Non-Religious Mind-Body Dualism, Free Will, and Anti-Materialism

Saturday, Jul 02, 2016

Caplan and Huemer, modern philosophical heroes.

As Michael Huemer has pointed out, it is logically impossible to deduce any mental statement from any non-mental statement.[6] Just as Hume said that we can never deduce any "ought" statement from any "is" statement, or just as we will never deduce anything about geometry from non-geometrical statements, so too will we never deduce mental facts from physical ones. Even if we knew everything about the physical world of molecules, forces, spins, etc., we would not be able to predict the most trivial mental fact unless we smuggled a mental premise into the argument.

The mind is caused by the brain, but the mind and the brain are two separate entities. The mind is a mental entity, and the brain is a physical one. You cannot have a mind without a brain, but nevertheless they are not one and the same thing. Both exist and are fully real; but they are different things.

  1. It could just be a brute fact that when you get a working brain a mind appears, and these two causally interact. Just as we don't need a transcendental deduction to conclude that gravity exists, neither do we need to describe the mechanism of mind-brain causation before we can conclude that it is real.

  2. Anyway, there is a sort of necessity between the interaction of the mind and the brain. As Searle suggests, it might be a prima facie necessary truth that when a guy gets his hand stuck in a punch-press, he has to be in pain.

  3. Just because we don't (and maybe can't) understand how the mind and brain interact doesn't mean that they don't.

My dualism does not say that there are two realms [a la Descartes]. It says that there is one realm which contains two rather different types of things: mental things and physical things. If two very different types of physical things can interact (e.g., color and temperature), why couldn't two very different types of existents interact (e.g., mental and physical)?

What is the evidence for my view? The best evidence is simply observation of our own minds. When I introspect... I observe thoughts, beliefs, pains, and so on. They are really there. Morever, they are not floating randomly around, like Hume thought. Rather they are all predicates of one and the same thing; they are bound together, unified. But this thing to which they belong can also be observed by introspection; and like the thoughts, beliefs, and pains, it lacks all of the essential features of the physical: spatiality, mass, etc. It is not simply that I don't see what its mass is; I see positively that it has none. And this entity of which individual mental states are predicated is the mind. If you doubt that there is a mental entity inside of you, please look again. Not only is there a mental entity "inside" me; but I essentially am that mental entity -- it is one and the same thing that I speak of when I speak of my "self." The bottom line is this: My view should not be hard to accept, because intuitively this is what we all think. Only after people learn some philosophy do they begin to doubt this.

Dualism is, moreover, falsifiable: it would be false if (a) There were no mental things, or (b) If a third type of thing, say angels or God, existed.

On my view, it is just a brute fact that the mind can causally affect the brain and the brain can causally affect the mind. Mind-to-brain causation need not be reduced to something else; it is fully real... the mind really causes changes in the brain, and this fact is irreducible to any other causal relationship.

"But how does it work?" Yet as the last section showed, Searle himself admits that there are many brute facts in the world, such as gravity, which we accept as real even though we have no explanation of how they work; and even if we cannot see the mechanism, it still might be there. This demand for an explanation of "how" before we will accept the "what", made by Searle and materialists alike, is confused. Normally, the "what" is what we know for sure, while the "how" is accepted only tentatively, only so long as its predictions match up with our observations. Observations trump explanations; if an observation is inconsistent with an explanation, it is the explanation that must go, not the observations.

Imagine that we get an explanation of any observation. At this point, it is still open to us to request a deeper explanation, an explanation of the explanation. And if we find that, we can look for an explanation of the explanation of the explanation -- and so on. But eventually we must come down to the brute fact: This is the way that it works, and there is no additional reason. In the end we bottom out in brute facts, facts for which we have no further explanation. Does this show that all of our observations are invalid? I doubt it; what I think it shows is that we do not always require an explanation in order to have knowledge. In many cases we do; but if something is a brute fact, such that no further explanation is possible, then it isn't necessary either. Explanations have but limited utility; they are useful so long as we deal with facts for which a further explanation exists. But when we reach the brute facts, explanation is neither possible nor necessary.

It may very well be that the causal interaction of the mind and the brain is one of these brute facts. Since no one has come up with a remotely plausible scientific theory about their interaction, and since it is logically impossible to deduce a mental statement from a non-mental statement, the mind-brain interaction is a likely candidate. This doesn't mean that I am sure that no explanation is possible; maybe one day someone will show that this "brute fact" is not a brute fact at all, but one capable of a simple explanation. The point is that we don't need to wait for this explanation before we can accept my view. We can gather all of the needed evidence for that if we merely turn inwards and observe.

Now it should be stressed that one could easily be a dualist and a determinist at the same time; one could say that every mental event was necessitated by prior mental events, so that they are deterministic even though they are not physical. However, the reality of free will is a central feature of my theory of the mind. Let me first explain its content and then give the most convincing arguments in its favor.

My view is that the mind is causally dependent on the brain. All that this means is that minds don't float around by themselves; they aren't ghosts in the machine; they are simply another development of evolution, not visitors from another dimension. But that is the limit of the causal dependence; once the mind exists, it can both be influenced by and influence the brain (and thereby the rest of the body). One basic feature of this mind is that it has freedom. This does not mean the freedom to do anything -- for example, I don't think that my memory, emotions, or intelligence do what I want automatically. But I do at least have freedom over my beliefs, the course of my thoughts, my effort, and some bodily movements.

Now I suspect that if a neurophysiologist were looking at my brain while I made free choices, he would observe changes. This is no problem for my view, because correlations between mental and physical states is precisely what interactionism requires. Nor would it be an objection to my view that the doctor might inject me with a drug that makes me hallucinate helplessly; for brain-mind causation is real, too. All that my view says is that the mind can cause things to happen in the brain, and at least in some cases there was more than one thing that my mind really could have done.

How is this possible? As I explained in the previous sections, we don't need an explanation of, say, free will before we can accept its reality. From the fact that it is real, it follows that it is possible. The pressing question, then, is this: Is free will real? I have five arguments to this effect.

First, there is the simple fact of observation. I observe that I choose freely, at least sometimes; and if you introspect, you will see it too. There is no reason to assume that these observations are illusory, any more than there is reason to assume that vision or hearing is illusory. I frequently hear scientists declare that real science (as opposed to bogus Aristotelian science) rests on observation; that is, they take the observed facts as a given, and work from there. The insistence that free will does not exist has more in common with the worst a priori scholasticism than with modern science. The latter demanded that the facts fit the theory, while the essence of science is supposed to be that we make our theories fit the observed facts. I would like to see a single argument for rejecting introspective evidence in favor of the other senses, because any argument against the validity of introspection might be applied, ipso facto, to sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.

In order for any argument to work, it is necessary that the initial plausibility of its premises have greater initial plausibility than those of any other argument. Since no premise has greater initial plausibility than "This is a hand," said Moore, it is in principle impossible for that claim to be overturned. I think that the same is true of the existence of free will. Nothing has greater initial plausibility than the premise "I have free will"; no scientific or philosophical argument will ever have greater initial plausibility. So how is it even coherent to argue against free will?

Try the following thought experiment. Our brilliant neurophysiologists come up with an equation that they claim will predict all of our behavior. The equation is so good that it even incorporates our reaction to the equation, our reaction to knowing that it incorporates our reaction, and so on indefinitely. Suppose that the equation says that the next thing that you will do is raise your arm. Do you seriously believe that you couldn't falsify this prediction by failing to raise your arm? But if you can falsify any prediction about your arm, and if the prediction is derived perfectly from a comprehensive knowledge of your body's constituent micro-particles, then your mind must be free.

Fifth, let me answer the "argument from illusion" that Searle alludes to. On this view, we appear to be free, but aren't. Science has shown that freedom is an illusion, along with sunsets and the apparent solidity of tables. We now accept that the sun does not set and that "solid" objects are mainly empty space. Why not accept that free will is equally illusory?

The answer, I think, is that the scientific explanation of sunsets and tables does not contradict our observations of sunsets and tables. Once we hear the scientific explanation, we learn that the explanation is perfectly compatible with our common-sense observations; indeed, our common-sense observations follow with necessity from the scientific explanation. It is easy to see how the sunsets that we observe are consistent with a heliocentric model of the solar system; it is equally easy to see how the observation of solidity is consistent with the presence of empty space. The macro and the micro explanations fit together. They cohere. But how could the observation of free will ever be compatible with determinism? Our other examples of scientific debunking of naive folk beliefs wound up reconciling the views of the vulgar and the wise, as Aristotle might say. But there is no way to reconcile the observation of free will with the theory of determinism because they are mutually exclusive. Until the critics of free will come up with a single example in the history of science of a situation in which observations inconsistent with our theory led to the rejection of the observations rather than the theory, I will be unable take this line of argument seriously.

Searle and the materialists both seem to think that science="nothing but atoms and the void." Yet they err; they confuse a particular conclusion of science with the essence of science. The true essence of science is the use of observation and reason to objectively understand the world. If what we know about the mental contradicts the findings of "science", then our science must be revised. If we observe mental states, apparently inexplicable by atomic theory, then we discover that either atomic theory has its limitations or we are misinterpreting our science. We cast no doubt on the existence of mental states; for any argument for doubting our observations of our mental states would ipso facto be an argument to doubt the observations that confirmed atomic theory. Searle is correct that our culture suffers from deeply-rooted prejudices about the mind; but these prejudices do not come from Descartes, whatever his errors. The chief prejudices come from people who assume that everything about the mind must either be illusory or consistent with theories derived from the study of inanimate matter. "Dogma" is a harsh term, but an appropriate one for such belief-systems. For what is the essence of dogmatism but the acceptance of a belief in the absence of or in contradiction to one's immediate observations? Materialism is not science; it is a dogmatic perversion of science that blindly demands that the mental be just like the physical when it plainly isn't... Materialists refuse to look at something even more evident than moving mountains -- their own minds.

Unlike materialists and Searle, dualists trust their own observations of the mind more than theories developed to explain completely different phenomena. As a dualist, I am happy to open up my theory to empirical falsification, unlike a priori theories such as those of materialists and Searle. Dualism, as I said, would be false if (a) There were no mental states, or (b) There were yet another type of existent, like angels or God. If these conditionals empirically fail (and I think they do), then dualism is true. Like all good scientific (and philosophical) theories, dualism is internally consistent, intuitive, and, above all else, consistent with our observations.