What are Truth, Beauty, and Goodness?

In many essays of this blog I discuss what philosophers in prior centuries called values:  truth, beauty, and goodness, distinguishing them from facts. I have to sketch these over and over because my approach to a philosophy of mind, in particular any discussion of what distinguishes human from animal mind has to bring up the values. It is the ability to distinguish the values, that is to grasp that truth, beauty, and goodness exist and are discernible, that separates human from animal mind. This essay focuses on the values as such.

Is goodness (or beauty or truth) objective or subjective and relative? This is a question that has vexed philosophers for more than two thousand years. The answer, grounded in my theology (see “Prolegomena to a Future Theology”) is that it is both. It is the point of this essay to show why and how that is the case. What the values are falls out of my theology as does the distinction (made by almost no one in the philosophical community) between what values are and what has them. Goodness is a value. Justice (to take an example I will use below) is usually taken to “be good”. Justice is good (if indeed it is) because it has, embodies, or is an instance of goodness. This distinction holds for all three values. A sunset has beauty, and a proposition like 2+2=4 has truth. In the English language we normally say that justice is good, sunsets are beautiful, and propositions are true. It is this construction that blurs the distinction presented just above just as, pointing at a lit lamp and saying “that is light”, would blur the distinction between light and what is lit.

In the Prolegomena (linked above) I note that from a rational first-principle theism we infer there are three fundamental joints in reality: Matter-energy, mind, and spirit. Matter-energy is the familiar stuff of the material universe, including time. Mind refers not to individual human (or animal) mind, but the phenomenon of mind in the universe. To our experience of course mind manifests individually (see “From What Comes Mind?”). The reason mind so well represents the material world is that mind and the material world both originate in spirit. The point of mind is to represent matter-energy (in the human, biological case, on middle scales) to a subject. The subject is yet another matter I will not much deal with here. See “Why Personality”.

Human mind can, and animal mind cannot, sense something of antecedent spirit-reality, a thin something that is, in effect an inkling of “the character of God” or more precisely qualities of God’s character. Values, their reality, not what exhibits them, are that of which we are aware, by means of mind, is spirit. It is the only such awareness (of spirit) we have. Mind represents the material world to a creature having an individualized subjectivity. The phenomenon that catalyzes a brain’s evocation of a subjectivity is the same everywhere. The quality of spirit that humans can sense and further discriminate in their mental arena is present (everywhere) in the field I have called (again see above linked “From What Comes Mind?”) Cosmic Mind. The lion, or the dog, or the ape, simply do not notice it, do not detect it as a distinguishable facet of consciousness. Animal mind is not up to the task. Being “up to the task” is the identity criterion for human mind.

Values are the unified quality of God’s character refracted into the three primary joints: beauty into the material world, truth into mind as such, and goodness into the intentions (and intentional behavior) of persons (personality being the only spirit-component of our otherwise blended identity — see “Why Personality”). They also happen to be the root concepts of three major branches in philosophy,  aesthetics, epistemology, and ethics respectively.

Beauty is something we experience in sensory qualia and they, in turn are our window on the mind-independent material world. We find truth by mind in mind. To philosophers it is a property of propositions. Propositions are abstractions, mental phenomena, that either do or do not conform to the structure of the world as a whole, spiritual, mental, and material. There is a “fact of the matter” about the relation between General Relativity and quantum mechanics, and about the existence (or nonexistence) of God. Like beauty, truth is not about what is true or which abstractions have more truth, but rather the conviction that there is a consistent way the world is.

Goodness is about the intentions, and subsequently behaviors, of persons. Again it is not about what purposes are good, or how much goodness they have, but that it is possible to align (more or less) our individual purposes with God’s. Goodness is the most difficult value to grasp intellectually because it is the value refracted through reality’s “spirit joint”. Of matter we know much, of mind we have immediate experience, but of spirit we have only the mind-discriminated values themselves and personality which we cannot find (see “Why Personality”).

At the same time goodness is the value with which we most often engage. Persons, by extension their behavior, have (or do not have) goodness, but this is also the case with social institutions which are impersonal, but created by persons. Unlike the other values we project goodness strictly outside (though of course it remains related) its domain, the person. In doing this we invent new words for it, for example ‘justice’, fairness, or fitness. But in each case, though we speak of impersonal institutions, we refer to the doings, present or historical, of people.

There is something to note about the values taken together. As God is unified, the values, while refracted to human apprehension in reality’s three primary joints, must also be unified. Each must be consistent with the quality of the others. Beauty must be both true and beautiful, goodness beautiful and true, and truth beautiful and good. This interrelation between the values, recognized in classical treatments of them, has sometimes been identified with ‘love’ (Christian Agape) and is consistent with the view that they are what we apprehend as qualities of “God’s character”.

Our thin sense of these qualities is only a hazy pointer. It is not a reliable arbiter of what about particulars in the world (human art, propositions, or acts of persons) has these qualities or more exactly to what degree they have them. Values are apprehended in mind, but we recognize they belong to broad categories in the physical (a sunset), mental (a proposition) or personal (some exhibition of human intention) world. Subjective interaction with the world is always perspectival, it has a viewpoint. Perspective is unique to every human being who’s history, not to mention a unique physical ground (the brain) of the mental, ensures that uniqueness.

Each of our individual, already unique by different brains, perspectives color our general value awareness. There is room in the human perspectival range for both broad agreement and much disagreement about what is true, beautiful, or good. Suppose we face a palette of colors and must classify each into one of only three groups, red, yellow, and blue. We might agree about many of the various shades, but when it comes to an orange, I might say it belongs more to the red and you to the yellow. It is because of this colorization effect that we can have different views of say the value content of a sunset (or work of art), proposition, individual act or social policy; whether, for example a particular human action or policy enforced by law, is just.

There is another phenomenon that, to human mind, relativizes the values, time itself. Time, of course, is an ingredient in our own individual perspectives, but it is also a part of the social perspective we share as a culture. We are conditioned not only as individuals but also as a culture. Almost all humans agree there is often beauty in sunsets, but art is a different matter. The people of 17th century Europe expressed a wide variety of views on what makes up beauty in art. Faced with 19th century impressionistic art they might have had the capacity to extend their view of beauty-in-art to include it. But show any one of them a painting by Picasso or Pollack and few would find any beauty in them as many do today. What has happened here? The capacity of present-day individuals (some of them) to respond to beauty in a wider variety of art forms results from broadening this capacity within the evolving culture. The same holds for truth. There was “more truth” in Newton’s theory of gravity than what came before him, but still more in Einstein’s General Relativity.

For another example lets look at justice, not retributive justice but social justice. We take for granted nowadays that universal (in adults) and equal suffrage with regard to selecting political representatives is good because it is just. Justice, in other words, has goodness. But even in the Earth’s best models for the social evolution of universal suffrage (England and the United States) achieved today’s notion of what is just over several (in England’s case many) generations. At each stage of the evolution, the people who lived in those stages thought of them as just compared with prior stages. The situation in the late 18th Century and early 19th when only adult male property owners had an acknowledged political voice was “more just” than the prior condition when only aristocrats had a say, and that in turn more just than when kings alone made all the rules. Fifty or so years later when all adult males could vote there was yet more justice, more goodness (or at least we think so today), in the arrangement and so on.

Political inclusiveness was just, had goodness, in 1800, 1900, and today when all adults can vote. This is possible because cultural relativity conditioned what was just for that time. What was just in 1800 was good in the same way as it is today, yet what framed its just-ness varied from one age to the next. Philosophy’s inability to reconcile the relativity of value as we find it in the world with its seeming objectivity, the nagging suspicion that it is not, at least, purely relative stems from the philosophical failure to distinguish between what the values are and what has, embodies, or instantiates them in the world. This failure in turn results from philosophy’s rejection of God who would be the only possible source of the values as we know them (truth, beauty, goodness) that could ground their existence independently of minds which discover them.

Unlike the qualia set up by physical senses, values are found in human mind as such. No physical pathway connects an “outside source” of value to its discrimination in mind. Because of this it seems plausible to suppose (most philosophers do suppose) that we just invent the values in the sense that they spring into consciousness out of the froth of mind; they are epiphenomena! Humans all recognize them (some more than others) because human mind-froth is, after all, similar from one brain to the next. While this theory does account for different qualities-of-discrimination in different minds (brains differ), it does not account for some of their objective-like qualities.

Beauty seems to be in or of the sunset. 2+2=4 seems to be mind-independently true, while one can argue that slavery is unjust always even if there was a time when it was a compassionate alternative to murder. In our experience, mind-froth produces many mental states: epiphanies, novel idea combinations, fantasies, and so on that we do not take to be mind-independently real. The values are different in this way. Their mind-independence, unlike fantasies, is controversial. This alone suggests that something different may be going on. Cosmic Mind explains both how it is values are mind-independently real, qualities of God’s character, while present only, and differently felt (brains differ), in human mind.

While not epiphenomena, values themselves, like ideas or qualia, are not causal. Values can however, like the others, be reasons for intentions. Indeed if God exists and the physical universe, consciousness, and the interaction between the two is purposeful, the values must be a linchpin of that purpose. See “Why Free Will” for a further elaboration on this point.

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 it is 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 but also shares much with “property dualism” of the sort championed by David Chalmers. 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.

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 by Cosmic Mind. Consciousness is the music produced by brains in the (everywhere) 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 te 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? 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 few 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”, or for that matter even in what they consist. The latter question I have answered!

If we let materialist philosophers get away with “we don’t know, they’re just there” why shouldn’t theists? A non-material field pervading spacetime is no less conceivable than undetectable phenomenal properties in 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. 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 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. This move puts teleology firmly back into physics, and in that case we are half-way back to theism.

The Understandable Inconclusiveness of Metaphysics Part I

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“…metaphysics can indeed be about reality, and can avoid collapse into empirical scientific theory, provided we can learn to be content with the fact that, as far as actuality is concerned, metaphysics cannot provide us with certainties” E.J. Lowe The Possibility of Metaphysics (1998)

The central question of metaphysics might well be “what must be true to make the universe we experience possible?” As E.J. Lowe puts it in the aforementioned book “… metaphysics has been thought of as the systematic study of the most fundamental structure of reality…” The experience to which I refer includes all that we take to be an external world impinging on our sensory systems, but also the fact of experience itself, that all that impinging has a subjective result, a “something it is to be like ourselves”. In its turn, a part of that subjective experience seems to include a power, an ability on the part of the subject, to effect events in the external world without such actions being either chance occurences or ridgedly determined by antecedent events. It is not controversial that such impact is effected through the movement of a body, but from the subjective viewpoint, such movement is but the terminus of a process initiated by what appears, literally to our selves as a self, that again subjectively, appears not to be merely identified with a body, but a controler of it.

It is the present fashion in both the sciences and philosophy to claim that what appears to be a free and extra-material controller of a material body is but an illusion. Similarly, the subjective arena in and with which the controller seems to function is also declared to be illusory. There is somewhat more sensitivity in the latter claim to the matter of how it is that an illusion can appear to be something to itself? Mostly these viewpoints amount to a modern version of nihilism, but their proponents claim to be doing nothing more than following out the logical consequences of physics, that is the discoveries about the external world (the one that impinges on our senses and of course including the senses themselves) that physics has revealed. This is a disengenuous claim. Proponents are assuming that the only explanation that can be provided, and by this I mean as concerns both the objective and the subjective, is the one that physics is able (if not now than ultimately) to provide. No other explanation can count for anything other than fantasy if it is not expressible in physical terms.

This “naturalistic error” becomes quickly associated with a “physicalist error”. Because the technological results of scientific methodology at least do strongly suggest the validity of our conclusions concerning the physical world (with a few controversial “edge cases”) and coupled with the observation that a methodology employing physical instruments can only detect physical phenomena, one reaches for the conclusion that the physical must be all there is.

Physicists and philosophers who are worth their Ph.D’s all admit that this reach is an assumption. They know that there is no logical proof of the being, or not being, of anything real in the universe that is other than physical. So why this insistence of a declaration of naturalism (no explanation other than science) and physicalism (nothing but the physical exists) on the part of so many otherwise well educated people? The reasons are mostly negative. Beginning with the assumption that “there is more than the physical” that is real, philosophers have for centuries offered answers to the fundamental question (what must be true for all of this to exist) that, while they might answer the question, simply cannot be confirmed as the true or best such answer. Put in technical terms, experiential evidence (including that of physics), underdetermines metaphysical theory. In non technical terms this means that more than one such complete explanation can work and there is no objective methodology that can be used to pick out the right one.

Physics as such has reduced the ultimate question to “what must be true to make our physical world, implied by the macroscopic (and deterministic) reality we experience through our senses, the way it is?” This is a perfectly legitimate question and physics has discovered much of what lies beyond our natural (that is biological) senses forming parts of the answer to that question. That these explanations are real answers and that they are complete answers is demonstrated, again via our senses, by the fact that technology grounded in the consequences (philosophically speaking “necessary corollaries”) of those explanations actually works! Not only does it work, but we can predict to an extraordinary degree of precision how alterations in material inputs will affect (that is alter) their outputs! This means that any further explanation, any explanation that entails anything beyond or besides physical inputs, is redundant.

There do remain a few edge cases, places where our physical explanations have, at least for the moment, run up against a wall. An interpretation of quantum mechanics is perhaps the most famous of these, but the completion of the standard model, in particular the basis of gravity and its capacity to warp space is another as is the origin of life, and the genesis of the big bang. What these questions have in common is the shared, universal assumption on the part of physics, that the answers to them will form a self consistent set and that they will prove to be strictly physical making non-physical additions redundant. Interestingly though, it is with physics here at these limits exactly the same as with metaphysics in that our evidence, the evidence with which we seek to discover the answer to what must be true, underdetermines theory. As with metaphysics there are multiple possible explanations that account for the physical evidence and at the moment we have no definitive way of choosing between them.

Then there is the matter of consciousness, the observers at the end of the chain seeking the answers to all such questions. On this planet at least only humans appear to be observers of this kind. There is a general acceptance of higher animals (at least) being conscious in the sense of having a “something it is like to be” experience. But none of them (and indeed not all humans) appear to ask or care to look into the fundamentals of that experience. Still, only humans ask these questions, and only humans direct behavior towards answering them.

As an edge case for physics the matter of consciousness poses a special problem. No one denies that consciousness in some sense exists in the physical universe. But it is not, like the other edge cases, so obvious that the answer to the “what must be true” question would or could be purely physical, leaving no room for a non-redundant, non-physical component of the answer. Most physicists and philosophers today simply assume that, like everything else that physics has discovered, this limit too will ultimately prove to have a purely physical explanation. But this reasoning ignores the fact that physics can detect only the physical whether there is anything else in the universe or not; we are returned to the physicalist assumption.

Even if physics happens to be wrong concerning physicalism, metaphysics, some explanation for both the physical and the non-physical cohabiting the universe, will be unhelpful unless there is some means by which we can narrow metaphysical possibility. Underdetermination is a problem whenever the observers reach, temporarily or otherwise, some explanatory limit. Physics has a methodology (observational, mathematical, and experimental) it applies to limit the range of possible explanations though as I will show in part II the edge cases, even apart from consciousness, are often, even in principle, beyond such treatment. Even where applicable, math, experiment, and observation might not serve to pick a single explanation, but they do limit the reasonable candidates. Not all theories qualify. For metaphysics to be reasonable the same consideration must apply. There may be no method by which a single metaphysical theory can be identified as “the true answer”, but there should be some means to narrow the candidate field. Science is about what happens, while metaphysics is about what is possible.

Metaphysics has one tool analogous to mathematics, that being logic. But the validity (in the sense of being true of the actual universe) of both logical deduction and induction rests on the truth of assumptions and those assumptions (and this is just as true of physics) are made only by observers having subjective experience, the very experience whose inclusion in the universe for which we are trying to account! In turn this means that besides logical consistency, the only limiting methodology available to metaphysics is experience itself; that is a correct apprehension of it. Metaphysics must account both for physics and subjective observer experience as concerns both the fact of the latter in the universe and its content. Metaphysical answers must not be inconsistent with physics and at the same time, they must account for both the appearance of the non-physicalness of consciousness and that of free will. They must also account for all that manifests in the consciousness of observers; not merely qualia but also ideas, intension, meaning, and value.

This sets up something of a built-in circularity to metaphysics. What must limit its speculation is the very experience we are trying (among other things) to explain. The facticity of these phenomena and their purported non-material nature is the very quality open to question. To avoid a patent circularity, metaphysics must, like science, modify the central question. Not what must be true for the world to be as it is, but what must be true of the world for it to appear to us as it does. That would include the appearance of subjectivity and especially free will without presupposing their facticity.

Metaphysics has from this requirement generally suggested two broad sorts of answers to the “what must be true” question; either monism, or dualism. The physicalism already sketched is one form of monism. It argues that there is only one kind of thing in the universe that is real, the physical, including everything from the microphysical quantum universe to spacetime curved by gravity. Anything that appears to have some non-redundant non-physical aspect is only an illusion. But an illusion is a subjective phenomenon. An antecedent subject is presupposed and that cannot be an illusion because some subject is experiencing it. Physicalists have argued that the subject itself is the illusion but then who or what is it that makes this claim? Non-subjects (like rocks or statues) do not have illusions, and it is for this reason that physicalism gets around eventually to a nonsensical nihilism in which the subject making the claim denies not only his own experience, but by that the meaningfulness of the claim of illusion. As with illusions, only an antecedently existing subject can experience meaning.

But physicalism is not the only direction monism has taken. At the other extreme there is idealism, the contention that there is indeed only one real thing and that it is not the physical universe measured by physics strictly speaking, but the experiential subject-consciousness doing the measuring. This subjectivity, the “mental realm” in general is shared in the sense that we all participate, that is have our individual subjectivity, within this realm and so it is not surprising that we can compare notes as it were and recognize that some components of “the mental” are experienced by all of us accounting for the appearance of the objective world. But idealism does not satisfactorily account for our technology. It is one thing to share a mental realm and agree that a tree is a tree and a rock a rock, but it is quite another to expect to use that contingent agreement to make an airplane that flies or build a functioning quantum computer.

Just as nihilism is a nonsensical corollary of physicalism, the notion that airplanes only appear to fly because we all agree that they do is nonsensical. Airplanes do not merely appear to fly they actually fly. That means the physics underlying their flight is not merely a matter of inter-subjective agreement but a necessarily true antecedent to that agreement. Physical reality must in fact be real prior to and apart from the mental. Because monism, taken seriously, permits only a single category, there is not much room between physicalism and idealism for any other strict monism. But a less strict version appears as a component of “property dualism”.

Like monism, dualisms come in various flavors. What they have in common is an acceptance of the subjective experience, and in particular free will, at face value. The physical realm is real, the mental realm is real, and beyond this, physics alone cannot account for the mental realm unless there is more to physics than has yet been observed. What this more consists in is mostly where the property dualism debate lies. On one extreme there is no more strictly speaking, but it is nevertheless asserted that a causally closed physics, a physics that comes only from physical causes and has only physical effects, can nevertheless cause a non-physical phenomenon to emerge, and is subsequently responsive, causally, to this entity. Of course this amounts to a contradiction, a physics that has only physical effects has (or causes), at least one, non-physical effect (or emergence) that being consciousness. It does however at least underpin our intuition that the mental does have reciprocal impact on the physical; our experience of free will.

Physics is the source of the mental and therefore the mental can interact with and affect physics. This all comes out very neat and tidy until one realizes that no physicist anywhere has ever detected (measured) or observed the physical eventuating the non-physical. Causal closure does not, to 300+ years of experimentation and observation, ever appear to result in anything non-physical. One is tempted to exclaim that consciousness is indeed the only such example there is, but surely this then begs the question.

To avoid such question begging, some philosophers (but understandably no physicists) have suggested that there is something hidden in physics, that is hidden in causal closure, that remains undiscovered and is specifically directed at producing subjective consciousness. One problem with this is that like subjective experience itself, these hidden properties are not measureable with physical instruments. They are merely presumed to be present because, after all, consciousness exists and there is nothing in the measureable properties of the physical that appears able to explain it. This really is more “begging the question” based on a non-negotiable faith in physicalism, but faith is indeed the right word to use here.

Philosophers have suggested several variations on these “hidden properties”. Anomalous monism (Davidson and Nagel) lies at one extreme; un-measurable properties truly hidden either in physical law (process) or the properties of objects as we otherwise know them. Their redundancy as concerns physics strictly speaking should be enough to dismiss their presence. On the other side we have those like David Chalmers who suggest instead a set of parallel laws, not strictly in physics but present (pervading the universe) along side it. This approach avoids the issue of redundancy because these parallel laws become noticible only after the emergence of observers who notice them indirectly by having a subjective experience. That is, the measure of their presence is their detection by the phenomenon of subjective experience. This idea leads directly to some form of panpsychism whose effect, prior to the emergence of consciousness, must have driven otherwise contingent physical outcomes towards life and ultimately consciousness.

This is not an entirely unreasonable hypothesis, but its problem is again the nature of the physical. There is nothing we are aware of in the phenomenon of the big bang or anywhere in physics that would serve to support either the reality or the efficacy of a parallel set of psychotropic laws. We may not know why the big bang occured, but at least there is the manifestly unstable quantum vacuum. The quantum vacuum can be manipulated (mathematically modeled) to generate all of our physics, but not anything of panpsychism.

It is exactly the fact that there appears to be nothing in physics that supports panpsychism that leads away from property dualism where the dual-reality must have its ground in physics to substance dualism in which the ground of the mental purportedly originates, reasonably enough, outside of physics. The “psychotropic laws”, after all, stand in exactly the same relation to consciousness no matter where they originate. If they cannot come from physics perhaps they originate in something else? But what? An external origin relieves physics of incompleteness at the cost of suggesting some other quality of the universe that is not only non-material (and as such capable of grounding psychotropic laws) but must have the power to interact with physics to produce all of what the mental, to common experience, appears to produce; including free will.

It is for this reason that substance dualism is so often associated with theism or deism. Although these solutions do not explain the mechanism of the interaction, they posit an entity, a God, who knows the trick. We further ascribe self-cause to that entity to block an otherwise infinite recursion of metaphysical antecedents. Personally I do not find a theistic solution to the ultimate question unreasonable. It is certainly coherent, and as concerns an “inference to a best explanation”, a legitimate limiting test recognized as generally valid where more rigorous inductive or even deductive proofs are not applicable, theism is complete. That is to say that beginning with a few assumptions as concerns the nature God must have to be an explanation or an answer to the ultimate “what must be true” question, one can show that the corollaries of these assumptions are both consistent with physics, and all of experience including qualia, intensionality, intellection in its broadest sense, and free will.

In particular theism can account, in the sense of providing explanations, for the juxtaposition in the universe of purposeless mechanism (what physics probes) and purposeful free will (the choice of the physicist to probe it), something that materialism has been singularly unable to do. I have written three books exploring the theistic inference to best explanation of human experience and more recently “Prolegomena to a Future Theology” laying out a minimal and consistent set of axioms from which the rest can be derived. I will not further explore this subject here. In part II I will explore what philosophers, and physicists being philosophers, have proposed as explanation for why the physical universe is the way it is even leaving consciousness aside. All of these suggestions are made assuming that theism is not true, that no God exists. Yet while remaining anchored ostensibly in the physical all of these hypotheses suffer from the same problems as metaphysics in general and theism in particular as concerns physics; among them underdetermination and redundancy.