A defence of the immaterial mind.
Before I started I thought I should make some points:
1) I know that there have been a several topics of this topic in the forum that I could have put this in but I thought that this one was significantly different enough to warrant its own thread.
2) You'll notice that I am using the word 'immaterial' in a different way to traditional philosophy. I have two reasons for this, that I think it is closer to how we use it in everyday circumstances and that the philosophical version was a perversion of this by trying to squeeze it into our 'world description' frame of language.
The other version is that the philosophical version (as Todangst shows in the topic I link to) is incoherent so this version is the only way the word can have a significant meaning.
This is specifically aimed at Todangst and DeludedGod who have written various essays on this subject, but all views will be welcome.
Todangst has written an essay claiming that immaterial is a broken concept while Deluded God has done a series of essays that deal with the subject.
As I understand it, they both subscribe to physical reductionism, which in contemporary philosophy is the most metaphysically correct position, but one that is at odds with many (if not all!) of our intuitive concepts of the mind.
My aim is to give a conception of the mind that is coherent, respects both materialistic metaphysics and the results of neuroscience and also retains (and vindicates) the common intuitive conceptions of the mind.
(That's right Chris, that fucking nobel prize will be mine for sure! )
This essay will be done in three steps:
1) Define the immaterial mind in a way that is coherent and respects materialist metaphysics.
2) Show that such a conception is compatible with neuroscience and how that traditional 'interactionism' problem is not an issue for this one.
3) Explore how this immaterial mind favours our intuitive conceptions of mind.
Defining the immaterial Mind
Todangsts essay argues that nothing immaterial can exist.
I agree with the essay so have decided to go with denying the 'existence' of the immaterial mind - I've decided that the question of "does the mind exist?" is a bit like "what is the weight of yellow?" is a category error.
So if the mind isn't a 'thing' that 'exists' then what exactly is it?
We use language for a variety of things.
We can greet people, give orders, ask questions, describe the world, etc.
Describing the world is the language we use for science and it is this mode of language that metaphysics is also based on. Everything that we describe is matter and/or motion - material.
Immaterial means not material.
As Todangst has argued, 'immaterial things' are not even defined within the discourse of description, so if I am going to be putting forward a concept that isn't material then it will have to be of a different discourse other than describing and our mental concepts will need a different purpose rather than to describe the world that we live in.
Although we do sometimes use mental concepts to try and describe 'how we are' to another person, this doesn't mean that they descriptions in the same sense as the ones of physical object. E.g. I can describe a table in terms of objective properties like height and colour but with an experience I have to try and work out where my friend might've experienced something similar.
Why do we make such descriptions of our mind to friends?
A common purpose is to explain our actions or to discuss future or hypothetical actions. So we could say that the concepts of mind serve a social purpose, to regulate and make sense of our behaviour.
We use it to explain our actions to other people.
So mental concepts can have a coherent use without being 'things' that exist in the descriptive sense. This allows them to be 'immaterial'.
(I believe that mathematics are also 'immaterial')
One might try and give them a material existence the following way:
Premise 1) Mental concepts are applied in a material setting.
Premise 2) This means that they exist as concepts applied in a material setting.
Conclusion) Mental concepts have a material existence.
However, I disagree with premise 2 as it appears to misuse the word 'existence'. If mental concepts like beliefs and desires exist like that, then so do non-existent objects like unicorns exist as concepts we apply. Actually existing things like tables have multiple existences - existence as the table and existence as the concept of the table... Jesus would have over a billion existences.
'Existence' as used in premise 2 leads to such absurdities that this argument to call 'mind' (or maths) material fails.
So to summarise this first section:
1) I agreed that everything that exists is material and that if something was 'immaterial' then it would have to be a concept from a different use of language rather than to refer to a 'thing' that exists.
2) I gave an alternative use of language to world description, i.e. regulating and making sense of our actions, that would allow mental concepts to be coherent in a 'not material' way. i.e. immaterial.
3) I suggested a possible argument that would claim that such concepts were still material, but I countered that such an argument depended on a misuse of what it was for something to be 'material'.
That leaves me with a coherent immaterial conception of mind that allows materialist metaphysics to be correct. The next question is, does this conception of mind survive the interactionist problem and even if it does, does it cohere with the results of neuro-science?
The immaterial mind meets the brain
The traditional downfall of the immaterial mind is when it comes to interaction with the body. We believe that light stimulating the eyes causes us to experience colours and that the decisions we make cause our actions, but causation as traditionally defined is a relation between two physical concepts. Even emergentists with their physicalist ontology have had difficulties in linking their mental properties with physical ones in a causal chain. If we are going to have the kind of causation as described in the examples above between a material body and non-material mind then we are going to have to take a fresh look at the concept of causation.
The skeleton structure of the concept causation is the counterfactual:
If A hadn't have happened then B wouldn't have happened
How can we know that if A hadn't have happened then B wouldn't have happened?
In physics it is quite easy as we can see situations where the laws of physics would lead from event A to B.
E.g. If I hadn't let go of the coin then it wouldn't have dropped, as the force of gravity on the coin was only countered by the force of my grip on it.
So how can we get a line of causation from my decision to let the coin drop (a mental concept) to the coin's dropping?
Remember I claimed that mental concepts, rather than refer to 'things', were concepts we employed in our human practice of regulating and making sense of our actions. As with all linguistic concepts there are correct ways and incorrect ways to apply them.
Take the greeting 'hello'. The word 'hello' doesn't refer to anything - it has a different linguistic purpose rather than refer to 'things' but there are still correct applications and incorrect applications that we can link with physical situations.
For example, the physical scene of two people meeting is the correct time for them to use the word 'hello' while use of it while parting would be a mis-use.
So although the word 'hello' doesn't refer to anything physical, there is still a connection between the word and the physical situations where it is correct to apply it. This link between the immaterial concept and the physical situation where one should apply it is the meeting point between immaterial mentality and physical actions.
Take the mental concept; Jim deliberately dropped the ball - this concept is a mental concept as it talks of intentions but it is clear that there are limited situations where it would be applicable. A biological machine would have to make the movements whereby a ball is released from it's grasp.
The mental concept involving Jim's intention is to be applied in scene that could be described purely physically, with no intentions or emotions in it. So here we have the supervenience between a mental concept and a physical event. From here we can use the counterfactual version of causation to show a causal relation between the immaterial mental concept of intention and the physical event of the ball dropping to the floor.
We start with the following premises:
Premise 1) Making a decision to 'drop the ball' causes the action 'drop the ball'.
(based on our everyday use of the concept "to make a decision to act")
Premise 2) If we apply a concept of "dropping a ball" then a physical event has occured that involves a biological machine moving in a way that a ball falls from its grasp.
(based on our everyday use of the concept of "dropping the ball")
Premise 3) A biological machine moving in a way that allows a ball to fall from its grasp will cause the ball to drop to the ground.
(based on the laws of physics)
Now for the following steps:
Step 1) If the biological machine hadn't released the ball then it wouldn't have dropped.
(follows from Premise 3 and definition of counterfactual causation)
Step 2) If the concept of "dropping the ball" is applicable if and only if the biological machine releases the ball.
(follows from Premise 2 and definition of counterfactual causation)
Step 3) If the concept of "dropping the ball" hadn't been applicable then the ball wouldn't have dropped.
(follows from steps 1 and 2)
Step 4) If "the decision to drop the ball" hadn't been applicable then neither would the dropping of the ball.
(follows from Premise 1 and definition of counterfactual causation)
Step 5) If "the decision to drop the ball" hadn't been applicable then the ball wouldn't have dropped to the ground.
(follows from steps 4 and 5)
Conclusion) "the decision to drop the ball" causes the ball to be dropped to the ground.
(follows from Step 5 and definition of counterfactual causation)
The argument might not be absolutely logically perfect in the details, but you can see how there can be a 'causal' connection between an immaterial concept and a physical event, thanks to the link of the rule of correct application.
This means that this version the immaterial mind respects materialist metaphysics and the closure principle (that every physical event has a physical cause) without losing its potential for causal relations between itself and the physical body.
The question I must now answer is whether this causal connection fits well with the results of modern neuro-science.
Does this conception of the mind fit in with modern neuro-science
I'm going to admit straight up that I'm not really familiar with the results of modern neuro-science. Instead, my argument is going to be based on what I believe the methodology of neuro-scientific experiments, and try to argue that the very nature of those experiments allows for the mind to be immaterial in the way that I've described. I still start by stating what I understand to be the procedure for empirically verifying connections between the neurological structure of the brain and states of the mind. (Hopefully DeludedGod will be able to confirm or refute my argument.)
Presumably the neuro-scientist will scan the brain somehow to determine what it's physical state is, and find relations between the physical state of the brain and the 'state of mind' that the person is in. They will find the state of the brain using the scanning methods and then see which states of mind it relates to.
But how do they decide which states of mind it applies to?
How do they know that the 'state of mind' that relates to this part of the brain is what they say it is? Presumably, they apply mental concepts as we usually do and are thereby relating the 'state of the brain' with the 'appropiate use of the concept'. So whatever results neuro-science finds, it will be compatable with this 'immaterial mind' as the link between the brain and the mental concept can be explained this way.
1) I explained how an 'immaterial mind' could have a 'causal' connection with physical events, by using the skeletal form of the counter-factual cause and using the "situation of appropiate use" link between certain mental concepts and the physical events the supervene over.
2) I showed that the method of neuro-science ensured that my 'immaterial' theory is compatible with any results it could give. My theory would merely give a different interpretation of those results. Rather than claim that those states of brain are the mental states there's the more intuitive claim that they are just the state of the brain when we apply mental concepts - there would be the same practical purposes.
How this 'immaterial' mind favours lots of intuitive ideas about it.
It's commonly agreed that Descarte's view of the mind was very intuitive, and that it's a shame that he couldn't metaphysically explain such an intuitive picture. The concepts of the mind just didn't seem to behave the same way as spacial ones. If physical reduction has all the metaphysics going for it - the only reason for someone to reject it is if they thought it mis-represented the mind in some way.
Other than pure intuition, this view of the mind does seem to agree with how we generally use mental concepts in real life. We usually explain our actions in a social context and depend on our understanding of other people's beliefs for a sense of security around them, that we can predict and handle how they are going to behave.
It also seems to be the most natural explanation of mental content, especially with Putnam's arguments for 'externalism'.
My main motivation, however, is how it fits our decision making - it allows for libertarian free will. Determinists have traditionally argued that events are either caused or random, and this is true for physical objects because the causal explanation is how we order them and without one they appear to be random. I showed that physical actions can have a causal line from our 'making the decision' to the action itself.
However, the mental concepts that characterise how we make decisions, e.g. desires and beliefs, do not have to have a causal structure. This allows for a spontenaity that allows for a libertarian free will.
This doesn't contradict that the physical world is determined, and in that sense our actions are all determined by the laws of physics. But when we give an explanation that involves 'will' and 'decision making', we aren't giving a physical explanation so different rules apply. This is very similar to Kant's argument for free will, that although the deterministic empirical explanation of the world was deterministic, as not all explanations are based in empiricism then explanations of the mind need not be determined in the same way. His arguments against Hume's compatibilism would support my position too.
This was a relatively rough sketch of a new idea, and it crammed several major topics (ontology, causation, practical use, scientific method etc) into one so it's bound to be very simplified and not account for everything. But I hope that where holes will be found that they will be minor details rather than the core ideas surrounding the theory.
"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.