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The proper relationship between consciousness and matter is the recognition that they each do exist -- and that the mind does depend on matter for its existence -- but that  the mind is not reducible to matter. And, vice versa.

This is, in essence, a proper dualist position, but not to be confused with the more standard form of Cartesian dualism.

If I understand what you mean, the mind is a separate entity from matter (the body, or central nervous system) but somehow depends on it. That's very confusing. It means the disembodied mind must have some supernatural capability, similar to a soul.

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If I understand what you mean, the mind is a separate entity from matter (the body, or central nervous system) but somehow depends on it.  That's very confusing.  It means the disembodied mind must have some supernatural capability, similar to a soul.

No it doesn't, but I will inform that Mr. Speicher has his own forum now and he recently elaborated on this subject there. It initially confused me too.

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I meant only that the neural circuitry that gives rise to consciousness is a physical process that is composed entirely of basic, deterministic chemical and physical interactions, which nonetheless, in the aggregate, produce consciousness--which is not determined.  This circuitry then, as a whole, can also be called nondeterministic, because while it produces consciousness, it is also controlled by consciousness.  Its output is therefore not determined.

That's very circular and contradictory. How can something physical (deterministic) cause something not caused (not deterministc)? Outside from what we know about quantum interactions, everything (space time) in the universe is causally determined.

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The error that leads to this is in thinking that "consciousness is a biomechanical process". It is not. Consciousness is caused by a biomechanical process, but it is not the biomechanical process itself.

Check on the thread on Consciousness, there's a great deal of overlap here.

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That's very circular and contradictory.  How can something physical (deterministic) cause something not caused (not deterministc)?  Outside from what we know about quantum interactions, everything (space time) in the universe is causally determined.

Yes, it does seem to be a contradiction.

However, it is also accurate.

The seeming contradition is only superficial.

The alternative, advocated by some on this forum and described somewhat in this thread, is that the brain has no function beyond that of a deterministic machine--a piece of matter with actions every bit as mechanistic and determined-in-advance as a muscle. In this view, consciousness, while somehow needing the brain to exist, nevertheless is capable of action that is not necessitated by any prior or concurrent action of the brain (which would make it deterministic) and that such mental action intervenes in the mechanics of the brain to change the physical action of brain matter.

It is obvious that this position requires the idea that consciousness is capable of actions not connected to or expressed by any physical action of the brain. The actual process and content of certain volitional conscious thought therefore must occur with no physical basis in reality.

Otherwise they would be mere products of the brain-machine and free will would not exist; clearly this is false.

Put simply, this is the view that a whole process of conscious thought can spontaneously occur in the mind prior to any action by the brain whatsoever (i.e., unconnected to any change in reality outside of the mind)--only affecting any change in the brain after the mental process has completed.

This position is very different from merely the true concept that consciousness is not reducible to the brain.

Instead, this is a denial of the necessarily true idea that all mental content and action, even the nondeterministic actions of volitional human thought, must be expressed in the brain in some fashion in order to exist at all.

This is "necessarily true" by all that we know about the relationship of the brain to the mind. Thought occurs only because some mechanism in the brain accounts for it, despite the fact that the conscious human mind directs and controls this thought.

How any conscious act could exist and occur with no physical brain mechanism to allow it or account for it has never been explained by those who hold the false view I've described, despite the fact that this is the crux of their entire argument.

It is quite clear that human consciousness can intervene in an otherwise deterministic physical world--this is free will.

However, it cannot be the case that consciousness occurs in some metaphysical vacuum with no mechanism or process to account for the existence and content of its thoughts, which then intervene in the detached and deterministic brain.

Instead, it must be that the actions of the brain are physical expressions of this conscious process of volition as it occurs.

Despite it's propenents' unwillingness to admit as much explicitly, the above view holds that certain thought processes occur with total independence from the brain and then impinge on the brain's matter by some arbitrary, ineffable means.

This is the logically untenable viewpoint.

The reason it is logically permissible for deterministic brain matter to give rise to nondeterministic thought processes is the same reason that non-conscious brain cells can give rise to human consciousness.

Brain cells are fully deterministic, biological machines--yet because of them consciousness exists, and that consciousness is certainly nondeterministic in humans.

The phrase "emergent property" is not ideal but it suffices to describe the principle involved.

How this is possible is a question for science.

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How this is possible is a question for science.

How exactly would this investigation procede? Philosophers have been prepared to pass it over to science without any further thought since the time of Descartes, but it's difficult to conceive of how exactly an empirical investigation of this could even be possible. You cant just dismiss the hard questions with a nonchalant 'thats one for the scientists' and expect anyone to be satisfied.

Do you believe that a study of the brain which concluded that, at the level of individual neurons, the brain was entirely deterministic would refute your conception of free-will? If so then I can understand how an empirical test would go about, but if not, I'm baffled. I personally think that the brain WILL turn out to operate in a non-deterministic manner, but if it doesnt, then there is no place in the world for free-will, as an 'emergent property' or otherwise.

Edited by Hal

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The above reply is bizarre in light of the fact that the theory I proposed involves a directly observable physical brain mechanism corresponding to conscious thought processes. The whole point of my argument is that there must be physical process in the brain allowing any particular thought to occur at all.

The alternate theory, which I reject, is that thought can occur with no action by the brain to account for it, and that this thought can then affect a subsequent change in the brain by some unexplainable means. It is supremely obvious that it is this theory that is not open to scientific investigation. If there is no physical process allowing for the existence of volitional thought then there is no scientific method by which the relationship of the brain to the volitional actions of the mind can be discovered.

All that could be observed is a spontaneous change in the movement of the brain's matter with no discernable cause--a sudden departure from the usual laws of physics and the function of cells.

It is this view that "dismisses the hard questions" of how thought does in fact direct changes in the brain.

The only logical solution to this problem is that the thought itself--all thought--must have a biological basis in the brain allowing it to interact with physical reality. Thought is not reducible to biology, but it is inextricably paired with it.

Furthermore, as I clearly stated already, the fact that individual neurons are deterministic is in agreement with my theory.

Their deterministic nature does not preclude them from providing the physical mechanism allowing the mind to carry out abstract thought any more than the fact that individual neurons are not conscious prevents them from giving rise to human consciousness.

Edited by amagi

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The above reply is bizarre in light of the fact that the theory I proposed involves a directly observable physical brain mechanism corresponding to conscious thought processes.  The whole point of my argument is that there must be physical process in the brain allowing any particular thought to occur at all.

Furthermore, as I clearly stated already, the fact that individual neurons are deterministic is in agreement with my theory.

Then consciousness is utterly redundant is a casual force. If event X has a (deterministic) physical cause Y which necessitates it, then there is no need to postulate an extra 'mental cause' Z. If Y implies X then X will happen regardless of what 'mental processes' occur. If my going to the fridge to get a drink can be fully explained in a deterministic manner by talking about the evolution of a physical system from a given initial state, then the hypothesis that I 'could have done other wise' at the level of consciousness is simply false.

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Sorry, I was in a hurry when I wrote the above post and I dont think that it is very clear (in particular, the second 'is' in the first sentence should be 'as'). I'll try to expand.

Suppose we have some physical event X, such as me raising my arm or going to the fridge for a drink. Now, there are 2 ways we can describe this:

1) We can talk about the physical cause - atoms in my brain and body were in a certain state at time t, this system evolved deterministically, and then at some time (t+n) they are in the state where my arm is in the air, or my body is at the fridge. Let us call this cause Y. It is deterministic and 'necessitates' its outcome.

2) We can postulate a 'mental cause' which is emergent. This could be that I 'wanted' to raise my arm, or that I felt thirsty. This cause is non-deterministic and didnt necessitate its outcome. Let us call this cause Z.

The problem here is that the event X is ALREADY fully determined and necessitated by physical cause Y, REGARDLESS of what happens with the 'mental cause'. It simply doesnt matter whether Z is deterministic - all that matters is that Y is deterministic (which you believe) and that Y necessitates X (which I assume you also believe), and we can see that X 'had' to happen. If Y => X and Z => X, then X necessarily follows from Y regardless of what Z is. There is no room whatsoever for free-will - the mental cause is entirely redundant and consciousness has no part to play as a casual force.

The only real way to get around this is to suppose that the mental and physical causes are identical, and that consciousness is somehow identical (and reducible) to the brain. I would hold this is meaningless.

Edited by Hal

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This problem has been described as the "supervenience argument," and it is generally taken to be a major obstacle to the view that volitional mental acts, while having causal efficacy on the brain, are nonetheless in existence themselves only because of corresponding brain processes.

However, this problem only arises if one accepts the view of dualism--the view that the mental is metaphysically severed from and outside of the rest of reality. Ayn Rand rejected this view:

to go to the roots of the whole vicious error, blast the separation of man into "body" and "soul," the opposition of "matter" and "spirit." Man is an indivisible entity, possessing both elements—but not to be split into them, since they can be considered separately only for purposes of discussion, not in actual fact. In actual fact, man is an indivisible, integrated entity—and his place is here, on earth.
From The Journals of Ayn Rand

The existence of consciousness is a primary, and it cannot be reduced to matter. However, neither can it be "split" from matter--from the body--except "for purposes of discussion" (i.e. epistemelogically) and "not in actual fact" (i.e. not metaphysically).

In accordance both with Rand's view and with scientific knowledge of the neural basis of consciousness, a mental state and its corresponding brain process should be seen as two aspects of the same event, the same integrated phenomenon. Therefore, the singular cause of a particular act of volition is that one phenomenon, which has both a neural basis and the element of conscious awareness.

As for the question of how a collection of deterministic cells could give rise to a volitional consciousness--this is properly a question that only science can fully answer. All that can be said is that they do in fact do exactly that.

Those objecting to the idea that abstract, volitional thought could have any basis in a brain composed of those deterministic cells declare instead that consciousness somehow operates independently of that brain (at least when it comes to volition) and then, through some hitherto undiscovered law of physics, moves the brain's atoms around--deflecting them from their otherwise deterministic course.

However, it is readily apparent that this attempt to escape the deterministic nature of cells, quite apart from being anti-scientific, fails utterly at that escape, for this reason--it is those very same deterministic cells that are still creating the nondeterministic consciousness in the first place, regardless of whether the volitional thoughts are expressed in the brain or not. How is it that a fully deterministic brain could give rise to a process that transcends its own deterministic nature?

It should be obvious that as long as one accepts that the brain gives rise to the mind it is, in this context, almost trivial whether volitional thought is expressed in the brain or whether instead that thought occurs by a mysterious process in some dualistic realm independent of the brain--the problem of deterministic brain cells remains firmly in place.

The solution to this apparent problem is, fundamentally, to accept that volition is an emergent property of deterministic cells just as consciousness is an emergent property of non-conscious cells. This is no threat to free will.

As Leonard Peikoff writes in OPAR, p.35

Even if, someday, consciousness were to be explained scientifically as a product of physical conditions, this would not alter any observed fact. It would not alter the fact that, given those conditions, the attributes and functions of consciousness are what they are.

We know that volitional consciousness is ultimately a product of the deterministic cells of the human brain. The way to reconcile this fact with the existence of free will is not by rationalistically inventing arbitrary laws of physics or by accepting a mystical form of dualism. It is rather through scientific investigation informed by a proper, Objectivist view of consciousness.

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This problem has been described as the "supervenience argument," and it is generally taken to be a major obstacle to the view that volitional mental acts, while having causal efficacy on the brain, are nonetheless in existence themselves only because of corresponding brain processes. 

However, this problem only arises if one accepts the view of dualism--the view that the mental is metaphysically severed from and outside of the rest of reality.  Ayn Rand rejected this view:From The Journals of Ayn Rand

The existence of consciousness is a primary, and it cannot be reduced to matter.  However, neither can it be "split" from matter--from the body--except "for purposes of discussion" (i.e. epistemelogically) and "not in actual fact" (i.e. not metaphysically).

In accordance both with Rand's view and with scientific knowledge of the neural basis of consciousness, a mental state and its corresponding brain process should be seen as two aspects of the same event, the same integrated phenomenon.  Therefore, the singular cause of a particular act of volition is that one phenomenon, which has both a neural basis and the element of conscious awareness.

The problem is that I'm not entirely sure what this means. Its easy to say that man is 'an indivisible entity', but a lot harder to actually give sense to the words you are saying. What you're arguing for here seems to be some kind of dual aspect monism, but I've never really heard anyone manage to give a coherent explanation of what it involves. What does it actually mean to say that consciousness and neurons are both different aspects of the same event? What is this 'thing' they are both aspects of (this isnt really a scientific question, its more one of language)? How can something be both deterministic and not-deterministic - isnt this a fairly clear violation of identity? Edited by Hal

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Well, I suppose you'd have to read Ayn Rand to see if she gave any sense to the words "man is an indivisible entity."

I'm claiming something more specific about the brain, but it follows from her meaning in conjunction with current knowledge of the brain.

If you accept the premise of my argument--that thought must have some underlying physical process in the brain to account for it's existence, function, and ability to effect changes in the brain--than the "supervenience" problem can be seen more clearly.

Is it the thought causing a change in the brain, or is it the physical expression of the thought causing a change?

Either way you answer, the cause is ultimately the same.

The brain process that must underlie thought is the reason that further brain activity can be affected by thought--but that "brain process" cannot be severed from the thought itself. It cannot be viewed as an independent and distinct causal force because it is an integral part of the whole thought process.

The form of the brain process is determined by the content of the thought, and vice versa.

Without the brain process there is no logical way thought could occur at all, and it is the brain process that directly interacts with the rest of the brain's matter. But that brain process is only the mechanism by which conscious thought occurs--as such if you claim that the brain process is causing an event then it necessarily follows that the conscious thought is causing the event as well.

To talk about whether the brain process or instead the thought is the causal factor is to assume that one can exist without the other, and it is an implicit acceptance of dualism.

What you're arguing for here seems to be some kind of dual aspect monism
"Dual aspect monism" or "nonreductive materialism" are terms conventionally used to describe roughly the view I'm advocating. I don't necessarily agree with or accept either of those terms. To claim that "everything is physical" but consciousness is nevertheless not reducible to matter is a misuse of language, even if you're trying to describe approximately the view I hold. I agree with Leonard Peikoff when he says in OPAR, p.35:
A philosophy that rejects the monism of idealism or materialism does not thereby become "dualist." This term is associated with a Platonic or Cartesian metaphysics; it suggests the belief in two realities, in the mind-body opposition, and in the soul's independence of the body—all of which Ayn Rand denies.  None of the standard terms applies to the Objectivist metaphysics. All the conventional positions are fundamentally flawed, and the ideal term—"existentialism"—has been preempted (by a school that advocates Das Nichts, i.e., nonexistence). In this situation, a new term is required, one which at least has the virtue of not calling up irrelevant associations.

The best name for the Objectivist position is "Objectivism."

I am certainly not claiming that my view of the brain is part of Objectivism, but I do beleive that it is entirely in agreement with Objectivist principles.

I'll address the question of whether the neural basis of thought is deterministic in a future post.

Edited by amagi

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Well, I suppose you'd have to read Ayn Rand to see if she gave any sense to the words "man is an indivisible entity."
I have never heard anyone explain what this is meant to mean once we move past the superficial level. It seems like a nice thing to say, but it's hard to see it would be analysed in any real detail.

If you accept the premise of my argument--that thought must have some underlying physical process in the brain to account for it's existence, function, and ability to effect changes in the brain
I believe that thought does have some underlying physical process, although I'm not sure that this 'must' be the case.

Either way you answer, the cause is ultimately the same.
Which is why it must be either deterministic, or not deterministic. You cant say that an event has 2 causes which are both identical except that one is deterministic and the other isnt (or one cause which is both).

A philosophy that rejects the monism of idealism or materialism does not thereby become "dualist."
There only seem to be 3 options here; either a) the mind and the brain are identical in which case you're a reductionist of some kind, B) they are different aspects of the same thing (in which case youre a monist), or c) they are fundamentally different (in which case youre a dualist). I dont see any 4rth position. You cant just say your position is somehow different without explaining why. Neither Peikoff nor Rand wrote anything detailed about the mind, so I'm reluctant to appeal to their writing on the issue. Edited by Hal

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it must be either deterministic, or not deterministic. You cant say that an event has 2 causes which are both identical except that one is deterministic and the other isnt (or one cause which is both).

The only possibility is that the deterministic neurons are physically organized in some way such that they compose a system--the output of which is nondeterministic. The component cells are deterministic but the system as a whole is nondeterministic--this is an emergent property.

Rather than speculate on how, technically, this is possible, I'll just point out that this is not a feature of only my view of consciousness. It is also an absolutely necessary feature of the view I'm arguing against--the view, advocated by some on this forum, that volitional thought has no physical basis, occurs prior to any action in the brain, and moves the brain's atoms around by an undiscovered law of physics.

Those holding this view do so precisely in an attempt to solve or avoid this problem of the deterministic nature of cells, but as I've suggested, their proposed solution requires them to assume exactly the idea they set out to deny.

Specifically, they want to explain how a volitional consciousness could be supported by or based on a brain composed of entirely deterministic matter--so they claim that thought, or at least volitional mental acts in particular, have no physical basis in the brain. Somehow the mind, while requiring the brain as a sort of prerequisite to exist, can bypass the brain and carry out certain thought processes with no dependence on any physical action--no change in the brain or in physical reality at all. This independent mental process then acts somehow on the brain to move around the atoms of the brain's cells. This loophole in the causal closure of physical reality, then, is the source of free will.

I reject this as arbitrary and logically unsound.

But even assuming for the moment it were true--what must also be true for this to be the case? How did the mind aquire the ability to function independently from the brain?

Since those holding this view must still recognize the overwhelmingly conclusive scientific facts showing that the brain gives rise to the mind--they are left with the following problem--the existence of the mind, and all of its innate attributes and capabilities, including intelligence and the capacity for free will, came about because in a developing human organism, certain (deterministic) cells arranged themselves into some physical organization that eventually formed the brain.

In other words, deterministic cells in some physical arrangement formed a system, the result of which was not deterministic. A deterministic brain somehow produced a nondeterministic, volitional consciousness.

So, the proponents of this view implicitly grant that the actions of deterministic cells can give rise to nondeterministic results (an emergent property).

When it comes to volitional thought specifically, however, they are unable to apply this principle. If they did apply it, they would see that a physical, neural basis for volitional thought is not a negation of free will, and it does not attempt to reduce consciousness to matter. It is simply the only logical explanation consistent with scientific knowledge for the question of how the human mind can carry out thought at all.

Biological determinism--the attempt to deny the existence of free will or to reduce consiousness to matter--is, of course, pervasive in our culture, particularly in academia, and it is vitally necessary to reject and oppose such ideas. However, rationalistically asserting that thought has no basis in the brain, or, equivalently, that volitional thought must occur before any change in the brain, is not consistent with Objectivism.

In answer to the question of the cause of a volitional act:

There is one cause--the voltional thought, which must have a correlating physical process in the brain (by which the thought can affect further changes in the brain). That process as a whole is nondeterministic--because as I've shown, a system of deterministic cells can produce a nondeterministic result.

Edited by amagi

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