A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Resolving The Mind-Body Issue, Part 4

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on April 29, 2008

This is the last part of the series of posts about how I think we can make sense of the mind-body issue. The idea is to provide alternative to different kinds of physicalism and dualism.

The story so far:
So far, we took those steps:
1.Returning the content which was previously pushed under the “rug of the mental” back into the world. What is left to the mind are the abilities to perceive, imagine, plan, etc…
2.Moving away from atomism/constructivism towards seeing the world in terms of what is actually going on, and aspects of what is actually going on, and taking both which appears in the physical picture and what we returned into the world as aspects of the world.

And in the third part, I didn’t advance the idea further, but pointed to a problem in the idea… For something to be an aspect of X, it means that the facts about X are based on
a)what is actually going on, and
b)the nature of the aspect.
For example, the facts about the contour of the face seen from certain side (as an aspect), will depend on a)the three-dimensional shape of the face and b)the angle from which we are seeing the face.

But what we are seeing in physical nature are that there are physical laws, which can be nicely put in determinate mathematical equations. If we take those to be facts about the physical, it surely doesn’t seem that they are aspect of anything else – they seem self-contained and independent. Sure, there is the quantum indeterminacy, but that one is nicely isolated. When we have aspects, we expect that the facts about the aspect to be in more “organic” dependency on the whole.

What we do next:
So, we get here to what I think is third part of the solution of the mind-body issue. In short it is this… The physical laws are metaphysically necessary relations between different aspects which we see as being physical. The form of those laws is the conditional: whenever p is true about something, also q will be true about the same thing.

Let me explain this through an analogy with a case that can be understood more easily. Imagine that we ignore lot of things of whatever is going on, and put attention just on the geometrical and arithmetical aspects of whatever is going on. It so happens, that even everything is changing, in certain cases we can safely ignore the changes and analyze the non-changing aspect of the situations as if there is no changes occurring.

We can say about those cases that we are safe to apply a geometrical or arithmetical notion to the situation. With that, we get to the antecedent (p is true about X) of the conditional. For example it might be ‘the base of the house is square, with sides 5meters and 4meters’. From there it is possible to apply the mathematical truth ‘whenever something is square with sides a and b, it will have area a*b‘ , so we also have the consequent (q is true about X) – The area of the house is 20 square meters.

The point is that if for pragmatic reasons we can safely ignore everything but geometrical and arithmetical aspect of whatever is going on, it is normal that whatever mathematically necessary relations hold, will hold for this aspect. We can see how also, because what we took is merely an aspect, it might happen at any time that the antecedent of the mathematical necessity becomes invalid for reasons which are not captured by that aspect. So, we get to a situation where the mathematical aspect has 1)mathematically necessary relations which hold, but 2)the mathematical notions in some situations will not be applicable, for the reason that the situation goes beyond this aspect.

I think it is now clear, what is the proposed explanation of the seemingly self-subsistent regularities of the physical aspect. I said before that the facts about aspect will be dependent on two things: a)what is actually going on and b)the nature of the aspect. The solution is then, to connect those regularities known as physical laws to the later – to the nature of the aspect itself, and NOT to whatever is going on.

There is lot more to be said on this, and I’ve discussed this issue several times, but let me just add few brief note to this… The nature of the physical aspect is defined by the nature of the measurement of movement through measurements of space and time, and further to the way other physical properties like force, inertial mass, energy and so on, are related to those. Further, I think that it is in the nature of those measurements (or in their concept) to have different symmetries, and it is that which I think is a base for the metaphysical necessity of those laws. However, that this is just an aspect is shown in the cases of quantum mechanical collapses, to which the physical laws can’t apply for the basic reason that whatever is going on goes beyond one of its aspects – in this case physical aspect. In those cases, we can’t apply the notion in the question to the situation, similarly to how we sometimes can’t apply mathematical notions to the situation and can’t analyze the situation in terms of mathematical necessities.

So, this would be the last part of the solution for the mind-body issue. As I said at the start of the post, it does go far from the prevalent paradigm of the times, but given that the mind-body issue surely seems as an impossible problem to solve in the paradigm of our times, it should be clear that there is something wrong with that paradigm.

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10 Responses to “Resolving The Mind-Body Issue, Part 4”

  1. Chris said

    Well done. I’ve always seen the mind/body problem as nothing more than a irreducible conceptual issue having to do, in great part, with how we use the term “mind”. If “brain” is a noun and “mind”, as far as we understand it, is a verb, then how can one be reduced to the other? The problems come in when we use “mind” syntactically, in any sense, as a noun. And this misuse is insidious. For instance, the statement, “Mind HAS the ability to perceive.”, would suggest that mind (a verb) can HAVE something, specifically that IT HAS abilities, and so on… “IT” can’t “HAVE” because “it” is not an “it” at all. This conflation isn’t too big a problem with other verbs, such as “dance”, or abstracts, such as “metabolism”, because we have culturally understood them as verbs and abstracts, thus a dance or a metabolism can HAVE qualities in a conceptual sense, without raising or changing the conceptual status of either–we don’t run the risk of “metabolic dualism”….

  2. Thanks Chris!

    It seems that we agree that one of the roots of the problems is noncritical usage of the words like “mind”, “consciousness”, “experience”, “appearance” and so on. That’s why one of the relations I’ve drawn in older posts on the blog is to ordinary language philosophy (Ryle and Austin).
    I’m thinking of writing one post, where I would draw some such relations between this solution that is proposed here, and different philosophers/philosophies. (I absolutely love when I find the same ideas already being written by other people!)

  3. Interesting work Tanasije. My main comment is that what you describe is essentially what I understand to be the Russellian stance (you called it categorical phenomenalism, maybe you have a different idea in mind?).
    My minor comment is that I don’t see the physical laws as metaphysically necessary. This seems to leave out the possibility that they only apply in an approxmiation to what is going on. Thanks,
    – Steve

  4. Hi Steve,

    From what I was have heard about Russelian stance, it says roughly that what we know as physical particles and know just from their behavior ‘in their nature’ (or for themselves?) are really atoms of consciousness and it is this ‘inner nature’ which is the base for why they show dispositions that they do. And when put into specific configurations like brains we get the specific construct which is consciousness. I hope I’m not too far from his views, because it is on base of this understanding that I will point to differences like:

    1) In view I was describing there is no “phenomenal experience” which would be built-up from the atoms of consciousness which are present in the basic matter. Colors, sounds, etc… are seen as in the world, as aspects of the world, the same way physical particles are. The subjects are seen as perceivers, so the it is not just about the brains, but about the whole subject/world context. (and really about whatever is actually going on).

    2)The physical is seen as an aspect itself, and especially the basis for what is seen in that aspect is not seen as belonging to the particles, but to whatever is actually going on. And their behavior IS NOT at all seen based in some categorical properties, but as said is assumed to be metaphysically necessary relations, which come from the nature of the relation between the subjects and the world.

    3)’Being a subject’ is then as a predicate not result of any ‘construction’, it is yet another aspect of whatever is going on, and it has further physical and other aspects. And it is because those are aspects, that we are seeing correlation, while still there being the necessary metaphysical relations which we are seeing in the physical aspect.

    4)So that physical laws are metaphysically necessary seems to me quite central to this view. It is because otherwise it is hard to see how one can make sense of such determinate relations between properties of particles, given that the physical is seen merely as an aspect of whatever is actually going on.

    Certainly there are lot of connections and distinctions to draw, but as I said, i have just basic understanding of Russelian view (at least I hope I have), so hope this few differences I mentioned make some sense :)

    BTW, as for the approximations, the metaphysical necessity Px->Qx doesn’t say that whatever is going on in the physical aspect will be fully determined by the physical laws, because predicating P to x works ONLY to certain amount (that is only if one is forcefully keeping such ‘artificially clean’ aspect, or because of random circumstances).However because everything is only an aspect of whatever is actually going on, neither of the cases can last forever.

  5. Well, I would describe the Russellian stance slightly differently and maybe that’s why I saw similarities. What we describe as physical entities and the laws which link them are the dispositions of things or events – another way of saying this is that we can only describe as physical the relations between natural systems as they interact. Events have aspects which “outrun” these dispositional or relational aspects. This is their categorical aspect. The categorical aspect is the “carrier” of the physical relationships (this part may be different than your idea).

    The next step is, as you say, to propose that the categorical aspect of events is, at least in part, phenomenal, since phenomenal facts known via experience are the only intrinic, non-dispositional facts we are familiar with. This was not Russell’s starting point as I understand it, however. He started by making note that our descriptions of the physical world were only descriptions of relations and dispositions (which I thought similar to your description of the physical as an aspect of what was going on). It is possible that the categorical nature of things is not exclusively phenomenal.

    To try to connect this with your comments, I would propose we could think of each event (preferring an event ontology to an object ontology) having the “objective” dispositional aspect (which we model in physics) and a subjective experiential aspect (as a previous commentor noted, this is in the spirit of Whitehead, also more recently Gregg Rosenberg). So subjectivity is ubiquitous. How exactly the human version of a subject is “constructed” from more basic events is a practical question to be worked on. But the subjects exist in the world beyond the human brain/body system.

    (I admit to still being unclear why you say physical laws would be metaphysically necessary on your view, but this confusion is surely my fault).

  6. Thanks for clarifying Steve!

    I think what you said make it more easy for me to point to the differences…
    “I would propose we could think of each event (preferring an event ontology to an object ontology) having the “objective” dispositional aspect (which we model in physics) and a subjective experiential aspect (as a previous commentor noted, this is in the spirit of Whitehead, also more recently Gregg Rosenberg)”

    But the view I’m buying is not like that… the colors, sounds, and other things which are “returned” to the world are not in the experiential aspect. Or they are no more “experiental” and no less “objective” than things like length in time and space, movement and so on… And also, the physical aspect is not seen as being defined as dispositional. That kind of distinction is not drawn at all. Instead physical is defined by the possibility of quantification of time and space, and then movement and related measurables, and what is characteristic about this physical aspect – namely the relations which are described through physical laws are seen as being metaphysically necessary – a consequence of the very nature of the measurements.

    Also, though I’m using ‘whatever is actually going on’ to point to actuality, and in part to go beyond the simple being towards becoming, this should be taken as merely a working term. I’m sure that ‘becoming ontology’ is much better than ‘being ontology’, but I would think that there might be further categories which better ‘capture’ the nature of the actuality.

    As for the physical laws being metaphysically necessary, I doubt that it is your fault. Can you try to point to what is making it confusing?

  7. First, with regard to your statement that “colors, sounds,” etc. which are “returned” to the world are not in the experiential aspect: if they are not experiential and are not physical and not categorical, what are they?

    Then you say: “And also, the physical aspect is not seen as being defined as dispositional. That kind of distinction is not drawn at all.”
    Then: “Instead physical is defined by the possibility of quantification of time and space, and then movement and related measurables, and what is characteristic about this physical aspect”

    I think that second part is exactly what a Russellian would say! The definition of dispositional is what can measure and quantifiy through relations and interactions (in the laboratory or wherever). We never see a particle, we only can measure its properties of spin, charge, etc. through its interaction with another particle or measuring device. We don’t know spacetime geometry except via the relations between and among matter-energy events/interactions.

    The “metaphysically necessary” part confuses me because I view physical laws as not metaphysically necessary by definition — they are nomologically necessary.

    You are developing your own unique perspective on the mind/body problem and I don’t want to try to fit you into the views of previous philosophers, but I do see similarities. And an ontology of “becoming” does sound like Whiteheadian process philosophy :)
    – Steve

  8. Thanks for the further comments Steve,

    Colors, sounds are there as aspects of the things, also there are animals with their abilities to perceive those things and their aspects, and so on. All those in turn are aspects of whatever is actually going on, and these different aspects are falling into lots of different categories. So, there is no separate categorical aspect – all those, physical aspect, colors, sounds, things, events, animals with abilities, and so on, are aspects of ‘whatever is actually going on’.

    I think it might be clear then, why I don’t equate physical with dispositional. It is because dispositions can be found on level of other categories too – for example in the categories of animals or subjects. Neither the fact that something is observable isn’t there characteristic merely of the things withing physical aspect, as, other aspects are directly perceivable and open to empirical investigation (here I might point e.g. to intentional acts, which would fall into separate category). [BTW, seems that we agree on the relations between physical categories and those of space/time]

    As for the physical laws, it is true that usually we are distinguishing nomological and metaphysical necessity. But that is only because it is commonly agreed that physical laws are contingent. So, I don’t think there is definitional problem there. I think the best way I can explain the idea, is through comparing this proposed metaphysical necessity of physical laws to the mathematical necessity of the mathematical theorems. So, similarly to how we can have geometrical aspect of the things, for which necessary relations according to mathematical theorems will hold, in similar way, for the physical aspect, the necessary relations according to metaphysical truths would hold.

    BTW, don’t get me wrong about disagreement that the view is same as categorical phenomenalism. I absolutely love when I find support for my thoughts in great philosophers, and I prefer for the view not to be unique :). However, in this case I’m not seeing the right parallels to draw. What I usually connect to is the ordinary language philosophy (Ryle/Austin) and Hegel.

  9. I see. One difference perhaps is that I was accepting that everything out there in the world is reducible to a basic level of events, and I have believed that at this level the dispositional and categorical aspects are exhaustive of all aspects. The dispositional properties here are identified as those of basic physical entities. I wasn’t worried about dispositions of the variety of middle and higher level entities (like animals) which are part of our everyday discourse as well as our sciences other than physics.

    And I think I see now how you are using metaphysical necessity. Given a certain arrangement of what’s out there, a description of the physical aspects is entailed.

    I read Hegel carefully some years ago. The Ryle/Austin I never seriously looked at, so that is a gap in my understanding.

  10. I’m glad I succeeded to clarify the position somewhat.

    I would recommend Ryle’s The Concept of Mind. While I think he goes too far into some specific kind of behaviorism, I think there is very nice arguments in the direction of clarifying what we mean by “mind”, and related notions.

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