Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Mind over matter

Brother Danny said:

“Simply saying ‘the typical dualist subscribes to interactionism’ doesn't solve the problem that exbeliever (and many others) have outlined:
Delineate the causal interaction between mind and body in regards to ‘perception’.

Considering the identification of focal points within the brain which are responsible for specific elements of perception, claiming some transcendent immaterial "mind" and "perception" is quite an exercise in logic-bending. I suppose the corresponding immaterial elements of mind and perception float above those exact locations on the brain, and that the interaction occurs locally? I'm presuming. You tell me in your own words.

Demonstrating a causal interaction between matter and the immaterial is like painting a square circle (kind of like Reformed apologetics, in that regard). Let's see if you can get to the crux of the matter, rather than begging the question.”

Danny suffers from the same problem as Loftus: both accuse me of begging the question because I failed to answer a question which Exbeliever never posed.

Once again, it’s fine with me if Danny wants to repair the flaws in Exbeliever’s original post by caulking all the gaps in his reasoning with gobs of silly putty.

But let’s not rewrite history. It isn’t my fault if I failed to address an argument that Exbeliever failed to make.

I never said that interactionism solves the mind/body problem. That was never the point.

The immediate point was that Exbeliever mischaracterized the opposing position. His entire argument against dualism was predicated on the idea that, in dualism, the mind can influence the body, but not vice versa.

This is a demonstrably false characterization of what dualism espouses. It is possible to construct a brand of dualism which eschews interactionism (e.g. occasionalism, preestablished harmony), but to treat the denial of interactionism as a defining feature of dualism is ignorant and incompetent.

However, that said, Danny raises a valid question in its own right. By way of reply:

i) To identify focal points in the brain which light up in relation to specific stimuli is by no means to show that such focal points are “responsible” for perception.

ii) Furthermore, the dualist has never denied a physical component to sensation. This distinguishes the dualist from the idealist. We believe in a sensible world as well as a sensory processing system.

iii) Even more to the point, to identify a correlation between an external stimulus and a focal point in the brain doesn’t go any distance towards the identification of a corresponding thought or idea.

Spatial coordinates are not equatable with pinpointing thought-content.

All you see is the brain in action; what you don’t see is what the observer sees. Mapping the brain and mapping consciousness are two different things.

Hooking up a man to a brain monitor may enable you to see what is going on in his brain, but it doesn’t enable you to see what he sees as he sees it.

So you’ve done nothing whatsoever to capture or discover the actual experience of perception. The interiority of perception remains as elusive as ever.

For example, you can scan the brain of a dreamer, but that doesn’t give access you to the dream. You don’t see the dream of the dreamer.

iv) And this is to say nothing of all the thoughts we have that are not trigged by an external stimulus, such as dreaming or remembering.

v) Danny’s problem is that he leaves the observer out of the process of observation.

vi) Danny never gets around to explaining why he thinks there is a problem to solve.

vii) Danny takes the position that if we cannot delineate how mind and body interact, then they don’t interact because they can’t interact, in which case we “solve” the mind/body problem by eliminating the mind in favor of the body.

But there are two basic problems with this solution:

a) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that dualism is untenable, you can relieve the tension in either of two directions: materialism or idealism.

b) It would be at least as reasonable, if not more so, to frame the question from the opposite point of departure:

Since mind and body do interact, it follows that mind and body are able to interact; hence, we don’t need to delineate their interaction in order to know that such interaction is possible.

viii) No, the interaction does not occur locally. In mind-to-body interaction, the effect is local, but the cause is illocal, while in body-to-mind interaction, the cause is local, but the effect is illocal.

This is reminiscent of the perennial debate over universals. Are universals in the particular, in the mind, or over and above the particular?

Well, let’s take Danny’s reply to illustrate the answer. Danny read my post. Danny didn’t like my post. So Danny wrote a reply.

Danny’s words, in the form of electronic signals, encode his thoughts. Are his thoughts literally in his words? Do the electronic signals constitute his his ideas? No. His words signify his thoughts.

Likewise, a traffic light embodies the intentions of the designer. You don’t find the designer’s mind in the circuitry of the traffic light. But the traffic light is a symbolic medium which embodies his concepts and conveys his intentions.

ix) Actually, it’s a simple affair to demonstrate mind/body interaction. I will my hand to lift a book.

Willing my hand to move is a different process than moving the book by my hand.

This distinction is a direct deliverance of universal human experience. A mental act results in a physical effect.

The onus is on the materialist to successfully reinterpret the experience of personal agency.

x) Now, in order for my hand to lift the book, my hand must be in contact with the book. And that’s because this involves an interaction between two physical objects. Either direct contact or a medium will do.

Critics of dualism typically object that since mind and matter are disparate, they cannot interact.

But that’s a category mistake. For it extrapolates the model of physical causation between physical objects to a relation where that model is simply inapplicable.

The mind does not interact with the body by acting on the body, just as the body doesn’t interact with the mind by acting on the mind. There is no physical point of contact or contiguity.

Far from posing a problem, this is why there is no problem. The problem is a pseudoproblem generated by a category mistake.

xi) As to delineating the causal interaction, what, exactly, does that demand amount to? Drawing a picture?

But what is there to delineate? There is no medium in play. Nothing to observe. The mind is unobservable. There is no empirical process to inspect or trace out from start to finish since one side of the causal relation is supersensible.

xii) However, things can exist, and be known to exist, without their being perceptible. Numbers exist. Numbers are imperceptible. Yet various natural objects exemplify numerical relations.


  1. I find it really funny to read Loftus pretending to be an intellectual, a philosopher of religion, and now a philosopher of mind.

    We all know how much Loftus knows about a subject on which he allegedly obtained a Masters in, right? Very little. Almost less than my chataechized 6 yr. old.

    Now, Loftus wants to play with the philosophers of mind. he pretends like he understands the issues and knows that consciousness can be reduced to brain states.

    Well, here's what the real intellectuals in the field say (btw, none are dualists)

    Whhat we would like eventually is an explanation. That is, we would be able to look at the physical processes in the brain and say, 'Aha! Now I see why this gives rise to a subjective experience of this kind.' Righht now, nobody has a clue about that." -David Chalmers

    "There's no easy way of explaining consciousness in terms of known science." -Francis crick

    "The fact that it's [consciousness] a subjective phenomena that we can't really define properly" is why consciousness is a mystery of science. -Susan Greenfield.

    All of these are taken from Susan Blackmore's new book, that I just got, Conversations on Consciousness. In the introduction she speaks about how thrilled she was to get to talk and interview the brightest minds in the field of consciousness today. She said the only thing in common with all of these scholars is that there was "almost no unanimity to the answers [she] received." She writes that "there is so little agreement" in this field and that "the whole field" is confusing. And she's knowledgeable on the subject!

    Maybe Loftus should give her a call and straighten the likes of Dennett and Chalmers out.

  2. I didn't know this post existed until just now.

    I find that, since joining DC blog, I have way too many responses to write to do any of them justice, and I end up writing in haste and leaving weaknesses where none ought be.

    I just wanted to address one quick point of this post --
    To identify focal points in the brain which light up in relation to specific stimuli is by no means to show that such focal points are “responsible” for perception.

    I am a bit confused here -- if you are in a chair with electrodes hooked to your brain, but have no idea which ones are hooked where, are blindfolded, and are not told what is going on [which is how these studies are often done], and are instructed to simply describe anything you feel or experience when asked to do so [some are "controls" where no stimulus was applied], it is a well-known fact that particular loci in the brain elicit particular memories, visual or auditory hallucinations, and temporal lobe stimulation is known to give "religious" experiences [think Dostoevsky...sp?].

    My sole point is, if the mind is the primary cause, I still just don't get why an immaterial mind is "compartmentalized" and somehow "correlated" to particular loci in the brain...?? I may just be too dense to get how your answer addresses this.