Review: The Consciousness Instinct by Michael Gazzaniga

This book (Amazon review and link below) is another attempt to find a solution to both the necessity and sufficiency of brains to minds. Gazzaniga is a materialist, and so by his supposition, there must be, in the brain itself, the secret to mind’s manifestation. He has written a very cogent examination of the brain’s layering and the complementarity of a rule-law combination that animates life and (he thinks) is the secret to the otherwise mysterious properties of consciousness. This theme is reflected in “Incomplete Nature” (Deacon 2011), while his connection between life, consciousness, and quantum mechanics brings Henry Stapp (“Quantum Theory and Free Will” 2017) and others to mind. 

Gazzaniga is not a physicist but a neuroscientist, and his specialty is the connection between brain lesions, surgery, and consciousness. What he notes, profoundly enough, is that consciousness is not something that must be generated by a whole, healthy brain, nor does it arise from a specific part or even anatomical layer, but emerges from any parts of the brain that still work! When only parts of the brain are working, the affected individual reports (sometimes in very indirect ways depending on what damage there is) that they are conscious and feel mostly normal, despite considerable gaps in accounts of that experience’s content. For example, a patient may report feeling perfectly normal even though her awareness includes nothing whatsoever to her left.

In this book, we have a well-written account of the various ways in which the brain, a marvelously complex and mysterious thing, generating some “what is it like to be” inner world the individual reports as her subjectively-recognizable self, even when damaged! But even if the principles and mechanisms of this process are something like what Gazzaniga suggests to us, they are empirical evidence only of their necessity, not their sufficiency, to bring about the emergence of subjective experience. 

Nor, it has to be said, are the limits of what we know about the brain evidence that it is not sufficient to bring about mind’s emergence. The problem here is metaphysical. In all other emergent phenomena identified by science, even the case of life, the point of emergence is identifiable, as are the properties of what emerges. There is always a physical connection between prior and post-emergent physics. Both are always physical. The one can be fully traced, with mathematical rigor, through to the other. The brain-mind connection is different. No one has identified where, in the chain of neurological causes, a subject appears, nor precisely what the subject is. The brain’s physics plays its essential role, but what emerges isn’t physical in any sense that physics understands that term.

Yet there is also no evidence (evidence taken to involve physical observation) that there is anything in the universe (besides brains) that contributes some other “necessary ingredient”, that together with the brain, becomes sufficient for the emergence of the individual mind. The hypothesis that such a phenomenon exists is speculative and grounded on physics’s inability to do the job thanks to causal closure, the principle that physics produces only physics.

Gazzaniga suggests the emergence, in living matter, of translated information (in our case, DNA to RNA to proteins), what he calls a rules-based ordering, allows physics to violate the causal closure principle. Gazzaniga is saying, essentially, that the rules-based operation and interaction between layers and sub-sections of the brain can and does produce a non-physical emergent reality, mind! But there is no evidence that rules-based violation of causal closure is possible. None of the other emergent phenomena in the universe, including life (the other “rules-based” phenomenon), violate causal closure. No one has suggested how information ordering as such would or could produce a violation. Physics has nothing here. “Mind exists, therefore physics must be sufficient to produce it” is the sum and substance of the claim. 

There have been attempts to side-step this problem. Russellian Monism suggests that every object in the universe, from protons to galaxies, has “mental properties” (sometimes called “proto-mental properties”) that “add up” to mind of the sort familiar to us when brain-objects appear on the scene. None of these theories includes any suggestion as to the nature of these “mental properties”. David Chalmers (“The Conscious Mind” 1997 and others) suggests “mental laws” built into physics (a view that collapses into Russellian Monism), or a set of laws parallel to physics and present with them from the moment of the big bang (collapsing into what Philip Goff [“Galileo’s Error” 2019] calls “cosmological panpsychism”). Like mental properties, the form such laws might take, or how we might go about detecting their specific influences, is left unspecified. 

Each of these suggestions has numerous problems besides leaving key requirements unspecified. I’ve addressed these in other papers (see “Fantasy Physics and the Genesis of Mind”, and “For Every Theist there are One Hundred Materialists”). All of these ideas amount to a quasi-dualism (what Chalmers calls “property dualism”), and in every case, causal closure is violated. Materialism (if some of these ideas can be called materialistic at all) in the philosophy of mind comes down to a two-horned dilemma. Either mind is real and non-physical in which case we must account for its apparent violation of causal closure, or mind isn’t real at all, leaving us nothing for which to account.  

A few philosophers have made a go at the second horn, but it strikes most as prima facie absurd. If you accept the first horn (as does Gazzaniga, Chalmers, Goff, and many others), you are already a dualist no matter what your materialistic credentials. Substance-dualism is another alternative. There are more nuanced versions than the simple Cartesian “mind imposed on brains”.  For example, a detection, by brains, of some field with which brains, and only brains, interact. Individual minds are analogous to the sound (compression waves) issuing from radios whose antennae are sensitive to some electromagnetic radiation; the field is the radiation, the brain is the radio and antenna, mind is the music (see “From What Comes Mind”). 

The problem with substance dualism is that whatever the field is, it isn’t physical. Its source must be something other than physics. Critics argue that this demands both a plausible source (for example God. See “Metaphysical Stability in the Philosophy of Mind”) and an accounting of the field-brain interaction. But as noted in papers linked above, the unspecifiable “proto-mental properties” of Russellian Monism, panpsychism, or the “psychic laws” of Chalmers’ property dualism, demand the same dual accounting (asserting that these qualities “just belong to physics” is not an account of their origin) while violating causal closure (they are purportedly physical after all). Substance dualism preserves causal closure. Physics is not required to be both necessary and sufficient for consciousness. 

Yet even granting that such a model is correct, how the brain works to detect the field remains an open empirical issue. Gazzaniga and Deacon (see link above to “Incomplete Nature”) both have more nuanced views here than philosophers like Chalmers, Nagel, Russell, Goff, and many others; all moderns trying to make that first horn work. 

The Consciousness Instinct by Michael Gazzaniga

This is a book about consciousness and specifically, an attempt to find a solution to the qualitative difference between “minds” and brains from within physics. This is a consequence of the “materialist paradigm” (it can only be physics). Dr. Gazzaniga is a true believer. But his is the case for ninety-percent of the philosophy of mind I read and review anyway. What distinguishes this one?

Gazzaniga reviews some history for us and brings forward insights from psychology, biology, medicine (in particular observations of damaged or surgically altered brains), and physics, in particular, the notion (from quantum mechanics) of complementarity. Phenomena can have two aspects, they can exist as two sides of the same coin but at the same time, one cannot always say how each becomes the other. The two sides are not mutually reducible.

Gazzaniga, along with many others in the field, believes that quantum phenomena have some connection to consciousness (many others have speculated about this), but he also believes that this connection began way back at the origin of life. Life, like consciousness, rests in part on quantum behavior! I’ve been calling attention to this very reasonable idea for years, so it’s nice to see the idea expressed by someone with more credibility than I seem to have.

This is an important aspect of Gazzaniga’s theory because it allows him to trace the root of “the subjective” not merely to brains, but all the way back to the origin of life. Here he brings in the distinction between “rules” and “laws”. The mechanisms that characterize living things, all living things, are “rule-governed”, not “law-governed” The distinction is important because a rule (in our case how DNA sequences become specific protein sequences) adds an extra layer, an abstraction, on top of laws. Laws are fixed, rules can be changed. That is the secret of both life and consciousness. He is NOT claiming that early life was conscious. Instead, what makes life alive, its complementary double-sided nature (lawful rules), is the same principle operating in the emergence of consciousness from brains. 

From medical brain research, he notes that damaged brains are still conscious. Aspects of the former consciousness will be missing, but the person (whose damaged brain it is) doesn’t notice what’s missing. From this, he concludes that consciousness is not produced by a particular part of the brain but rather is a product of every part of it operating to produce its own small part of the whole subjective experience.

Also incorporated is the idea of modularity and layers of neural activity. Consciousness bubbles up through the layers becoming progressively richer in richer brains, but existing in some sense from the times of the earliest true nerve ganglia. The book is crafted to carry us through the development of these ideas from both medicine and philosophy. Gazzaniga’s “instinct idea” is the last aspect introduced. He notes that, like consciousness, brain research points to instincts being distributed phenomena, hence, consciousness is an instinct! Logically this is a stretch and is not as important to the theory as his rules-laws distinction and synthesis of complementarity and modularity.

In the end, like other speculations referenced in the book, he fails to nail down the “how” or the “what” of consciousness. Gazzaniga’s approach might prove to be a useful addition in the quest to answer these questions, but all of them, including this one, are perfectly consistent with a dualism holding that brains are necessary but not sufficient to explain the appearance of the subjective from the objective. Every one of his ideas can be true, while still not giving him what he needs. Every other complementarity known to our physics can be physically measured on both “sides of the coin”. Not simultaneously, but that is beside the point. It remains precisely the problem with mind that physical measurement of the “other side”, the subjective side, is impossible! That makes mind different. That makes brains insufficient, or at least leaves open that possibility.

Metaphysical Stability in the Philosophy of Mind

I have said there is, in the philosophy of mind (PoM), no stable position between eliminative materialism (EM) and substance-dualism grounded in theism (T). Stability refers to the inability of these theories to suggest answers to fundamental grounding questions. I have in mind three grounding issues.

    1. Interaction 
    2. Specification 
    3. Origin

EM (and its cousin Functionalism (F)) are stable because they deny there is anything, any “mystery of mind”, to be explained (in the case of F that there is anything besides various functional descriptions we can cogently talk about). Nothing interacts, there is no need to specify anything, and there is nothing whose origin requires any explanation.

Property Dualism (PD), Russellian Monism (RM) of many forms, and panpsychism (P), also of many variations (some built upon RM, and others not) are unstable hypotheses because they float free of any metaphysical ground. Along with T, they accept there is something about mind to be explained, but they do not address any of the three issues (PD having only the first to worry about). T addresses all three of the issues, having answers to two of them, and provides good reasons for our inability to resolve the third. T is metaphysically grounded. 

Each of these PoMs also has some relation to the principle of causal closure (CC) in the physical. CC consists of two fundamental axioms: (CCA) physics comes only from prior physics, and (CCB) physics can produce only more physics. CC is not one of the listed issues because each of these theories does address their relation to CC. Ironically, T is the only PoM, besides EM&F, that fully respects CC (see below and also “Fantasy Physics and the Genesis of Mind” for more detail). 

All of the other PoMs have two things in common (I do not include idealism in this essay because it differs from the others in this respect). First, there is a mind-independent world fully subject to CC, and second, the mind is in some way a part of this world (exists in the physical universe), and it’s unique (seemingly non-material) qualities warrant explanation.  Idealism denies a mind-independent world (a slippery slope to solipsism) and ends up having to fall back on T (or a “simulation scenario” see later)  for an explanation. 

The interaction issue plagues every PoM (including T) other than EM&F.  Every PoM apart from EM&F is offered to explain the existence of mind without resorting to T, because (among other things) T is taken to have an interaction problem! Yet to one degree or another, every PoM from PD on suffers from the same problem.

PROPERTY DUALISM 

The interaction problem is particularly acute for PD, which also makes the most overt break with CC. In PD, plain-old-physics is the causal root of mind in violation of CCB. Most, but not all, PD advocates also accept the reality of “mental cause”, which violates CCA. Thanks to PD’s stipulation that CC is false, it manages to address the “origin issue”; brains cause (it must be a causal relation) mind, which is the end of the matter. Thanks to this emphasis, PD manages to avoid any need to specify anything mental before the brain’s appearance, but PD cannot escape its interaction problem. How exactly does plain-ordinary-physics produce and then subsequently interact with a subjective-anything at all? 

The interaction issue is about mechanism. What exactly are the mechanics of the physical production of mind or mind’s capacity to cause physics? PD advocates assert that minds and brains do interact, and they admit that these are violations of what CC fundamentally says. Still, they are as unable as theists to say anything about how exactly this works. PD does not have any specification issue because there is nothing mental about the universe either in part or whole except when brains are present. 

RUSSELLIAN MONISM AND PANPSYCHISM

RM and P both developed to avoid PD’s problem with CC and interaction. In the end, they fail to avoid either. The foundation of RM and P is the idea that there isn’t any “interaction problem” because the mental is in some way built into the physical. “Some way” hides a lot of skeletons. What we take to be CC already includes the effects of “the mental” as these are taken to be either constitutive (often the un-observable essence) of the physical, or having a causal relation to it. There are many variations, but in every case, the idea is that when brains come along whatever-it-is that constitutes the mental embedded in the physical, results in consciousness as we experience it. 

RM rests the mental on the micro-physical, quarks, leptons, bosons, and all their assemblies. While we’re being speculative, if we ascribe the mental to any one particle, the force bosons would be the logical candidates because they mediate the relation between the quarks that give matter (protons, neutrons, atoms) its dispositional qualities. But I digress.

Some advocates of RM ground the mental in quantum phenomena. Somehow, these “essences of the mental” add up in assemblies until reaching brains, consciousness as we know it emerges. How and what goes on in this assembling (the infamous “combination problem”) is anyone’s guess. Some variations of RM assign a special status to the total assembly, the whole universe. RM adds-up to P.

Without RM adding up to it, P holds that there is no mental in the micro, but instead, it appears only as a quality of the total, the universe.  Indeed one might look at the present universe at vast scales (billions of light-years) and note its resemblance to a giant brain. In a recent paper, Phil Goff suggests that the cosmological settings, fixed in the opening second of the big bang, are the result not merely of cosmological mentality, but also intentionality, operating in and on a universe filled with undifferentiated radiation (see link to his article below)! In effect, the claim is that in this state, the universe is mind in its purest form!

While this is not idealism, the idea of “mind independence” is shifted. There is a physical world independent of mind as we (and presumably the higher animals) experience it, but it is no longer shorn of mind altogether. The universe (or particle) mind is not our mind, but it is the case that a “mental essence” lies at the heart of the material world. Yet, (we are assured) this mind is not consciousness as we (or even fish) experience it. 

This brings us to the heart of the “specification problem”. In what, even partly, does this “mental essence” consist? No RM or P advocate that I know has the slightest positive suggestion regarding any of it! They say “it isn’t consciousness as we understand it”, but that is saying what it is not. I would not presume to demand philosophers give us rich detail (as we can do about our mental properties), but they seem unable to specify even one of these qualities. This failure applies equally to RM and P. In the case of P, the quality in question is a mental property (at least one) of the universe. Again, no positive suggestion is forthcoming.

Every one of these philosophers pays homage to this problem. They all admit they cannot provide any positive quality specifications. Goff goes so far as to suggest that such qualities may remain forever unknowable. What philosophers ignore are the consequences of this failure to the theory itself. To say that X, having properties we can never in principle discriminate, is responsible (causally or constitutively) for Y is to say that X cannot be confirmed or dis-confirmed! This admission empties the theory (a hypothesis about the physical world) of any possible physical content! Proposed solutions to the “combination problem” rest on nothing because no one can say (even speculatively) what is being combined!

This brings us again to interaction. The whole point of RM or P is to make mind, of our sort, un-mysterious. Biological mind, the interaction between mind and brains, is not [supposedly] a mystery because atoms (or the universe) encompass mind’s potentials before its appearance, not merely its possibility, but also the mechanics of the process that produces it. How do they do this? The same mystery is transferred to the micro-physical or the universe.

No one disputes that brains are physical. How does the micro (or universal) embedded-mental interact with the physical? What does it do to physics, not merely to produce the mental that we know (that it does so is by stipulation of the hypothesis), but to drive physics (cosmology) towards its emergence? How would physics (cosmological evolution) be different if the proposed mental-in-it was withdrawn? Philosophers have only pushed the interaction problem to another part of the rug, and even that not completely. 

The origin issue is something else again. Physics has the quantum vacuum. Our physical theories show no sign of needing a mental component to operate as they do. We can trace the evolution of the entire physical universe to the big bang, and the physical equations describe all of the effects we observe without a “mental term”. From what ground does the mental essence of atoms or the cosmos arise? To say it just happens in the same big bang as everything else is merely to stipulate an answer and beg the question. 

Of the three issues, interaction, specification, and origin, the last is the least acknowledged by the RM or P community. The properties whose specification we do not know, interacting we know not how, are merely stipulated to have been present since the big bang. Surely there is something about this that warrants inquiry? I suspect the problem is that any such investigation quickly backs up into something like God. CC is purportedly teleology-free (at least this is how physicists understand it). The moment one suggests there is a mental essence associated with physical causal relations, one throws this corollary of the principle into question. If the proto-mental has the effect of guiding physics towards brains and consciousness CC, as understood by physicists, is broken. 

If the proto-mental does not affect physical unfolding until and unless brains happen along, if it is teleology-free, its existence is more mysterious still! There would be then, an essential (if unspecifiable) quality of the physical that has no effect what-so-ever over billions of years but happens to generate consciousness when brains happen along, which by sheer luck, occurs. This is exactly how PD comes out! “The mental” emerges from brains and only from brains! RM and P are teleological hypotheses, or they are explanatorily redundant!

THEISM

If there is a teleological direction, who or what sets it? Dr. Goff goes so far as to assert that the cosmos is not merely minded in some vague sense, but intentional, as far back as the big bang (“Did the Universe Design Itself” Nov. 2018). Intentionality would leave no doubt about teleology. I pointed out to Dr. Goff that once he goes this far, he is nine-tenths of the way to God. He has never commented. 

T addresses the origin question, and along with it, the teleological direction. Whatever it is that brings mind about when brains are on the scene (see “From what comes Mind”), God is responsible for it. What then is responsible for God? God is responsible for God, theism’s grand stipulation. There is a single entity at the top of the chain of being who is responsible (eternally) for its own existence. If this weren’t so, there would be yet something antecedent to God. 

In this context, it is worth mentioning simulation scenarios (SS) tangential to PD, RM, and P. These break down into three broad varieties. Mind might be simulated directly (a brain-in-a-vat) in which case SS collapses into idealism (ultimately solipsism), with the simulators (whomever they are) being proxies for God. Next, the mind-independent world is simulated directly and our physical selves simulated within it (many computer games serve as the present metaphor for this). However, the appearance of a first-person subjectivity in the simulated world is as mysterious as it is without hypothesizing the simulation. Finally, what is simulated is not the world as we find it but the big bang, the settings, and the standard model (what David Chalmers’ calls a “metaphysical simulation”). The world is left to evolve with the simulation providing whatever is required to evoke minds from brains. Except for the interaction mechanism, this scenario does remove the mystery from mind’s appearance, but at the cost of making the simulators not merely proxies for God but to all intents and purposes, actually God!

God is God if and only if he is his own eternal source, meaning there never was a time when God was not (see “Prolegomena to a Future Theology”). Of course, this “too pat” answer is among the reasons atheist philosophers (the majority these days) reject T. But in response, as an alternative, they offer nothing to ground their speculations!

God sets the settings producing a physical universe where mind is possible. There is nothing else for God to do until somewhere conditions become life-compatible. From that point, God, or some proxy acting for him, might have something to do with life’s origin and the evolution of mind-supporting brains. There is no mystery in a teleological direction if God is the source of it. 

T also addresses the specification issue.  Mind emerges from the functioning of brains as PD advocates imagine it, except that something God adds to the physical universe (see again “From what comes Mind”) supports mind’s emergence. There are no mental qualities or essences of atoms, stars, or even the whole physical universe. Interestingly, Dr. Goff suggests a field idea for whatever it is that embodies the intentionality of the cosmos (as do I in the aforementioned essay), but he says nothing about what might ground it metaphysically. If there is a fire in a fireplace, we say “the fire is intentional”, but this is a metaphor. The fire has no intention. The intention belongs to she who lit it. T grounds intentionality because it belongs to God, who is minded — conscious!  

That leaves the “interaction issue”, identical to that faced by PD, RM, and P.  Under T, even brains have no “mental qualities” of their own. The mental is a response, an outcome of the interaction between brains and whatever supports its emergence. Consciousness is analogous to the movement of a pointer on a dial, a  response to the interaction between some phenomenon and an experimental apparatus. 

T can say no more about how this works or what “the something” does to brains to evoke mind than any other hypothesis. But T does have two arrows in its quiver the others lack. First, it has God who knows the trick! Second, it gives a good reason why we cannot fathom the interaction mechanism. Whatever it is that interacts with brains to produce mind, it is metaphysically antecedent to the mind, the subjective individual consciousness, it invokes. 

Whatever God (directly or indirectly, e.g., via a field in spacetime) does to produce consciousness is transparent to us. We have only the result, the output of the interaction that constitutes our experiential arena. That arena has phenomenal access to the structure of the material (mind-independent) world through qualia, the mediation of physical senses. It has no access to the phenomenon that invokes consciousness from brains beyond that which is invoked. Individual mind is our brain’s measurement or detection of the supporting phenomenon, whatever it is. Like the motion of the needle, that’s all we get!

T has one other advantage. It leaves CC alone! PD accepts that CC is false. RM and P try to save CC but do so only by stipulation — “the physical is fundamentally also mental”. In T, CC genuinely holds. The purely physical produces, and emerges from, only the physical! As Dawkins puts it (The Blind Watchmaker), “God is redundant” (he should add “in or for the physical as such”). Mind’s source is outside the physical, from God, directly or indirectly. God also happens to be the source of the material, including the properties of CC. This fact explains the ability of mind to both represent the physical and manipulate it. Mind is designed and intended, by God, to do that!

CONCLUSION

If atheist philosophers want to be taken seriously by theists who are, at this time, the only philosophers who grasp the fact that God alone grounds all the metaphysical questions, they must suggest reasonable answers to the questions posed at the beginning of this essay. PD, RM, and P all suffer by breaking with CC one way or another. Only T (besides EM&F) fully preserves CC, and only T explains why the interaction mechanism is, in principle, out of our reach.

Both RM and P (especially P) could claim (along with T) that we cannot specify the proto-mental or how it interacts with brains because it is antecedent to the consciousness invoked. But unlike T, these qualities supposedly originate in a physical event, the big bang, which is historically, but not metaphysically, antecedent to mind. It may well be that we cannot fathom the interaction between mind and proto-mental assemblies (or the cosmological totality) in brains. But hydrogen atoms and planets, not to mention the universe, are of the mind-independent world, the world to which we have phenomenal (sensory) access. If we cannot even hypothesize about the effect of the proto-mental on the physical, if the proto-mental has no measurable effect on cosmological evolution (at least up until brains come along) then it is explanatorily redundant. 

T is not an empty hypothesis. It posits no unspecifiable proto-mental qualities embedded in physics or cosmology. What evokes the mental comes from outside physics altogether, from God who is not explanatorily redundant because he is the source and ground of both whatever-it-is that evokes the mental from brains, and the physical, ultimately the brains, from which consciousness emerges. For this reason, because it is metaphysically antecedent to physics, its interaction with brains cannot be fathomed by the consciousness invoked by it. 

None of this impels us to say that God exists, let alone that he must exist. In this PoM context, T is a hypothesis like all the others. It happens to be the only hypothesis that answers most of the questions left unanswered by PD, RM, and P. Not only is it logical, it is the best hypothesis we presently have and should therefore be taken seriously.

Review: Philosophy of Mind by Edward Feser 2006

One would expect a book on this broad subject to leave some dangling issues. Dr. Feser’s sympathies clearly lay with Aristotelian dualism, even theism. He begins with a nuanced statement of Cartesian Substance Dualism. His aim is to explicate the logical strength of substance dualism, aware also of its primary weakness (the “interaction problem”) and then ask if the various alternatives to it, particularly those promulgated by materialist philosophers of the 20th and 21st centuries, are coherent in their own right and if so, successfully defeat dualism’s logic.

As noted in the review (reproduced below with a link to the book on Amazon) Feser spends the bulk of the book on this latter task. He demonstrates that none of the suggested alternatives actually work. Some (eliminativism of two kinds and epiphenominalism) are incoherent, while others (functionalism, behaviorism, and many others) fail to capture the substance of subjective first person experience, in effect explaining it away. Most of these critiques focus on epistemological issues, but some also run into metaphysical issues, indeed the same “interaction problem” faced by Cartesian dualism (see also “From What Comes Mind” and “Fantasy Physics and the Genesis of Mind”).

Having demolished the contenders, Feser asks if there is something else, a different sort of dualism that might work and yet not require or point to theism? His solution is Aristotelian Hylomorphic dualism. Alas, as noted in the review, here he fails but doesn’t seem to notice it. Either the form emerges from the facts of the assemblage that is the brain, or it is added intentionally from the outside. Hylomorphism either collapses into reductive (or supervenient) materialism, or it leads back to something that must stand in the place of, if not be, God. Feser leaves this matter dangling.

Other issues dangle. Feser cites many authors I’ve read, among them David Chalmers, but as I read Feser, he seems to misunderstand Chalmers’ “property dualism”, more or less equating it with epiphenomenalism,  the idea that our mental arena is merely an accidental by-product of brain function with absolutely no causal consequence. It is precisely the point of Chalmers’ property dualism that it does have causal consequence and so is not epiphenomenal but rather a radical emergence.

From the physics of brains alone emerges what amounts to a substance with novel properties, the upward property of subjective experience itself, and a downward causal power, subjective will, on that same physics. Chalmers, being bothered by the radical character of the emergent subjectivity, speculates on panpsychism or various types of monisms that might be embedded in physics and so support such an emergence (see above linked “Fantasy Physics…” essay for details). These various ideas for sources of the phenomenal in a hidden property of the physical are quasi-material in Feser’s taxonomy.

Another matter of interest to me is Feser’s characterization of substance dualism. His sketch is more nuanced than that usually given by his materialist peers but there are other possibilities that yet remain broadly Cartesian. For example, a property dualism supported by the presence of a spacetime field that is not physical but also not phenomenal (or proto-phenomenal).

The field need not be mind as such. It need have no phenomenal/proto-phenomenal properties of its own. Viewed from the material, mind is a radical emergence (upward) and has, as a result of its novel properties, also downward causal qualities. Its appearance, however, its form and nature, is the result of an interaction with this everywhere present (and yes, mysterious) field and not equally mysterious undetectable properties embedded in physics. For a detailed explication of this model see my “From What Comes Mind?”

Of course an “interaction problem” comes immediately forward. This hypothetical field is, after all non-material. But this interaction issue is the same faced by property dualism generally along with panpsychism, and Russelian or dual-aspect monism. All of these theories propose proto-phenomenal properties embedded in micro physics or the universe as a whole, but none ever say how exactly to identify the proto-phenomenal, in what exactly its properties consist. Nor do they speculate on their origin, and how they interact with the physical we know; how exactly they perform their teleological function driving the physical towards [genuinely] phenomenal expression.

Feser notes that materialist philosophers always cite “Occam’s Razor” as reason for rejecting theism and so any sort of substance dualism. He should somewhere have noted Occam’s Razor is supposed to apply to two or more theories that equally explain all the data! Theism answers two of the questions left dangling by quasi-materialisms. It explains why it is we find the phenomenal, any phenomenal proto or otherwise, only in association with brains. It has also an origin story in theistic intentionality, the phenomenon we find at the core of the recognizably phenomenal, our phenomenal, itself!

Quasi-materialisms deny intention in the proto-phenomenal leaving the transition to intention in brains hooked (metaphysically) on nothing. None of this, not the postulation of a field or the proto-phenomenal explains how exactly interaction occurs. The problem with theism isn’t merely the interaction (about which at least “God knows the trick”) equally suffered by all the non-eliminative materialisms. The problem is the postulation of an intentional source of the field supporting intentionality as we experience it. Yes this is a big pill to swallow, but without it we can say nothing about how any of this works anyway. Rejecting the possibility of theism leaves behind more mysteries than it resolves.

Surely suggesting that there is an intentional (minded) source of intentional, subjective mind begs the question. Of course it does! It remains, however, a coherent, possibility! God can not only be conceived, his necessary qualities can be specified to considerable detail (see my “Prolegomena to a Future Theology”). It isn’t clear that the proto-phenomenal can be conceived, and even if we allow its conceivability there seems to be nothing that can be said at all about any  of its qualities.

I said at the end of the book review I would say something about free will. Feser does not mention it. Free will is related to intentionality. The ability to direct our attention purposefully is the core of the matter and some (Schopenhauer) would say it, is the essence of the conscious self! “Mental causation” or in Rescher’s terms initiation is, when not subconscious, agent-directed. We experience our agency as will (and this why the ‘free’ in ‘free will’ is redundant’ see “All Will is Free”). Will’s  relation to “philosophy of mind” should be obvious. We experience our volitional agency in mind, and like qualia and intention, the nature of volitional agency is mysterious, doubly so because it is a mystery on top of a mystery!

I have said much about free will and its associated agency elsewhere in the blog. On the negative side (the absurdity of denying it) see “Arguing with Automatons”, and “The Nonsensical Notion of Compatibilism”. On the positive side, “Why Free Will”, “Why Personality”, and “The Mistake in Theological Fatalism”.

The two best books on the subject are “Free Will: A Philosophical Reappraisal” by Nicholas Rescher and E. J. Lowe’s “Personal Agency”. My own books, “Why this Universe” and “God, Causal Closure, and Free Will” both address the subject.

 

Philosophy of Mind by Edward Feser (2006)

I picked up Feser’s “Philosophy of Mind”, a book in an introductory series, for the sake of little else to read at the time, but I’m glad I did. It is, perhaps the best basic-evaluation of this subject (one of my specialty areas) I have ever read. It doesn’t merely introduce and review the subject. It makes an argument, a point about the present philosophical state-of-the art on the nature of mind, and does it very well.

Feser begins by introducing the subject and settles on representative-realism (the external world is real more or less as we experience it, but what we experience as subjects is nevertheless a representation of it) as the fundamental datum which a philosophy of mind must account. He then moves to examine the various proposals put forth by modern philosophers, some with their roots back in classical Greek times. He begins with Cartesian (substance) Dualism, a rather more sophisticated treatment than is usually accorded by modern philosophy. He shows us that substance dualism rests on more solid logical foundations than is usually acknowledged even if it smacks of being unscientific thanks to its infamous “interaction problem”.

From that point Feser looks at what has been offered as alternatives to Dualism, various materialisms (eliminative, functionalism, behaviorism, pure epiphenomenalism, causalism, reduction and supervenience) and quasi-materialisms (panpsychism, Russelian-monism, property dualism). All of this treatment constitutes the bulk of the book and as he covers each solution there emerges the best taxonomy of philosophies-of-mind I have yet seen. The modern emphasis on qualia is explored thoroughly but he argues that intentionality, even given the representational realism with which he begins, is more important, more central to mind and consciousness, than qualia.

In doing all of this Feser drives home the point that none of the alternatives is without serious metaphysical or epistemological problems. All of the quasi-materialisms, in fact, come up against the same interaction problem as substance dualism, and the others are either incoherent (two sorts of eliminativism), or simply do not get at two core problems: why do we experience anything at all and why does the subject that appears throughout all experience seem so obviously causally potent?

In the last chapter Feser asks if there is anything else that does address the core issue without having to invoke what ultimately comes down to God? His answer is Aristotle’s “Hylomorphic Dualism” (also championed by Thomas Aquinas though his variation relies directly on God). To explain consciousness, to get at its core and resolve the ever-present interaction problem, Feser says all we have to do is reject the contemporary physicalist insistence that material and efficient causes (two of Aristotle’s four leaving out formal and final cause) exhaust causality in the universe. This would be, to say the least, a big pill for 21st Century science, and most of philosophy, to swallow.

Further while Hylomorphic dualism might deal nicely with the epistemological issues Feser everywhere touches, it does no better than the quasi-materialisms concerning the metaphysical. Either the form of the human mind springs entirely from the arrangement and dynamics of physical particles, in which case we are back to reductive or supervenient materialism, or it does not. But if it does not, where does it come from? That physics cannot detect any teleology in the physical universe does not mean it isn’t there. It does mean that it has to come from somewhere other than physics and be prior to individual human minds. We are on the way back to God.

There is also a notable absence. Feser never mentions free will. A discussion might be beyond Feser’s scope in this book, but I’m surprised he did not at least note its obvious relation to intentionality. I will cover this and other implications in a blog commentary.

From What Comes Mind?

This essay is about mind in general, consciousness, the “what is it like to be…” experience. What follows applies to human and animal mind. I include a note at the end about animal mind in particular. My focus is on consciousness as such, why it exists at all and why does it have the form it has. This will not be so much about the contents of conscious phenomenal gestalt, qualia, intentionality, beliefs, memories, and so on.

Many of the essays on the blog impinge on philosophy of mind. Although the assertions, analogies, and connections to philosophy here are mine, they rest broadly on the theory of mind presented by The Urantia Book. It is after all with mind that we experience the mind-represented sensory world, assert propositions, make intentional choices, sense values, and experience our agency.

The Urantia Book’s philosophy of mind is theistic and dualistic, but not in the way of Cartesian or for that matter Thomistic dualism. It does have elements of each of these (although the Thomism is about personality not mind as such) but also shares much with “property dualism” of the sort championed by David Chalmers (The Conscious Mind [1996] and The Character of Consciousness [2010]). The purpose of this essay is to present the theory and note certain relations to philosophies of mind common among present-day philosophers. The theological basis of this theory is to be found here. I begin therefore with property dualism.

Chalmers is at base a materialist. There cannot be any super-natural power in his theory, but there is nevertheless a supra-natural effect. In his view, minds emerge from nothing above and beyond physical brains. No intentional power adds mind to brains, but the emergent mind does, nevertheless, have real powers and potentials that are nowhere present in brains simplicter antecedent to mind’s emergence. These qualities include the form of our subjective arena, its qualia and the ever present awareness of our intentional agency, our will, its power of downward causation.

This is a new type of cause in the universe perhaps best described by Nicholas Rescher in “Free Will: A Philosophical Reappraisal”. Rescher advocates for far more freedom in our intentions and acts than many other advocates of free will (see Richard Swinburne’s “Mind, Brain and Free Will” for a much narrower view). His argument for the unique quality of mental-cause is that it is timeless; he calls it initiation rather than cause, it being simultaneous with its effect. This comes out to the impossibility of ever identifying a “mental cause” independent of a brain-state correlate! There is more on Rescher’s view here.

What manifests in mind (pace Aristotle) are final and formal causes where before mind there were but material and efficient causes. We experience, directly and only in the first person, the causal efficacy of our agent-purposeful-volition. The combination qualia (emergence upward), and agent-intention (downward causation) has been called a “radical emergence” to distinguish it from the more ordinary emergence that produces, from physics, only physical if novel properties. As far as we know the only such phenomenon in the universe, the only radical emergence there has ever been, is mind (see note on emergence at end)!

Chalmers’ must ask: how can this possibly work? Cartesian dualism after all is universally challenged based on a single irresolvable issue, the matter of how a non-material substantive entity interacts with a material brain. Property dualism faces the identical problem. How exactly does physics, without a built in phenomenalism, produce a non-material phenomenalism, and how then does that turn around and become a literal cause, effectively directing (however minimally) the physics of the brain? Chalmers’ answer, and the answer, in variations, of many contemporary philosophers of mind, is that physics is not without built-in phenomenalism (or proto-phenomenalism).

Both panpsychism and various sorts of monisms posit the existence in (the monisms) or the emergence of phenomenal (or proto-phenomenal) qualities from physics (cosmology for panpsychism) alone. These qualities are forever undetectable by physics but are, nevertheless, built-in to physics! There spring immediately to mind two further questions: where exactly, or how, do these phenomenal/proto-phenomenal qualities inhere in physics, and what precisely is phenomenal about them?

To the first question, none has any answer. They could, of course, say “God put it there” but the whole point of the exercise is to find a solution without postulating a minded being having such powers. But if we rule out a minded source we are left at best with a supposedly mindless source of mind. We have done nothing but push the interaction issue to another part of the rug.

The second question is equally vexing. No one wants to say that the fundamental constituents of matter (atoms, quarks, the quantum field, the monists) or the universe taken as a whole (panpsychists) are conscious or minded. The claim is that the phenomenal builds itself up as the basic building blocks (atoms or galaxies) themselves are built up. But they nevertheless insist there is something inherent in these entities that is the real root of the consciousness we have. The problem is that when asked in what do hypothetical proto-phenomenal qualities consist, none can say, or even speculate. It seems that, short of mind as we know it, we cannot say in what the proto-phenomenal consists.

How does my view help? It does not explain the interaction mechanism. It does account for the reason the mechanism cannot be explained by mind of our type. It does, however, account for why we cannot give any account of that in which the proto-phenomenal might consist. We cannot give such an account because there need not be any proto-phenomenal qualities for which to account.

Starting with the property dualism, brains produce subjective-conscious-minds in a way analogous to a radio producing music (compression waves in air that we interpret as music or speech or whatever, but this detail has no bearing on the analogy). Destroy the radio or alter its function and the music disappears or becomes distorted. This is exactly what happens to mind when brain function is altered away from normal working limits; from distortions of consciousness to mind’s destruction. Real minds do not survive the destruction of brains any more than music survives destruction of the radio. From a common sense point of view, it is perhaps legitimate to view the radio as the real and perhaps sole source of the music.

But the radio does not produce music ex nihilo. Rather it interprets information present in a spacetime field in the radio’s vicinity. The radio is the “source of the music” in that it alone is responsible for the conversion, interpretation, or translation of information present in the field from its electromagnetic form ultimately to compression waves in air, an entirely different phenomenon! One way to look at it is to say brains are responsible for the conversion or interpretation of some spacetime pervading field into the form of our consciousness. More accurately, we should say that the field has the power to evoke consciousness from the doings of brains.

The field need not, by itself, have any phenomenal qualities at all. It need not itself be conscious or minded in any sense of those terms any more than the electromagnetic wave is music.  Electromagnetic information isn’t music until the radio makes it so, and the field isn’t phenomenal until the brain makes it so, or at least this is all we need to specify about it. The field is a constant throughout (as far as we know) the universe. Radical emergence is effected from the brain-field combination.

The field I have elsewhere called “Cosmic Mind” (see “Fantasy Physics and the Genesis of Mind”). Perhaps this a poor terminological choice as I do not mean to imply the field is conscious or even phenomenal in some uncharacterizeable sense. It mght be proto-phenomenal, phenomenal, or even conscious, but none of these matter to the model. As far as human beings and human consciousness is concerned the only property the field has to have is a capacity to evoke our subjective experience from our brain-states. If it has other properties, or indeed even purposes, we have no way of knowing.

The field does, however, have to be substantive in some way, not necessarily matter-energy as we are capable of measuring it. Only a substance of some sort can interact with another substance, in this case having an effect, the emergence of consciousness, from a functioning brain.

Being non-material there aren’t any instruments on earth that can detect Cosmic Mind save one. A physics experiment signals a detection of some kind with some physical event whether triggering a photo-detector or perhaps just moving a needle. Brains are detectors of Cosmic Mind. The needle, the event that we experience, is consciousness itself, the product of the detection.

In another, perhaps simpler analogy, imagine some material object (a ball on a pedestal) in a dark room. The ball has certain physical properties (mass, shape, and importantly here it happens to be opaque). Now a point light-source is turned on in the room. The ball now throws a shadow. Nothing about the physical properties has changed. The light-source does not add the shadow to the ball, but the shadow emerges from the properties of the ball (shape and opacity). Turn the light off, the shadow goes away. Remove the ball in the presence of the light and the shadow also goes away. The ball is the sole determiner of the properties of the shadow, but only in the presence of the light!

Mind, in other words, springs from brains as Chalmers envisions it, and this is why it is properly a property dualism. Viewed from the material, it is a radical emergence (upward) and has, because of its novel properties, also downward casual qualities. Mind’s appearance, however, its form and nature, is the result of an interaction. The emergence of subjective consciousness from brains is enabled, effected, by Cosmic Mind. Consciousness is the music produced by brains in the (everywhere) presence of Cosmic Mind.

This model differs from Cartesian Dualism, because the substance of individual mind (its power to affect physics) is derivative!  Cosmic Mind (which need not be anything like “a mind” and is not by any means individual mind) and brains, one immaterial and one material, are the antecedent conjugates. Human (and animal, any mind associated with brains) mind is the result, what brains produce in the presence of Cosmic Mind.

Unlike an electromagnetic field Cosmic Mind is not physical and that quality explains mind’s non-material quality. Cosmic Mind’s postulation accounts for mind’s relation to brains (mind’s physical root) and its subjective first-person-only phenomenology (mind’s non-material root). Qualia would appear to come from the brain side, our representation, via the senses, of the physical world. Intentionality is related to purpose, to final cause, something that doesn’t exist in physics. This quality must somehow be contributed by Cosmic Mind. How does Cosmic Mind interact with the physical? It is nice that brains detect Cosmic Mind, but how exactly do they do that? Aren’t I faced with the same “interaction problem”, perhaps pushed around a bit, as old fashioned Cartesian dualism?

The short answer is yes. It is the same problem, the same also faced by property dualism and panpsychism, and also Russelian, and any dual-aspect monism. The presence of Cosmic Mind is (like Cartesian mind) normally associated, directly or indirectly, with God, but one could leave its final source in abeyance as phenomenal monists and panpsychists do with their protophenomenal properties. None of these other theories ever say what exactly the phenomenal or proto-phenomenal qualities are let alone from where they come. Unlike the quasi-materialistic theories, Cosmic Mind is not (or need not be) phenomenal or proto-phenomenal (let alone conscious) at all. The emergent effect, subjective phenomenalism, only occurs when brains appear — Cosmic Mind being always on the scene. Unlike quasi-materialisms, this explains why we find the phenomenal only in association with brains and why we cannot even speculate about the protophenomenal in physics. It isn’t there to be found.

What about my other promise? Why is explanation of the interaction mechanism forever out of our reach? To support the radical emergence taking place, the field cannot, itself, be material (like the electromagnetic) or we would be back to unsupported radical emergence. Since it isn’t material it remains forever outside the capacity of physics (having only material instruments) to detect. Moreover, since the emergent dualism effected by the brain is also non-material the mechanism producing it is a mix of the physical (brain states) and non-physical (Cosmic Mind). Physics (in this case a synechode for neurophysiology resting on biology resting on chemistry and so on) can only measure the material side and it does! We can measure and find (roughly) consciousness-correlated brain states! What we cannot measure is the evocation subjective experience from their functioning.

What physics wants is an equivalence relation. But proving equivalence relations (for example the equivalence between thermodynamics and statistical mechanics) needs experimental confirmation, physical measurement, of the phenomenon from both ends as it were. This is precisely what is not possible concerning mind.

Where does Cosmic Mind itself come from? I’m a theist for this reason and many others. God covers a multitude of problems. The origin of course, but also the interaction. We can never spell out the mechanism but God knows the trick! Theism has no particular burden here. Panpsychists and monists do not tell us from where come their postulated “phenomenal properties-of-physics”, in what they consist, how they do their work, or how they are even possible within the physics we presently comprehend. Theism addresses all but one of these questions.

If we let materialist philosophers get away with “we don’t know, they’re just there” (concerning the proto-phenomenal) why shouldn’t theists? A non-material field pervading spacetime is no less conceivable than undetectable phenomenal properties underlying physics. One of Chalmers’ suggestions is “psychic laws” in parallel with physical law. Postulating Cosmic Mind answers more questions than proto-phenomenal physics or psychic laws, specifically why we cannot specify, or even speculate about, what qualities the proto-phenomenal has.

For more of my essays on this and related subjects see:

Essays:

Fantasy Physics and the Genesis of Mind
Physics and the Evidence for Non-Material Consciousness
Why Free Will
Why Personality

Books:
Why This Universe: God, Cosmology, Consciousness, and Free Will (2014)
God, Causal Closure, and Free Will (2016)

Note: On emergence

I have allowed in this essay that mind is the only example of radical emergence of which we know, but I believe there are two others, the universe itself, the big bang, and life.  This essay is not the place to go into either, but it is the theme of my book “God, Causal Closure, and Free Will” linked above.

Note: On the subject of animal mind

Since mind is associated with brains we might speculate about where it appears in the development of animal nervous systems. The short answer is I do not know but at least it seems to be present, a “what it is like to be” subjectivity in all the mammals and birds and possibly all vertebrates. If Cosmic Mind is all of a piece, everywhere uniform throughout the universe, how is it that animal consciousness seems less rich than the human? The answer here is on the brain side in the same way the shape of the shadow depends on the ball.

The electromagnetic field is filled with information all jumbled together. It can be made coherent (by radios) through the process of tuning. When a radio is tuned to a particular “carrier frequency” amidst the jumble, all of the electromagnetic modulation around that frequency can be detected and interpreted say as music from one, speech from another and so on. But notice also, that even if we single out a particular carrier, radios can vary widely in the quality of their conversion/reproduction. The sound emerging from older, more primitive, radios contains less of the information than that coming from newer more advanced electronics.

Cosmic Mind need contain only one signal. Being non-material it might as well be undifferentiated as we couldn’t measure any differentiation anyway. But there are, like radios, brains of various qualities. Like an older radio, the mind evoked by the brain of a mouse is less rich than that of a dog, the dog less than an ape, and the ape less than a human all bathed in the same field. This seems to be the case for consciousness as a whole, but is not the case concerning specific qualia. A dog’s aroma qualia are far richer than a human’s, as is a bird’s visual qualia (birds have four types cone cells in their eyes supporting ultra-violet visual qualia). There is nothing surprising about this if qualia in particular are closely tied to the physical root of the subjective arena. Some more primitive radios can be optimized to reproduce a narrow range of audible frequencies better than a more advanced radio even though the latter does a better job over-all.

In accounting for this difference this “Cosmic Mind” hypothesis at least matches the accounting for qualia by panpsychism and dual-aspect monisms. In the latter theories, more primitive brains produce less rich phenomenal qualities from the basic proto-phenomenal building blocks but nothing blocks optimizations in different brains. In both cases, the onus for the quality (richness) of qualia lays with brains. But the quasi-materialisms cannot so well account for intention, purpose (something the higher animals clearly have), unless one posits its proto-presence as well. Such a move puts teleology firmly back into physics, and in that case we are half-way back to theism.