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Mental Entities and Causality

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3 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

While it's true that causality is a law of nature, there are at least two types of causation: physical and volitional. Most actions in the universe are caused by physical entities. But some are caused by mental entities. And the mental actions, specifically those in humans, are affected by the faculty of choice. I do not see this fact accounted for in your view of the universe as systematic.

This really bugged me so I'm addressing it now. You say there are two types of causation. If volitional causation is not physical, then it's literally unreal. Or at least, this is not entity-based causation. Mental entities don't exist, as there is nothing in reality that is a non-physical concrete. Mental existents exist, but don't "cause" action any more than justice does. You yourself as a whole entity makes choices. In other words, ALL actions are caused by entities, and ALL entities are physical. Non-physical entities are causeless, i.e. unreal. And Rand doesn't disagree, I don't think she ever talks about "mental entity causation", just that volition is an action caused by an entity (your body, and your mind as integrated with it as an activity).

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I'll double check it when I read the other pages you noted, as I think she labels them as -existents- (like actions or concepts) and not things or entities. Or that she clarified they are not independ

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1 hour ago, Eiuol said:

Mental entities don't exist, as there is nothing in reality that is a non-physical concrete.

Are you a materialist? Look at what you just wrote.

I can assure you that Ayn Rand not only believed in the mental realm, she actually provided a list of several examples of mental entities, including concepts, thoughts and memories. (ITOE, p. 154)

I'm glad this topic bothers you, because it means you are beginning to realize something important at an emotional level. I urge you to seriously reexamine your understanding of consciousness and mental operations within your mind.

Perhaps later we can discuss how it's possible that mental entities affect physical ones.

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1 hour ago, MisterSwig said:

Are you a materialist? Look at what you just wrote.

I can assure you that Ayn Rand not only believed in the mental realm, she actually provided a list of several examples of mental entities, including concepts, thoughts and memories. (ITOE, p. 154)

I'll double check it when I read the other pages you noted, as I think she labels them as -existents- (like actions or concepts) and not things or entities. Or that she clarified they are not independent of any physical entity, thus are not "immaterial" as far as causality. This would mean there is no mental causation that lacks physical characteristics, by her view - it is still physical causality when you reduce it to the perceptual level as you must do for anything to be validated. But, we'll talk about this one later.

To believe in -only- physical entities doesn't deny the mental realm. The mental realm is all action. The mental realm is real. But it isn't immaterial causality.

To be clearer: before I meant to say that there is no such thing as a concrete (an entity) that is non-physical. For Rand to make any sense, "mental entity" must be a different sense of entity than "perceptual whole", which is fine to do. If she doesn't, her theory on free will violates/contradicts what she says on reducing concepts and linking concepts to reality objectively.

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1 hour ago, Eiuol said:

For Rand to make any sense, "mental entity" must be a different sense of entity than "perceptual whole", which is fine to do.

She doesn't limit perception (direct awareness) to extrospection. We are directly aware of mental entities through introspection.

Existence (the external world) is perceived by looking outward. Consciousness is perceived by looking inward. Both should be self-evident to you.

Consciousness is a faculty (or attribute) of man (and other living creatures). And volition is a faculty of human  consciousness (and possibly chimps). These are not physical objects or physical entities, as we understand it. They are what we call entities of the mind. They are mental in nature. But that doesn't make them any less real than other attributes of man.

Perhaps we will one day discover something in nature that existentially connects the physical with the mental. But for now we must be satisfied with mere awareness of the two realms.

Edited by MisterSwig
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Well I don't think perception can be equated to all awareness. Conceptual awareness isn't perception, it's cognition essentially. The emotions we are aware of are existentents, and we can speak of them as entities, as long as we remember they aren't things or objects, and have no special causal features. Actions are similar - they aren't things, they have no causal features. Yet we still say actions cause other actions. I'd rather only say "existents" but mental entity is okay, since introspective content is distinct. Like actions, they themselves cause nothing, its their physical basis as objects or entities that does anything.

The whole unique about Rand's notion of free will is that she doesn't propose two realms of causality or any special causal entities. I'll split this thread tomorrow for our mental entity discussion.

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19 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Actions are similar - they aren't things, they have no causal features. Yet we still say actions cause other actions. I'd rather only say "existents" but mental entity is okay, since introspective content is distinct. Like actions, they themselves cause nothing, its their physical basis as objects or entities that does anything.

You talk of actions as if they are something separated from the entity that acts. An action is the entity in motion.

Consciousness is not "all action." It's mental entities in action.

If you accept the mental realm, then you must accept mental existence. And if you accept mental existence, then you must accept the mental units (or entities) from which you abstracted the concept of mental existence. 

Edited by MisterSwig
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It's not the -action- that does anything, it's the entity - the physical basis. I clarified in the post that an action is inseparable from an entity. Consciousness is an activity, it is an action as well. It isn't just a mental entity that itself CAUSES things to occur, the "entity in motion" is your body (in your brain as we know today) and all the mental aspects it embodies. This isn't necessarily stated by Rand, but it does fit integration of mind and body, and that valid concepts reduce to the perceptual level.

This isn't reductionism, as the concept is still real, but any "happening" is going to be through your body. It's the same causality as bouncing billiard balls. The event of bouncing, and the bounce as a noun, is through an entity. We don't need to be physicists to say for sure "chi" or "energy" is not how a bounce happens. It's not how ideas happen.

To propose a unique mental realm of a unique causality is to reify abstractions, or even to disembody the mind. That is big 'R' rationalism, and it's why Descartes proposes the pineal gland as where the mental acts on the physical. Worse, the mental world is able to be fooled by the physical. This gets us deeper into the rabbit hole of all the philosophers Rand spoke out against - Kant, Plato, Descertes.

The mental realm is real, but it is inseparable from an entity. It can be reduced to the perceptual level. Emotions as concepts are reduced to the distinct feeling you get - the experience itself. That is then taken to perception, that it is part of your body. To be sure, I am not satisfied with Rand's discussion on emotions in ITOE. That's not an error on her part, it's not a treatise, it's an introduction. It's simple enough to trace emotions to perceivable things. We know Rand demands this to validate concepts as referring to reality.

I know I need to re-read some pages you mentioned. I'm still comfortable saying Rand doesn't mean mental entity in the same sense or concept as the term entity pertaining to things.

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11 hours ago, Eiuol said:

To propose a unique mental realm of a unique causality is to reify abstractions, or even to disembody the mind.

If by "unique" you mean distinct, then, yes, it is reifying something. But not something in the physical sense, nor in the abstract sense. Rather in the mental and concrete senses--keeping in mind that by concrete we don't mean a physical entity, but a mental one.

It's important to take a step back and keep the context that we are still at the primitive stages of understanding consciousness. Like cavemen trying to form concepts of the physical realm, we are psychological primitives grasping at concepts of the mental realm. Rand accepted this condition. But she did not like inventing new words. So she used existing words to describe the things we perceive through introspection in the mental realm. This causes confusion, if we cannot maintain the proper context.

I, however, don't mind making up words for new things. I think of a mental entity as a mentity. A mentity has identity and causality. It exists and acts in accordance with its nature. Exactly what that nature consists of needs to be determined. Exactly how it acts, and the exact relationship between mentities and entities, also needs to be determined. Right now, we can at least say that mentities are dependant upon certain physical entities, since they appear and disappear relative to the condition of our brain. Furthermore, it is hard to deny that there is real interaction between the two realms. Physical acts upon mental, and mental acts upon physical. How else can you explain concepts arising out of the physical realm, and human action being affected by the mental realm?

Our main disagreement seems to be on the nature of mental entities (mentities). Do they themselves act upon anything else? I believe they do. But by act, I don't mean physically act. I mean mentally act. And I don't mean independently act, either. I mean that mentities act in accordance with their mental and dependent natures. We already have a few words for such capacity for mental action. They are: choice, free will, volition. Our volition enables us to mentally focus upon and choose a mentity that we then will into an interaction with our nervous system in the brain. This entire process is dependent upon the brain, which itself is a part of the human body. So, yes, we reduce mental action to the human entity. But that doesn't mean it's unreal. It simply means that its existence is dependent upon the existence of something else.

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16 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

I, however, don't mind making up words for new things. I think of a mental entity as a mentity. A mentity has identity and causality. It exists and acts in accordance with its nature. Exactly what that nature consists of needs to be determined.

How do you reduce this to the perceptual level then?

If all you mean is that mental action exists, yes, it's real. I didn't say it's unreal. I'm saying there is only one kind of causation, and that this is always reducible to the perceptual level through our sense organs. As an analogy, software is not itself physical. It is a digital entity perhaps. It operates within a computer and causes other events to occur. Yet, it is not literally software that causes the computer's state to change. Software is not literally acting on software. Similarly, mental doesn't act on mental - it is the entity that acts, not its characteristics or any (in principle) non-perceivable elements.

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I agree with Eiuol overall here. MisterSwig, your position really sounds like Platonism.

 

On 11/18/2016 at 0:28 PM, MisterSwig said:

Most actions in the universe are caused by physical entities. But some are caused by mental entities. And the mental actions, specifically those in humans, are affected by the faculty of choice.

What is the evidence for mental entities? According to Google, an "entity" is "a thing with distinct and independent existence". In life, we perceive things, we do, and we remember what we do. That's it. Concepts are not independent things, they represent integrations of perceived concretes, ie. they are formed through action. They aren't "entities". Treating them as "things" is, I think, mostly a matter of convenience. They are just "what we have done" with the things we have perceived in reality.

 

One strange consequence of taking this view that there are "entities" in our minds is that you are now starting to say that these entities "act":

1 hour ago, MisterSwig said:

Our main disagreement seems to be on the nature of mental entities (mentities). Do they themselves act upon anything else? I believe they do. But by act, I don't mean physically act. I mean mentally act.

We are the ones who act, not the mental "entities" in our heads.

Edited by itsjames
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Before carrying on with this discussion, I wonder if anyone in the audience essentially agrees with my position, which so far I believe to be basically a rehashing of Rand's understanding of the mental realm. In particular, I draw your attention to ITOE, pages 153-158 ("Concepts as Mental Existents") and pages 264-274 ("Entities and Their Makeup"). I have obviously phrased her points in some of my own style, but where have I clearly departed from her view? Not only does she argue that volition is "a type of causation" (p. 110), she also admits that her view of mental entities is "somewhat Platonic" (p. 156). But we are talking about fine details of an admittedly primitive knowledge of consciousness. Her view is not substantially Platonic. It merely resembles an element of Plato's theory of concepts. Plato extended his misunderstanding to the level of great fantasy. Rand stopped at the edge of the unknown.

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5 hours ago, itsjames said:

What is the evidence for mental entities?

Hopefully I can answer this while also addressing Eiuol's main objection about mental causation.

The evidence for mental entities is whatever you can glean yourself from introspection. Unfortunately I cannot point to whatever is in your mind. But judging by your presence on this thread, I'm certain that you have plenty of mental content to observe when you look inward. 

Rand identified thoughts, concepts, emotions, and memories as mental entities. (ITOE, p. 154) I'm not sure if she included dreams and hallucinations.

Taking perhaps the clearest example, we can observe that thoughts pop into our heads frequently throughout each day. I wake up and boom! I've got thoughts galore. Is it time to get up? Should I rest for ten more minutes? Do I need to shower? Where are my pants?

For a fresh, active, curious mind, the thoughts are almost nonstop. These are examples of a mental entity. There are also examples to be had of concepts, emotions, and memories.

A difficult problem, which Eiuol brings up, is the question of volition, and what is meant by it being a type of causation. As I see it, volition is our ability to use specific mental content in order to affect our nervous system in accordance with our will. There may be some finer points to add. But, generally, I believe there is undeniable introspective evidence for this position. All you have to do is tell yourself to move your left hand, then your right, your left, left, right, left, right, etc. We clearly have some kind of mental control of our bodies. Which means that the mental realm interacts with the physical, and that we can direct at least some of that action.

How do we reduce this mental action to the perceptual level? By directly perceiving the choice to move your hands through introspection, and by directly perceiving your hands move via extrospection. There is no other way to do it. Volition is causality applied to the mental realm. It cannot be proven by means other than pointing.

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I liken what Swig is pointing toward as something that is uniquely identifiable only by experience.  When one refers to that which is experienced internally as mental content one is not referring to the fact that particles or fields or neurons or brain processes in action or acting make them possible.  A third person view of such processes from the outside, by a different type of consciousness, for example a superevolved bat, would only identify the physical actions patterns etc. but still would have no idea What it is like to experience human mental content.  Only the thing having the process or experience of the mental content (or a sufficiently similar thing... with empathy and imagination) could know what that mental content is like.  We are of minds that we can look inward and identify mental content.  It would be an error for a superevolved bat to simply dismiss human mental experience as nonexistent or nothing more than a non experienced view of a physical process.  We know there is something to human mental content and we are the only ones as humans who can point to it.  This view is over and above the view from the outside... it is more.  

It follows also that We cannot ever know what it is like to be a bat... even a simple regularly evolved one.

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I hesitate to log in to post in this thread because I have temporarily tabled this very topic with some Oist Academics....

Mr Swig's position on mental entities is wrong and fundamentally misunderstands a very simply aspect of the process of abstraction. 

Anyone can reduce this treatment of "mental entities" as causal agents of some non physical kind to absurdity by asking themselves "what final act in the process of abstraction "transforms concepts into mental entities"?  

 

 

Edited by Plasmatic
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2 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

But judging by your presence on this thread, I'm certain that you have plenty of mental content to observe when you look inward. 

 

2 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Taking perhaps the clearest example, we can observe that thoughts pop into our heads frequently throughout each day. I wake up and boom! I've got thoughts galore. Is it time to get up? Should I rest for ten more minutes? Do I need to shower? Where are my pants?

 

This is a great thread, by the way. I can honestly say I have never given this thought until now. Thank you for the stimulating discussion.

That being said, I think my issue with what you write above is the following. When you call something an "entity", or even when you say "content" (as in "mental content"), you're suggesting that the thing you are talking about is somehow being perceived first, and is identified afterwards. But the point is that the moment you "perceive" the memories, concepts, etc. in your mind, you know that you are creating them. There is no separation there. You don't wake up in the morning and start to observe the different thoughts in your mind, such as "Is it time to get up?". You are thinking these things. And in that sense you know what these "things" (thoughts) are as you are in the process of creating them. Calling them "entities" suggests that this is not so -- that you don't realize it's you who is in control, and that it is up to you to discover that the thoughts were your own later on. As I said above, the concept of "entity" means "independent" in a sense. But your thoughts are not independent things. You know fully their dependent nature, where they came from, and what they are (in a sense) the moment you create them.

 

 

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Let me just add in advance (since I think someone will probably bring up the issue of dreams) that when you are dreaming (let's leave out lucid dreams for now, ::sigh::), you don't know you are creating the "world" around you. So you wouldn't identify any of the things you are "perceiving" as being mental entities in the first place. Of course, we will open up a whole new can of worms when we start to talk about what happens when you know you are dreaming. I am honestly not prepared to go there. :)

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4 minutes ago, itsjames said:

Let me just add in advance (since I think someone will probably bring up the issue of dreams) that when you are dreaming (let's leave out lucid dreams for now, ::sigh::), you don't know you are creating the "world" around you. So you wouldn't identify any of the things you are "perceiving" as being mental entities in the first place. Of course, we will open up a whole new can of worms when we start to talk about what happens when you know you are dreaming. I am honestly not prepared to go there. :)

I have lucid dreams quite often.  There is no actual dilemma of course.  I am all of me having the dream, not the character which experiences the dream as an individual experiences reality... I dream the protagonist the other characters and the dream reality, of course it is just a dream limited by the capacity of the dreamer.  Literally the part of me in the lucid dream thinking it is me is not the whole me.

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1 hour ago, Plasmatic said:

Strictly, the first person nature of conscious awareness is not an argument for "non-physical" causation, or treating concepts as causal agents.

I am not making any claim of non physical causation.  I was fleshing out just mental content as entities as valid concepts that are not wholly redundant... 

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SL (good to talk to u) 

You do realize though that Ms. Rand herself qualified this sense of entity as precisely not what swig wants it to be in the appendix of ITOE? Concepts are only entities in as much as we use concretes to symbolize them. And that in a substitution sense.  

Edited by Plasmatic
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9 minutes ago, itsjames said:

When you call something an "entity", or even when you say "content" (as in "mental content"), you're suggesting that the thing you are talking about is somehow being perceived first, and is identified afterwards.

Exactly. Weird, isn't it?

This is where I look you in the eye very seriously and say, "What comes next is highly speculative."

Basically I wonder if the human brain can automatically process not only sensations of the external, physical realm, but also (for lack of a better term) sensations of the internal, mental realm. Exactly how it goes about doing this would be something for a scientist to figure out. It seems like a logical assumption to me, but it leads to many other questions that I cannot possibly know. Maybe a neuroscientist will figure it out someday. I, for one, cannot introspect the very first step of the process of conceptualizing the mental realm.

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The fact is, we experience will as a causative act specifically from our view of it.  This does not mean that some mental weather prediction machine could not say while watching our neural storms and currents that "he will decide x" an instant before we take outward action.  Causation that the machine sees would be utterly incomprehensible to us... subtle patterns of unfathomable complexity changing ceaselessly and faster than the blink of an eye.  Causation we experience might be "this qualifies as that which implies p so I decide x".  Is this some kind of dichotomy? Is it problematic that we have the unique point of view to allow us to see causality happen from an intelligible framework rather than a hopelessly complex one?  Electrons and nuclei of atoms are fundamental to low and high pressure systems but we don't need to dismiss the idea that rain is caused by low and high pressure systems(with humidity as needed).  It would be a mistake to say either pressure systems or particles are the cause.  Reality and causation are not schizophrenic.  

Your mind causes, and it is arranged such that thoughts ARE causative.  We don't need to see proof in the hopelessly complex brain all we need to do is introspect and act.  Atoms do not think, they make it possible for us to think.  

Edited by StrictlyLogical
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9 minutes ago, Plasmatic said:

SL (good to talk to u) 

You do realize though that Ms. Rand herself qualified this sense of entity as precisely not what Sig wants it to be in the appendix of ITOE? Concepts are only entities in as much as we use concretes to symbolize them. And that in a substitution sense.  

I must admit I have not closely analyzed mr swigs statements with any great detail.  I only notice something valid which seemed overlooked.

To your comment, not sure what you mean by "use concretes to symbolize them". are you essentially saying a feeling is only an entity if we can identify concrete feelings such as fear, anger, pleasure?

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21 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

To your comment, not sure what you mean by "use concretes to symbolize them". are you essentially saying a feeling is only an entity if we can identify concrete feelings such as fear, anger, pleasure?

No, a feeling qua experience, is not an entity at all. The concept of a feeling is only a mental entity by the device of concrete substitution in language via a word. 

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