Monday, April 27, 2015

Sketch of a dualist metaphysics for the XXIst Century – Part III and last (I swear)

For the last couple of posts I have been groping (sometimes painfully slowly, I reckon) towards the sketch of the title by highlighting the problems I saw with the (overwhelmingly) dominant understanding of what constitutes reality, and I essentially dispatched the most traditional objections to the alternative I was about to present, reducing them to an appeal to the alleged existence of alternative explanations, which upon close examination resulted not to explain at all the kind of phenomena I will argue constitute an (almost) entirely separate class from purely material ones. So we have developed, thanks to the Scientific Method, a wonderful understanding of how the material world behaves (a material world which includes a substantial part of ourselves, but which I am ready to argue does not include one hundred per cent of what we are), but that method, awe inspiring and a source of unlimited pride as it is, has precious little to tell us about the possible existence of some additional elements of reality that are as “real” (in the double sense of observer independent and internally consistent –i.e. non contradictory, as is well known a contradiction can be considered equally independent of who is contemplating it and in traditional logic allows the derivation of any consequence) as the ones we can measure and weight, which occupy space and are affected (and have the potential to change) by time, the ones that have a number of properties that interact in predictable ways with our senses, or with measuring devices that greatly enhance what our senses can tell us about them (we’ve mentioned mass and volume, we could add electric charge, spin and, at quark level, “color”). All I’m saying is that we have developed wonderful tools (both conceptual and practical) to understand and predict how matter behaves, and that success has led our civilization to dictate that matter is all there is, problems and lacunae left by that approach be damned. But that is like the drunkard looking for his keys under the proverbial lamp post, just because there is more light there, regardless of where he actually may have lost them. We happen to have more “light” (the light of reason, in a very enlightened metaphor, if I may be forgiven for such a lame pun) in our understanding of the material world, in our ability to predict what is going to happen to “stuff”, and thus we confidently declare that such world exhausts all there is to know, and that such predictions constitute all there is to say if we do not want to descend into non-scientific (non-reputable, non-social-prestige-conferring) blabber.

So having devoted two long posts (here and here, for those of you disinclined to navigate inside the blog, or reading this from outside) to try to gain some reputation back for the possibility of non-material aspects of reality, I am finally going to spell out what properties that kind of reality may have, and only towards the end of that post I will tackle with the difficulty posed by the fourth argument against dualism (M.4). For a change of pace, I’ll write it in aphoristic mode:

SD1.1 The Material Universe (MU) was designed: Its properties (total amount of energy, gravitational constant, Planck constant, decay time of protons, electric charge of the electron, speed of light, etc.) were devised by a Mind (M) which is not itself part of that MU:      

(read as: There is a Mind which is not equal to the Material Universe AND a Mind which does not belong to Material Universe so that Material Universe implies Mind)

SD1.2 Our prima facie impression of existing as free agents capable of having intuitions (of mathematical truths between others) and of acting of our own accord is not an illusion, we truly are, we truly perceive, we truly decide, and that perception and decision require a non material substance to happen, which we will call Individual Mind (IM):  

(there are multiple Individual Minds so that for each one of them it is not true that they belong to Material Universe)

SD1.2.1 As no currently existing IM has a substantiated claim to having created MU, there is (or was, as far as we know such Mind may not exist any more) a separate M that did it:

(there is a Mind distinct from every Individual Mind which is implied by the existence of the Material Universe)

SD1.2.2 There are multiple really existing IM’s:   

(for every Individual Mind i there is at least another Individual Mind k so that the existence of the first implies the existence of the second AND they are not equal)

Basically that’s it, that’s what (I humbly am led to believe) we can infer from both the configuration of reality and our own phenomenological unfiltered experience: the Universe was designed (by a non-material entity existing outside from it), and our feeling of being a separate entity from the matter that surrounds us is real (we are minds, and being a mind requires a non-material substrate), and both facts are related. The first confirms that matter is not all that there is, and the second, comprised of being able to feel, attach value to what we perceive, and choose between different courses of action, all of them being actions that we can not imagine matter doing, gives us a strong hint that may be we also are (partially) a non-material entity. For simplicity’s sake, I’m assuming both substrates (the one that the entity that created the Universe in the first place was made of and the one we identify everyday by having experiences that matter can not have) are equivalent, and calling them “minds”. I’m not claiming that clears everything, and after such astoundingly unoriginal result we can close the book of Metaphysics and consider all its ages long discussions finished. I’ll have more to say in a moment about how those “minds” interact with matter (hint: it’s complicated) and what additional properties we can assign to them (hint: not many), but I would like to spend a moment first dispelling a few likely misunderstandings.

First of them, I’m not sure about the validity of conflating those minds I think we are warranted to consider as “really existing” with the traditional concept of “soul”, at least if we think of that soul as a timeless reality which somehow can exist outside of the body, has full control over it, survives its demise and is afterwards either rewarded or punished forever for its behavior. Second, the acceptance of the Universe being designed (and thus the acceptance of a mind that designed it) does not necessarily imply the acceptance of the tenets of faith of some revealed religion or other. A mind created the Universe, allrighty, but that doesn’t automatically mean that such mind is still around, or that it has dictated how we should behave in a book centuries old whose meaning has somehow survived unscathed through the countless evolutions of concepts and systems of interpretation that have afflicted every other creation of the human spirit (and that for some reason seems more involved with how we should dress, what we should eat or with whom we should have sex than with how we should organize our society or what kind of respect should we show towards the Natural world). I’m not claiming either that those additional deductions would be entirely illegitimate, but I see them as much less warranted than the ones I’ve formulated about the existence of minds distinct from our own, and not entirely dependant on their material basis).

For the record, I do believe that the original mind that created the Universe is still around (being powerful enough to create a vast and complex Universe like ours, immortality, or just standing outside of the passing of time, seems like small potatoes), and that having organized things so we came into existence, being sentient, and intelligent (or aspiring to be so), and free was an act of love which warrants our belief in the overall goodness of such mind, and that such goodness, when conjoined with the universe-creating power before mentioned allows us to believe that we will also be granted more life, and a fuller life, than the one we can enjoy whilst tied to this material substrate, subject to the 2nd law of thermodynamics (unavoidably subject to corruption and decay). But I also recognize those beliefs are clouded by hope and by desire, desire for a fairer, more just world, where the multiple wrongs and injustices we contemplate daily in this one may be corrected. I couldn’t claim for those beliefs a level of certainty similar to the one I have for statements SD1.1 to SD1.2.2, and in no way would I pretend to impose them on anybody else, or proselytize about them being myself so uncertain.

Let’s get back, then, to those humbler statements, and how they could resist the encounter with the opposite argument we still had to tackle, M.4, or the problem of the evident influence of the physical state of a certain part of the material world (the brain) in that substance postulated as separate and different (the mind). Keeping to the basics, I stated in SD1.2 that the justification for postulating the existence of our own mind as separate from the rest of the material universe was threefold:

·         we could perceive (not just apprehend aspects of the material world through our senses, but additionally to realize that we are apprehending them, we have the ability to “perceive ourselves in the act of perceiving”, to self-referentially notice our own conscience in the act of being conscious),

·         we could assign value to what we perceived (so it was not just marked by its “intensionality”, using Brentano’s words, but also and most crucially by its “mattering to us”, of being important in reference to our very particular an impossible to interchange with any other self, regardless of what any other could think of that) and

·         we could decide (which, if it is not an illusion as monists have been massively forced to believe, just invalidates the whole chain of causation which supposedly runs unbroken from the Big Bang to whatever the final fate end of the Universe ends up being)   

You may have noticed that all three barely justify postulating a different substance, as you may ascribe all three capabilities to everyday matter (if being termed a hylozoist or a panpsychist, a moral objectivist and an indeterminist does not scare you). I just think it is more economical, given the limited instances we see of those behaviors happening (or seeming to happen), to recur to this separate substance only in this case, and thus define only persons as participating of it.

So if we settle on a different type of entity (mind, the old res cogitans) preferring it to the alternatives (either all matter thinks, and lucky us when it is configured in a brain that thinking becomes self conscious, or no matter thinks, and our conscience is an illusion) nothing prevents us to propose whatever functional dependencies we see fit between that type and matter. Minds may require brains to develop their potential. They may very well depend on the neural configuration within our skull to interact with the rest of the universe, to learn, to store their own experiences, to execute mechanical calculations, even to run those parts of their everyday functioning that can be translated into algorithms (something I have the hunch constitutes a much smaller percentage of mental activity than what proponents of strong AI would like to think), thus creating the impression (entirely justified and real) of an unconscious part of the mind which works following purely mechanistic rules, entirely supported by material circuits made of neurons and neurotransmitters, and affected by the delicate chemical balance within our skull (and adjacent parts). If the neural machinery starts malfunctioning (be it by trauma, injury, lack of nourishment, outright neglect or simple old age) the mind shrivels and withers, and may completely cease functioning in a process that can be as gradual or as sudden as the changes in its bodily support.

Now, you may say, what is the difference between such a (heavily dependant on its bodily “vessel”) mind and the purely physical mind of the monists? Aren’t you just taking those features of the mind that the physical sciences still can not account for and ascribing them to a shadowy entity (“the mind”) which happens to have by definition all the “mindy” features you could not explain otherwise? How is that watered down dualism different from the “double aspect monism” postulated by Polkinghorne and the like? (for the record, I see also some merit on Polkinghorne’s approach, and he treads more water from his monism than me from my dualism, as he sees it as a precondition for the future resurrection of the body in which he believes with more apparent conviction than I). All valid concerns, for which I’m afraid there is no definitive answer, other than my dualism allows me to do some predictions that monism would have difficulties defending:

·         Contrary to what many people would have you believe, we will not see any AI “appearing” in our lifetime (or in anybody else’s lifetime, for that matter). Intelligence is non algorithmic, dependant on a peculiar substance (that mysterious mindstuff) we do not know how to replicate, or to bind to any artificial contraption. We will see computers doing more and more wonderful things, and replacing more and more human capabilities, but we will never (a strong word) make them care about anything (we do not even know how to start with that one!) or (as it is necessarily a non-algorithmical event) recognizing that it has finally understood a theorem (although in that particular case it can already do the next best thing, which is “prove” it in a limited number of steps from a well defined set of initial axioms)

·         Due to the possibility of minds breaking the chain of causation, we will not see the consolidation of any “science of the Spirit” with any actual predictive power. Psychology will keep on being a hodgepodge of heuristic rules and tautological assertions that are either commonsense and self evident or abstruse to the point of becoming unfalsifiable, or outright false. Ditto for Economics. If the litmus test of those “Sciences” is becoming something similar to Asimov’s “psychohistory” able to predict precisely the evolution both of individuals and of society, sorry but it is not gonna happen

·         As the person is made by the conjunction of body and mind, and we know only how to treat the ailments of the first part, knowing very little (after all those centuries, what a shame), every attempt to substantially increase the life expectancy of advanced societies is doomed to fail woefully short. I’m standing on one leg here, as nothing I’ve presented so far indicates that the influence of the body on the mind can run the other way also, and I’m extremely, extremely skeptical of every claim that it is so (all those pseudo medicines that become periodically fashionable under the label of “holistic medicine”, and which unfailingly are exposed for those who know how to see as quackery of the worst species). However, I would be surprised if the mind would not also become frailer with time, and ended compromising the capability of the body to keep going

·         At some point in the near future, when the deceleration of technological progress sinks in (unless we really get rid of the current way of organizing society, a.k.a. capitalism, which lays at the root of such deceleration) and we realize we have failed in both the development of AIs (the singularity of Kurzweil & Co), the effective lengthening of human lifespan (the prediction of everybody living beyond 300 years, or nay such ludicrous figure), and the deciphering of human behavior, we may even consider that particular phase of our History characterized by the consideration of reality as being formed exclusively by matter as finally over (and may then transition to a more “Ideational” culture, in Sorokin’s terms, probably in some new center distinct from the one ruling world destinies today)

So there you are. For each of those predictions that get disproved I’ll seriously reconsider my current dualistic stance (maybe with the exception of the third one, as I'm not really that sure about it in the first place), and if all four prove to be wrong, I’ll admit monism is the most serious contender for a full description of what is “really out there”. Now, I’ll finish with a question for all of my readers (which are most likely monist, as the vast majority of the denizens of these enlightened times are wont to be). If (hopefully many, many years from now) you find yourself in your last throes and remember this crusty old post, and discover much to your surprise and unlikely as you thought that was, that all my four predictions are still standing… will you reconsider your materialist monism then? If you answer in the affirmative, all the friggin’ time I’ve devoted to writing this series will have been well spent.

No comments:

Post a Comment