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Replying to The Mind-body Problem
Posted 29 February 2008 - 08:17 PM
Posted 24 December 2007 - 05:16 PM
If we are really to evaluate the merits of this belief in a nonphysical aspect to existence, a rather important question to ask is why believe in such a thing. I believe this is the most important question in such an evaluation because this belief is more derived from these reasons than from any evidence to be found in either philosophy or science. Even the fundamental human experience of existence cannot be the reason or people would not be so divided on the question. Therefore if we are going to make an honest evaluation of the merits of such beliefs then we cannot avoid looking at these reasons.
The first reason derives from the belief that ethics is founded upon consequences that we cannot escape. This does not necessarily mean divine retribution or punishment but can simply mean that there are natural/logical consequences of our choices to the fundamental nature of our being or existence. For example, some believe that an act against the sanctity of human life, diminishing or degrading the life of others cannot but diminish and degrade ones own life by making oneself less human and ones own life less meaningful. But this breaks down to some degree when circumstance makes the prospects for ones own life poor and when one has "nothing to lose", unless the consequences surpass the end of physical life into some sort of after-life.
A related reason is derived from the fundamental motivation of religion in the determination of identity i.e. in choosing what kind of person we want to be. Religion sees this as having an ultimate significance. But what is the ultimate significance of such choosing if the result of such choosing ultimately vanishes into non-existence? This does not have to be derived from a fear of death or non-existence, but can be derived solely from a belief in the meaningfulness of life to be found in these choices we make about who we are. If the significance of these choices are only in their effect upon society or later generations then it will break down in the case that such choices go unobserved - and furthermore it only becomes important that we appear to make such choices and not that we really make them.
Finally there is a feeling that the physical reality is a superficial representation of something else. It is like a book written in ink on a page. The real substance of what is there is not the paper or the ink but what the symbols in the book represent. Likewise, when we look at the world around us and see that everything is made of atoms and particles, many are not willing to accept this reduction of reality to these particles and the mathematical laws that they follow, but instead feel that these are much like the symbols in a book and that the substance of reality is found in what these particles make up. But this is difficult to give credence unless the people and things we know have a reality independent of this composition that we see.
Well now that we have examine the question of why, let us now ask if there is any basis in the physical sciences for believing in a non-physical aspect to existence? I have already discussed the failure of Bell's inequality, which put an end to the possibility of physical determinism showing the lack of causal closure in the physical world view. But as an elaboration upon this I would like to point out an aspect of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. This can expressed in a great variety of ways, such as the non-commutivity of certain pairs of observation operations, so there is a rather large role for interpretation in this. However, one Heisenberg uncertainty principle is that the uncertainty in energy in inversely proportional to length of the interval of time in which energy is examined (dE = h/dt where h is Plank's constant). In other words, energy is NOT absolutely conserved, for energy can appear from nowhere as long as disappears within a time interval given by this relation. This suggests to some people a possible interaction with energy from outside the limits of energy conservation which rules the laws of physics in macroscopic events.
This certainly does not prove that there is any non-physical energy. But the point here is that the possibility is rather far from being excluded. Considering the result of the failure of Bell's inequality, we must look for a solution to this outside the physics worldview in some sense, but this does not mean that a non-physical energy is the only solution. It may simply be accepted that energy is not conserved on this scale or that this is physical energy from a non-local source, however such solutions violate the most fundamental presumptions of physics and thus I see no way that they can ever become accepted scientific solutions any more than the idea of spiritual energy. I believe this means that this will never by something that the scientific methodology can resolve, but will always be a matter for personal interpretation.
But for now, let's just go with this idea of a non-physical aspect to reality and ask what role it might play in the process of life and human consciousness. I have already argued that this gap in the closure of physical causality is far to narrow to imagine that the human body is operated like a puppet by a nonphysical entity. However if we just focus on the one anomaly of human experience in subjective thought and feeling, and only look for the source of our experience of free will and ownership of thought and action, then what I have shown in part 6 is that this may be traced to rare events in the bifurcation phenomena when macroscopic events are not determined by pre-existing conditions. To put this in human terms, it is only in rare occasions when we are not acting out of habit but are truly making choices where free will plays a role. It is in these types of events where an interaction with the non-physical is likely to occur in complete agreement with the limits of the physics world view.
Thus if the true human self is a spiritual entity playing such a role and this interaction is what accounts for our experience of free will and consciousness then, from my discussion of this in part 4, 5 and 6, I think we can make a few important conclusions. The first is that this is not unique to human beings but a part of the nature of all living things. The second is that this interaction operates in both directions in the sense that it is not just the spirit changing the course of human thought and action but that by such choices the spirit changes and grows in a process of self creation. If you remember, it is only by changing in the process of causal involvement, and the idea of the self becoming the cause of free will actions, that the paradox of free will can be resolved. But this suggests another important conclusion in agreement with many religious and spiritual ideas, that the nature or quality of our spirit is the product of the choices we make.
In conclusion, although we can see the suggestion in physics of the existence of something non-physical involved in the events of the world, particularly in the bifurcation events that may be identified with our free will experience, there is nothing inevitable about such a conclusion. Some people from a physics background are engaged in a search for a consistent theory of physical or material causality, but since they must necessarily go outside of the accepted boundaries of the physics worldview, I cannot see how this could ever amount to anything but conjecture and speculative philosophy, no more or less valid than my own conjectures here about the existence of non-physical aspect to reality. Thus I believe we are stuck with a reality where tolerance between these two points of view is the only reasonable option. In fact, I hope that what I have done here, is to attack the roots of the rational that either side has used to judge the other as inconsistent or foolish. The atheist or naturalist is not required to dismiss or repudiate the human experience of subjectivity and free will, and the theist or spiritualist is not required to dismiss any of the discoveries of modern science. Apparently the reasons which motivate a belief in a non-physical aspect to reality (or is a rejection of that belief) must remain a matter of faith/choice. So ultimately the differences between these different points of view come down to a matter of personal choice about what seems the most rational and meaningful to them.
Posted 05 December 2007 - 02:36 PM
Well this leads us back to our main topic of how this new description of life can manifest free will, but now we have the added incentive of giving more substance to our sense that living things can be distingued from the non-living. Well since the necessity of the kind of non-standard causality implied by the idea of free will is already firmly established in quantum physics, what remains is to show how the this new understanding of the life process brings that causality into play in the behavior of macroscopic biological organisms. The answer to this lies in two parts. One part is in the measurement theory aspect of quantum physics and the other is in a process known in the new science of chaotic dynamics as bifurcation.
Measurement theory concerns, in the case of the Copenhagen interpretation, the process by which a wave or state of superposition collapses into the state which is consistent with the measurement results? Or equivalently, according to Everett's many worlds interpretation, how do we make the transition from identical worlds with the superposition of states to separate worlds of different measurements. I only mention this minority interpretation quantum physics to underline the fact that the question here is independent of this consideration, it is only a question of where you put the discontinuity, in the mathematics (Copenhagen interpretation) or in your conception of reality (Everett's Many World's interpretation).
The thought experiment known of as Schrodinger's cat, where a device which kills a cat depending on the measurement of something in a superposition of states, illustrates the problem involved. Since we do not believe that we can have a cat which is both dead and alive at the same time, the question is where in the process do we cease to have a superpositions of states, and why? This possibility of something existing in a superpostion of states appears to be confined to things of very small size composed of a few particles, therefore when the behavior of a large numbers of particles is made to depend on the quantum state of a particle, such as in the readout on an instrument panel, then the superposition collapses. In other words, amplification must be the physical process that causes the collapse.
Well the amplification of small perturbations is one of the characteristics of non-linear systems. Remember that Illya Prigogine proved that in order to predict the behavior of a system governed by non-linear equations, you sometimes need the initial conditions to be specified to an infinite degree of precision, because in some cases a difference no matter how small, can completely change what happens. In the study of diverse phenomenon, whose only comonality was that they were governed by non-linear differential equations, a very similar diagram kept showing up known as the bifurcation diagram. A typical example was numerical simulations of the population changes as the result of environmental changes. But ingeneral it describes a dynamical system when a small smooth change in parameters (representing environmental change) causes a sudden qualitative change to more than one possible solution for the long term behavior. Which of these possible behaviors are actually realized in the actual physical phenomena has this characteristic of requiring the specification of initial conditions to an infinite degree of precision.
So we see that complex dynamical systems can experience a bifurcation point in the non-linear equations that govern its behavior forcing it to choose from two or more possible solutions and that such a decision point by amplifying small perturbations to infinite degree is all too likely to cause a quantum state to collapse from a state of superpostion. But this would mean that the choice made at such a bifurcation point like the wave collapse that determined it has no physical cause according to standard ideas of causality in the physics worldview. This means that all of our discussion of the causal nature of free will is quite relevent to the behavior of complex dyanamical systems of which the supreme example are living organisms. It also means that we can draw a sharp distinction betwen the living and the non-living precisely well in line with our common sense, for it means that living systems are likely to be nothing like robotic systems, which simply following the instructions they have been given and thus do nothing that cannot be traced to a physical cause outside of itself. In addition, the mathematics of bifurcation reveals a source of unpredictable diversity in the behavior complex dynamical systems which matches what is observed in the development of living organisms.
This does not mean that biological (and mental) living organisms are not predictable to some degree. The existence and successes of the the sciences of biology and psychology are in fact a measure of such predictable aspects of living things. The mathematics of bifurcation only suggests unpredictability at discrete points which usually occur in cases of extreme environmental changes. It means that our free will is not to be found in our habitual day to day routines but only in those critical momements that we make decisions that effect the course of our whole future.
In conclusion we can see how the physical processes in complex dynamical system may be subject to the kind of non-standard causality that is suggested by our experience of free will. In other words, we don't see any reason in modern physics to either dismiss our subjective experiences of the mind as unreal or to see this experience as cause for rejecting the understanding of reality that is suggested by modern physics. I know that many of the religious will find such a conclusion disturbing, largely because they quite often take this subjective experience of the mind to be evidence of non-physical (spiritual or idealistic) aspect of existence. So in the next section I shall take a closer look at the possibility of the involvement something non-physical in the process which I have so far described.
Posted 05 December 2007 - 02:23 PM
In part 2 I explained how the subjective nature of our experience of the mind can be derived from the concept of free will that boils down to an experince of ownership of thought and action. In part 3 I explained a great deal about the process of life, in order to explain the how our experience of the mind can be explained as a physical process. Then in part 4 I explained how this experience of free will and ownership of thought and action is directly connected to the failure physical causality (as established by the failure of Bell's inequality), suggesting non-standard ideas of causality which are not found in the physics world view. So all that remains to tie all of this up, is to examine how this process of life, described in part 3, manifests these non-standard ideas of causality, to show how and why the human mind would have this subjective experience of free will as a consequence of being a "living" process.
But first I would like to examine the question: what is life? Biologists give life a definition based on various phenomenon that it considers its subject matter and thus defines life according to a set of things it has observed living things doing. In addition to this we know the fundamental chemistry of life based on DNA and RNA. As a result however, the incredible variety of life on this planet alone constantly challenges such a definitions when we find examples with the same DNA or RNA chemistry that do some of these things but not others. Furthermore there has been the growing realization/supposition that there is nothing inevitable about the particular chemistry of the life which is found on this planet. This has led to much more recent attempts to define life according to the certain characteristics that might be found in physical processes in general. In Wikipedia, we see such a definition by physicists that, "life is a member of the class of phenomena which are open or continuous systems able to decrease their internal entropy at the expense of substances or free energy taken in from the environment and subsequently rejected in a degraded form". From this, I hope that you can at least begin to comprehend some difficulties in defining life.
What I want to do now, however, is to make more of an appeal to common sense, considering why we try to define life at all? Apparently we have an almost instinctual discernment that separates the things of our experiences into the two categories of living and non-living, and it is the root of this discernment that want to grasp right now. I think we can soundly conclude that life is most certainly something we associate with some instances of movement, change or activity that we observe in the world. The question is, what is it that distinguishes those we discern as living from those that we think are non living. I think this has to do with determining the cause of this movement, change or activity that we observe.
For example, consider a marble sized ball which is moving around on a table. Do we not immediately start looking for an explanation of why it is moving? Is there someone under the table tilting the table or using a magnet? Are there shifting air currents in the air of the room to explain it. When we have exhausted all such explanations does there come a point where we might hypothesize that the ball is actually alive? This is not a likely hypothesis if the ball moves in a regular or predictable manner, but if the ball is both responsive to events around it (such as your presence and activity in the room) and yet its behavior is not determined by the events around it, the idea that the ball is alive gains considerable force.
From this example, I conclude that the common sense or intinctual definition of life is derived from the observation that the living things move, change and/or do things not as a result of external causes, but for their own reasons in response to the events around it. Now we can simulate this to some degree with robotics where a machine follows its programming in response to the evironment, but we do not think that it is alive because we we know that it has been created to do exactly what it does - and thus we have an explanation for its behavior in terms of electronics and programming that makes the life hypothesis unnecessary. In fact, we could say that in our pre-scientific days many of the things in the world that behaved in less predictable ways were seen as examples of living things or at least attributed to animating spirits or gods, but that as we discovered scientific explanations for them they were transfered to the category of non-living things. But now as the biological sciences explain more and more of the causes for the motion, change and actions of biological organisms, our instinctual discernment of the living from the non-living is now greatly challenged.
It is certainly an option to abandon the distinction altogether, and many have done this, choosing to see those things usually considered to be alive as simply more complex versions of the robots we have constructed. But when we reflect upon our commons sense instinctual definition of life, we see that we are really back to the question of whether we can take this idea of free will seriously or not. Since we have shown that advances of modern physics, namely quantum physics and chaotic dynamics, gives us greater cause to take the ideas of free will more seriously, we must wonder if this abandonment of the life distinction may be nothing more than an artifact of metaphysical ideas derived from the physics of the nineteenth century (the 1800's). We now have the science and mathematics to begin describing phenomena with a capacity for self-organization which is most certainly NOTHING like what our little robots do, and thus through this new science, the distinction of between the living and non-living can be revived.
Posted 20 November 2007 - 09:44 AM
Now we come to the most difficult part, for here we seek to understand that most perplexing human experience of consciousness and free will. There are three parts to this. There is an examination of the experience of free will to see what taking it at face value implies. There is examining the three possibilities implied by the lack of causal closure in the physics worldview. And finally there is an examination of the process of life to see how whatever conclusion about free will is manifested there. We will find that the first two of these are closely related and it is these that will be discussed at this time.
In this investigation we will find that the ways to proceed are anything but a one way street. It will reveal fundamental questions about whom and what we are that different people answer in very different ways. Also, taking the experience of free will at face value will uncover some pretty startling paradoxes, and I hope to show that the only way of saving the concept and taking our experience of this seriously (at face value) requires us to consider some ideas of causality that are very different from what has been adopted or presumed in scientific investigations and in fact has become the fairly universal presumption of modern man.
Human free will, as I explained before, boils down to this experience of an ownership of thoughts and actions. Taken at face value this experience tells us that there is a self and that this self is the cause of these thoughts and actions. The existentialist observes that this self is never the object of its intention and thus might be thought to be unknowable, but as I pointed out previously its ownership of these thoughts and actions are in fact a revelation of this self. All the things that we do and think are telling us about what this self is. However, if we accept this idea then observations of the lives of real people bring us to an important and unavoidable conclusion, and that is that the self is not static but changes throughout the life of the person.
This is also an inevitable conclusion from taking free will seriously. Consider a person who is contemplating doing something he has never done before such as stealing an item from a store. The person who chooses to steal can thereafter be described as a thief. This action tells us about the self that made the choice and is the cause of this action, and thus it tells us that this self is a thief. But if this was the first time doing such a thing, then we must pause to consider if he was a thief before the action (and choice) or only after. If we say that the person stole because the self that caused the action was already a thief, it explains the action and choice that the person made. Such a view would be in line with a reaffirmation of absolute determinism by resorting to a non-physical cause. But the problem is that it would make the experience of free will meaningless, for if the choice and action is predetermined by what the self already is then in what sense is it free?
Thus in order to take free will seriously we must conclude that the self only becomes a thief because of the choice made to steal, which among other things means that the self is not static but is subject to change. But as perhaps some of you can see already, this brings us to an even more difficult problem: which is the cause and which is the effect? If the theft makes the self a thief, then how is it that the self is the cause of the theft? In a way, this is one of those chicken-egg type questions of which comes first, the thief or the theft. Well before we get lost in the logic and make an unfounded conclusion let us face the facts of the experience. Does not the person choose to become a thief? Is it not the fundamental human experience that a choice like this is free and uncaused? Remember that the traditional philosophical term for such an uncaused cause would be a first cause.
Now let us consider a deliberative choice. When asked why we made the choice we did, do we not give a list of reasons, saying, in effect, that these are the cause of our choice? However, when we look at the process of making a deliberative choice, do we not consider reasons for each of the alternatives? Do we not, in fact, choose which reasons to act upon, thus in some sense choosing the "cause" as well as the "effect". If we take this seriously that would mean that both cause and effect are arising simultaneously from the same event - this choice which we are suggesting is a first cause. If you find that confusing then go back to our common sense explanation in our example of the person choosing to become a thief. This suggests that if we are to consider the self to be the cause of our actions in a manner that is consistent with free will then we must say that the self is the cause of the action as part of a process of self transformation, in this example the process of becoming a thief.
Now let us forget a moment the fact that we see an identity persevering through such a change as this, and consider this self before and after the choice is made and ask our self where the responsibility for the theft lies? We cannot put the blame on the self before the choice because that choice is a first cause event and the self before the choice cannot feel ownership of an action which has not yet happened. However after the choice, not only does the self now experience ownership of the action which has occurred but has become what the self has chosen. In other words the self becomes the cause of the action. Interestingly enough this agrees with what was suggested by the examination of the deliberative choice that the cause is to be found together with the action it causes after the choice which we take to be a first cause event.
Thus it is my suggestion here that another way look at this paradox of free will is in terms of a non-standard idea of causality, where the cause does not necessarily precede the effect in a time ordered manner. Interestingly enough this connects up with another of the options that the failure of Bell's inequality has forced upon us, which was to look outside the restrictions of the local Minkowsky structure of space time which is also known as local causality. Among other things this Minkowsky structure or local causality imposes a very strong temporal ordering upon causality within the physics world view. Since this was one of the premises for the derivation of Bell's inequality, the existence of causality which does not abide by this restriction would be possible implication of the failure of this inequality. The time-ordered idea of causality in modern science is not the "be all and end all" of human thoughts about causality. Aristotle considered four types of causality which went beyond this. In my case, I consider only a type of causality implied by free will, which considering the central idea of the self becoming the cause of its choices, I like to call, "self causality". In any case, whether you want say this is an example of a first cause or of causality which is not time ordered, we can see a direct connection between our experience of free will and the implications of the failure of physical determinism.
The only option implied by the failure of Bell's inequality which does not appear to resolve the paradox of free will was cause by a non-physical entity. This does not mean that a non-physical entity is not involved. In fact, while we are going so far as to look at ideas of causality outside of those used in physics, we are in fact already appealing to things outside the physics world view, and so in some sense the implication of something non-physical being involved is a most natural suggestion. However, a non-physical entity remains neither required nor excluded, but simply something we choose whether to believe in or not.
In conclusion, we again find nothing in human experience of the mind, including this experience of free will (which I have shown to be quite capable of explaining the subjective nature of our experience of the mind), which is inconsistent with what we have discovered in modern physics. In fact, modern physics, in the recent discoveries of quantum physics, being forced to recognize its own limitations in the failure of absolute physical determinism, appears to suggest that this experience of human free will can be taken at face value, as representing something that is quite real rather than some kind of delusion. Now what remains to be discussed next time is a closer examination of the process of life to see how these ideas of free will that we have discovered here is manifested in that process.
Posted 06 November 2007 - 09:50 AM
So setting aside the question of the subjective nature of human experiencing, let us consider the nature of the human mind and how it can be explained as a fully physical phenomenon. During brain surgery, doctors and scientists have been able to map out the what parts of the brain peform what functions. However while some of these assigned functions show a direct correlation between damage suffered and the impairment of associated abilities, other functions especially in the frontal lobe have revealed that they are often reassigned to different locations in the brain, when damage occurs to the usual portion that performs those functions.
There was this recent report of a man with Dandy Walker complex where during the course of this 44 year old man's life, a cavity in the center of his brain had explanded pushing his brain matter against his skull and leaving the normal location of the brain completely empty. And yet this man has led a normal life with no noticable loss of brain function. At the very least this demonstrates that brain function is not very dependent on its large scale structure. This along with the studies showing the reassignment of function in response to brain damage and that it is only the total amount of damage that impairs these functions, suggests that the brain operates in a very different manner from a machine or a computer.
Another thing to consider is the diversity, development, flexibility and adaptability of the human mind. While it is certain the case that many functions of the brain, especially those which are shared with other animals, but even including many aspects of our ability to communicate are "hardwired" to specific areas of the brain, these aspects of brain function which occur automatically and unconsciously are are not what we mean by the mind. By the mind we mean the conscious content of our thoughts including beliefs, concepts and related aspects of our personality which develop and function in a very different manner than these other aspects of brain function. Varying greatly between individuals these contents of the mind are more comparable to the software of a computer than the hardware and have very little to do with the biological development of the species or our genetic heritage. Instead the constructs of the mind appear to be learned from the society in which we are raised, from the parents who raise us, as well as from our own personal discoveries and decisions.
Furthermore when we examine modern human behavior we find that much of what they do has more to do with the purposes of the mind and this conscious content than having anything to do with the needs of the body: often learning for its own sake, entertainment, and dedicating oneself to beliefs even at the cost of ones life. This not only suggests that the human being finds his identity more in the mind than the body, but that mind is living entity all its own, with its own needs and its own way of responding to its environment.
Well it is suggested by the study of non-linear systems by Eric Jantsch in his book, "The Self Organizing Universe", that life may be identified with a particular kind of process that occurs in many different mediums that has the characteristics of self-organization. Cyclical process can form dynamic structures that not only will absorb energy from the environment to reinforce, repair and maintain these structures, but will also respond to environmental changes with changes in these structures in a non-deterministic manner. By this last I am not just talking about the failure of physical determinism but that this is a source of great diversity. The point is that these changes rather being a direct consequence of the environmental change like a one way street but opens up branching possibilities of change which include variations of greater complexity, adaptablity and sensitivity.
Let me stop to explain a little more about what is meant by dynamic structures. The point is that some physical structures may not be any particular matter but a structure in the flow of matter. A tornado or a hurricane is a good example. Air is constantly going in and coming out and so it is not any particular air that the these things derive their identity from from, but the dyanamic structure composed of the matter which flows through it. Living organisms all have the same kind of dynamic structure because they are constantly consuming organic matter to constantly rebuild themselves. Human skin is an excellent example for it is constantly scraped away both in washing and in the wear and tear of everyday life (and one article claims that our skin is completely replace every 14 days). But this kind of rebuilding to counter the forces of death and decay are present throughout the body. This is a fundamemental part of the process of life.
Thus according to this understanding of the nature of the life process, it is possible to understand the mind as a living organism of dynamic structures as well but in a completely different medium from the life of the body. The idea is that instead of being an organism (self-organization of dynamic structures) in the cyclical process of organic chemistry which is the life of the body, the mind is an organism (self-organization of dynamic structures) in the cyclical processes of information in the brain. In other words it is like the software of the human brain has acheived the status of life in its own right apart from (although quite dependent upon) the life of the body. The dependence of the mind upon the body does make it any less alive in its own right, for the natural world is full of living organisms which are likewise completely dependent upon another living organism.
Thus in conclusion I hope you can see some of the ways in which I can be said to take a median postion between the traditional categories of the monist and dualist solutions to the mind-body problem. Although I am certainly a physicalist in the sense that I am proposing that the mind is completely physical, nevertheless you can see a kind of dualism in the way that I consider the mind a seperate and independent form of life from the body. The mind is not a function of brain. Nor is the brain all there is to the mind. One is an organism of biochemistry and the other is an organism of neuro-electrical information. The next step in part 4 will be to re-examine this experience of "ownership" or free will that lies behind our subjective experience of the mind and to consider how this relates to our ideas about causality.
Posted 06 November 2007 - 09:49 AM
hi mckain, this is Samso from the apologetics.com boards. I read all this and within the next few days i'll have a reply. hopefully we'll be able to continue the discussion that i sort-of abandoned on the other boards.
I will look forward to it. Meanwhile, I have another installment to write.
Posted 04 November 2007 - 08:47 PM
Posted 17 October 2007 - 03:06 PM
The physics worldview is constructed from mathematical relationships between measurable quantities. This mathematical nature of physics makes it the ultimate realization of the methodology of modern science which seeks to remove the subjectivity of the observer from consideration. It does this by requiring the confirmation of measurements by independent observers. The result is the creation by abstraction of an objective reality that separates out that aspect of our experiences, only that which is universally shared and excluding those which are subjective or personal. Now this has proven marvelous in its ability to uncover new and unexpected things about the world around us. But when it is the observer himself and those subjective experiences he has that we want to understand, then it is hard to see how the methodology of science is going to be very useful.
However, since this subjective experience is our primary experience of existence then we are talking about something that is hidden in plain sight. The only difficulty is in comprehending it. Well the subjective awareness has been a focus of the attention and analysis of the existentialist philosophers and it is they who saw this experience as one of a subject of awareness being focused on its object, describing it with the word "intentionality". Some existentialists, however, have used the word "about-ness" and think in doing so they are misdirecting us. When we consider a sentence such as "I think about trees", the trees are what it is about, but the real subjective content is found in the "I think". We can, in fact, say only, "I think", without any consideration of what it is about, and I think that make it clear that "about-ness" is irrelevant. A book or film can be about trees without having any subjective experience involved. Why even a mathematical equation of physics like KE = .5 m v^2 can be said to be about a relationship between energy, mass and velocity.
The real question of the subjective experience is the "I-ness" -- what puts the "I" in the I think, or what I think is more revealing, what makes this connection between the "I" and the "think". I think what makes the connection is a feeling of ownership. When we say "I think", we are not just saying that some thinking is going on, but that that the thinking is mine. I, therefore, put forward the proposition that this experience of ownership is the heart of intentionality and the subjective experience, and that it is only by this experience of ownership that we obtain a sense of self. The existentialist likes to say that the true self, the subject of awareness, never being the object of awareness, is unknowable. But I think that this all wrong, because the relationship of the subject of awareness to the object of awareness is not a neutral one of a disinterested observer, but one of ownership. "I think" means "my thought". "I act" means "my action". So it seems to me that awareness is all about the self in a process of self discovery. I would thus go so far as to suggest that without this feeling of ownership, we would have neither self nor awareness at all.
But why do we have this experience of ownership and what does it really mean? When there is a thought or an action, what does it mean to say that these are mine? Is this not an experience of responsibility saying that there is a self and that it is this self that is the author and cause of the thought or action? Is this not the fundamental human experience of free will? Is this experience of free will and responsibility an accurate reflection of reality or is it simply a delusion? It was the belief of the last century that every physical event had a physical cause and if you but knew the initial conditions then there was a mathematical equation by which you could calculate what the result must be. On the basis of such a belief the human experience free will and responsibility appeared to be at odds with the reality of the world. According to this, if we were the cause of a physical event, then we ourselves must be a physical thing with a physical cause and part of a causal chain like a string of dominoes. One domino would be proud of knocking down the next when in reality that domino had no choice and thus no real responsibility in the matter at all.
But physics has changed in the last century. With the failure of Bell's inequality came the realization that the physics worldview was not causally closed after all, but that what happens in some events has no cause in any pre-existing physical conditions. Furthermore, the conclusion of Erwin Schrödinger in his book "What is Life", that such quantum effects can play no role in the operation of life, was invalidated by the advent of the new science of chaos. His presumption, that the small perturbations of quantum physics would be damped out, turns out to be the consequence of approximating non-linear differential equations with linear ones. Illya Prigogine proved that in order to predict the behavior of a system governed by non-linear equations, you sometimes need the initial conditions to be specified to an infinite degree of precision, which means that in special cases quantum effects do play a role in the determination of macroscopic events. This is what makes the weather impossible to predict very far into the future. But nowhere is the unpredictability of nonlinear systems so manifest as it is in the behavior of living things and thus the lack of causal closure of the physics world view is relevant to the behavior of living organisms after all.
So what does this lack of causal closure in the physics worldview (failure of physical determinism) mean? It means that what happens in some events either has no cause at all or only has a cause outside the physics worldview. No cause at all would mean that these events are what the classical philosophers called a first cause. A cause from outside the physics worldview allows some appeal to causation either by some non-physical entity or to causation that operates outside the restrictions imposed by the Minkowsky structure of space-time. In any of these three possibilities we can conclude that there is nothing in the subjective human experience that is inconsistent with the ontology outlined in part 1 and supported by the physics worldview. Even if there is a non-physical entity involved in this experience of free will or ownership of action, this is much too narrow of a means for a non-physical mind to be controlling the body, which means we have every reason to believe that the human mind is a physical thing.
All we can conclude at this point is that we see no fundamental inconsistency between this subjective human experience and the physics worldview and the ontology outlined in part 1. We have yet to fully account for the experience of free will or to account for other differences in the nature of our experiences of mind and body. Accounting for this experience of free will or "ownership" behind our subjective experiences, will requires some speculation and exploration of the three possibilities described above. But since that takes us away from the main question concerning the mind-body relationship, in part 3 we shall consider the other differences between our experiences of mind and body and explore this idea of a human mind which is completely physical in nature.
Posted 07 October 2007 - 05:21 AM
The experience of human existence seems to be divided into two very different types of events. There are the subjective (personal) events of the mind and objective (shared) physical events. These two types of experiences seem to be so fundamentally different that philosophers, called dualists, have supposed that these represent two separate realities. In the traditional and most extreme form of dualism these realities consist of different substances (ousia). I include the original Greek words for some words from the works of Aristotle because the translation into English has some difficulties.
Part 1: Substance, matter and form.
The idea is that the substance (ousia) of a thing, in the thinking of Aristotle and dualist philosophers, also known of as the "bare particular" of an object, is the aspect of the thing, apart from it properties without which the thing would not exist. This should be contrasted with Aristotles conception of matter (hule) and form (eidos). What Aristotle called matter (hule) is that which persists through changes while that which changes is the form (eidos).
Take a moment to consider the English word "substance", which I believe has a different meaning/connotation than that of "ousia", as that which something is made out of. According to English usage, the substance of a chair made of steel would be the steel and by melting down the steel to makes something different like a table, the substance, steel, remains and it is only the shape which has changed. Therefore the meaning of the English word "substance" is closer to that of hule than ousia. The English word "matter" is also a poor match to hule, and instead means according to Wikipedia, the substance of which physical objects are composed, not counting the contribution of various energy or force fields. "Matter" is usually used to refer to the atomic composition of things, which is a structure of protons, neutrons and electrons, but more generally it is used to refer to any congregation of particles with mass. The English word "form" seems to complement the English word "substance" referring to the shape and structure which the substance of a thing has in that particular thing.
Now Aristotle rejected the idea that the substance (ousia) of a thing is the matter (hule) of the thing, thinking that as matter (hule) changes form then the thing which it was, being destroyed in the process of becoming something else, no longer has that "bare particular" by which the thing existed. So what Aristotle seems to have thought, was that a thing had something aside from the matter (hule) of which it was composed and its properties, that makes it what it is. However, I suspect that this may be nothing more than an artifact of human perception and language which classifies things for the purpose of giving them names. It seems obvious to me that these classifications and names are somewhat arbitrary, or based on the use we find in these things. Therefore I doubt the validity of Aristotle's conclusion on this question.
Therefore, I am moved to consider that "that by which a thing simply is" should be distinguished from "that by which a thing is what it is" and to suggest that the first is that which persists through changes, like Aristotle's matter (hule), for which the most appropriate English word is "substance". The second, "that by which a thing is what it is" would be that which changes, and for which the English word "form" is appropriate, especially if one is open to the implication that the properties of a thing may be largely reducible to geometric ideas like shape and structure. It is useful to point out that this substance-form duality has a relative aspect to it, because a substance of which something is made is also a thing which may in turn be examined and found to be explainable as a particular form or structure of a more fundamental substance. Therefore, I think it is useful to think of these aspects of substance and form as two types of progressive analysis: one that looks reductively at that which things are composed of, and one that looks in the other direction at the structures that things are a part of. In this we may wonder if there is an ultimate substance of which all things are ultimately composed and an ultimate form of which all things are ultimately a part of.
Now the interesting thing is that this is very much in the line with the discoveries of physics. Physics has progressively realized that all the things which it has studied are all forms of one measurable thing called energy, which is neither created nor destroyed but changes from one form to another according to the mathematical laws of physics. Thus it is in this physics concept of "energy" that we find an obvious candidate for an ultimate substance of all the things which physics studies. But that is not all. Physics has also shown a clear trend towards the reduction of the laws of physics to geometric concepts. A big step in that direction was the General Theory of Relativity which explained gravity, not in terms of the action of forces at a distance, but as an effect of the geometric structure and shape of space-time itself. But this trend has progressed to the most recent form of String Theory that explains all of physical forces by extending the four dimensions of space and time to eleven dimensions, and further explaining all the fundamental particles as vibrational modes in that eleven dimensional space-time. Thus we also see a clear candidate for an ultimate form, of which, all the things, which physics studies, are a part of. That is the whole 11 dimensional space-time structure of the physical universe.
All of this plays an unavoidable role in the mind-body problem because once we have an understanding of the nature of reality that is consistent with the discoveries of physics, only then we will have a much better foundation for seeing an appropriate role for the mind and body that will also be consistent with science. The next step (part 2) will be to consider the limits of this understanding of reality in explaining the totality of the human experience of existence, for only then can we judge properly whether the subjective experiences of the mind as well as the objective experiences "of the body" can fit within this framework.