whistlePhysical determinism is implausible according to Richard Swinburne in the latest JCS; he cunningly attacks via epiphenomenalism.

Swinburne defines physical events as public and mental ones as private – we could argue about that, but as a bold, broad view it seems fair enough. Mental events may be phenomenal or intentional, but for current purposes the distinction isn’t important. Physical determinism is defined as the view that each physical event is caused solely by other physical events; here again we might quibble, but the idea seems basically OK to be going on with.

Epiphenomenalism, then, is the view that while physical events may cause mental ones, mental ones never cause physical ones. Mental events are just, as they say, the whistle on the locomotive (though the much-quoted analogy is not exact: prolonged blowing of the whistle on a steam locomotive can adversely affect pressure and performance). Swinburne rightly describes epiphenomenalism as an implausible view (in my view, anyway – many people would disagree), but for him it is entailed by physical determinism, because physical events are only ever caused by other physical events. In his eyes, then, if he can prove that epiphenomenalism is wrong, he has also shown that physical determinism is ruled out. This is an unusual, perhaps even idiosyncratic perspective, but not illogical.

Swinburne offers some reasonable views about scientific justification, but what it comes down to is this; to know that epiphenomenalism is true we have to show that mental events cause no physical events; but that very fact would mean we could never register when they had occurred – so how would we prove it? In order to prove epiphenomenalism true, we must assume that what it says is false!

Swinburne takes it that epiphenomenalism means we could never speak of our private mental events – because our words would have to have been caused by the mental events, and ex hypothesi they don’t cause physical events like speech. This isn’t clearly the case – as I’ve mentioned before, we manage to speak of imaginary and non-existent things which clearly have no causal powers. Intentionality – meaning – is weirder and more powerful than Swinburne supposes.

He goes on to discuss the famous findings of Benjamin Libet, which seem to show that decisions are detectable in the brain before we are aware of having made them. These results point towards epiphenomenalism being true after all. Swinburne is not impressed; he sees no basic causal problem in the idea that a brain event precedes the mental event of the decision, which in turn precedes action. Here he seems to me to miss the point a bit, which is that if Libet is right, the mental experience of making a decision has no actual effect, since the action is already determined.

The big problem, though is that Swinburne never engages with the normal view; ie that in one way or another mental events have two aspects. A single brain event is at the same time a physical event which is part of the standard physical story, and a mental event in another explanatory realm. In one way this is unproblematic; we know that a mass of molecules may also be a glob of biological structure, and an organism; we know that a pile of paper, a magnetised disc, or a reel of film may all also be “A Christmas Carol”. As Scrooge almost puts it, Marley’s ghost may be undigested gravy as well as a vision of the grave.

It would be useless to pretend there is no residual mystery about this, but it’s overwhelmingly how most people reconcile physical determinism with the mental world, so for Swinburne to ignore it is a serious weakness.

41 Comments

  1. 1. Sci says:

    Aren’t a pile of paper, a disc, and so on are just atoms without a mind having thought about “A Christmas Carol” when having qualia of some sort related to that work? (Assuming a mind is even a real thing, an assertion which I guess eliminativists would argue against.)

    The dual-aspect idea seems more like neutral monism or perhaps “pragmatic pluralism” (Putnam right?).

    I suspect Swineburn didn’t so much ignore it as not understand why dual aspect explanations would fall under physicalist arguments?

  2. 2. Peter says:

    I think a pile of paper is a pile of paper even if no-one has thought about it. But the main point is just that there are different levels of interpretation. We could have epiphenomenalism on a mental level without having to have it in physics. (Not that that’s what I actually want, but Swinburne ought to have addressed the possibility.)

    Lots of theories allow for that, and I’m trying to avoid specifying any particular one. The idea that there’s a gap, that we need to find a bridge between brain and mind, or identify the “neural correlates of consciousness” is pretty ubiquitous.

  3. 3. Richard J.R.Miles says:

    Peter, I am sure I have seen this picture on your site before?

    [I’m getting lazy! Peter]

  4. 4. howard says:

    Why not treat consciousness not as merely an experience but as a type of thing or substance, but one with different properties than ordinary substances?
    Didn’t Descartes label the mind a res cogitans?
    It’s counter our normal intuitions and I’m sure it’s been tried before, and would require changing our current definition of the physical world, but if consciousness is a kind of thing it might not seem so weird to posit an interaction with matter, and I don’t think this conceptualization is entirely semantic or arbitrary- just requires different conceptualization, which I’d leave for others- at least tell me why this won’t work or was tried already and failed

  5. 5. Tom Clark says:

    “Epiphenomenalism, then, is the view that while physical events may cause mental ones, mental ones never cause physical ones.”

    It’s hard to get epiphenomenalism thus defined as off the ground since there’s no accepted account of how physical events cause mental events (Dennett’s question “and then what happens?”). This needs to be explained first, then we can justifiably start worrying about mental-to-physical causation.

    “… Swinburne never engages with the normal view; ie that in one way or another mental events have two aspects. A single brain event is at the same time a physical event which is part of the standard physical story, and a mental event in another explanatory realm.”

    Is it that mental events have two aspects or physical (brain) events have two aspects? Either way, since the mental and physical are aspects (properties?) of a single thing, the dual aspect view obviates any causal relation between them, presumably solving the problem of mental causation. But since in neuroscience (and science generally) it’s only the physical that plays a role in causal explanations, we’re left wondering if the mental aspect really adds anything to what the physical aspect does. So we might return to our epiphenomenalist worries. Unless, that is, mental aspect explanations turn out to be indispensable in understanding and predicting behavior (your other “explanatory realm”), in which case the mental won’t be playing second fiddle to the physical.

  6. 6. Anonymous Programmer says:

    I think not believing in libertarian free will damages the soul or homunculus (or whatever is essentially you).

    If you don’t believe you really can choose, you might be tempted toward nihilism and a short miserable life.

    Not only do atheists deny that the universe is controlled by a mind — they often deny their own brain is controlled by a mind — which is tragic.

  7. 7. Arnold Trehub says:

    Tom: ” But since in neuroscience (and science generally) it’s only the physical that plays a role in causal explanations, we’re left wondering if the mental aspect really adds anything to what the physical aspect does.”

    If the mental aspect is taken as all of our 1st-person descriptions of the physical world, then it seems clear to me what the mental aspect adds to the physical aspect.

  8. 8. Sci says:

    @Peter: “I think a pile of paper is a pile of paper even if no-one has thought about it.”

    Agreed. What isn’t, however, is A Christmas Carol. A dog finding the pile of paper isn’t suddenly going to the story simply through sensory contact.

    @Anon Prog:

    “Not only do atheists deny that the universe is controlled by a mind — they often deny their own brain is controlled by a mind — which is tragic.”

    Well one can be an atheist and still believe in free will (I’d agree compatibilism is just a sham so no need for “libertarian” as a distinction). I’m not sure Whitehead and Bergson’s metaphysics require a deity, seems all you need is a kind of final causation.

    More recently Marcus Arvan’s Libertarian Compatibilism doesn’t require deity.

    On the flip side, many religious people seem to think God knows the future and what I will do moment by moment. William Lane Craig is a compatibilist for example.

    Finally, while compatibilism is a fantasy IMO it’s possible it might be an effective one for many people. In the long run though it is questionable if we can withstand what Bakker would call the Semantic Apocalypse.

  9. 9. Peter says:

    The pile of paper is CC (if it is) because of Charles Dickens; it doesn’t require an interpreting reader. You wouldn’t think unread copies weren’t CC, or that once the last literate person died the copies in the library ceased to be CC.

  10. 10. Chen says:

    Wouldn’t Charles Dickens be the interpreting reader? That is kind of a strange response, Peter. If there are no interpreters, there is no Christmas Carol which only exists relationally – between paper and person.

  11. 11. Peter says:

    Well, he’s the writer so what he’s doing isn’t precisely interpreting (I wouldn’t say that as author you interpret a book into existence); but at this point I’m not sure I’m really disagreeing with anyone substantively…

  12. 12. Callan S. says:

    Anon Programmer, if I denied that my computer is controlled via/by a little floating pointy arrow and instead that’s really just a simplification of what is actually going, would that be tragic?

    I think the denials of mind follow a similar course – denying the apparent thing as just being a simplification of what is actually going on.

  13. 13. Sci says:

    @Anon Prog: Ah I forgot the neuroscientist-philosopher Raymond Tallis believes in free will while also being an atheist.

    Apologies, that should’ve been the go-to example.

  14. 14. Scott Bakker says:

    It scares/thrills me, sometimes, how obvious this has all become. It’s just good old fashioned dogmatism, what-you-see-is-what-you-get assumptions. You have natural events and you have mental events: so how do they fit? They both exist in the same nature, so they have to fit together somehow! But every time we try to make sense of them together, it all falls apart. Well then, we must be trying to put them together wrong. Maybe nature isn’t what we thought, maybe things aren’t causally closed (maybe magic is real). Or, maybe mental events aren’t what we thought, maybe thoughts and feelings are simply epiphenomenal by-products of what’s doing the real lifting.

    Or… *maybe, the science is right.* Maybe cognition generally neglects all the information it can to efficiently derive the conclusions it needs. Maybe natural information scuttles mental problem-solving because mental problem-solving is a way to cognize in the absence of natural information. Maybe the very notion of ‘mental events’ and ‘natural events’ belonging to one, monolithic cognitive ecology completely mistakes what is actually going on.

    So here’s the question I would pose: Why should we think that mental events and natural events belong to the same cognitive ecology? The more you ponder this, I think, the more fantastic the oversight becomes.

    The evidence for Blind Brain Theory is piling up, for the picture of metacognition it poses, for the picture of intentional cognition and heuristic cognition more generally. I’m not fool enough to think I’ll ever be credited with seeing through it all, but goddamn, arguments like Swinburne’s make it seem clear some days!

    Merry Christmas, all.

  15. 15. Charles Wolverton says:

    Arnold –

    If the mental aspect is taken as all of our 1st-person descriptions of the physical world, then it seems clear to me what the mental aspect adds to the physical aspect.

    After our recent lengthy exchange, I think I understand why you say this. But my understanding is that you have an explanation in a physical vocabulary of how such descriptions are produced. If so, isn’t it misleading to label them “mental” (whether that word is accompanied by “aspect”, “event”, or others)?

  16. 16. Arnold Trehub says:

    Charles,

    You do have a point there, but I think it is proper to call 1st-person descriptions *mental descriptions* and 3rd-person descriptions *physical descriptions* because each are produced by different biophysical events in the semantic networks of the brain.

  17. 17. Charles Wolverton says:

    Arnold –

    The problem I see is that “mental” often isn’t sufficiently well-defined to warrant its use, especially in an argument like Swinburne’s in which the word plays a central role. According to Peter, Swinburne defines “mental” events as being private as opposed to physical events which are public. He then defines “epiphenomenal” in terms of those two event types. But there seem to be problems with those definitions.

    First, it isn’t clear what Swinburne means by an “event”. I consider the relevant “event” to be neural activity consequent to sensory stimulation and the subsequent processing of those patterns. In principle, parameters of the initial neural activity and the neural activity that results from the processing can be measured by an outside observer, and in that sense all relevant neural activity is a publicly observable physical event. In addition, that neural activity is experienced by the subject and in that sense is a private event.

    But an experience presumably is correctly described as “physical” if its production can be explained in physical terms, as is the case for the experiences PE1 and PE2 in your RS. In which case the distinction is not between two event types, one “mental” and the other physical, but instead between two effects of two physical events: the effect on the external measuring equipment and the effect on the subject’s phenomenal experience.

    I assume that the content of the RS’s virtual 3-D space after all of the PE1 and PE2 results have been projected into that space is the basis for the “image” that we experience when “seeing” a scene. Presumably that “image” is epiphenomenal because by that point in the processing, any responsive action has already been initiated. The image is often described as being a “mental image”, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the result of physical processes.

  18. 18. Arnold Trehub says:

    Charles,

    I agree that words like “mental” are slippery. That’s why I feel more secure looking at circuit diagrams of the brain mechanisms that give us our cognitive abilities. I don’t agree that the images in RS during any extended present are epiphenomenal because it is out of these global images / scenes that we parse new perceptions for subsequent cognitive processing. Without them we would be cognitively blank.

  19. 19. Tom Clark says:

    Charles in 17:

    “an experience presumably is correctly described as ‘physical’ if its production can be explained in physical terms.”

    If experiences are private, as Swinburne suggests, then we have to explain how something private is produced by something public. As you put it: “[public] neural activity is *experienced* by the subject and in that sense is a private event.” How neural activity produces experience as a private physical event is still unclear.

    Presumably, experiences are private in the sense that we can’t observe them like we can neural events – you can see the neural correlates of my pain but not my pain. But this makes it problematic to characterize experiences as physical since all the physical goings on in the brain are in principle observable.

    You then say “Presumably that ‘image’ [the experience] is epiphenomenal because by that point in the processing, any responsive action has already been initiated.” So your physicalist account of experience (that they are somehow produced by physical events, hence correctly described as physical) still leaves them out of the causal picture.

    So I see the following difficulties for the physicalism you might be advocating:

    1) There is no account on offer of how private physical events (experiences) result from public physical events (neural goings-on).

    2) Private events (experiences) on the face of it can’t be characterized as physical events.

    3) There is no account on offer of how experiences, construed as private physical events, play a causal role in behavior.

    It’s therefore perhaps not a surprise that Arnold says “I feel more secure looking at circuit diagrams of the brain mechanisms that give us our cognitive abilities.” A physicalism that grapples honestly with experience has to resolve the above difficulties, seems to me.

  20. 20. Arnold Trehub says:

    Tom: “How neural activity produces experience as a private physical event is still unclear.”

    It seems to me that the privateness of subjective experience is the direct result of the experience being produced by neural activity *within* a singular brain. The fact that this experience can be the source of public expressions of its content can be well explained.

  21. 21. Tom Clark says:

    Arnold:

    “It seems to me that the privateness of subjective experience is the direct result of the experience being produced by neural activity *within* a singular brain.”

    If the experience is produced by neural activity, then it isn’t the same thing as the activity. In which case, what’s produced by neural activity is either something physical, thus potentially observable (public), or something non-physical and thus perhaps not observable (private). It’s the second option that would explain the privacy of experience, but I don’t know if you endorse it or not (I always think of you as being a physicalist). And of course we have no account of how something non-physical gets produced by something physical, or how something non-physical could be the source (cause) of public expressions of its content.

  22. 22. Charles Wolverton says:

    Tom –

    Part of the reason all of this is so hard is that there’s no adequate vocabulary to use in discussing it. Many of the commonly used words are at best ambiguous, at worst essentially undefined. Even in this brief exchange I think we’re stumbling over several such words.

    My comment was directed to Arnold because it requires some familiarity with his Retinoid System (RS), which I’m struggling to understand. In particular, in the RS processing as I understand it, there are several steps that produce different levels of so-called “phenomenal experience”. This statement in your reply implies an equivalence that I don’t think is true of the RS:

    You then say “Presumably that ‘image’ [the experience] is epiphenomenal

    Production of what I mean by “image” is at the final step. My use of “experience” in the comment was usually intended to include only the results of earlier steps, results that definitely are in the causal picture. Arnold’s reply suggests that the “image” level is as well, but I’m not sure that his referent of “image” is the same as mine.

    In every day discourse, what we mean by “seeing” an object is that we experience a picture or image of the object. There clearly is no such picture in the brain being “seen” by a homunculus. But if we reach out and pick up the object, it seems to us that it’s because of that image – in which case the image would also be in the causal picture. However, I consider it possible that physical responses to visual sensory stimulation are initiated in the earlier steps of processing of the consequent neural activity, whereas the image is formed in the last processing step. Of course, that raises the vexing question of why the image is formed at all if it has no causal role. The only answer I have is that by the time the earlier processing steps are completed, everything needed to create the image is in place, so it’s just there for the taking – admittedly not a satisfying answer.

    experiences are private in the sense that we can’t observe them … But this makes it problematic to characterize experiences as physical since all the physical goings on in the brain are in principle observable.

    Perhaps the problem is not having clearly specified what constitutes “experiencing” neural activity. In the RS, various steps in processing the initial neural activity result in additional neural activity that may influence the subject’s sense of spatial relationship with the environment, behavior, et al. All that neural activity is public in the sense of being measurable in principle by third parties, but it is also private in the sense that it can directly affect only the subject. Therefore, I don’t see the public-private distinction as being equivalent to the physical-nonphysical distinction. (I think that’s consistent with Arnold’s comment 20.)

    Of course, I agree that as yet there’s no consensus position on how the brain does all this, but Arnold’s RS is a proposed model for how that might work. And whether or not correct in the details, I find his model an aid in addressing these issues.

    So, my answers to your three “difficulties” are:

    1) My impression is that Arnold’s RS is such an account. If you think it isn’t, please explain why.

    2) Like Swinburne, you seem to be taking “private” to mean “not physical”. But why doesn’t an explanation in physical terms of how a subject’s private experience of neural activity is produced (eg, Arnold’s RS) suffice to make the experience a physical event?

    3) Same as for number 1.

  23. 23. john davey says:

    Does anybody know what the “physical” actually is ? These revisits of the old “substance” arguments are a bit lame. Time to move on !

  24. 24. Arnold Trehub says:

    Tom: “If the experience is produced by neural activity, then it isn’t the same thing as the activity.”

    My working definition of consciousness says that consciousness is the same thing as a particular kind of neuronal activity (patterns of autaptic-cell activity in retinoid space).

    We don’t know why such brain activity constitutes our conscious experience (an ontological problem), but the SMTT experiments tend to confirm a theoretical model of how such neuronal activity constitutes our conscious experience. The epistemological bridging principle of corresponding analogs in 1 pp and 3 pp domains enables us to fruitfully study conscious content as a biological process. I would be interested in your response to Charles’ request re number 1.

  25. 25. Tom Clark says:

    Thanks Charles and Arnold.

    There’s nothing private or non-physical on Arnold’s view, since consciousness is “the same thing as patterns of autaptic-cell activity in retinoid space,” all of which is in principle public and is uncontroversially physical. So re difficulty #1, on Arnold’s view there is no need for an account of how private events (experiences) result from public events (neural goings-on). All that exists is public and physical. Such physicalism also takes care of difficulty #2 since if there is nothing private going on, there’s nothing we would want to call mental ala Swinburne’s private events. And difficulty #3 is also resolved since there’s no mental-physical causation in the mix – it’s all physical causation. In which case, I think it’s a mistake for a physicalist to say that experience or an image is produced or caused by neural activity as something in addition to such activity.

  26. 26. Arnold Trehub says:

    Tom: “In which case, I think it’s a mistake for a physicalist to say that experience or an image is produced or caused by neural activity as *something in addition* to such activity.”

    I fully agree with this statement. I recall a long online argument with Harnad in which he insisted that consciousness/feelings were something *in addition* produced by particular kinds of brain mechanisms. His point was that we have no idea how physical activity of the brain could cause such feelings.

  27. 27. Tom Clark says:

    John Davey:

    “Does anybody know what the ‘physical’ actually is? These revisits of the old ‘substance’ arguments are a bit lame. Time to move on!”

    Agreed. I’d suggest that we have a more or less folk notion of the physical as that which is extended in space, has mass/weight, resists pressure/deformation, has color and texture, and perhaps has other properties as delivered by our conscious phenomenal sensory grasp of the world. But of course this “folk physicalism,” basically the idea of self-subsisting stuff, has long since been abandoned by physics in favor of mathematically described properties of the physical that pretty much leave stuff out of the picture.

    Once the idea of stuff is let go, then the mental/physical distinction can perhaps be construed not as material vs. immaterial (substance dualism), but as sets of mind-dependent representations on the one hand (qualia, concepts, numbers) and the mind-independent world as represented by them on the other (physical goings-on).

    One interesting and perhaps necessary consequence of this way of conceiving the mental/physical distinction is that one won’t find the representations themselves as denizens of the world as represented by them. That is, one won’t find qualia and concepts sitting out there in spacetime as they characterize it, one only finds their *physical correlates*, e.g., the observable, physical representational vehicles like neural and computational states, token sentences, equations, diagrams, etc. This explains why the hunt for qualia as objective features of physical reality (e.g., protopanpsychism) is futile, and it equally suggests why it’s wrong to think qualia and conscious experiences are literally identical to brain states. That too, I think, is a mistaken attempt to find the representational terms deployed in modeling reality in reality itself as thus modeled.

    On this representationalist picture there is no “stuff,” either mental or physical, thus no problem of mental causation to be solved and no epiphenomenalism to be avoided. But one still wants to know what the necessary and sufficient conditions are in the mind-independent, physical world as described by science for there to arise the representational terms which get deployed in describing it. That is, one wants to know the objective conditions under which minds and their mind-dependent representations come to exist.

  28. 28. Sci says:

    If there is not stuff…what is there? Just patterns like what it seems (AFAICTell) Tegmark’s mathematical universe is about?

    Or is it that whatever is out there is some kind of neutral monist “substance” different from conceptions of both the mental and physical?

  29. 29. Arnold Trehub says:

    Face it. We do not have the power to know the reality we live in. We can only know what we consciously experience. That’s why consciousness is so important.

  30. 30. Tom Clark says:

    Sci:

    “If there is not stuff…what is there?”

    We don’t access reality independently of our representations of it, and everyday conscious experience presents external reality as being stuff: solid, material, extended physical stuff of one kind or another. Our experience also presents an internal mental reality of seemingly immaterial thought and emotion and sense of self, sometimes radically disembodied. Hence the folk origin of substance dualism, of two ontologically distinct categories of stuff: mental vs. physical, immaterial vs. material.

    Physics on the other hand, especially as informed by modern philosophy, doesn’t traffic in stuff, and is ontologically agnostic about what’s “really” there independent of its models of reality, e.g., see Hawking and Mlodinow’s “model-dependent realism” in The Grand Design. If the idea of substance doesn’t do any work in a theory, there’s no reason for it to hang around. See for instance Ross and Ladyman’s book Every Thing Must Go. To my way of thinking, the master concept is representation, and any notion of substance or stuff – mental, physical, or neutral monist – is a category that we might (or might not) end up with in representing reality, not a necessary condition of being real.

  31. 31. Richard J.R.Miles says:

    Arnold 29? We do have the power to know the reality we live in, it is consciousness and all that it includes.

  32. 32. john davey says:

    Tom

    “But of course this “folk physicalism,” basically the idea of self-subsisting stuff, has long since been abandoned by physics in favor of mathematically described properties of the physical that pretty much leave stuff out of the picture.”

    I think there’s some truth in that. The “physical” is a label attached to a genre of objects whose defining characteristic are their all-encompassing ability to be mathematized. It has no inherent meaning. Physical objects have to be capable of being envisioned by theory and representative modelling.

    “Once the idea of stuff is let go, then the mental/physical distinction can perhaps be construed not as material vs. immaterial (substance dualism), but as sets of mind-dependent representations on the one hand (qualia, concepts, numbers) and the mind-independent world as represented by them on the other (physical goings-on).”

    Not so keen on the use of “representation”- what is pain a “representation” of ? – nothing. It is what it is. Perhaps it’s easier to say “the world consists of mental phenomena and everything else”. In which case why distinguish ? The world consists of cats and everything else. The world consists of chocolate and everything else.

    I’m trying to see if I agree with the idea that ‘space’ for instance, is completely distinguishable from the conscious experience of space and the intuitive theories of space we are all born with. No, I don’t. I don’t see it. “Objectivity” is a bit of a fantasy, a contemporary equivalent of alchemy. I guess I’m a kantian on that one, our brains are stuck with space. Our consciousness creates the ‘objective’ theories of space,time and matter from the biological hardwiring we are born with. This desire to pretend that ‘physical’ theories aren’t tainted by human perspectives is part of the ongoing AI project to claim that humans are mathematical angels, and that physics is a straight substitute for God, when the problem is there’s no god-role to begin with ..

    The question “how do mental phenomena arise” is simply not a philosophical question. It’s a scientific one, but it’s been hijacked by philosophers who get bogged down in substance questions which it seems to me are irrelevant.

    What is most disturbing is that these philosophers seem to be having an influence on how research money is getting spent, which is a real cause for concern ..

    J

  33. 33. Tom Clark says:

    John:

    “what is pain a “representation” of? – nothing. It is what it is.”

    I’d say sensory pain ordinarily represents bodily damage, and emotional pain represents threats or damage to one’s social well-being, personal integrity, and/or continued existence. The experience of sensory and emotional pain maps pretty closely to states of affairs, present or anticipated, we would do well to avoid if we want to survive. What isn’t clear is how pain adds to what its neural correlates already accomplish in physicalist explanations of avoidance behavior.

  34. 34. john davey says:

    i don’t know if a pain ‘represents’ bodily damage in any meaningful sense of the word… It certainly corresponds to bodily damage and gives some natural awareness of the spatial location.

    But all qualia have natural,indivisible,irreducible shape and as such can neither be represented (other than by duplication) or said to represent anything at all.

    I’d say the best bet is that people who experience pain live longer. There are neural disorders where people don’t experience pain and guess what – they tend to die younger. If you can’t feel heat and fall asleep on a burning bed then the prognosis isn’t too good. As for the ‘neural correlates’ of mental phenomena, you know more than I do as I wasn’t aware there was a convincing theory yet.

  35. 35. Tom Clark says:

    “There are neural disorders where people don’t experience pain and guess what – they tend to die younger. If you can’t feel heat and fall asleep on a burning bed then the prognosis isn’t too good.”

    Yes, but it’s the neural disorder that on a physicalist account explains why they don’t move. Certain neural pathways aren’t operating properly, which results in the lack of movement. The pain is *associated with* the proper operation of the movement-generating pathways, so when the pathways aren’t working, there’s no pain. But pain isn’t itself an additional cause of movement beyond what the neurons and muscles are doing.

    Of course it subjectively feels to us as if pain is what’s driving the movement, so we draw the conclusion it must play a causal role in an objective, scientific account (if you don’t feel pain, you won’t move). But there’s no story on offer of how such mental causation works.

  36. 36. Tom Clark says:

    Just as a follow up to the discussion about ultimate physical stuff, there’s a nice philosophically informed piece by Adam Frank at NPR’s 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog that’s a good antidote to what I call being “stuffy.”

    He concludes:

    “More recently there has been so-called PBR theorem (which has nothing to do with hipster beer but, instead, was named after its creators Matthew Pusey, Jonathan Barrett and Terry Rudolph). PBR is also a no-go theorem that appeared to eliminate an entire class of epistemological interpretations for quantum physics. It was a very big deal — and its meaning is still being debated. But the PBR theorem didn’t eliminate the most epistemological of epistemological interpretations. This is the so-called Copenhagen view that claims there is no way to talk about the world having any properties in-and-of-itself. In the Copenhagen interpretation, electrons don’t have intrinsic properties like position or spin. It’s only the act of measurement that makes the electrons take on specific values of these properties. So which is it? Does the world have an intrinsic ontology? Is there something out there independent of us that has specific properties in-and-of-it? Or is it all a mush of potential and possibility about which only our knowledge takes on a stable form? The fundamental question remains. How real is reality?”

    http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/01/05/462010293/how-real-is-reality

  37. 37. john davey says:

    Tom


    “But pain isn’t itself an additional cause of movement beyond what the neurons and muscles are doing.”

    I think you might be confusing autonomous nervous reactions that we all have – such as touching a hot plate – and actual pain, caused by less pressing emergencies such as ear infections etc. When touching a hot plate , or a very sharp object, the body reacts before pain has had the chance to arise because it takes too long to send the signal from hand to brain and back again. To that extend we all have a ‘neural disorder’ that ignores pain.

    I realise now I gave a very bad example. Perhaps a better example would be responding to ear infections, splintered bones, pains caused by diseases and so on. If you look at the documentation it’s this, rather than not reacting to things like fires that doctors regard as a problem. A general nagging pain gives choices to deal with the issue : my toe hurts because I’ve broken it, so rest it up. If you couldn’t feel that pain you might be inclined to walk on it. In that sense pain is acting as a deterrent to future choices, not getting you to respond to an emergency.

    In fact if you don’t react to fires properly that is not a pain issue of course, but a misfiring autonompus nervous system. It’s different.

    JBD

  38. 38. Tom Clark says:

    “A general nagging pain gives choices to deal with the issue : my toe hurts because I’ve broken it, so rest it up. If you couldn’t feel that pain you might be inclined to walk on it.”

    If you didn’t feel that pain and walked on it, it’s because the neural networks that disincline you to walk on it aren’t operating, and it’s those networks that also somehow give rise to the pain. If pain is something other than those networks, then you have to explain how it contributes to the disinclination to walk on it. No one has a story of how that works.

    If, on the other hand, pain is identical to those networks, then it doesn’t contribute more than what those networks contribute. Either way, it’s difficult to show how the experience of pain adds to what neural networks are doing in objective accounts of behavior control.

    Subjectively, of course, we take pain to be a major controlling factor. Since it correlates well with objective factors, it’s a very good parallel proxy for them. But we shouldn’t try to combine the two in objective accounts (what you’re attempting to do) – that’s what gives rise to the problem of phenomenal causation.

  39. 39. john davey says:


    “If you didn’t feel that pain and walked on it, it’s because the neural networks that disincline you to walk on it aren’t operating, and it’s those networks that also somehow give rise to the pain. If pain is something other than those networks, then you have to explain how it contributes to the disinclination to walk on it.
    .

    I think you are making a variant of the more generic point about consciousness being superfluous.

    Scientifically, the evidence of our experience is superior to objective theories of brain mechanics, as such proven theories do not exist (nor can they).

    It’s not up to folk theories to justify the belief that mental phenomena play a role in the world : it’s up to science to prove that they don’t.

    As a matter of structure, physicalism can’t trump consciousness : it is itself a product of human conscious cognition and necessarily limited by it.

    Physicalism can’t account for consciousness, a consequence of it’s mathematical structure and the limitation of its components to those mathematizable, irreducible kantian mentally intuitive structures : matter, space and time. The other irreducible intuitives – mental life itself – can’t fit in. It’s just impossible for physics to account for mental phenomena. You can’t make apples out of oranges.

    That physicalism creates false conundrums of the type you describe shouldn’t be a surprise. Epiphenomenalism is not a problem with mental phenomena, it’s a problem with physics, and a big one.

    Of course on a physicalist account mental phenomena serve no purpose. That’s because they don’t and can’ fit into it in the first place !! Neat huh ?

    As such physicalism is a “failure”, if physicalism is meant to be general account of everything. It simply can’t account for mental phenomena, and never will.
    It’s possible there may be a tie-on of the type you describe – some kind of correlation – but as you have guessed such an arrangement would be ad-hoc.

    We shouldn’t get too carried away with that – physics is ad-hoc, and far less structured than most people seem to think. A lot of AI enthusiasts, I note, never studies physics. Woud that they had !
    J

  40. 40. Tom Clark says:

    John, I’m completely sympathetic with your concerns about the explanatory adequacy of physicalism. There are lots of what I call “naive physicalists” out there who suppose that experience just has to be identical to some set of material processes or properties, but that supposition ain’t necessarily so. It has to be demonstrated.

    On the other hand, I’d like to think there’s a philo-scientific, evidence-based approach that shows how minds and mind-dependent phenomena like experience come to exist within the natural world (nothing spooky or supernatural going on). Seeing that such an approach need not be wedded to any idea of stuff or substance can help to free us from naively physicalist assumptions about what has to be the case about consciousness. The solution to the hard problem has to be consistent with physics and everything else we know about the world scientifically, but it may not, as you say, fall directly out of physics itself.

  41. 41. john davey says:

    “On the other hand, I’d like to think there’s a philo-scientific, evidence-based approach that shows how minds and mind-dependent phenomena like experience come to exist within the natural world (nothing spooky or supernatural going on). ”

    So do I. It just can’t be physics, that’s all, and all the consequent particulate materialism that comes with it. Any 1st year physics student will tell you that the dimensions on both sides of a physics equation must be the same. The stuff on side of the equation must be the same as the stuff on the other side : no possibility of a mutation from one form of irreducibility to another. Just not possible. Same stuff comes out of a physical equation as went in.

    I’m not a person who thinks that there can’t be a scientific explanation of consciousness. But I’m damn certain there won’t be a ‘physics’ (or ‘physical’ ) explanation.

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