary apple so ratio measurements are not available. I can however say that events occur and have arrangements so there is a nominal level and they are arranged in space and time so an ordinal level is present. This level of measurement allows me to say that there are at least 3 independent directions for arranging events and an independent temporal direction.

    So even without ratio measurements it is reasonable for me to hypothesise about the dimensionality of experience and the type of geometrical manifold that is involved. Why would I make such hypotheses? The most important reason for such hypotheses is to discover whether physical science could ever provide a description of experience – my answer is unequivocally YES.

    This YES is in stark opposition to your description of dualism: “Dualism can also be understood as a personal position resulting from the verification of the inability of science to explain fundamental aspects of our existence.” Certainly this particular “fundamental aspect” of experience, visual perception, is not verified as being beyond scientific hypotheses.

    Do we need dualism to exist rather than be? The fact that I can hear whole words and see movements shows me that I extend beyond the present instant of zero seconds duration. However, I feel I must “be” because the second law of thermodynamics keeps me on the edge of becoming..

  28. 28. John says:

    Mike: “And it’s a waste of time laying out an articulation of ‘redness’ if someone feels the draw of Leibniz’s Mill. Which is why I asked some ground-floor questions.”

    I originally asked the question about the process/geometry of vision. Qualia are another problem, having proposed that dimensional time or something very similar is required to describe the relations within vision this concept might be extended to qualia.

    Time is certainly related to qualia because any quale requires a minimum time to become a clear event in experience. Very brief events do not register at all. Neurophysiologists would say that enough pulses are needed to provide frequency and/or phase data. The sense organs make up for this minimum duration by providing persistence, for example, if you shut your eyes, open them for a split second then shut them again the vision persists just long enough after your eyes have closed for some qualia to appear.

    So each quale is an object that seems to be extended in time..

    What is the true extent of an object? We normally say that it is a coordinate independent quantity such as spatial extent:

    h^2 = x^2 + y^2 + z^2

    In a 3D universe it will be found that no matter where the object resides “h” will be the same, it is an intrinsic property of the object. In a four dimensional universe there must also be a similar intrinsic property. The property is not “h” because we know that in a 4D universe, “h”, the spatial extent of the object, varies continuously with the velocity of any passing observer.

    A new property “s”, the space-time extension of the object is needed:

    s^2 = x^2 + y^2 + z^2 – (ct)^2

    In the same way as “h” is the same for all observers in 3D “s” is the same for all observers in 4D. You may think this is all science fiction but it is actually standard modern physics (see Special Relativity).

    As was pointed out earlier, each quale has a duration but we have qualia in our experience continuously. This means that at each instant all the parts of a quale are both extended in space and time but also at a point. This then suggests Alex Green’s proposal that the self locus or viewing point is a point in a five dimensional de Sitter universe such as many cosmologists have proposed as the true form of our universe, Green’s proposal is not standard modern physics but highly speculative.

    Mike: “For instance, “the self locus is truly spatio-temporal”. What does that mean?”

    A truly spatio-temporal locus is a locus (a point) in a four dimensional geometrical manifold. Such a point differs from a point in a 3D manifold because paths of zero length occur not only to adjacent points but also to points that are connected by paths that could be taken by light rays.

  29. 29. Vicente says:


    The fact that I can hear whole words and see movements shows me that I extend beyond the present instant of zero seconds duration

    Yes, I’m utterly puzzled about it. It seems we have to grasp the events of the present instant, and also remember the events of the last instants, but to do so you require concurrently more instants that cannot fit in that precise instant, and that leads to an infinite regression. It shows how much we need a true intellectual breakthrough to overcome this cognitive closure in which we have been simmering for centuries. Maybe Parmenides was right and there is no movement at all…. just an illusion.

    the second law of thermodynamics keeps me on the edge of becoming..

    Yes, but mind you! the second law will eventually stop everything to become anything, when no more free energy is left and the Universe dies in fully entropic cold ashes. 🙁

  30. 30. Richard J R Miles says:

    John, re 12. I know what you are looking for. At the present time I have no clear or concise answer. I think once a description of such an experience is possible the physics and geometry will follow, rather like the music score follows after the tune has been found.

  31. 31. John says:

    Vicente: “It seems we have to grasp the events of the present instant, and also remember the events of the last instants, but to do so you require concurrently more instants that cannot fit in that precise instant, and that leads to an infinite regression.”

    When you look at this screen it seems as if the parts have an angular separation at a viewing point. This involves the same difficulty as you mention above, you cannot fit an infinity of points into a single point in the same way as you cannot fit an infinity of instants into an instant. The answer to this conundrum is not to insist that material is crammed into a single instant or point but to examine what spacetime is actually like.

    3D space is a nice, easily calculable geometry in which measuring rods keep the same length wherever and whenever you put them. Spacetime is different. If I put a measuring rod along the path followed by a photon travelling towards me it will have no spatial length at all. This is not the result of dynamics in a 3D world, it is a result of that particular direction in a 4D world having no spatial length. Many things cannot be IN a point but because separation disappears along the directions in spacetime that are taken by photons many things can be AT a point, they occupy their normal positions in space and in time but are also no distance from each other along particular paths. If you send a probe down these paths it will report that the path has no length and is traversed in no time (as you would expect, the path being that taken by photons).

  32. 32. Vicente says:

    Mike, if I may ask, when preparing your book, did you check the work of Avshalom C. Elitzur regarding dualism, and then decided to ignore it? or it was never taken into consideration straight away.

  33. 33. Mike Spenard says:

    First I’ve heard of Mr. Elitzur.

  34. 34. Vicente says:

    Uh!, then I’m happy to introduce you eminent physicist and philosopher: Mr. A. C. Elitzur. It might be worth for you to have a look at his work. It could widen your view, and provide good material for the second edition.

    in particular:

    Avshalom C. Elitzur



    Consciousness Can No Longer Be Ignored. Journal of Consciousness Studies 2 (4):353-58.

  35. 35. John says:

    What is it about dimensional time that causes the minds of philosophers to go blank? I do not think I have come across a single philosopher of mind who will even discuss dimensional time or who thinks that Einstein’s discoveries were any more than a temporary blip in the onward march of Newtonian physics and non-relativistic quantum theory.

  36. 36. Mike Spenard says:

    “What is it about dimensional time that causes the minds of philosophers to go blank?”

    I think Peter (I forget where), following Dennett, put the point well on why this is so. Roughly, if I remember right: Theories that try to explain consciousness through physics apply equally well to my big toe as they do to my brain. And there is clearly something about the latter that needs more than an explanation at the level of description of pure physics. So, even if they are right they do not help. For instance, if Hameroff is right about quantum microtubuals… Ok, why is that the special sauce? What is special about it that makes me need a brain in my skull rather than a big toe? Such an explanation as his really just repackages questions.

  37. 37. john says:

    Dennett is not infallible and if I recall stated that position on the physical explanation of conscious experience with the same amount of justification as you did (none).

    Amusingly, Dennett says that our experience is events laid out in a “plenum”:

    “It seemed to him, according to the text, as if his mind – his visual field – were filled with intricate details of gold-green buds and wiggling branches, but although this is how it seemed this was an illusion. No such “plenum” ever came into his mind; the plenum remained out in the world where it didn’t have to be represented, but could just be. When we marvel, in those moments of heightened self-consciousness, at the glorious richness of our conscious experience, the richness we marvel at is actually the richness of the world outside, in all its ravishing detail. It does not “enter” our conscious minds, but is simply available” (Consciousness Explained)

    But Dennett misses the point that we cannot account for this “view”, that he describes so poetically, using 3D geometry – for goodness sake, the world is not a set of one sided objects projected as if from a point – Dennett is so persuaded by his Direct Realism that he misses the peculiar geometry of the “view” entirely. He describes a “view” as if it were the world itself but it is obviously a geometrical form that is a subset of the world.

    So we return to my original question: can you explain the geometry and physics of vision? How do objects arranged in 3D become like the image viewed from a point that Dennett describes? I put forward some suggestions above.

  38. 38. Mike Spenard says:

    You’re right, I didn’t offer an argument, only a shared sentiment. I think it a wasted effort; like arguing over why explaining what it is for a duck to quack using Autocad is a good idea. Good luck.

  39. 39. John says:

    Mike, your declaration that experience cannot be explained by physical ideas is like “explaining what it is for a duck to quack using Autocad” might be credible if Dennett’s description of experience were not physical but Dennett himself says that the wiggling branches in his experience are physical. When I analyse Dennett’s description using physics as the descriptive language I am using physical tools to explain the avowedly physical.

    What I have suggested above is to run with Dennett’s idea: OK, visual experience has a particular arrangement so what physical things could have this arrangement and where? What we discover at an early stage is that Dennett’s view with wiggling branches seen from one side and separate from the viewer is a most peculiar physical space. Dennett just dismissed the view as stuff arranged in ordinary 3D space but the geometry of his description is categorically not just objects in a 3D space. What he describes is not a 3D space at all, it is a “view” and must be described using more subtle geometry than objects in a plenum.

  40. 40. Mike Spenard says:

    Excuse me but I didn’t say there was no physical explanation of experience: One can be a Physicslist and advocate that the level of proper description for a phenomena is one that, while founded in, is not in the textbook of a physicist. There’s nothing about that view that implicates Dennett or myself as a closet dualist anymore than a biologist, who advocates the proper explanation of duck quacking isn’t in using Autocad, is a Vitalist.

  41. 41. John says:

    Dennett is a closet dualist because he is a rotten physicist, he transfers the problem of mind into the world beyond the body and then declares that there is no problem of mind in the brain. If, as in my previous posts, we inspect Dennett’s idea of reality beyond the body we discover that he believes this is a view, a relationship between a viewing point and the contents of experience, rather than a simple set of physical objects arranged in 3D. This trick of shunting the mind outside the body works on philosophers because they seem ill equipped to spot the difference between the geometrical form of a view and a simple 3D plenum.

    Dennett has constructed a new form of dualism that is the converse of Cartesian Dualism. In Cartesian Dualism a supernatural res cogitans surveys experience laid out in the brain. In Dennettian Dualism the digital brain processes some miraculous experience that is simply available to it – dont ask how because this would be gaining understanding “from–of all things!–physics!”((Dennett 1999).

  42. 42. Mike Spenard says:

    Ok, perhaps that way of putting it is overly crass. In a different manner: Is it likely that Cognitive Science will succeed in isolation (not a strict bifurcation, of course) from neuroscience? It seems very unlikely at this point. Now, you had asked what it was about “dimensional time” that causes the minds of philosophers to go blank. And I was attempting to point out that that is due, imho, to asking the same question but about geometry and physics: Is it likely that Cognitive Science will succeed in isolation (not a strict bifurcation, of course) from geometry and physics? To some degree this seems likely. These areas will matter of course, but only to the degree they affect neuroscience, and therefor won’t be a central concern for the same reasons they aren’t for entomology. Time (dimensional), of course, will tell ;P

  43. 43. Richard J R Miles says:

    I think Dennett’s point, as I understand it, in disregarding physics with the brain in the skull as opposed to the big toe, is that the speed of message to and from the senses all over the body has had an effect over evolution, that is to say all the important survival senses have evolved as near to the brain as possible and although the time difference linear and multi-dimensional is minute, I think evolution on the quantum scale can tell the difference, effected of course by other physical necessities. This lack of appreciation seems to be typical of the brain and body separatists and of people who cannot appreciate the existance of the quantum world or how it may have effected evolution, which I, like Richard Feynman, do not profess to understand.
    Like anyone else with a scientific outlook, I am happy for my philosphy to be proved wrong.

  44. 44. John says:

    Richard, many mind-brain pundits have talked about quantum physics as the route to understanding consciousness. Some of this interest in QM comes from the phenomenon of entanglement.

    The current view of entanglement is that when the environment interacts with a particle it then contains information about the specific state of the particle at the interaction. This means that where there was a particle with numerous states there now becomes numerous environment-particle pairs. If we are in one particular environment then we only observe one state of the particle (apparent collapse occurs). This does not help with the mind-brain problem at all. It does however explain why entanglement gives rise to instantaneous correlations between distant events: the environment that we find ourselves within is the one that has those correlated events.

    There are other interpretations of QM state vector “collapse”, for instance Penrose proposed that the brain had a state in its microtubules that caused collapse. Again, this does not help with the mind brain problem although it might help to explain QM collapse.

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