Nothing New Under The Sun: The Stevenson-Cohen-Taylor Debate

The following excerpt from Chris Carter’s Science and the Near-Death Experience, reminded me all-too-much of contemporary (a)theist discussion [cf. Materialism Is A Misnomer]. The philosophy of materialism is so deeply ingrained into their minds that Cohen and Taylor seem unable even fathom the logical and empirical possibilities Stevenson suggests. Everything below the fold is quoted directly from the book, with my additions in [red brackets].

[BEGIN CARTER]

Edwards tells us that “brain physiology supplies us with evidence against the existence of extra-cerebral memories.” He offers no detailed account of this evidence, but instead refers us to a debate between psychiatrist Ian Stevenson, best known for his research on reincarnation, and two skeptics, mathematician John Taylor and psychologist John Cohen, that took place on a BBC program in 1976.

Cohen: …memories are tied to a particular brain tissue. If you take away the brain, there is no memory.

Stevenson: I think that’s an assumption. Memories may exist in the brain and exist elsewhere also.

Cohen: But we have not the slightest evidence, even a single case, of a memory existing without a brain. We have plenty of slight damage to a brain, which destroys memory, but not the other way around. [Granted this was 35 years ago, but these objections–and all variants like Ebonmuse’s argument from mind-brain unity–fail to engage the “two-way-interface” concept of dualism]

Stevenson: I feel that’s one of the issues here–whether memories can, in fact, survive the destruction of the brain.

Taylor: Professor Stevenson, do you have any evidence, other than these reincarnation cases, that memories can survive the destruction of physical tissue? [what, the reincarnation cases don’t count? How does that work?]

Stevenson: No, I think the best evidence comes from the reincarnation cases.

Taylor then brought up the well-known cases of people who lose all or most of their memory as a result of brain injuries. Stevenson was not fazed. [As he shouldn’t be, because the argument from brain damage is lame duck]

Stevenson: Well, it’s possible that what is affected is his ability to express memories that he may still have.

Taylor: But you are suggesting, in fact, that memories are in some way nonphysically bound up, and can be stored in a nonphysical manner?

Stevenson: Yes, I’m suggesting that there might be a nonphysical process of storage.

Taylor: What does that mean? Nonphysical storage of what?

Stevenson: The potentiality for the reproduction of an image memory.

Taylor: But information itself involves energy. Is there such a thing as nonphysical energy?

Stevenson: I think there may be, yes.

Taylor: How can you define it? Nonphysical energy, to me, is a complete contradiction in terms. I can’t conceive how on earth you could ever conceive of such a quantity… [dguller reasons along these lines here, but to me, such an approach seems like an argument from incredulity]

Stevenson: Well, it might be in some dimension of which we are just beginning to form crude ideas… we are making an assumption of some kind of process that is not, and maybe cannot be, understood in terms of current physical concepts.

Edwards remarks, “These exchanges bring out very clearly what is the issue between those who accept the body-mind dependence argument and the supporters of the instrument theory.” Later Edwards recalls the debate and reminds us, “Professors Cohen and Taylor regarded the notion of extra-cerebral memories as totally absurd.” As his last words on the subject, he concludes, “As for Stevenson’s nonphysical storage depot of extra-cerebral memories–‘the dimension which cannot be understood in terms of current physical concepts’–it must surely be dismissed as nothing but a vague picture which is of no scientific value whatsoever.” [Edwards reminds me of those who scoffed at telephony and aviation as “impossible” and “unscientific.” Why do so many skeptics have this tendency to castigate whatever doesn’t line up with their cherished views of reality?]

Remarks On The Debate

A televised debate is hardly the best place to attempt to settle a subtle problem philosophers have wrestled with for centuries, but some comments on the remarks from the debate quoted above seem to be in order at this point.

By “nonphysical,” Stevenson seems to be referring to something “not …understood in terms of current physical concepts,” which seems to be the right usage in this context.

With regard to Taylor’s objection to the notion of “nonphysical energy,” our notion of energy started with the idea of mechanical energy, which was changed when electrical energy was discovered, a discovery that violated Newtonian mechanics. This led to a reconstruction of physics in which electricity became basic and mechanics derivative with respect to electricity. But then other forms of energy were discovered, such as light, chemical, and nuclear energy, and the law of conservation of energy had to be generalized whenever the physical world was enlarged. [This is what we were talking about here, here, here, here, and here. Each of those are great comments from Crude, Ronin, clamat, and I suggest reading them. dguller referenced Carrier here, but I wasn’t too persuaded. The argument seems to deny mental events that are not caused by non-mental processes] Remarking on this point and its relevance to the mind-body problem, Popper commented that the history of the conservation law “makes it very much easier to assume the possibility of interference from outside–from something as yet unknown which, if we want physics to be complete, would have to be added to the physical world.” So to rule out the idea of energy “not …understood in terms of current physical concepts” as “a complete contradiction in terms” is to adhere to the old fallacy that our current understanding of physics is complete.

After taking these considerations into account, is the notion of extra-cerebral memories “totally absurd?” Should it be dismissed as “nothing but a vague picture which is of no scientific value whatsoever?” [Carl Sagan wrote, “At the heart of science is an essential tension… an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counter intuitive they may be, and the most ruthless, skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new.” Apparently some skeptics didn’t get the memo!]

49 Comments

  1. Hello again CL,

    You said: “By “nonphysical,” Stevenson seems to be referring to something “not …understood in terms of current physical concepts,” which seems to be the right usage in this context.”

    While this definition is useful for escaping the violation of causal closure, it seems to be dishonest in fully accounting for the definition of non-physical. If the non-physical is merely not understood in CURRENT physical concepts, then it very well could turn out to be explained by physical processes. Non-physical seems to imply that physical processes are unable to explain the phenomenon (in this case, memory).

    In that case, it doesn’t escape the denigrations that philosophers have been charging dualism with for decades: it violates many of our commonly held physical laws: causal closure, law of conservation, etc.

  2. Crude says:

    If the non-physical is merely not understood in CURRENT physical concepts, then it very well could turn out to be explained by physical processes. Non-physical seems to imply that physical processes are unable to explain the phenomenon (in this case, memory).

    I don’t think most dualists would mind being told this, since it relies on the fluidity of the word “physical”. It’s a little like telling a panpsychist that, though they reject physicalism now, one day our concept of the physical may alter sufficiently to accommodate consciousness, perhaps as a fundamental aspect of matter – and demanding to know what they’ll do at that moment of scientific triumph. I think the panpsychist’s best reply would be, “Declare victory.”

  3. cl says:

    Matt,

    You said: “By “nonphysical,” Stevenson seems to be referring to something “not …understood in terms of current physical concepts,” which seems to be the right usage in this context.”

    Actually, Carter said that, but:

    While this definition is useful for escaping the violation of causal closure, it seems to be dishonest in fully accounting for the definition of non-physical. If the non-physical is merely not understood in CURRENT physical concepts, then it very well could turn out to be explained by physical processes. Non-physical seems to imply that physical processes are unable to explain the phenomenon (in this case, memory).

    I get what you’re saying, but I don’t think anybody was being dishonest. More to the point, I don’t think this distinction matters. Carter was simply trying to point out the flaw in Taylor’s reasoning: we can’t just dismiss something because it doesn’t fit into our current understanding, and previous discoveries have shown us that Stevenson’s possibility is not only logical, but empirical. It’s not just that a new type of energy could be discovered, making the once-incredible now mundane; new types of energy have already been discovered, and have already made the once-incredible mundane. Therefore, Taylor has no credible objection.

    In that case, it doesn’t escape the denigrations that philosophers have been charging dualism with for decades: it violates many of our commonly held physical laws: causal closure, law of conservation, etc.

    Well sure, it violates our current understanding, but that’s just how progress works. Surely you’re not suggesting that violation of our current understanding is a credible objection, are you?

    Crude,

    Of course, because until scientists and philosophers separate metaphysics from physics, whatever we discover is always “physical” and “material” — so the “physicalists” and “materialists” can never lose!

  4. Crude says:

    cl,

    To touch on something you’re bringing up here, one thing that I always get a kick out of is the claim that one or another thing would ‘violate the laws of physics’. The problem is A) as far as science goes, the laws of physics are descriptive only, and B) they’ve been ‘rewritten’ multiple times anyway.

    Quantum physical phenomena violated the laws of physics of the time. Newtonian physics violated the Cartesian laws. Etc.

  5. cl says:

    Right? And look how much stock the typical atheist puts in such a silly objection! What’s even more hilarious to me is when they say some variant of, “Well, if you can show me something that violates the laws of physics, I’ll concede to miracles and God.”

    Get real! Don’t these people realize how inconsistent this is with their so-called affinity for rationalism? I mean c’mon. Any other day of the week, the atheist is out there insulting Christians for so-called “God of the Gaps” reasoning, yet that’s EXACTLY what they ask for with such silly requests.

    Very few people seem to spot this. If more people could spot it, we’d have far less meaningless debate.

  6. Crude says:

    I have to admit, that’s another thing I’ve seen. This combination where A) “God of the gaps reasoning” is decried, then B) This demand for evidence for God, that very often turns out to be a demand for a gap.

    And yeah, “Show me something that violates the laws of physics” would be an example. But the laws of physics are descriptive – they change, and there’s plenty we don’t understand now, and good reason to believe there’s plenty we’ll never understand scientifically. Anything that seems to violate the laws of physics would be taken as an indictment of our current understanding of the laws, not of the laws.

  7. cl,

    “It’s not just that a new type of energy could be discovered, making the once-incredible now mundane; new types of energy have already been discovered, and have already made the once-incredible mundane. Therefore, Taylor has no credible objection.”

    He absolutely does, because all of these energies are explicable by physical phenomena. The types of energy you are positing are, by defintion, not explainable in physical terms. Science will be unable to discover them because they are not physical.

    @ Crude

    There is a drastic difference between a further understanding causing a violation in our previous conception, and hypothesizing magic immaterial properties by virtue of stories of reincarnation and near death experiences.

    But, I always get a kick out of theists misunderstanding the scientific method and applying it to pseudo-science and anecdotal evidence.

  8. Crude says:

    Matt,

    There is a drastic difference between a further understanding causing a violation in our previous conception, and hypothesizing magic immaterial properties by virtue of stories of reincarnation and near death experiences.

    There is a drastic difference between a further understanding causing a violation in our previous conception, and … a further understanding causing a violation in our previous conception. ;)

    Really, Einstein and others described quantum physics in degrading terms (‘spooky’ instead of ‘magic’), and considered the whole thing ridiculous. Action at a distance was considered ‘occult’ at one point. Relativity wasn’t taken to too kindly either. And on the list goes.

    I’m not endorsing either reincarnation or whatever interpretations of near death experiences. Nor am I ruling them out, much less am I calling the conclusions scientific. Hell, I know how downright limited science is when it comes to questions like these at the end of the day. I’m just recognizing the limits, as well as the elasticities.

    The game doesn’t change just because you call something ‘magic’, anymore than it changed for Einstein or anyone else just because something was called ‘spooky’ or ‘occult’.

  9. cl says:

    Matt,

    Hey, if you want to call an argument from incredulity a “credible objection,” be my guest, but I’m not buying it.

  10. “Really, Einstein and others described quantum physics in degrading terms (‘spooky’ instead of ‘magic’), and considered the whole thing ridiculous. Action at a distance was considered ‘occult’ at one point. Relativity wasn’t taken to too kindly either. And on the list goes.”

    You’re still missing the point, though: these are all physical processes that we now have physical explanations for. Now that we’ve developed tools which can utilize, reproduce, and even observe these various phenomenon, the opinion of Einstein or others is really a moot issue.

    By defintion, non-physical properties can not be observed or integrated into a physical system.

  11. cl says:

    Matt,

    Do you understand why Taylor’s objection constitutes an argument from incredulity? I’m curious because you seem like too smart of a guy to buy that.

  12. Crude says:

    Matt,

    You’re still missing the point, though: these are all physical processes that we now have physical explanations for.

    No, we actually don’t. Explanations are incomplete, or are – as far as science goes – just taken without question, if it’s considered scientific to even consider them. “Nature’s just like that.” There’s no solution to the measurement problem, even with decoherence factored in. Quantum physics is still not understood. What the nature of physical laws are, or if they even exist, is not understood. Hell, even energy is still mysterious as to what it truly is aside from how it shows up in calculations.

    By defintion, non-physical properties can not be observed or integrated into a physical system.

    Except the definition of “physical” changes, and has changed. “By definition”, quantum mechanics was non-physical under the classical mechanics view. It did things in utter contrast to a classical perspective. The solution? Call the new stuff “physical”.

    If for whatever reason an idea as outlandish as panpsychism is viewed to be correct, that will be called physical as well. Hell, that’s already being done, just in case.

  13. “No, we actually don’t. Explanations are incomplete, or are – as far as science goes – just taken without question, if it’s considered scientific to even consider them. “Nature’s just like that.” There’s no solution to the measurement problem, even with decoherence factored in. Quantum physics is still not understood. What the nature of physical laws are, or if they even exist, is not understood. Hell, even energy is still mysterious as to what it truly is aside from how it shows up in calculations.”

    Of course not! Assuming that science has a complete understanding of all physical systems is outright idiotic. But, again, that’s not what is at issue.

    Dualists aren’t merely saying “well, we have an incomplete understanding, let’s wait to see what we discover with science.” Dualists are inherently tied to the argument that physicalism cannot provide us with the answers we need in order to account for things such as memory, consciousness, and other phenomena. They must suppose a substance which is non-physical that science cannot account for which does the extra explanatory work neeed.

    Panpsychism, and other equally outlandish dualist theories, are supposing a ‘substance’ or ‘property’ that is non-physical. It differs from these other systems (quantum physics, etc) in that it can not be verified through tests or experiments.

  14. cl

    The way that Taylor phrases it is indeed similar to that of an argument from incredulity (esp. I can’t conceive how on earth you could ever conceive of such a quantity) , but I think there is an underlying argument here which is worth excavating.

    Mostly, I object to the dualist supposition of mental properties as analogous to the emergence of quantum mechanics or other such developments in science. While they may indeed both play explanatory roles, it seems the dualist leaves us no way by which we can falsify their claims.

  15. cl says:

    …but I think there is an underlying argument here which is worth excavating.

    What is it? Why do you think Taylor didn’t make the argument you allude to, instead of the objection from incredulity?

  16. In the rest of the clip you posted, he is making the same argument that has been sounding against the dualists since Descartes. That is, if there are these components of the universe that are non-physical: what are they, how do they operate, and why should we countenance them?

  17. Crude says:

    Dualists aren’t merely saying “well, we have an incomplete understanding, let’s wait to see what we discover with science.” Dualists are inherently tied to the argument that physicalism cannot provide us with the answers we need in order to account for things such as memory, consciousness, and other phenomena. They must suppose a substance which is non-physical that science cannot account for which does the extra explanatory work neeed.

    No, dualists are tied to an understanding of mind which does not mesh with a particular understanding of “physical”. People seem to forget that ‘dualists’ don’t only have a concept of mind, but a concept of matter as well – particularly cartesians, who seem to be what you’re centrally concerned with here. The reason Descartes conceived of mind the way he did specifically flowed from his concept of matter – it left no room for mind at all.

    Here’s the catch: Once you change, update, expand, whatever the concept of matter, then it’s no longer clear that there’s a necessary conflict between the “physical” and the “mental” under the dualist scheme.

    Say it with me now: Many dualists are dualists precisely because of how matter is conceived. But the concept of matter is fluid – recognize this, and you cause the Cartesian take on dualism to go haywire. This doesn’t mean Cartesians are sitting around waiting for validation from science, but it does mean that the entire ‘mind – matter’ conflict comes down to the conception of matter for dualists. And that conception has changed drastically more than once.

    Panpsychism, and other equally outlandish dualist theories, are supposing a ‘substance’ or ‘property’ that is non-physical. It differs from these other systems (quantum physics, etc) in that it can not be verified through tests or experiments.

    And yet, it’s called physical all the same now. Because really, “physical” is exactly that flexible. Further, the very definition of “verified” is itself under debate – look at the multiverse discussions. Universes we can’t observe even in principle? Is this scientific? You get guys like (if I recall right) Sean Carroll saying, ‘if it’s not, then we’ll just have to change the definition of science’.

    You’re sitting there assuming that the definition of “matter” and “science” are set in stone, not recognizing that not only have both of these things changed (and the demarcation problem is still an issue in science), but that they’re expected to change in the future. You have scientists arguing for those changes even now (from Paul Davies declaring that materialism is quite dead, to guys like Smolin saying science should be imbued with certain metaphysical principles, etc.)

  18. cl says:

    So, questions about X constitute an argument against the existence of X? Sounds like we’re right back to the argument from incredulity to me.

  19. “No, dualists are tied to an understanding of mind which does not mesh with a particular understanding of “physical”. People seem to forget that ‘dualists’ don’t only have a concept of mind, but a concept of matter as well – particularly cartesians, who seem to be what you’re centrally concerned with here.”

    I’m actually focusing on property dualists, as substance dualists are one in a million and not really relevant to the modern philosophical landscape. If you want to seriously advocate for substance dualism, then the discussion begins and ends with the interaction problem. No substance dualist has put forth any meaningful discussion on how/where/why this ought to be part of an ontology.

    By the rest of your response, it’s becoming quite obvious you don’t understand the full implications of dualism. Dualists advocate that EVEN IF, let me repeat, EVEN IF we had a complete understanding of the physical make-up of the world, it would not be sufficient in explaining mental phenomena. It’s not merely a matter of completing the scheme, it’s about countenancing an entirely different property.

    In fact, some of the most famous arguments for dualism are just along these lines. The Knowledge Argument is the implication that even if we perfected our physical knowledge about the color red, there would still be something left over for us to explain. Therefore, physicalism is false.

    Otherwise, dualists would be in agreement with the Churchland’s and the eliminative materialist crowd in saying that the solution to our questions about mental phenomena could be found in a matured neuroscience. Dualists, however, scoff at this idea: that’s why they aren’t physicalists!

    From the SEP’s article on property dualism: “In the case of mind, property dualism is defended by those who argue that the qualitative nature of consciousness is not merely another way of categorizing states of the brain or of behaviour, but a genuinely emergent phenomenon.”

    As to your issue with ‘physical’ and ‘science’ being fluid – that’s true. But what you are not understanding is that dualists are advocating that no matter how advanced science becomes, it will not be able to account for these properties. (See: The Knowledge Argument, the Modal Argument)

  20. @ cl

    They aren’t questions of incredulity, I was sketching out a synopsis of the interaction argument, or how to best explain the “unity of the mind” under the dualist framework.

    Not only is dualism becoming obsolete based off our scientific progress, but it has glaring problems at the base explanation of how two metaphysically distinct properties can even causally interact with each other. A long list of dualists have tried and failed miserably, most famously Descartes by postulating the pineal gland as the source of all the magicky-goodness.

  21. cl says:

    Matt,

    Let’s not convolute things. You said there was an argument worth excavating buried in Taylor’s argument from incredulity. When I asked you what that argument was, you replied with a few questions. Where’s the argument?

    Not only is dualism becoming obsolete based off our scientific progress, but it has glaring problems at the base explanation of how two metaphysically distinct properties can even causally interact with each other.

    Again, where’s the argument? That you can’t wrap your head around X is no argument against X. Personally, I don’t see any problem with metaphysically distinct properties interacting. Even if I did, so what? As you said earlier, our opinions have no bearing on reality here.

    A long list of dualists have tried and failed miserably, most famously Descartes by postulating the pineal gland as the source of all the magicky-goodness.

    That’s irrelevant. Where’s the argument?

  22. Crude says:

    I’m actually focusing on property dualists, as substance dualists are one in a million and not really relevant to the modern philosophical landscape. If you want to seriously advocate for substance dualism, then the discussion begins and ends with the interaction problem.

    Nonsense. And I’m not ‘advocating’ for any dualists here. I’m pointing out the flaw in your reasoning with regards to science and the physical. You seem to think that if some property or substance is associated with the mind, it can never be called or labeled physical. I’m pointing out that’s ridiculous.

    Further, the interaction problem may bother you deeply. As cl said, incredulity – big whoop.

    Dualists advocate that EVEN IF, let me repeat, EVEN IF we had a complete understanding of the physical make-up of the world, it would not be sufficient in explaining mental phenomena. It’s not merely a matter of completing the scheme, it’s about countenancing an entirely different property.

    And my point is that those ‘entirely different properties’ are ‘entirely different’ only insofar as our concept of matter *excludes them to begin with*. But the definition of matter/physical is *fluid*. Hence, panpsychism now being pre-emptively labeled as part of materialism and physicalism. It is that fluid.

    I repeat: Physical/material have been revised before, and will likely be revised again. If it’s one day determined that fundamentally mental properties are required to make sense of the mind, what’s stopping the revision of ‘physical’ and ‘material’ from encompassing that? Not. A. Damn. Thing. It’s down to little more than personal preference.

    The Knowledge Argument is the implication that even if we perfected our physical knowledge about the color red, there would still be something left over for us to explain.

    The knowledge argument comes with a stipulated definition of “physical”. But the point is that what’s called physical for the purposes of that argument – what we call physical now – can change. Hence the SEP entry for physicalism: “For no matter how implausible and outlandish it sounds, panpsychism per se is not inconsistent with physicalism (cf. Lewis 1983).”

    What’s more, do you realize that the Churchlands are a minority even among self-described ‘materialists’? It’s not just dualists who disagree with eliminative materialists, it’s other materialists! The fact that you think that the only people disagreeing with EMs are freaking self-described dualists shows YOU don’t know a thing about this subject.

    As to your issue with ‘physical’ and ‘science’ being fluid – that’s true. But what you are not understanding is that dualists are advocating that no matter how advanced science becomes, it will not be able to account for these properties.

    Guess what? Being unable to ‘account for these properties’ doesn’t mean anything with regards to calling something physical. There was no ‘accounting for the properties’ we see in quantum mechanics under classical mechanics. Surprise! They called it physical anyway, mysteries and all.

    You don’t need to be able to “account for something” to call it physical. Further, materialism has been getting beaten back for centuries now – pretending that “materialism” has been making great strides because a new generation of materialists slap the “material” label onto whatever they need to is a desperate move, the cost of which has been to abuse the very concept of much meaning at all. Between that and the growing realization that to not expand the definition of material means to embrace the brain-damage that is eliminative materialism, alternate metaphysics – from neutral monism to panpsychism to elsewise – are looking better than ever.

    Even though they’ll just get called physical in the end. ;)

  23. cl,

    I don’t know that I can make it much clearer for you. If you think that an argument can’t be formed in the syntax of a question, then we have some serious misconceptions to clean up.

    Here is the clearest I can make it:
    How and where do mental properties and physical properties interact?

    If that’s still not clear enough, I’ll suggest reading Jaegwon Kim’s attack on emergentism.

  24. “Further, the interaction problem may bother you deeply. As cl said, incredulity – big whoop.”

    I think you might have misunderstood what an argument from incredulity entails. The interaction argument is not merely relying on the fact that causal interaction between the mental and physical has not been proven (or as Sagan would say, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence) but rather questioning the logical foundation of the interaction itself.

    If you are positing extraneous ontological entities that do some work in an ontological scheme, an important component of your philosophy is explain how those entities interact with other entities.

    In the dualists’ case, they owe us an explanation as to how mental properties and physical properties interact. So far, they’ve been (un)surprisingly mute on the topic.

    “And my point is that those ‘entirely different properties’ are ‘entirely different’ only insofar as our concept of matter *excludes them to begin with*. But the definition of matter/physical is *fluid*. Hence, panpsychism now being pre-emptively labeled as part of materialism and physicalism. It is that fluid.”

    This literally made me laugh out loud. If you think that panpsychism is being “pre-emptively labeled” as physicalist, you are either sorely mistaken or reading the wrong type of philosophy. (Or misunderstanding, as your quote-mining of Lewis below shows.)

    Panpsychism has its roots in the Idealist philosophy of Spinoza and Leibniz and enjoys the continuation of this through Royce and Lotze.

    “The knowledge argument comes with a stipulated definition of “physical”. But the point is that what’s called physical for the purposes of that argument – what we call physical now – can change. Hence the SEP entry for physicalism: “For no matter how implausible and outlandish it sounds, panpsychism per se is not inconsistent with physicalism (cf. Lewis 1983).””

    This kind of quote mining gets rather irritating.

    The quote you are referring to is a response to Hempel’s dilemma, in which he is objecting to the formulation of a theory-based conception of physical (i.e. physical as “included in our current conception of physics). However, many physicalists don’t base their conception of physical upon current or future theories of physics. Lewis’ application of panpsychism as not, “per se” inconsistent with physicalism responds to a specific formulation of the physical, not as an actuality.

    “What’s more, do you realize that the Churchlands are a minority even among self-described ‘materialists’? It’s not just dualists who disagree with eliminative materialists, it’s other materialists! The fact that you think that the only people disagreeing with EMs are freaking self-described dualists shows YOU don’t know a thing about this subject.”

    Unsurprisingly, you missed the point on this one as well. I was illustrating that if we used your definition of dualist, they would all be eliminative materialists, eagerly anticipating the maturation of neuroscience in hopes of validating their claims of mental properties.

    For some reason, I don’t think Chalmers and other dualists put too much stock in the findings of neuroscience.

    “Further, materialism has been getting beaten back for centuries now – pretending that “materialism” has been making great strides because a new generation of materialists slap the “material” label onto whatever they need to is a desperate move, the cost of which has been to abuse the very concept of much meaning at all. ”

    This kind of comment shows me just how out of touch you are with the current climate of the discussion.

    In a poll conducted a few years back, 55% of philosophers (this is just philosophers, not including those with even more knowledge on the subject – neuroscientists and other disciplines) accept or lean towards materialism regarding the brain. (http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2009/12/what_do_philoso.html)

    Before perhaps Ryle and his Behaviorism, dualism was the law of the land. This poll would have been a landslide in favor of non-physicalism. With the advancement of the study of the brain and the birth of neuroscience, we are seeing a drastic turn in the landscape towards materialism.

  25. cl says:

    Crude,

    The knowledge argument comes with a stipulated definition of “physical”. But the point is that what’s called physical for the purposes of that argument – what we call physical now – can change.

    Not only that, but, if we perfect our knowledge of the “physical” and explanatory shortcomings persist, we’re pretty much forced to abandon materialism / physicalism / substance monism / etc. Then again, even if we could perfect our knowledge of the physical, there’s no way we could reliably discern such. And then there’s always the good ol’ punt to “well we just can’t explain X in physical terms today,” promissory-style materialism!

    Further, materialism has been getting beaten back for centuries now – pretending that “materialism” has been making great strides because a new generation of materialists slap the “material” label onto whatever they need to is a desperate move, the cost of which has been to abuse the very concept of much meaning at all.

    Yeah, I agree. Reminds me of certain theists who redefine “God” to mean that All Encompassing Source Of Supreme Unity, Goodness And Tolerance, or, you know… basically anything else that reduces to “the warm, fuzzy feeling in my tummy.” Any other day of the week, atheists tend to criticize this strategy. I guess this slipperiness is fair game when it comes to materialism.

    Matt,

    If you think that an argument can’t be formed in the syntax of a question, then we have some serious misconceptions to clean up.

    Uh, I think a good writer can successfully encapsulate the gist of an argument in the syntax of a question, but, no: in logic–which is what I’m interested in here–an argument consists of declarative propositions and a conclusion. So, yeah: we do have some misconceptions to clean up! Oh, we have another one: Loftus’ blog is not great. ;)

    Here is the clearest I can make it:
    How and where do mental properties and physical properties interact?

    Likewise, here is the clearest I can make it: you’re walking with open arms to an argument from incredulity. As Crude said, big whoop.

    If that’s still not clear enough, I’ll suggest reading Jaegwon Kim’s attack on emergentism.

    Which attack would that be? More to the point, how is an attack on emergentism relevant here? Do you think I endorse emergentism? Or, is there some other reason you’d bring that up?

    I think you might have misunderstood what an argument from incredulity entails. The interaction argument is not merely relying on the fact that causal interaction between the mental and physical has not been proven (or as Sagan would say, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence) but rather questioning the logical foundation of the interaction itself. [to Crude]

    No, I’m pretty sure Crude’s got it right. This has nothing to do with any method of interaction not being proven. This has to do with you and Taylor acting like questions about X constitute arguments against the existence of X. It’s a logical misstep. Nonetheless, I’d say mental and physical properties interact right here in what we used to call “three-dimensional space.” IOW, they interact in reality, proceeding from potency [or uncertainty if you prefer the quantum term] to actuality. It seems viable to me that the “immaterial” affects the “material” via the ability to collapse the wave function in some desired manner. Of course, even if everything I just said is 180 degrees from the truth, you still don’t have an actual argument here. At least, not yet.

    Also, you seem to be operating under the idea that a coherent explanation of X is necessary before X can be demonstrated, and that’s clearly not the case, with QM being a classic example. Reality doesn’t wait for our explanatory abilities to catch up.

    So, where’s the argument? Lay it out for me.

  26. “Uh, I think a good writer can successfully encapsulate the gist of an argument in the syntax of a question, but, no: in logic–which is what I’m interested in here–an argument consists of declarative propositions and a conclusion. So, yeah: we do have some misconceptions to clean up! Oh, we have another one: Loftus’ blog is not great. ;)”

    I thought the questions captured the gist of the argument fairly well. Here it is in a more propositional form:

    1. For every causal event between two properties or entities [in which at least one is physical], it must occur somewhere in space-time.
    2. Mental properties do not have spatio-temporal locations, and therefore interaction between mental and physical can not exist in space-time.
    3.Therefore, mental properties are not causally effective on the physical.

    Of course, some dualists (namely epiphenomenalists) accept this argument as a reason to turn away from interactionism. So far, it seems you haven’t obliged yourself one way or another to a specific form of dualism.

    As an aside, I quite enjoy Loftus’ blog. From previous lurking, I know you don’t share my sentiments.

    “Likewise, here is the clearest I can make it: you’re walking with open arms to an argument from incredulity. As Crude said, big whoop. ”

    Arguing against the incoherency of causal interactions between metaphysically distinct properties is not an argument from incredulity. It’s a well established argument against interactionism that has been around since the birth of modern dualism.

    “This has to do with you and Taylor acting like questions about X constitute arguments against the existence of X. It’s a logical misstep. ”

    Taylor was in the context of a live debate. The questions prodded at the argument I have outlined above. I assume Taylor and Stevenson know the underlying arguments and were merely illustrating them as succinctly as possible in the given forum. In fact, that’s why Stevenson engages his arguments (even though he does it poorly IMO) instead of the response that you and Crude seem to be having.

  27. cl says:

    Arguing against the incoherency of causal interactions between metaphysically distinct properties is not an argument from incredulity.

    Of course not, not when you actually *argue* as opposed to half-assing questions like, “How does X do Y?” Your first approach–like Taylor’s–walked with opens arms towards the argument from incredulity. Nonetheless, I’m now assured you realize the difference, and you presented an argument, so we can get to the meat:

    1. For every causal event between two properties or entities [in which at least one is physical], it must occur somewhere in space-time.

    2. Mental properties do not have spatio-temporal locations, and therefore interaction between mental and physical can not exist in space-time.

    3. Therefore, mental properties are not causally effective on the physical.

    I guess I would begin by asking you to define precisely what you mean by “occur somewhere in space-time.” Does “occur” necessarily entail that the beginning, middle and end of any and all interactions occur in space-time? Or, would the condition of “occurring somewhere in space-time” be met if an interaction began outside of space-time, yet had repercussions within space-time?

  28. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> Nonphysical energy, to me, is a complete contradiction in terms. I can’t conceive how on earth you could ever conceive of such a quantity… [dguller reasons along these lines here, but to me, such an approach seems like an argument from incredulity]

    I have no problem with the idea of non-physical energy itself as a possibility, but I do have a problem with how such a form of energy would be relevant. I mean, if it made no physical impact upon the empirical world, then it is effectively hidden from any form of detection, and thus is completely irrelevant to anything at all.

    And if it can make a physical impact upon the physical world, then I would not call it non-physical at all. It is just a new form of physical energy that should be studied scientifically and determining if it is genuine, or just a byproduct of chance, bias or other cognitive distortions.

    >> dguller referenced Carrier here, but I wasn’t too persuaded. The argument seems to deny mental events that are not caused by non-mental processes

    That is exactly what it denies. There might be immaterial minds that are caused by immaterial non-mental processes, after all. I only entity that this definition of naturalism excludes as impossible is a mind that was not caused by any non-mental process whatsoever.

    >> So to rule out the idea of energy “not …understood in terms of current physical concepts” as “a complete contradiction in terms” is to adhere to the old fallacy that our current understanding of physics is complete.

    That is a fair point, and future research may add many dimensions to our current understanding of energy, but just as it is a mistake to be too skeptical and dismissive, it is equally a mistake to be too credulous. We should follow the evidence, and if the evidence is inconclusive, then we should withhold judgment, and when that evidence directly contradicts a well-established body of knowledge, then we should be skeptical until proven otherwise.

    I have no problem with paranormal phenomena and energies in principle, but I think that the evidence that has been presented about them to me here has not met scientific standards. Maybe there is better evidence that I do not know about, and if not, then maybe one day such evidence will be discovered, but until then, I cannot responsibly say that they are genuine phenomena. They seem to be better explained by more garden-variety explanations, such as chance, bias, cognitive distortions and other confounding factors. And remember, science has been as successful as it has been largely because it has taken painstaking steps to minimize the roles of chance, bias, cognitive distortions, and other confounding factors when determining whether a phenomenon is real or illusory.

  29. “I guess I would begin by asking you to define precisely what you mean by “occur somewhere in space-time.” Does “occur” necessarily entail that the beginning, middle and end of any and all interactions occur in space-time? Or, would the condition of “occurring somewhere in space-time” be met if an interaction began outside of space-time, yet had repercussions within space-time?”

    I would say that any interaction with the physical would stipulate that the ‘beginning’ and ‘middle’ (although I’m not sure I understand the application of beginning, middle, and end used here) occur in space-time.

    I think epiphenomenalism provides a path by which mental properties could be nomological danglers at the end of a physical causal event (i.e. not causally efficacious upon the physical) but it seems as if you don’t advocate such a view.

  30. cl says:

    So then, if an “immaterial” event begins “outside” the “physical” universe, but yet influences the “physical,” that’s not a legitimate interaction between the “immaterial” and the “physical” ?

    …it seems as if you don’t advocate such a view.

    I don’t.

  31. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> So then, if an “immaterial” event begins “outside” the “physical” universe, but yet influences the “physical,” that’s not a legitimate interaction between the “immaterial” and the “physical” ?

    Perhaps one way to conceptualize this is using current theories of physics. We have direct access to four dimensions of reality in the form of the space-time continuum. However, there are scientific theories that postulate several more dimensions, going up to 11, I think. It is certainly possible for changes to occur in dimensions 5-11, for example, that we would be unable to detect, except by changes in dimensions 1-4. In that case, you would have space-time events being caused by “immaterial” forces and energies.

  32. cl says:

    dguller,

    Sorry to speak so brashly to you in the second half of our “Materialism is a Misnomer” discussion. I was beyond exhausted with [what I felt were] needless repetitions of questions that have already been addressed. I just want you to know where I’m coming from, and I also want you to know that unlike many of the other atheists who’ve been regulars here–for example jim–I appreciate your interest in peeling away error, and your general avoidance of polemic and personal attack. Nobody’s perfect, but in my experience, you really do stand out amongst other atheists.

    Looking forward to more fresh rounds…

  33. cl says:

    It is certainly possible for changes to occur in dimensions 5-11, for example, that we would be unable to detect, except by changes in dimensions 1-4. In that case, you would have space-time events being caused by “immaterial” forces and energies.

    Then, you seem to disagree with Matt’s stipulation that the ‘beginning’ and ‘middle’ of an interaction must occur in space-time [dimensions 1-4]. Is that correct?

    I mean, if it made no physical impact upon the empirical world, then it is effectively hidden from any form of detection, and thus is completely irrelevant to anything at all.

    You’re echoing Edwards, but I’ve never been persuaded by that line of argument. To be clear, I’m not endorsing “immaterial” energy that doesn’t affect the “physical,” but “immaterial” energy that DOES affect the “physical.” Either way, inability to detect X does not entail complete irrelevance thereof. I think that’s a misstep.

  34. “So then, if an “immaterial” event begins “outside” the “physical” universe, but yet influences the “physical,” that’s not a legitimate interaction between the “immaterial” and the “physical” ? ”

    Admittedly, this is where I become lost and must rely on expert opinion and my cursory physics knowledge. I have only brief formal education in physics, and it has nothing to do with the existence of other dimensions outside the manifold of space-time.

    I don’t place too much confidence in string-theory or m-theory, as I doubt the ability to come up with a theory-of-everything. After reading Hawkings’ The Grand Design, I’m inclined to agree with the perspective of the model-dependent realist.

    If the existence of other dimensions becomes apparent through experimental evidence, I’d be interested to see a complete hashing out of what it would mean for things to be causally related across dimensions.

    So, I’ll renege on my initial assertion and say that given experimental evidence of other dimensions (that are causally transitive to the manifold of space-time), I would certainly allow for this possibility.

  35. cl says:

    So then, would you care to revise your premises? Or, do you now see why I’m not too persuaded by the so-called “interaction problem?”

  36. Well, most postulations of an extra dimension are spatial. So, while I would have to include for the possibility of extra spatial definitions in my premises, it would still work. Presumably, immaterial energy does not have spatial qualities. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I don’t think this necessarily poses a problem to my premises.

  37. cl says:

    You wrote:

    So, I’ll renege on my initial assertion and say that given experimental evidence of other dimensions (that are causally transitive to the manifold of space-time), I would certainly allow for this possibility.

    What, exactly, does “this possibility” refer to?

  38. The possibility that causal events may begin outside of space-time [dimensions 1-4]. Space-time can presumably include other spatial dimensions without violating my original premises.

  39. cl says:

    The possibility that causal events may begin outside of space-time [dimensions 1-4].

    …undermines 1, which undermines 2, which undermines 3. There’s no argument left.

  40. If other dimensions are spatial, then it does not undermine [1] but merely adds an addendum that space-time can either be strictly dimensions [1-4] or inclusive of all spatial dimensions.

  41. Whoops, meant to add that the existence of other dimensions is all speculative anyways, as we have no evidence that they do indeed exist. So, at the very least, the argument for space-time being dimensions [1-4] still has merit until we have experimental evidence of other dimensions.

  42. cl says:

    You wrote: 1. For every causal event between two properties or entities [in which at least one is physical], it must occur somewhere in space-time.

    Let’s refer to the claim that “every causal event between two properties or entities must occur somewhere in space-time” as A. Let’s refer to the claim that causal events may possibly begin outside of space-time as ~A.

    Your argument requires A, yet you concede ~A. You can’t have both. Either it is IMPOSSIBLE for a causal event to occur outside of space-time, or it is POSSIBLE.

    Which is it?

  43. cl says:

    Also, you’re doing exactly what Crude and I criticize: taking the terms “space-time” or “spatial” and applying them to anything we might ever discover.

    See the problem yet? You haven’t provided any true premises, at all. You simply assert your way to your conclusion. Demonstrate the truth of 1 and 2, else, you’ve got nothing.

  44. “Your argument requires A, yet you concede ~A. You can’t have both. Either it is IMPOSSIBLE for a causal event to occur outside of space-time, or it is POSSIBLE. ”

    It’s impossible, as I’ve been arguing. Perhaps I misled you with my caveat.

    Space-time is not merely limited to discussions of dimensions 1-4, but it is a generalized concept that refers to any combination of spatial-temporal dimensions. This is why I added the addendum about the addition of the possibility of causal events happening outside of dimensions 1-4, but not outside of space-time. For example, M-theory provides 11 dimensions [10 spatial; 1 temporal] and thus all causal events would still happen in space-time.

    “Also, you’re doing exactly what Crude and I criticize: taking the terms “space-time” or “spatial” and applying them to anything we might ever discover.”

    I am using the terms as physicsts do. Space-time refers to any combination of dimensions which are spatial and temporal. I’m not defining them on the whimsy of my own desire.

    “See the problem yet? You haven’t provided any true premises, at all. You simply assert your way to your conclusion. Demonstrate the truth of 1 and 2, else, you’ve got nothing.”

    [1] is a well established component of the scientific method. Nearly every law we haev discovered and purported is based off of the idea of causal closure of space-time. This is why earlier I urged you to read Kim’s commentary on emergentism, he brings up the same argument against emergentism.

    If you are a dualist, then it seems to me that [2] must be true by definition of mental properties. Would you assert that mental properties have spatio-temporal locations?

  45. dguller says:

    Cl:

    >> Sorry to speak so brashly to you in the second half of our “Materialism is a Misnomer” discussion.

    No need to apologize. These types of discussions can be maddeningly frustrating sometimes, but that’s just the nature of the complexity and depth of the subject matter. Intuitions differ, and what seems obvious to one person is incoherent to another, and finding common ground then becomes challenging.

    >> Then, you seem to disagree with Matt’s stipulation that the ‘beginning’ and ‘middle’ of an interaction must occur in space-time [dimensions 1-4]. Is that correct?

    It is certainly possible. After all, a beginning of a causal sequence can occur in some of the higher dimensions. From our standpoint, it may not be detectable at all, and we may experience only the sequence of events within space-time.

    >> You’re echoing Edwards, but I’ve never been persuaded by that line of argument. To be clear, I’m not endorsing “immaterial” energy that doesn’t affect the “physical,” but “immaterial” energy that DOES affect the “physical.”

    Then I have no problem, except to say that I would then call it “physical”. But that’s just because I believe in the causal closure of the physical world, and so anything that can cause a change in the physical world is necessarily physical.

    >> Either way, inability to detect X does not entail complete irrelevance thereof. I think that’s a misstep.

    How can something undetectable be relevant? It necessarily makes no impact upon our lives at all, and isn’t that the definition of “irrelevant”?

  46. cl says:

    Matt,

    It’s impossible, as I’ve been arguing.

    Why?

  47. cl says:

    dguller,

    It is certainly possible.

    Let me rephrase: do you agree or disagree with Matt that an interaction CANNOT begin outside of space-time [whether defined as dimensions 1-4, or dimensions 1-11]? If so, on what grounds?

    Then I have no problem, except to say that I would then call it “physical”. But that’s just because I believe in the causal closure of the physical world, and so anything that can cause a change in the physical world is necessarily physical.

    But then, as Crude and myself took great pain to point out, all you’re doing is using “physical” as a blanket term to cover anything that’s ever detected. It seems to me that you need to commit to a precise definition of “physical,” else, we’re just shooting at a moving target. No matter what’s presented, it will automatically become “physical,” just because you believe in the metaphysical principle of causal closure.

    How can something undetectable be relevant? It necessarily makes no impact upon our lives at all, and isn’t that the definition of “irrelevant”?

    Do mean something that hasn’t yet been detected? Or, something that is inherently undetectable? It doesn’t matter much, but, perhaps you can clarify. If the former, take asteroids. Weren’t detected for a loooooooong time, yet, highly relevant. If the latter, take God. God is undetectable, right? Meaning, we can’t point our instruments into the sky and detect God. Yet, if God exists–and particularly if the God of the Bible exists–that God is the most relevant entity in existence, despite our inability to detect.

  48. “Why”

    Because in order for something to be causally effective upon space-time, it must happen in a spatio-temporal location. Immaterial energy cannot be in a spatio-temporal location. Therefore, immaterial energy can not be causally effective upon space-time.

  49. cl says:

    You’re just assuming the truth of the premise I asked you to prove. Seriously, think about it. All you did was regurgitate the same three premises with slightly different wording. Not persuasive.

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