Mental Cause

In several essays on the broad subject of free will I have said that there are three types of causation in our physical universe: micro-physical indeterminism, macro-physical determinism, and agent-volition, the last subjectively experienced as the willful exercise of one’s mind’s causal capacity, “mental cause”. I refer to what Aristotle called “efficient cause”, that is the immediate forerunner (or forerunners) of a particular event or outcome taken to mean “that which physically brings that particular event about.” Aristotle defined four types of causes, three of which could be said, sometimes, to have “mental” aspects. A simple example here, a fire in a fire-place, will serve to illustrate Aristotle’s distinctions.

1. The “material cause” of the fire is that out of which it could be made. Wood or paper might work. Water would not. There also has to be some oxygen (or other oxidizer) present and so on.

2. “Formal cause” has to do not with the fire’s material substrate but its shape. Not all arrangements of even qualified materials will successfully light. To make a nice fire place fire, the wood and paper have to be arranged in certain ways. Many but not all possible arrangements will serve.

3. “Efficient cause” is that which physically brings the fire about. It might be a lit match set to paper for example. When physics talks about causes, it is this they are talking about. Importantly, there can be chains of efficient causes. To set my wood pile alight with a match I must first strike the match and light it, then hold its flame under my paper kindling. That last step is commonly called also the “proximate cause” and it is mostly this that this essay is about.

4. Aristotle’s fourth cause, the “final cause” is the reason we have built and lit our fire. We want to get warm. Notice that this cause is only indirectly connected to our fire. Besides starting a fire we might get warm in other ways. We could do physical exercise or put on a coat. The entire set up of the fire from the material (wood and paper), its arrangement, to its ignition, are merely means to this end.

Under normal circumstances, we would always attribute “final cause”, to a desire, aim, or objective (purposeful intention) of the agent to get warm. If “mental cause” (of any sort) even exists, final causes would always, by definition, be mental. “Material causes” (that wood and paper in the presence of oxygen can burn) are not typically thought of as mental. Formal causes (the arrangement of the wood and paper in the fire place) might or might not be mental. The wood and paper in their pre-light configuration is not mental per-se, but the arrangement-design might or might not be. In the case of our fire place an agent is involved, but for example in a natural forest (arrangement of trees) ignited by lightening, it is not. As with formal cause, efficient cause might or might not involve mentality. In the case of our fire place, an agent lights the fire, but in the forest fire, lightening does the job.

Notice that from a third-party viewpoint, efficient (causal) agency remains always a physical object. What lights our fire place is a body with arms and hands that strike matches, and so on. There is no need to assume mental cause is real from an outside perspective. When we get to an inside perspective however the situation is quite different.

WHY DO WE NEED MENTAL CAUSE

What we need is some justification for believing mental cause exists, that it belongs in our ontology and “is real” by virtue of being one of the causes (somewhere in the chain of efficient cause) of [some] physical event. When we observe what we take to be a minded agent (human or animal) we see that the physical effects they engender are always products of a body’s motion. No one disputes the physical connection between the body and the rest of the world. The issue comes down to “what moved the body”? The answer is muscles of course, nerves, and more nerves comprising some part of the brain. The question is, was there something that isn’t a nerve as such (though a nerve would be involved) but something quintessentially mental, perhaps a desire or something like that lying at the beginning of the chain of efficient-causes?

Most people would say that it “seems as though” this is the case. Physics says this seeming must be an illusion because it discovers only two kinds of causes in the universe, the indeterminate and the determinate. To be sure, discovered here means measured. Physics detects, with physical instruments, only two types of causes. Speculation about mental cause goes back as far as the earliest recorded philosophy, but physics has never been able to detect it!

If however there is no mental cause when we seem so strongly to sense that there is, all sorts of philosophical problems arise. Mental cause is not the same as free will, but free will entails mental cause. Physics of course denies free will is real But if I am not warranted in believing my agency can be a cause, at least of my own body’s motion, how am I warranted in believing anything? Belief itself (causal or not) is a quintessential mental phenomenon. If my causal capacity is an illusion why not also my agency, and why not anything I might happen to believe or desire?

We can be deluded about our beliefs being true, but it is difficult to believe we are deluded about having beliefs, and doubly so for desires. The debate isn’t usually about having (subjectively experiencing) beliefs, but rather about their being anything “over and above” brain states. If physics calls my very agency into question (not the illusion of it, but its being something more than brain states) what is it then that has beliefs and desires? Can “brains” be an answer? How do brains, qua brains, come to have beliefs and desires? Do the mechanisms of a clock know the time of day in the sense that a human knows it when she looks at the clock? To deny brain states beneath (the foundation) of our mental states would in this day be absurd. The issue is always ultimately the ontological status of what appears, the subjective, as a result of their presence, and what (if any) downward causal powers the appearance has.

These sorts of issues are but the tip of the iceberg. If mental cause (and so by extension free will) is an illusion then a radical skepticism about everything would seem to be warranted. At the same time, even skepticism, since we must be skeptical of our very agency, is not warranted either. There is a long literature here, but as John Searle put it (The Construction of Social Reality [1995]) nothing about the human experience nor all of human history makes any sense without presupposing free will.

WHY IS MENTAL “EFFICIENT CAUSE” CONTROVERSIAL?

I have given some answer to this above: because physics cannot measure it. It would seem unproblematic to take for granted that physics doesn’t cover everything; it is, as the matter is put, incomplete. But the problem is more subtle than that. The two types of causes that physics can measure (strictly speaking physics cannot measure quantum phenomena directly, but only when these interact with the macroscopic world) have qualities, characteristics, that mental causes lack. These qualities are what explain in the sense of “reveal the mechanism for” physical causation. There is no mathematics in physics, no observation or experiment that would suggest that anything other than prior-physics can be a cause in physics. Even not-directly-observable quantum phenomena are readily observed via these same qualities when they interact with the macroscopic world. Purportedly “mental causes”, by contrast, do not appear to share these qualities. As a result, they cannot be observed from a third party viewpoint, and so no path exists to an explanation of the mechanism of their effect on physics.

Rather than accepting that some mysterious sort of cause that cannot be observed must be real, physicists and most philosophers instead move to strike “mental cause” from the list of causal possibilities in our universe. This is a philosophical move, an induction based on evidence from the only sort of detection or measurement instruments, physical instruments, that exist. The anti-physicalist might respond by claiming that while physical instruments can not in principle measure mental cause, subjective consciousness, literally our phenomenal arena detects them, and this arena is, after all, also a part of the universe along with everything else.

At this point we are thrown back upon the brain which is indisputably physical. We know that the movement of my arm is preceded by nerve impulses in my arm and brain that are themselves indisputably physical. If at the top of this chain of efficient cause there was a mental event that set the chain in motion it behooves the proponent of mental cause to say how, that is by what mechanism, the mental event effects (that is trigger) the first indisputably physical (nerve) process in the chain?

CHARACTERISTICS OF MATERIAL and MENTAL CAUSES

According to Phil Dowe (Physical Causation [2000]) material cause is all about transferring some [physically] conserved quantity momentum, mass-energy, or electric charge. If one billiard ball strikes another momentum is transferred from one to the other. This results in two other observations important in this context. First physical cause is temporal. Causes precede their effects. The transfer of a conserved quantity cannot take place faster than the speed of light. Second, there is a reciprocal impact of the effect on the cause. If one billiard ball gains momentum, the other loses it.

Both of these qualities are absent from mental cause. In this context, distinctions made by Nicholas Rescher (“Free Will: A Philosophical Reappraisal” [2008]) will be helpful. Rescher is aware of the overall relation between consciousness (including mental cause) and brain states. He claims that there never can be any instance of mental cause without the simultaneous existence of some correlated brain state. If we look for a mental event that brings about a brain state, but isn’t itself associated simultaneously with some other brain state, we will never find it. “Mental causes”, in Rescher’s terms are not causes in Dowe’s physical sense.

Mental causes are not, in Rescher’s view, temporal. They are literally (metaphysically) simultaneous with their effect, some brain state. He distinguishes this sort of a temporal cause by calling it “initiation”. Initiation (often intentional but not necessarily so) need not evoke a neurological correlate ex nihilo. It need only slightly modify an existing state. From a third party viewpoint, that modified state would appear a perfectly natural evolution from its own prior state. Nothing would be found to suggest that anything non-physical was responsible for it.

This “a temporal initiation” is possible because in mental cause, no conserved quantity is transferred, and consequently there is no reciprocity. If I elect to pick up a rock and throw it at a window, I can feel the momentum transfer between my arm and the rock, and of course the throw is temporal. But the initiation of the event was simultaneous with the physical brain state that lies at the top of the physically [efficient] causal chain. The evidence that this is so is our experience that there is no reciprocal effect of my choice to initiate a rock-throw back on that initiator. Nothing about the initiation impacts back on the mental cause itself. Of course I may, this being a directed (intentional) initiation, immediately regret having done so. But that is a different, subsequent, thought, not a modification of the original one.

If Rescher is correct about initiation, how can we tell if the choice (mental cause) results (simultaneity being granted) in a correlated brain state or the other way around? We cannot tell based on any physical measurement. Physicalists would say there is no reason not to suppose that the physical is logically (if not temporally) prior. But if Rescher is correct, what then of the mechanism problem?

With regard to mechanism, many speculations seem to orbit about some interaction at the quantum level. The a temporal nature of initiation coupled with a lack of conserved quantity transfer and so lack of reciprocity, are suggestive of quantum entanglement where, on some views (see Ruth Kastner “Understanding our Unseen Reality” [2015]), the same qualities (or lack of them) characterize quantum phenomena. Since we cannot measure quantum phenomena directly, as far as we know, prior to some manifestation in the macro world (the exchange of a conserved quantity) the same qualities as characterize “mental cause” (initiation) might characterize “quantum cause”. The most detailed speculation with regard to mind might be Henry Stapp’s (“Quantum Theory and Free Will [2017]) Quantum Zeno Effect (QZE), mind’s ability to hold or otherwise modify subtle quantum indeterminacy within the anatomical and physiological processes of the brain. True, even QZE does not say exactly how this power of the mental connects up to the physical, but in this case, neither side of the transaction can be directly measured and there are reasons to believe (see the aforementioned Kastner book) that quantum phenomena are also initiations in Rescher’s sense.

WHAT IS MENTAL CAUSE

Above I have looked at mental cause from the physical side. What does it look like from the mental side? Some philosophers have characterized mental cause in terms of beliefs or desires. But beliefs and desires are not mental causes in Aristotle’s efficient sense. They are Aristotelian “final causes” and clearly mental, but not our issue here.  Being a reason is of course mental, but not all of what is mental is also causal. I might want to get warm (my reason for lighting a fire) but not move a muscle to do anything about it. The quintessential efficient mental cause is a volitional act, an exercise of will on the part of a minded agent. In our experience, only mind, the subjective consciousness of an individual, has this ability to act volitionally, for a purpose, and not either indeterminate or determined by prior physics.

Purposeful cause is mental and only mental, and it is causal, that is itself determining of subsequent physics, for example my throwing a rock. As much as I disagree with Schopenhauer, I do believe he was correct in locating will and representation at the core of phenomenal experience, or as we would put these in more modern terms, intention and qualia. Mental cause, in particular our capacity to control intent and by extension a body, is an intrinsic component of our “what is it like to be…” experience.

Qualia are the mental effects of physical (brains) causes (an over simplification but for purposes of this essay I leave it at that, see “From What Comes Mind”). Intention is a mental cause (initiation) of a physical effect. Throwing a rock begins with an intention, but this is also true for subjective states that exhibit no gross physical effects. Suppose on a nature walk you come upon a beautiful flower. You attend to it, visually, perhaps also aromatically at the same time. Suddenly you become aware of a buzzing sound from behind or above your head somewhere. You cannot see what is causing the sound, but without moving your gaze from the flower you have become aware of it. Becoming aware is clearly a mental event which in this case may be comfortably attributed to prior physics (brain states, bearing in mind Rescher’s initiation can work in both directions). Only subsequently do we volitionally attend to the sound, perhaps to identify it. The volitional element entails agent purposeful-direction and so mental cause even if no muscle has moved.

Under normal circumstances, when we are conscious, we are never without both qualia and intention about something. Is it possible one can be conscious without intention, qualia, or both? Advanced Buddhist monks, masters at meditation, claim to achieve the first, but even this being so, they maintain this special state only while meditating. Sensory deprivation might suggest the possibility of a qualia-free consciousness, but people report made-up qualia, images and sounds brains generate (and to which we attend as we do in a dream state) in the absence of external stimulation. Perhaps we cannot be conscious in the absence of qualia.

MENTAL CAUSE AND FREE WILL

Mental cause is necessary but not sufficient for free will. In addition, free will demands agency, a subject whose will it is. An exercise of free willed choice is a volitional act of an agent. It is not either prior-determined, though often influenced, by physics, nor random. It is mental cause directed by agent-purposeful volition, itself quintessentially mental and unique to minded-agency in the universe. To get free will, mental cause must be real, and also subjective agency. The action of the body-agent of a physical event (throwing the rock) is willful only by extension from the [presumptive] mental-agent who is the initiator of that act. A body can sometimes act in the absence of agent consciousness. Such acts are not willful, and typically we do not claim that they are.

The connection between intention (willfulness) and subjective agency is built-in to human language. To speak of intention always implies subjective agency. So free will and mental cause are doubly linked. Free will rests on mental cause, but if free will is not real, there is nothing interesting left for mental cause to do. It is possible there are, for example, subconscious mental causes of which we are not aware (conscious of) and so not willed as such. But if in fact free will (not to mention agency as such) can be subsumed by brain states, there is no reason why subconscious mental cause could not be also.

An exercise of will (volition) by an agent is the quintessential “mental cause”. If free will is an illusion it is hard to understand the point of working to save mental cause. If all of our choices, our behaviors (including purely subjective sorts like “attending to”), are prior-determined by our brains what is left for mental cause to do? When Sean Carroll denies the possibility of free will because “If free will were real it would mean that mind causes physics” (The Big Picture [2016]) he is aiming, really, at mental cause. Free will goes along for the ride because it is the volitional exercise of the causal potential of mind that matters.

Agent volition then, and not beliefs or desires, is the epitome of mental cause. But if volition itself is prior-determined by brain states, and not a non-material (mental) agent, then there is no point to mental cause, the brain can do it all. In turn, mental cause, apart from the free will issue, is usually defended (or challenged) with reference to free will. The possibility of free will is grounded on the reality of mental cause and in addition the reality of the volitional agent able to utilize it. Both of these, in turn, rest on the reality of mind with the “power to cause physics”.

Cigar Review: Caldwell Long Live the King Mad MoFo

Cigar Review: Caldwell Long Live the King Mad MoFo

This vitola, a 5.75″ x 43 corona called the “Mad Mofo”. As usual these are above my budget these days, but occasionally a deal comes along (from $10+ to $8). Having smoked other sticks in Caldwell’s “kingly” line, I figured it would be good, so for a box of 10 I splurged. Not disappointed…

Wrapper: Corojo
Binder: Dominican
Filler: Dominican & Nicaraguan

Cold smnell: Mild barnyard, dirt, manure, some flowers. Not the strongest cold smell ever but lots of nice aromas in there.

Construction: A medium brown wrapper. A few cigars in the box had slight defects in the wrappers, a few places where they were slightly crushed. I suspect this was a problem in the packing of the box. Of the ten sticks, only two were like this and the defects are pretty small. You can see one of them near the cap in one of the pictures.

Otherwise, the wrapper is a little oily and toothy with visible small veins and seams. The pack is medium dense and even all the way along the cigar, but the whole looks rough. Not that this is a bad thing. Small veins are where the flavor is, and some of my favorite sticks have this sort of rough finish.

I’ve smoked 4 of these so far. Two had perfect draws all the way along, the other two were a little tough at the beginning, but loosened up in their second half. Smoke output varied with the draw, good but not great when the draw was tight, superb when it wasn’t. The burn line on these has been exceptional, even the few with tight draws. They smoke slowly giving me about an hour and twenty per stick.

Flavors: On first light, the cigar is woody with a cedar sweetness on the retrohale. No pepper at this stage. A few puffs in a little roasted almond makes an appearance followedG by a sweet flower (honeysuckle?) and leather come to play. All of this is very smooth. A third of the way in the pepper rises, but well balanced with all of those other flavors. I get some mint or wintergreen in here (the sweet flower again), and lots of sweet woods.

As the stick smokes the various flavors mix and trade places. One hit big on nut, the next on wood, sweet floral and leather make appearances as does something of a burnt nut. In the second half the tight sticks loosened up. Smoke output increases, the burn line is still straight. Pepper comes up gradually until by the end of the stick it is pretty much up front, but the other flavors are there all the way to the nub..

Other than a few mildly tight draws (I never had to use a tool to loosen them) the construction of these is great and the flavors superb! Strength a solid medium, maybe a little on the fuller side. Good stick!

Here’s a review from The Busted Wallet, and another, a video review, from Cigar Obsession.

 

Review: Plantation Single Barrel Multi-Island XO

Review: Plantation Single Barrel Multi-Island XO

This is another of the new Plantation single-cask offerings. The Plantation web page on this has a lot of information. A blend of both column and pot-still Jamaica and Barbados distilates, then aged in three different barrel types, oak (tropics), Ferrand (continental), and a year in Côteaux du Layon wine casks, bottled at 46.5% ABV. There is much more there as well.. Of course they find much more in the flavor profile than I, but this is still pretty rich and tropical. Indeed, I can taste the tropics in this one. The sort of rum I picture drinking with a little ice (I usually drink neat) at a pool-side bar somewhere, really anywhere, in the Caribbean!

Color: Pale yellow amber with flashes of yellow and a little red.

Legs: Thin, fast legs drop from the bottom of the swirl line.

Aroma: I get vanilla, fruity notes of apricot, banana, some pine apple, nutmeg, and coconut. There is also a little alcohol on the nose. The over-all effect is very rich, and melds later into a deep caramel.

Flavor: Very clean medium creamy body.  A light touch of raw sugar and sweet light fruit, delicate with some fire on a long sugar-sweet aftertaste. The flavors include some raisin, light caramel, and a hint of tobacco too, all very delicately dancing on fruits like apricot, grape, pineapple, and apple. Despite the Jamaican heritage here I don’t detect any funk. The Plantation site linked above gives even the ester content, 176 g/hL, that’s grams per hundred liters, so very low. Very high ester rums can have 1000 g/hl or more. No surprise I don’t sense any funk, but even this low ester content certainly adds to the depth of both aroma and flavor.

So far I have liked every one of these Plantation offerings. The collection can be seen here, and this link will take you to a few comments about the Multi Island on Rum Ratings.

 

Rum Review: Foursquare-Velier SAGACITY 12-year

Rum Review: Foursquare-Velier SAGACITY 12-year

When this rum came across my local B&M’s path I thought $65 is a steal for any Foursquare, and this proves to be the case here. Sagacity is a blend of two different rums. From the back label, both begin with distillate from a double retort copper pot still and a double column [continuous] coffey still (Aeneas Coffey the inventor of this type of still). The mixed distillate is then split into two parts with half aging 12 years in ex-bourbon casks and the other half aged 12 years in ex-madeira casks. The two are then blended and adjusted to 48% ABV. The label also says there are no sweeteners or other additives in this rum.

Color is a beautiful medium copper red with lots of fiery flashes. The label also says the rum is not chill filtered and so may be a little cloudy. No such effect at the start of a bottle though. I have noticed some cloudiness creep into rums toward the end of their bottles though.

Legs are beautifully distinct. Thin to medium dropping at a leisurely pace from the back of the swirled edge.

Aroma, that’s where the real magic begins. Dark fruit, prune, raisin, chocolate, apricot, coffee, coconut, and something warm like cinnamon. There is but a little alcohol on the nose and no young-rum acetone notes anywhere. To put it mildly, the aroma here is amazing!

Flavor, after all… My vendor tells me there is more of the pot still than usual in Foursquare offerings. There is the barest hint of fruity pot still funk to my taste. Not something I like when too strong, the hint of it (like that in El Dorado 15) fits perfectly, enhancing the flavor profile which is otherwise quite sweet. The first taste is creamy, and unexpectedly sweet, There is maple, dark brown sugar, the dark fruits, apricot, a little orange, and that bare hint of over-ripe fruit. Coffee gets a nod, as do oak, and even chocolate. The aftertaste is long, smooth with nice warmth, and tickles of raw sugar sweetness. All of these flavors are very subtle in a smooth clean background with no strong alcoholic notes. The most distinct thing about the flavor is the light dancing sweetness of many sources. Perchance there was some madeira sloshing around in those barrels?

This is a very good cigar pairing rum. There are so many flavors here. The sugar sweetness accentuates some cigars while the oak or coffee do it for others. For $65 I can only highly recommend this one!

Here is a look from the Black Parrot Bar in London, and here another review from my most knowledgeable rum friend the Fat Rum Pirate!

Cigar Review: Roma Craft Intemperance Whiskey Rebellion 1794

Cigar Review: Roma Craft Intemperance Whiskey Rebellion 1794

Roma Craft puts out a lot of good cigars, many reviewed on this blog. The Intemperance Whiskey Rebellion 1794 is another. Lets get right to it.

Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano

Binder: Indonesian Bezuki

Filler: Nicaraguan and Dominican

Each of the five vitolas of this cigar is named after a key player in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. The stick I’m reviewing is the smallest of them, a 4″ x 46 petit corona “Hamilton” (yeah the guy from the musical). Official retail on these is $6. I found them for $4.75 in a 30 count bundle with common discounts from the Cigar and Pipes website linked here. I recommend getting on their mailing list. The other vitolas are the 4.5″ x 50 “Jefferson”, the 5″ x 50 “McFarlane” (commander of the militia that supressed the rebellion), a 5.5″ x 54 “Washington”, and the 5″ x 56 “Bradford” (the leader of the rebellion). Each vitola retails for a bit more than the one before it. The last is $8, still a decent price for what turns out to be a very good blend!

The cold aroma is rich with black tea, barnyard, flowers, and even a dry chocolate off the foot!

Construction has been mostly excellent. A medium-dense pack, firm all the way around. Wrapper a beautiful moderately oily dark brown. Seams are almost invisible, and there are no veins showing through. I’ve smoked four of these now. Three had superb draws all the way along. One was a little tight, especially in the second half. I had to open it up a little. Burn lines have been straight all along the smoke except that tight one required some correction in the last inch and a half. Smoke output was excellent on all four. Mostly A+ on the construction. Burn time on these is 50-55 minutes down to the nub. Very satisfying for a petit corona.

On first light the flavor is earthy tobacco, fall leaves, and sweet woods. Leather comes up shortly, the pepper is light at the beginning. After a while there is some sweet flower and roasted nut. In the second half the sweet flavors dial back in favor of the earthy again and the pepper comes up strongly. The strength stays medium throughout. This is not a very sweet cigar except for the occasional hits of flowers and roasted nuts, I don’t get any of the chocolate I sensed in the cold smell. Cedar is there though. Not really a sweet-note cigar though there are a few here and there, but an excellent smoke nonetheless.

The Cigar Dojo review linked here is of the 5″ x 50 McFarlane vitola. This one here from Stogie Guys covers the whole line.

I’ve tried this cigar with sweeter rums like the Plantation Barbados and El Dorado 15 (a very good contrast in flavor), also the 2008 Guyana (no particular effect), and last, my new Foursquare Sagacity (review forthcoming) which, so far, brought out the most sweetness in the cigar. Roma Craft makes a lot of fine cigars. This is yet another added to their oeuvre!

Cigar Review: Juarez Shots by Crowned Heads

Cigar Review: Juarez Shots by Crowned Heads

Not exactly the “new cigar” I thought, but the vitola is new and alas only 500 boxes of 50 cigars were made! There are three other vitolas in regular production, more expensive than these shots. This page at Famous Smoke will show you the rest. As of this writing they are still available at Famous and also at Atlantic Cigar. The “Shots” listed originally for $6 in these boxes. You find boxes commonly for $5.50 and with some discounts and specials I found mine for $4.50, but I expect this one box will be the only one I will ever have. Too bad! These are delicious! Let’s have a look..

The Shots are a 4″ x 50 “petit robusto” rolled at Tabacalera Pichardo in Estelí, Nicaragua

Wrapper: Mexican San Andres
Binder: Ecuadorian Sumatra
Filler: Dominican and Nicaraguan

The wrapper is a maduro dark chocolate brown, slight oily sheen. A few veins show up along the wrapper in most of the sticks. Did you know the little veins carry a disproportionate amount of cigar flavor? The pack is firm all the way along. Pretty dense, heavy stick for its size.

Cold smell: Heady mix of black tea, manure, barnyard. Very rich. I love it already!

Construction: Have had 6 so far and the draws/burn-line on all have been great. Smoke output excellent. Burn is slow, 1 hour to smoke, a couple went 70 minutes! A+ on construction, something you don’t find on many sub-$6 sticks. Kudos to Crowned Heads!

Flavors: Initial light and first half, very light on the pepper. Brown sugar, toffee roasted nut, peanut butter, sweet wood, leather. The retrohale on this stick is rich with sweet aromas and pepper is minimal, so go for it! In the second half there is a bit more pepper all the way around, but the sweetness is still there, the leather, maybe a little dry chocolate in it too. Towards the last 1.5″ there is more woodiness, more pepper, but the sweet smells and flavors are still there, if dialed back a bit, all the way to the nub. This stick goes all the way! I am impressed!

These sticks pair great with coffee and they don’t get to more than a medium strength so they make a great morning smoke. I’ve been drinking mostly Plantation rums lately (see latest rum reviews) and they all pair well here too, but nothing really pops out at me yet. So far this is a coffee cigar!

Highly recommended! Get them while they’re still available! Here some more about them from Halfwheel….

For Every Theist there are One Hundred Materialists

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As concerns philosophy of mind, for every theist, there are one hundred materialists in the present-day philosophical community. Theism, purportedly has many problems, but it does do a nice job explaining the seemingly qualitative difference between subjective experience (that is, mind) and the perceived (and purportedly) mind-independent world. I will return to theism at the end.

Among materialists, for every eliminative materialist (as concerns mind) there are five pure property dualists. For every property dualist, there are ten Russellian monists of one stripe or another and a like number of panpsychists. These last two categories often overlap with some versions of Russellian monism (sometimes called dual-aspect monism) becoming panpsychism at larger scales. There are also monisms that do not become panpsychism, and panpsychisms that do not rest on monisms. While materialist philosophers (the materialism often amounting to little more than stipulation) of these various philosophies of mind talk to one another about the differences in their theories (each intended to overcome specific problems seen in their competitors), none of them ever mention their over-arching issues, problems that all of these various theories have in common. This essay is the result of my attempts to discuss these common problems with several of these philosophers all of which have been met with stony silence.

Each of these materialist approaches to mind is supposed to solve the “problem of mind” without reference to a Deity who would, should he exist, obviously have the power to create both the physical universe and mind within it. The starting point for all materialist solutions is the physical universe which must (again often coming down to stipulation) be the only source of everything  else and the physical  is founded on “causal closure”. This fundamental principle comes down to the idea there is only physics in the universe and all the physics that now exists came from physics and nothing else. There is another axiom and a few corollaries to the causal closure principle. The other axiom is that physics (besides being produced by only physics) itself produces only [more] physics. The corollaries are (1) nothing of physical mechanism is purposeful, or “there is no teleology in physics”, and (2) there is reciprocity in physical mechanism. A cause is always in someway changed by its effect. Physics recognizes two sorts of causes in the universe: macro-physical determinism, and micro-physical indeterminism. Both types of cause fully comply with causal closure, axioms and corollaries.

The central problem addressed in all of these theories of mind (except eliminative materialism) is that consciousness, in particular human mind (though applies also to the higher animals), does not appear on its surface to be material at all. Yet mind does very much appear to be a cause productive of physical effects; the manipulation of some associated individual body. If mind emerges purely from physics, is nonmaterial in some sense, and a cause in the physical, then the causal closure principle as it stands is false. One or both of the axioms cannot be true.

ELIMINATIVE MATERIALISM

Eliminative materialism is the only PoM that does not entail some change to causal closure. Indeed, it does not suffer from any metaphysical origin issue (there being nothing needing any metaphysical ground), nor any problem with property specification or interaction, one or more of which, as we will see, plague every other theory including theism. The problem with eliminative materialism is that it achieves all of this by denying consciousness exists. It saves all of causal closure by claiming that consciousness does not belong in the list of real phenomena (ontology) filling our universe, making itself prima facia absurd! It is to overcome this absurdity (and at the same time avoid supposing an existential intentional source of mind) that all the other PoMs were invented!

PROPERTY DUALISM and EPIPHENOMENALISM

Property Dualism is almost always a basis of the other theories except for theism and even here there are sensible interpretations that are largely property-dualistic and not Cartesian substance or Thomistic hylomorphic dualism. Both monisms and panpsychism, at least in many of their interpretations, come out to mind of our sort being a not-material phenomenon having certain properties emerging from brains. In pure property dualism, there is nothing other than the physics and biology of brains involved, that is causally closed physics as understood by most physicists. Yet in this view, the second axiom of physics, that physics produces only physics is seemingly violated. In one special case, the case of brains, physics produces something that while yet supervening on physical properties displays novel properties, a seemingly nonmaterial subjectivity, and with this the power to cause physics, to cause a physical change in the brain that results in the uncontroversially physical control of a body. This breaks the first causal closure axiom, and amounts to proposing a third kind of cause in the universe, mental-cause.

As with all of these theories there are variations. Some property dualists avoid proposing a third cause with a variation called epiphenomenalism. Here the idea is that consciousness, our subjective, seems real enough from within it, but as concerns the external world, its powers are purely illusory. Brains do produce consciousness, but consciousness does not “cause physics” (Sean Carroll “The Big Picture” 2016). Epiphenomenalism, however, while preserving the first causal closure axiom doesn’t save the second.

Pure property dualism doesn’t suffer from any particular metaphysical or property specification problem. Since mind comes only from brains there is no need for further metaphysical grounding and since only these brain-based minds are at all mental there is nothing to discriminate or specify as concerns the mental properties of anything other than brain-minds. Property dualism does have an “interaction problem”. As noted above causal closure is violated in at least one (epiphenomenalism), and often two directions. The problem how mind interacts with physics (even if only for physics to manifest it)  is not resolved.

How exactly does the new dualistic entity emerge from pure physics (we have found no other example of such an emergence), and how, by what means exactly, in its bi-directional variation, does it “cause physics” in turn? No one can say. Henry Stapp’s Quantum Zeno Effect is an interesting speculation (mind can partly-constrain wave function collapse in special micro-structures of the brain). QZE only pushes the problem up one level. It is a suggestion regarding what mind does to brains, not how it accomplishes this feat.

RUSSELLIAN MONISM and PANPSYCHISM

Both Russellian monisms (of various sorts) and panpsychism (also of various sorts) are, conceptually, advanced to suggest solutions to this mystery in pure property dualism. How does ordinary physics under causal closure come to have the extraordinary ability to produce something nonphysical and how does that entity come to have causal effect on the manifestly physical brain? Maybe physics isn’t as purely physical as physicists think. Maybe all they can detect and measure is the physical, but physical law has psychic or proto-psychic (I use these terms interchangeably throughout) qualities built into it? Whenever we measure the physical, we are measuring combined physical and proto-psychic qualities.

When brains come along, they produce mind as we know it because these psychic qualities somehow sum up in brains in a way that expresses them in what we experience as subjective consciousness. Supposedly this avoids violating causal closure because what physics calls causal closure already has the psychic built into it. Brains evoking minds are merely the culminating expression of these qualities.

This is, in essence, the core of both the monisms and panpsychism. One-way or another, either at the micro-level or the universe taken as a totality, psychic-potentials in the form of something positive attached to physics, add up to consciousness as we know it when brains come along. These qualities have to be positive. If they are merely potentials, possibilities, then they are no different from all other phenomena presently in the universe including galaxies, stars, life, and so on. All of them were obviously possible, made that way by the conditions of the Big Bang and the cosmological settings.

Yet while monisms or panpsychisms seem to resolve one issue, and not even that very well as we will see, they raise more than one of their own. Where do they come from? How is it “psychic-properties” pervade physics (or cosmology)? What is their origin? Physics, cosmology, itself has the quantum vacuum. There is all this material stuff and process in the universe because the quantum vacuum is unstable and the macroscopic universe, the Big Bang, is the result (see “A Universe From Nothing” Lawrence Krauss 2012). Importantly, the resulting galaxies, stars, planets, and all cosmological evolution at least up to the appearance of life, fall out of our physical equations given the measured cosmological settings. Getting all this requires no extra-influence, no psychic-qualities. Significantly, there are no extra [psychic] terms in the mathematical equations describing any of this.

Monists and panpsychists say the proto-psychic properties are brute, built-in to physics at the micro (monism) or cosmological (panpsychism) scale and what we measure as such in physical measurements already includes the proto-psychic properties. Yet, no psychic-placeholders are needed to represent physical phenomena in our equations. For cosmology, the properties of the big bang, including the values of the cosmological settings, are sufficient to ground (make possible), all of physical reality as we find it, including life. Life’s origin perhaps presents a special problem, but not a topic I will address here (See “Answering Five Questions: The Relation between Science and Religion”). Only mind seems to need something more. Something more that is than the possibilities inherent in pure physics. Other than this, the psychic properties, at any other level, are explanatorily redundant.

Another problem raised by panpsychism and Russellian monism are the properties of the proto-psychic. We can say something about what “psychic qualities” are for our own minds. They are the substance of our experience, our “what is it like to be” and include qualia and intentionality (our free capacity to direct our attention) among other properties. Yet except for a negative characterization “it isn’t that”, none can say anything positive about what these micro or cosmological psychic properties actually are. They are not consciousness. So what are they? Nor can anyone answer the related question: what do these psychic qualities do exactly to physics? How would physics be different if they weren’t there?

The retort here is that these qualities are what they are such that when material organization becomes dynamic and complex enough, subjectivity, mind, emerges. This is after all the reason these speculations exist. But if these psychic properties have no effect on physics until complex brains evolve, this solution becomes ad hoc. If brains are utterly contingent (as pure physics has to claim) then they might not have ever evolved. That being the case, psychic properties in the micro physical or cosmological would have had no purpose what-so-ever, more explanatory redundancy.

On the other hand, perhaps the psychic qualities we cannot describe do something long before life and brains come about. What? They would act in such a way as to push physical evolution towards strengthening the likelihood of otherwise contingent evolution to produce life and eventually brains! If this is the case, then to be clear, teleology, purpose, is put back into physics, the purpose, in this case, of evolving minds! Now we are face-to-face with some purposeful mind behind all of this, or we must accept that, purely by accident, there is attached to physics that which cannot be detected, comes from nowhere (the Quantum Vacuum doesn’t help here), and happens by sheer chance to push cosmological and biological evolution towards mind.

All of this though begs again the question of the mechanism of this influence. A self-respecting chemist will scoff at the notion that any process, even one as finely tuned as a living being or a brain does anything, on the purely physical level, but satisfy the physical equations. Any influence the psychic has would have to be invisible to what pure physical theory addresses perfectly well, for example selecting mutation X over the equally likely mutation Y. Since no such influence can be detected, we face again, although the devoted will object, a manifestly nonphysical phenomenon (except by stipulation that it must be physical because there is nothing else) that has some effect in (and on) the physical. We have, in short, an “interaction problem!”

In short, philosophers put up a placeholder that supposedly explains the capacity of the material world (at the micro or cosmological level) to invoke consciousness from brains, but can say nothing positive about this placeholder. They cannot say how it happens to exist or where it comes from. They cannot describe any of its properties, they cannot say how it manages to work, how it interacts with physics. On top of all this the theoretical edifice must either add teleology back into physics and cosmology or it is explanatorily redundant until brains happen, contingently, to arrive on the scene!

THEISM

Theism is the notion that some minded and purposeful entity, God, exists and has the power to spawn the physical universe by some mechanism (perhaps the big bang), and purposefully direct its evolution towards life and mind. Under theism, there must be a purpose to otherwise purposeless physical mechanism. Since God is purportedly infinite (eternal) and uncaused-cause (unique in the universe [of which the physical is but a part] having no prior-cause), postulating him puts a stop to infinite-recursion of causes.

Theism has an inverse counterpart to Eliminative Materialism, Berkeley-ian style “pure idealism”. The idea is that nothing is real except mind, our individual mental arenas. What “appears to mind” as the external world from the inanimate to other persons, even our own bodies, is put into our minds by God. This idea is not as prima facea absurd as eliminative materialism. It accepts mind, at least my own mind (idealism can drift towards the solipsistic), as obvious and since God is infinite he has the capacity to do exactly what idealism claims he does.

Idealism is even less popular than eliminative materialism because God is needed to make it work. But it has other problems. For example, why should this mind of ours find, what amounts to a simulated mind-independent world, so complicated? It is one thing for God to put a virtual tree outside my virtual window, but as I further explore the tree I discover incredible complications. Not only the tree’s cells their macroscopic (deterministic) intricacies, but all the rest down to quarks and the Schrödinger wave equation. Doesn’t all of this amount to God deluding us about what seems to be a reality independent of mind even if recognized only from within it? For these reasons the preponderance of evidence favors a genuine, mind-independent, world whose properties we discover through application of mind.

A good God would not be in the business of deluding us. If there seems to be a mind-independent world, and if, with mind we appear capable of grasping its intricacies, then evidential experience suggests the mind-independent world is real. At least at middle size scales (roughly dust motes to mountains) there is a remarkable correspondence between the world and its representation in mind.

Besides idealism there are two well-known theistic PoMs, Cartesian-style substance dualism and Thomistic (Aquinas) hylomorphism, the first being much better known than the second. I do not believe either is satisfactory. Hylomorphism is vague about what exactly is formed, or what mind is a form of or in. Cartesian substance dualism has never given enough credit to brains. For Descartes, mind, being immaterial, should in theory be able to float free of any particular instantiation. Why is mind associated always and only with brains?

My own view is closely related to materialistic property dualism adding a catalyst that evokes the nonmaterial mind from the activity of brains. The catalyst (Cosmic Mind, perhaps a poor choice of names) is not mind as such and combining the two (brains and catalyst) is required. For more on this and how it differs from Cartesian dualism see “From What Comes Mind”. My interest here is how theism in general compares with the materialistic theories as concerns their metaphysical issues: origins, teleology, psychic qualities, and the interaction problem.

Regarding origins, brains are physical and come up an evolutionary chain. The catalyst comes, in one-way or another by some direct of indirect route, from God as does the physical universe within which evolution occurs. God, being eternal-uncaused-omnipotent, has no particular metaphysical problems of his own granting his existence for the sake of argument. The question “from whence comes God?” is answered. God comes from God.

The relation between the teleological and causal closure, a problem for panpsychism and Russellian monisms is also solved. Causal closure in physics is true. Mechanisms in the physical are well and truly purposeless. At the same time God has, seemingly, a purpose for purposeless physical mechanism. Universe physical outcomes, governed by the conditions of the big bang and the cosmological settings, do not merely allow for life and later mind, but were intended, deliberately, to deliver them over time. Even if Cosmic Mind has no teleological role before the appearance of brains (I do not assert this to be true, but my argument does not hang on its truth) it is not redundant (as are proto-psychic properties with no teleological impact) because the eventual appearance of brains is not, under a theistic view, contingent.

The description or properties problem, acute for panpsychism and the various monisms, is not an issue for theism because there are no proto-psychic qualities to describe! Stars, rocks, and thermostats have no proto-psychic qualities, nor does the physical universe as a [physical] totality. The equations of physics need no proto-psychic term because there are none to apply. Nothing is psychic until brains evolve and then the interaction between Cosmic Mind and brains evokes subjective consciousness. Notice that this not only includes animal brains, but supports exactly the hierarchy of consciousness that we find on Earth. Lower-order brains have lower-order consciousness. There is something it is like to be a bat, and something less to be a lizard, and less still a fish, and so on. Cosmic mind, uniform throughout the universe, invokes mind only to that level the underlying brain makes possible.

This then brings us to the interaction problem. Theism does little better here than panpsychism, Russellian monism, or for that matter both two-way property dualism and one-way epiphenomenalism. Every PoM apart from eliminative materialism suffers from the same interaction problem! Even so, theism does a little better than the others. Nobody can say how any of these theories (their implied ontologies) work to evoke mind from brains, but theists can say, at least, there is someone who knows the trick. Further we have no reason to suppose that this trick of God’s is comprehensible to the minds invoked by it.

It does no-good for the Russellian monists or panpsychists to argue that they have no interaction problem because the claimed “proto-psychic” properties are built-in to physics and so physical by stipulation. This move is part of the whole point of these theories but it is disingenuous, merely pushing the lump to another part of the rug. The proto-psychic presumably has some impact on what would happen in the physical. Physics would presumably come out differently in its absence. Without being able to say what this impact is, how physics differs thanks to these properties, and merely stipulating that they are physical without distinguishing them from a physics without them, makes them explanatorily redundant.

Of the three problems, metaphysical ground, property specification, and interaction, theism resolves two and makes sense of our epistemic incapacity to resolve the third — God’s powers are beyond our ken. The gap between mind and the doings of the physical brain is intrinsic to the nonmaterial character of mind and the causally closed qualities of physics. Mind cannot be directly probed from the third person perspective, and from the first person, its own origin is phenomenally transparent.

Theism gives something additional that all the various alternative solutions never address directly, free will! Free will is the elephant in the consciousness room (see “All Will is Free”). Pure property dualism can only scratch its head about its appearance, its power, seemingly automatically embedded in mind. Panpsychism and the monisms do accommodate its possibility, but offer no clue as concerns its origin or mechanism. Theism grounds free will.  A free intentionality is possible and exists because a free intentionality with the relevant power put it there, the integral facet of our subjective experience (a truth ironically recognized by atheistic Schopenhauer). It turns out there is a point to everything after all (see “Why Free Will”)

Meanwhile, the PoM consequences of theism fit experience. Why does the evolution of mind in the universe seem to be something more than purely contingent? The intuition is true, mind was intended. Why is mind alone, within a teleology-free physical mechanism, purposeful (intentional)? Because the source of both mind and physics is intentional, minded.  Why does consciousness appear nonmaterial from its own viewpoint and invisible from the viewpoint third parties? Because the catalyst (Cosmic Mind) is not material, but in mind of the biological type, the nonmaterial is grounded in all three of the “fundamental joints” in reality (see “Prolegomena to a Future Theology” and “Why ‘One Size Fits All’ Ontologies Never Work”).

I could go on and others of my papers explore some of this from different perspectives. The point here is that Theism answers questions and resolves ontological and epistemic mysteries much better than do any of the non-theistic PoMs. In fact, these theories leave everything out! Their only reason for existence is to reject theistic explanations. There cannot be a God, so what then supports mind? Is it mysterious proto-psychic properties that have no discernible origin or metaphysical ground that we can find or even speculate about, no properties we can say anything about, and suffer from the interaction problem they were stipulated to avoid?

Of course philosophy must be free to speculate about experiential phenomena from any perspective whether theistic or atheistic. My problem with the atheists in PoM is not that they advocate for their ideas, but in my extensive reading not a single one acknowledges any of the fundamental problems I have here raised.

What happens if the proto-psychic is subtracted from physics? Materialists can say only that, while the cosmos would look much the same, mind would never appear. Even if brains evolved, the creatures animated by them would be David Chalmers’ P-Zombies! By contrast, if God were subtracted from the universe, there wouldn’t be any universe at all, but rather nothing. This outcome is philosophically advantageous. It is this common origin of both mind and physics that grounds the metaphysical possibility of their interaction. No, we cannot fathom the interaction mechanism, but under materialist PoMs even the possibility of the proto-psychic is left unexplained.

In the end there is no stable position in the philosophy of mind between eliminative materialism and theism. Eliminative materialism is stable because it claims there is nothing what-so-ever to explain. Theism is stable because it self-grounding (God comes from God) and because it has the resources to do the job (explain why the universe is the way it is including mind and free will), even if the matter of how exactly that job gets done remains forever beyond our pay grade.

 

Review: Plantation Single Cask Guyana 2008 Rum

Review: Plantation Single Cask Guyana 2008 Rum

So here is another, so far the last I have, of the special series of Plantation single cask (cask and bottle numbers on the label) rums. This one, labeled “Guyana 2008”, is on the expensive side at $85/750ml bottle. The other two, the Barbados XO ($50), and Peru 2004 ($85), I have also also reviewed. There are many more rums in this “single cask collection”. I’m sure I will never get to try them all.

What we’ve got here is 47.1% ABV aged 9+ tropical years in ex bourbon casks, and 1 year in France in Ferrand (the label says chestnut and accacia wood) casks. The label says “pot still”. The color is a medium amber, a nice cross between copper and brass colors. Legs are sort of thin medium and fall medium fast down the glass.

The aromas here are heady. I love taking deep droughts from the glass. Alcohol in the background smells sweet with no acetone or varnish notes. I get hints of brown sugar, prune, tobacco, and a deep chocolate-coffee mix that reminds me of Kahlua. These are very rich aromas.

Flavors like the aromas, but almost not there at all. This rum is dry, barely sweet at first, yet sweetness is there at the same time. What a contrast from the Barbados XO that tasted so much like it smelled (see review linked above). This by contrast has rich sweet aromas and only a hint of the same sorts of sweetness in the flavors but yet they are all there somewhere. It is creamy, moderately, from the first sip, and has a nice long barely there but sweet aftertaste. There is only the slightest bit of heat in this one when first swallowed, but it hangs around for a while. Good for a cold afternoon.

Remember this claims to be a pure pot-still rum, fermented for a week (from the label) which I think is pretty long for a rum, and yet there is no funk here what-so-ever. This sort of subtlety is where my rum taste seems to be going. This Plantation Guyana is absolutely marvelous like some of the Foursquare’s I’ve reviewed in the past. I notice that most are in the $80+ range. Maybe if I drink slowly I won’t notice!

I have not in any of these reviews said anything about the bottle labels. They are beautiful (particularly the front — pictures in all the reviews) and have a lot of information (both front and back). They don’t say everything you might want to know, but much more than most. Definitely collectibles if you are into such things.

So wow! If you can afford it, try it. A standard setter for rich aromas and subtle flavors!

Review: Plantation Barbados XO Single Cask Rum

Review: Plantation Barbados XO Single Cask Rum

 

One of three Plantation limited production (single cask) rums I’ve purchased in the last few months. I reviewed the PERU here, and now it’s the Barbados’ turn.

At 48% ABV this is a nicely balanced rum, and the least expensive of these new offerings at $50/750ml bottle. It is first a blend of pot-still and double-column distillates. Tropically aged for “several years” (that from the front label) in ex bourbon barrels, this rum then gets 1 more year in “Amburana casks”, a South (and perhaps also central) American wood. There is not much to be found about Amburana on wikipedia. There is more confusion to be had here. The front label says “Amburana” (and numbers the cask and bottle) while the back label says the rum spends its last six months aging in “Ferrand oak” which is not a kind of wood that I can find, but rather a person famous for his cognac.

With this confusion not cleared up much, lets get to the rum itself.

Color: Not pale but not yet even medium dark I’d say the color is medium-pale, less red copper than more yellow brass, but somewhere in between.

Legs: Thin and medium fast.

Aroma: When I first opened this rum the scent of cinnamon was overwhelming. As it evolved in the bottle a bit the cinnamon joined with baked apple. Yes this smells like a rich home-made apple pie! I also sense raisin, prune, white grape, nutmeg, faint brown sugar, and only lastly the alcohol. I discern no acetone notes nor particularly any oak. The fruitiness, especially apple are front and center.

Flavor: I have not yet tasted a rum where the dominant aroma notes translated to well to the taste. Baked apple and cinnamon are the dominant notes. The first time I tried this it was mostly cinnamon, but the apple came along after a few days and the mix of both along with other dark fruits has stayed with it now through about a quarter of the bottle. The rum is sweeter than most that I like now, but I have learned to stay in touch with sweeter rums (mostly via El Dorado 15) but this is another I like very much. Distinctly sweet compared to the Plantation Peru or any of the Foursquare rums I’ve come to love, but not over-much so.

It is not creamy but rather glassy-sharp from the first sip on and has a long distinctly sweet aftertaste where the brown sugar note comes forward. I usually find after-tastes to be less sweet, even a little bitter as oaky flavors come forward, but this rum is an exception. The apple-cinnamon combination dials back as the glass finishes and one has a hint of hard apple cider. All throughout there is a nice bit of fire in the swallow, but it never gets harsh. Despite the pot-still component there is no funk in this rum either of the rotten fruit or vegetal sorts.

In conclusion medium expensive and just a little sweet for my taste now, but I think worth keeping around to try again later. Highly recommended, especially if you are wanting to migrate from sweeter to less-sweet rums.

Here a little marketing blurb from Plantation on these single barrel rums

Review: A Very Stable Genius by Leonnig and Rucker

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The idea behind these commentaries and book reviews here is that in many cases (whether politics, science, or philosophy), the books themselves leave dangling and potentially interesting philosophical issues un-addressed. Exploration of such issues is not usually appropriate (in my opinion) in a book review, so I bring the reviews over here always attached at the end of these little (and sometimes not so little) commentary essays, along with a link to the book itself on Amazon.

In this particular case there were no dangling philosophical issues that struck me as worthy of an essay. But because this collection of my reviews of books about the Trump administration is growing (“Fire and Fury”, “Fear”, “A Warning”, and “Devil’s Bargain”), I’m including this review for the sake of completeness.

A Very Stable Genius (2019) by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig

Here we have yet another very carefully and competently written book illuminating the dysfunction in the American Presidency of Donald Trump, addressing both the man and the administration. Journalists Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig have done both the Washington Post and history proud with this tale of malfeasance and character disorder in the man himself and the chaos among those who surround him, some trying to moderate Trump’s worst impulses while others encourage them.

This is the fifth book on this subject that I’ve read and reviewed. As each one, all excellent histories, slides into the ocean of non-fiction literature, they seem to have less and less impact on the world, though perhaps that is only my jaded perception. This one is superbly written, told broadly in temporal sequence from the 2016 election up to September 2019 when Trump asked “a favor” on a call with Ukrainian President Zelinsky, witnessed (listening in) by several military and foreign policy personnel. This particular call follows by a few weeks Trump’s “exoneration” by Mueller.

Although it moves along generally from the past towards the present, it preferentially follows subject threads to their conclusion rather than try and document everything that happened on a particular day or week. Sliding as necessary between domestic and foreign policy matters, eventually all the days and weeks are covered somewhere. I can’t remember any of the salient matters reported in the news (not to mention Trump’s tweets) that aren’t in the story. Following the text, there are copious notes and documents listed. Historians will appreciate this.

In the opinion of the authors, Mueller made a big mistake. He treated his mission (the Russia probe and accusations of obstruction on Trump’s part) perhaps appropriately for a normal administration in which the Justice Department and Congress were not prior-determined to “protect the boss at all costs”. Mueller did not feel it was his job to say, explicitly, that Trump should be impeached or indited on the obstruction charge at least, obstruction being more clear cut than any personal collusion with the Russians. Instead, he phrased his report in such a way as to leave it to Congress to decide. Yet even a democratic congress did not begin the impeachment process until the content of the Ukraine call emerged.

The book ends with that call. The book’s authors are at that point sure not only that Trump committed a clear-cut crime, but intimate at least that Congress and the Senate would at last do their job and get rid of this embarrassment to the American presidency. History has shown otherwise, and we are now faced with a president, surrounded by sycophants (most significantly a throughly corrupted Justice department), who thinks (apparently correctly), that he can get away with anything.

Like the other books written on this subject, this one is very scary.