Thursday, July 05, 2007


George Molnar sets out 5 key features of power properties: directedness, independence (they exist whether manifested or not), actuality, intrinsicality, and objectivity (mind-independence). His discussion of directedness is very interesting, as he argues that the directedness of powers has all the elements associated with intentionality. Therefore, the existence of (mind-independent) causal power properties means that physical intentionality is a ubiquitous feature of the world. (Please note the title of this post is my creation, and not a term used by Molnar).

The paradigm accounts of intentionality are those of mental intentionality due to Brentano and like-minded philosophers. In fact, Brentano took intentionality to be what distinguishes the mental from the physical. In philosophy of mind, a debate of the following sort has taken place: a dualist would make the case for the uniqueness and irreducibility of mental intentionality; a materialist would (rarely) claim that introspectively revealed intentional mental states are illusory, or would (more commonly) argue that physical things also exhibit intentionality and either take an instrumentalist rather than realist view of the whole phenomenon, or suggest a way to reduce it to non-intentional physical description. The dualist might counter that the examples of physical intentionality (a map, for instance) are all examples of derived intentionality with true mental intentionality being the origin of these seeming cases. (There is obviously immensely more to these debates than this caricature: see this SEP article).

Molnar turns this all around. He accepts the existence of mental intentionality and argues that “something very much like intentionality is a pervasive and ineliminable feature of the physical world.” (Emphasis original, Ch.3, p.61).

He presents these parallels between the directedness of powers and the intentionality of mental states:
1. Physical powers, like mental states, are directed towards something beyond themselves. In the case of the power, it is directed toward its manifestation.
2. In both cases, they can exist even if their intentional object does not exist. A power can remain unmanifested.
3. There can be indeterminacy about the intentional object. The power can be a propensity toward a manifestation.
4. Finally, Molnar describes a parallel between two semantic criteria for the intentional as applied to the two cases: the non-truth functionality of the intentional reference and referential opacity.

Molnar considers several possible objections to the notion of physical intentionality.

He looks at objections which try to point out other distinctive aspects of mental intentionality which counter the analogy. It seems there can be impossible intentional objects and absolutely unique intentional objects in the mental realm but not in the physical. He thinks there are merits to these cases of potential disanalogies, but in the first case, representations of impossible objects are a minor and atypical example of mental states, and in the second the uniqueness seems to depend on the experiential rather than the intentional nature of the state. These cases don’t make intentionality the demarcation between mental and the physical. So the analogy seems robust enough.

The most important possible objection has to do with the relationship between intentionality and meaning. Mental states are directed toward their intentional objects by representation, where the representation (whether pictorial, symbolic or in some other form) provides meaning. The states are “about” the objects. It seems we can’t extend this to the physical: power properties do not represent. Solubility is directed toward the dissolving of the solid, but doesn’t feature a representation of the event: it isn’t “about” it, in that way. Molnar’s strategy, here again, is not to deny the presence of semantic properties of mental states, but to loosen the tie between representation/aboutness and intentionality by pointing out paradigm cases of mental intentionality which do not include aboutness.

He points out that even in the case of perception, the perception cannot be wholly reduced to a representation. But he concedes it still has a great deal to do with representation. A much better example to use for a mental state without representation is in the realm of bodily sensation, and specifically pain. Pains are mental states which meet the four criteria for intentionality discussed above. But do pains have meaning above and beyond these intentional features? Are there representational features? Molnar says no: “…a headache does not represent my head hurting, it is my head hurting.” (Emphasis original, p. 77) The only sense it makes to say that the pain represents the bodily hurt involved is in a sense where you might say an effect represents its cause. And of course one could say this in cases of physical causation as well. If this is meaning, it is a form of natural, non-representational meaning. Molnar expands on the example to assert there are two kinds of mental intentionality, roughly corresponding to a traditional distinction between the rational and the sentient. The first can be analyzed in terms of representational content of the state, the second cannot. The second kind is the kind which is also true of the power properties of the physical world.

A last objection, of interest to me of course, is referred to by Molnar as “the threat of panpsychism” (p.70; why it is so darn “threatening”?). The argument is that the case for physical intentionality actually makes the case that the mental realm is co-extensive with what we think of as the physical realm. Molnar says he would not endorse this argument, because while he is ruling out using intentionality to demarcate the mental from the physical, there should be other ways of doing so, such as the “capacity for consciousness”. But, alas, this goes beyond the aims of the book. It is my view that the most elegant and compelling metaphysical account sees the human mind as a (particularly interesting) complex instance of a natural causal nexus which is ontologically grounded in the same way as the rest of the universe. No ontological demarcation is needed or wanted.


Michael said...

Hi Steve,

I haven't read the Molnar. The idea of physical intentionality and the idea about non-representational intentionality are interesting, but Molnar's case doesn't sound that compelling. It sounds like he might need to divorce consciousness from representational content, which seems undesirable to me. I mean, it seems that pain is very informative about very important changes in parts of our body--if we use something other than the conscious pain itself to compute/interpret the situation and react to it and learn from it--then what good is the pain?

In any case, I wanted to ask about a way of thinking about intentionality that recently occurred to me as I've been learning more about panpsychist ideas. I used to think of intentionality as a second hard problem, because the intentionality of our conscious states seems to be intrinsic to them, and getting a naturalistic theory of intrinsic intentionality seemed intractable (do you think Molnar did it? Or Dretske? Anyone?).

I would have rejected what I think you called instrumentalism about intentionality, again on the basis that I experience conscious meanings, which shows they are intrinsic to my brain state (doesn't it? I guess I'm admitting I don't buy externalist arguments). This instrumentalism you mentioned would be associated with Dennett-like characters, right?

But I think I've come to a new instrumentalism within a panpsychist context, which goes something like this: matter has (proto)experiential properties, and evolution/learning arranges these to correspond to the structure of the external world. So perception is perception of our brain, not the external world, but our brain states form a map of the world, and we base our often successful actions on the world on these representations, so we treat them as if they directly point to the external world.

It seems to me that in this scheme, there is no intrinsic intentionality, there just SEEMS to be. But I'm not just denying the phenomenon, like Dennett when he says we just SEEM to be conscious, because I say we really are conscious of these phenomenal properties that we use to represent the external world. But the redness of a red quale has no essential connection to apples and whatnot; it's actually a property of my brain. --As we have kind of known for millenia, until these crazy externalists came along...

So I know it's just a cartoon...but, God help me, doesn't this picture solve all the Hard Problems!?

Steve said...

Hi Mike: That's very interesting - I've got some thoughts in response to this, but it may be a day or two before I respond. Thanks alot, - Steve

Steve said...

As you can tell, Molnar's account of a continunity between mental and physical intentionality is attracitve to me. I don't think he fully naturalizes mental intentionality, because he would need to more fully explore the relationship between consciousness and intentionality then he did in this book. I think Dretske's effort is good, but his information-centric conception is too deflationary for me. And, yes, Dennett is most prominent as taking an instrumentalist view of intentionality.

I think the hard problem and the problem of intentionality are the same problem. At the fundamental level of nature, each causal nexus has both a experiential and intentional aspect.

Now, to your account. Yes, it's always helpful to take an evolutionary perspective on things. Human consciousness (in its aspect as raw first-person subjective experience) is founded on the experiential (or proto-experiential) nature of what composes it. And I think you're right that given the structure of our brain/body system, internal representations are a distinctive feature of our consciousness. (And this is why I agree with you that radical externalism is clearly wrong). But I disagree with your account, in that consciousness and intentionality go beyond (outrun) representation. The simplest of our experiential states, like those of our earliest living ancestors, lack representational content. Intentionality and simple experience exist without explict representation in these cases.

I thought Molnar's pain example was pretty good, although it seems you disagree (the pain in my leg doesn't represent the pain in my leg is just is it). I think the simple sense of touch brings us close to the phenomenon in question. If I have the barest physical contact with a wall in the dark, I don't think I represent the wall (I don't yet know what the object is in this example). Think of our one-celled relatives extending an appendage and coming into contact with a neighboring object. There is no brain or nervous system, but there is intentionality and proto-experience.

What do you think?
- Steve

Michael said...

Actually I think we are closer than you thought. I'll try to tease out the parts where I'm in the most doubt and we might differ.

In the account I sketched I did intend that consciousness would outrun representation: I postulated that matter has some kind of experiential properties even before evolution starts to use them for representation or for anything at all.

As for the intentionality, I'm still trying to absorb this idea of directedness without aboutness (and I still haven't read the book that explains it...). In my sketch of a theory I was thinking of intentionality as something like "about external things." But if I were persuaded that it would be a good idea to enlarge the concept along Molnar's lines then I would grant that kind of proto-intentionality to the raw matter too. The thing is, to be intrinsically "about" something else seems much harder than to be intrinsically "about" yourself. So I'm resisting (a bit) this suggestion to lower the intentionality bar.

Also, my feelings about pain (so to speak) are in a state of flux at the moment. I think here too I'm close to where you are. I see that pain doesn't imply a concept of some external cause. And I strongly resist attempts to convince me that the functional meaning of pain (i.e. "bad,stop") are merely functionally determined. That is, pain seems intrinsically to feel bad, not just because it plays that role in some reward-punishment learning algorithm. A friend cited dissociative anesthesia in which patients report still feeling the pain but not being worried about it, as evidence that pain can be dissociated from its aversive role. I don't find this convincing, because it seems one could interpret the patients' reports as being about associated body sensations as opposed to the pain per se. Is this close to how you think of pain?

(Incidentally, if pain really does carry its functional meaning intrinsically, AND it is functionally efficacious, someone (us!) should come up with a toy model for how it influences physical states.)

On the other hand, do we ever feel pain without feeling it as distributed in some particular way throughout our body? If not it would seem to be bound up with a representation of our body or of space. On the other other hand, even if pain is always bound up with a spatial representation in human consciousness, that doesn't mean it always had to be that way.

So except for my quibble about intentionality I think my view is close to yours. So, in your view, the dual hard problem of consciousness and intentionality are solved by postulating panexperientialism? (If we're modal or moral realists that might leave us with just one or two more hard problems to go!) Do you think pain intrinsically carries a functional meaning? In our one-celled (or one-molecule!) ancestors, does pain influence the physical dynamics? I think there are one or two wild but provocative papers about this, but I can't remember where...


Steve said...

I understand your comments on intentionality. It's not very clear where "aboutness" bleeds into "directedness" and whether the latter stretches the term too much.

With regard to pain, I think its experiential aspect can't be reduced to the functional aspect, but I'm not sure it makes sense to say the concept doesn't also include the functional aspect. (But as to the fact that it is apparantly spatially located in the body, I didn't see this as necessarily making it representational.) So, I guess Im saying pain is intrinsically both experiential and functional, just as all fundamental events in a panexperientialist metaphysics are.

Justin said...

Hi Steve.
Nice post, and interesting discussion.
I don't know that much about representationalism so could be barking up the wrong tree here, but I tend to favour the view that what started out as direct perception at the molecular and cellular level became representational perception with the evolution of the brain (so the pain on bumping into the wall is derived from the brain's representation or map of the body).

Charles Hartshorne and others had the view that we (our conscious selves) "feel the feelings" of our pain receptors, but in the light of what neuroscience tells us I no longer find this view very tenable. My thoughts on this on my blog are here:

Steve said...

Thanks for your thoughts Justin. I know you've done a lot of good thinking on this topic.

Michael said...


Justin, I just read (quickly) through your interesting post on "Direct" vs "Contructivist" forms of panexperientialism. I agree broadly with the picture you sketched, where direct perception gradually evolved to become representational perception.

I have a bit of a problem with the formulation of the DP view as being about direct perception (in the brain) of external or peripheral entities: then it's not really direct. The realistic, modern idea of DP, it seems to me, should be that the molecules (or whatever) directly perceive their own state, not something else. If you use a form of DP that is about perceiving external things, it's hard for me to see how you could believe that molecules or cells could do it.

On this view of DP, even after representational perception has evolved, it would still be correct to say that we directly perceive our own brain state; it's just that we use that perception for representing external things.

I'm also having trouble letting go of the intuition that the affective (pain/pleasure) aspect of experience is fundamental. As we've said, the "badness" of pain seems pretty intrinsic, rather than being arbitrarily determined by its functional role. It also seems to me that one could maintain a constructivist account about human consciousness but while accepting some kind of affect at the bottom level. So, for example, our molecular or cellular ancestors might feel a diffuse undirected badness in some states, where we feel a more representationally complex pain that includes information about location in the body and so on. Do you see a problem with this view?

Steve, here's the somewhat wild paper I was trying to think of earlier, which models how pain shifts quantum probability amplitudes and describes some experiments (!) to test the idea:

I don't think the experiments are feasible or realistic at this point, and the author doesn't seem too sensitive to conceptual ("philosophical") issues surrounding causal efficacy vs epiphenomenalism, and his model appears to be predicting violations of quantum theory; so its value may be limited. On the other hand we have precious few ideas about how to conceive of an efficacious consciousness and what its specific effects might be...can we think of a better toy model? (Or perhaps I'm being to hasty in considering violations of quantum theory to be a liability of his model, as these violations might "cancel out" in unorganized inanimate matter.)

Justin said...

Hi Mike

Direct Perception is probably not the best to way to phrase it, but I had in mind the Whiteheadian notion of prehension where an experiential event or occasion (in a cell or molecule say) inherits some of the feeling or “affective tone” of events in the surrounding environment .

The main argument in my post was that the view that feelings are transmitted from the external environment to the body parts and then the brain (such that, for example, the emotional feel of redness is partially derived from the affective character of the photons themselves) seems unnecessary or redundant in the light of neuroscience.

However, I too find the intuition that the affective aspect of experience is fundamental a strong and appealing one, just that I’m not sure that a Whiteheadian metaphysics forms a sound basis for it.

Michael said...

Ah, I see. I'm still fairly ignorant of Whitehead, having mostly heard about him through Griffin and others. I thought maybe your were talking about old-school theories (which I don't think are completely dead yet) in which we somehow "directly" perceive the red of the apple which were were told was an objective property of the apple.

So I think we find ourselves roughly in agreement.

So, if we go with the intuition that AFFECTIVE aspects are the fundamental source of causally EFFECTIVE consciousness, what kind of toy model(s) do we get? Do we have to postulate violations of physical theory like the Mould paper I cited above? Or could we somehow adopt a Rosenbergian approach, in which we postulate that all causality involves an experience dynamic, but it usually "cancels out" and doesn't manifest itself on a large scale unless organized by for example a brain? If the latter, how do we recognize the causal power of affect in the physical dynamics--do we just say all natural individuals by definition are following their intrinsic "desires" to minimize "pain"?

I feel like a question remains about how a painful state in our brain exerts an effect on neural activities. Maybe one could imagine the outline of an answer in which natural individuals correspond to entangled quantum states, and condensation effects analogous to superconductivity represent the physics that corresponds to Rosenberg's elemental individuals grouping into higher level natural individuals (like us). I think he touched on a possibility like this.

I'm just struggling to come up with a picture of how pain could manifest itself physically and influence dynamics... Do you guys have or know of any suggestions?

Steve said...

Let me back up a moment. In the post and my first comments I was happy to use human pain of an example of non-representational intentionality in order to lend credence to the case for the existence of physical intentionality.

Then we continued the discussion on the question of how the experiential aspect of pain is related to the functional aspect, and what this means for role experience plays in simpler non-human contexts.

Justin's comment was then timely in that his post raised the issue that even if pain isn't explicitly representational, the experience of pain (as well as its functional role) is still constructed in us by our nervous system. And further it seems the gap between our first person experience of pain and the experience of some living (or non-living) system which lacks a nervous system is probably so great that drawing analogies about how the experiential aspect of causation in these cases relates to our feelings a la Hartshorne is probably off-base.

We all share an intuition that our simplest feelings are the closest analogues available to the most fundamental experiences in nature, but I'm not sure we can get this intuition to do any work.

Mike - I don't think Rosenberg addressed specifically the process whereby the experiential is leveraged up to our level, except to argue that experience is part of all causal events and then show a model of how causal nexii are built up into higher-level individuals (in the abstract).

At this point I kind of run out of gas and say that: 1. We conclude that experience is a part of every causal event in nature. 2. Experience is leveraged to a uniquely robust degree in humans. But 3. we still can't really know "what it is like" for simpler systems and how that qualitatively relates to our own experience. This makes it difficult to discuss analogies between the role played by pain in us vs. that of other individuals.
(I will check the link, though, I havent' done that yet.)

Justin said...


I’m not all that familiar with Rosenberg or QM, but think (subject to some reservations such as those I’ve mentioned) the Whiteheadian view of a dominant series of occasions (which constitute our conscious selves) influencing subsequent occasions involved in motor behaviour is the best model of how affect might influence physical dynamics I’ve come across. In terms of how this might pan out in terms of the nuts and bolts of physical theory I’ve not seen much, but you might be interested in papers by Whitehead influenced physicist Henry Stapp
. I agree with Stapp (and Griffin) that experience could influence behaviour without contradicting physical theory, though think the other option that affect runs parallel to or is epiphenomenal to physical dynamics is also viable.

But I agree with Steve that in view of the disanalogy between brain-generated experience and that of the simplest non-representational physical systems, the rationale for generalising affect to such systems tends to drop out. Metaphorically speaking, I like the notion that the attractive or repulsive character of the fundamental forces reflects a subjective aspect of “proto” pleasures and pains, but given the brain-particle disanalogy I am not sure there is much use to this notion from a philosophical or scientific point of view.

On the other hand, I think the argument of Cairns-Smith and others that feelings are appropriately “nice or nasty” in ways that enhance survival supports the view that feelings can influence behaviour, even if we don’t know how. From this basis of the causal efficacy of feelings there may be another avenue to posit some sort of fundamental link between affect and causation. I don’t know if anyone has tried to get that sort of model off the ground (though Nietzsche’s “Will to Power” and his continental interpreters spring to mind).

Steve said...

Looking at the paper by Moulds and the last couple of comments, I want to try to clarify something.

If one is a panexperientialist, then it generally does't make sense to talk of experience impacting a physical system. That's sounds more like an interactionist dualist talking. All natural events have an experiential dimension.

But then we do face the combination problem. How does the human mind as a large macroscopic system accomplish the apparant binding and coordination of sub-systems which comprise it? Then it becomes again tempting to analyze our experience for clues as to how this happens.
But still I think that if, say, quantum superpositions and the quantum zeno effect have a role to play in this, then the scientific description will have to be established independent of the phenomenology which may accompany it. I guess I'm feeling a bit skeptical that the phenomenological side will lead the effort.

Michael said...

Hi Guys

Thanks for some very interesting thoughts.

Is it realistic or potentially fruitful to draw an analogy between human pain and "molecular feelings"? You both say not really. Following Cairns-Smith's "evolutionary accessibility" argument though, I remain open to the possibility that the brain evolved to take advantage of the molecular feelings, so that although they may be amplified and focused (or whatever metaphor we feel is appropriate), they are somehow the same. (Albrecht-Buehller's microtubule intelligence experiments might help to bolster such a view.) If they aren't, don't we lose the power of the panexperientialist solution to the hard problem?

But, assuming we're not convinced we can relate our feelings to the proto-feelings, do we need to? I.e. don't we want a toy model of efficacious consciousness even if we can't make a direct analogy with human pain? Steve seems ready to accept a postulate that says every cause carries experience (a la Rosenberg). I'm still struggling with this proposal, although I do find it attractive. If this is the answer though, then it seems we get back into Cairns-Smith's dilemma for epiphenomenalism (even though the R-model is not technically ephiphenomenalist since experience is postulated to be necessary for all causality): that is, it's hard to see why or how we evolved unified feelings and conscious representations that are apparently RELEVANT as guides for adaptive behavior. Don't we?

His higher-level individuals explain how one could build unified percepts like we have...but if there is nothing causally special about the higher-level individuals, then how can natural selection get a grip on them? Am I missing something basic?

Now, I mentioned somewhere that Rosenberg's model allows for higher-level emergent causal properties, and these might represent empirical predictions of (versions of) his model (though he denied that his model had or could have any!). I further conjectured that the higher-level effects might map onto quantum condensation effects analogous to superconductivity. But in a bare version of his model, where higher-level causal properties are reducible, so there really are no empirical consequences of the model, do we still have the Cairns-Smith problem? (Incidentally, I think that Cairns-Smith evolutionary argument is originally due to William James.)

Steve, you're worried that I'm sounding like an interactionist dualist and seem to think this incompatible with pan-experientialism. Well, I know dualism is a bad word these days but there are all sorts of dualism. And if you're looking to the quantum zeno effect you might have a form of dualism on your hands again. I mean, if the "wave-function collapse" is real, it's ontological causal mechanism number two, though we could still have just one or no "substances."

Also, though I'm only familiar with Whitehead via Griffin, didn't Griffin have a sort of dualistic kind of panexperientialism with preliminary stage to every event before it gets actualized? My memory is very hazy about it so I'll shut up about it now.

But Stapp. Justin, I'm somewhat familiar with Stapp's ideas. To me there are two Stapp's: the old binding Stapp and the new Zeno Stapp. I like the binding argument he made, but I'll focus here on the quantum Zeno picture. As I recall, he's somewhat glib about our free will as experimenters. He says it's built into quantum theory. Well, even if true that doesn't explain it. Even if we believe him we want to know if he's talking about some non-physical substance that implements our free will and imposes it on our brains. I mean, if it's just a property of everything in the universe how does it get harnessed for cognitive purposes in our brain? In particular, how does natural selection act on that mechanism? If it does at all, aren't we violating what I've been calling the "bare" Rosenberg solution to the hard problem? And wouldn't we need to look for explicit ways that the "conscious aspect" or "conscious phase" of the one substance (or vacuum) can impinge on physical dynamics?

Steve said...

First, thank you very much for the dialogue.

Let me respond and try to clarify my thinking on a couple of your last points.

“If they aren’t, don’t we lose the power of the panexperientialist solution to the hard probem?”
No, experience is ubiquitous in nature. This conclusion isn’t changed if my point is right that the gap between our kind of experience and the elementary kind is too large to say with any confidence that the feelings in each case are qualitatively very much alike.

But I see your point – if we understood why feelings are functionally relevant in us and could relate it to the role elsewhere in nature that would be helpful.

As you note, though, I think there’s a danger of becoming interactionist when we seem to consider the “impact” of feelings on function, instead of working with the idea that experience and function always go together.

Perhaps there is some way the phenomenology helps guide us toward the answer, but I fear we won’t make progress until we identify a physical mechanism which matches the experience. Maybe binding and decision making via quantum coherence and measurement will come to be seen as the third-person correlate of our conscious experience after all. It’s the only plausible idea out there as far as I can see right now.

You said: “…if the ‘wave function collapse’ is real, its’ ontological causal mechanism number two…”
No, every causal event is a collapse of a wave function. The question is do large biological systems maintain coherence among their sub-systems and then coordinte collapse across macroscopic distances? And if we find that such a mechanism is actually part of archaic living things, then it would seem right that natural selection could work on extending such a capability.

Justin said...

Hi again

I agree Michael that the Whitehead-Griffin model could be characterised as a form of dualism (even interactionist dualism, though Griffin eschews this term)- each “occasion” has a temporally finite subjective phase which then becomes objective data for subsequent occasions.

On this model, the subjective phase of the occasion is where an element of self-determination comes into play. This self determination is generally irrelevant at the level of objects following approximately deterministic laws (if we continue with the ‘molecular feelings’ track, such laws might be called the ‘habits’ of nature which persist as they ‘feel right’), but become relevant in organisms such as humans.

I also agree that the view that experience and function always go together but that experience doesn‘t really impact of function - which, following Griffin, I‘ll call ‘parallelism’ - needs to account for the apparent adaptive relevance of phenomenology. On the face of it, under parallelism there does not seem to be any evolutionary explanation as to why bodily damage feels bad, hunger feels bad, sex feels good, the sight of a predator feels scary, and so forth.

Griffin’s argument that the assumption that experience influences function is a necessary presupposition of human activities, including science and philosophising, is also not a bad one in my opinion. On this view, the fact that there are currently no good third-person explanations as to how feelings might affect function is not critical, as long as the empirical data do not flatly contradict the non-parallelist presupposition.

But of course it would be good if there were empirical data and theories which supported the presupposition. In this respect, the discovery of quantum effects at the biological level, such as in your last intriguing post Steve, could have eventual relevance.

Michael said...

Hi Fellas

Re: human vs molecular experience--ok, I'm retreating: I can see that even if we can't conceive of similarities, in panpsychism we at least seem to have a potentially self-consistent solution to the hard problem.

I just picked up Volume 1 on Schopenhauer's World as Will and Representation. He would seem to be the grand-daddy of Western panpsychists--no? (Well, I guess Spinoza would be HIS grand-daddy, and the grand-daddy of the "parallelist" view.) Have either of you guys reviewed his ideas? I'm excited about reading his book... Anyway, he apparently makes a case that we can recognize something about the fundamental nature of reality from our own will, which might be related to the idea that we can recognize something of our own consciousness in the experience of amoebas or molecules. But I'm dropping this idea now, since right now I see no compelling way to argue that it MUST be so (maybe I'll have something more to say after reading the book).

Re: parallelism vs interactionism: thanks Justin for giving parallelism an appropriate name. Steve seems to be committed to parallelism. Although it is difficult to think about interactionism, I cannot quite convince myself so far that it is necessarily incoherent.

Actually, even if I restrict my thinking to quantum models (which frankly I do all the time), both parallelist and interactionist possibilities seem to me to remain open. In the parallelist view a quantum model would explain binding and might allow some kind of genuine freedom explained by special higher-level causal principles a la Rosenberg. Because the binding is related to the function these states are used for, this version of parallelism WOULD have a story to tell about how bound representations could evolve, i.e. why the conscious contents match the functional import of the physical states.

But quantum theory also seems like it could support some kind of interactionist picture because of it's "effective" or apparent duality of its ontology and causal mechanisms. Steve, you said that the only events are wave-function collapse events, but why do you think you can ignore the deterministic Schrodinger evolution that happens in between measurement events? Anyway it seems that we have an ontology with "objective tendencies" on the one hand, and "actualities" on the other. You can try to take the attitude that the wave function doesn't really exist, but it INTERFERES and manifests itself in patterns of actualities (e.g. the double slit interference pattern). If the wave -function were just a representation of our knowledge, I don't see how it could interfere with a system's objective dynamics. So in an objective collapse scenario it seems like quantum theories allow some kind of "effectively dualistic" interpretation even if the dual realities are complementary aspects of one whole reality. I think Bergson's panpsychist dualism is very reminiscent of this kind of quantum picture. Maybe it fits Whitehead/Griffin too.

On the other hand, in trying to flesh out an interactionist picture, it seems like we have to choose between

1) having our causally efficacious "spirit" reproduce physical law, which sounds so much like parallelism that it might reduce to it, or

2) postulating a spiritual dynamic that VIOLATES known physical law. But then if we incorporate the "spiritual dynamic" into science it would seem to become a part of physical law, bringing us back to (1).

So, if interactionism is not actually incoherent, it might take a very clever person to evade the above dilemma. Maybe Bergson did it, or maybe Whitehead...? Bergson seemed to have a principled way of distinguishing "matter" from "spirit," which to me is very difficult because it seems naively if something can AFFECT the physical, it should also be considered physical too. Justin, do you think we have a coherent interactionism on the table?

Best regards,

Steve said...

Mike - I'd look forward to your thoughts on Schopenhauer - I studied him a bit a long time ago, but remember little.

A couple of comments:

1. Parallelism and Interactionism. I don't care for term parallelism for my own view, because I associate it with an ontological dualism where the two spheres of existence happen to move together. On my view the events which make up the concrete world are experiential for the systems directly involved and are only non-experiential (physical) from a third person perspective (epistemic dualism arising from the pluralism of points of view). I don't know if interactionism is incoherent or not, but it again tends to invoke an ontological dualism. The Whiteheadian gloss on interactionism is inoffensive - saying there is a subjective and objective pole to each event (actual occasion). That's a way of explicating the situation which may be OK.

2. Duality in Quantum Mechanics. Now while (as you can tell)I don't like ontological dualisms, I won't deny that there is a dualism of a sort revealed in QM. While measurement events form the concrete world in my view, I can't dismiss the independent reality of the wave function: it is a propensity toward participating in a future event. The event actualizes this propensity. The wave function is not "fully" objective (because its nature is relative to a point of view of the measuring system, not absolute) but it has a form of independent existence, too. This is a difficult idea - that there are two modes of existing - the concrete mode represented by the event and an abstract mode (for lack of a better term) represented by the propensity toward the next event.

Justin said...

Schopenhauer is someone I’ve always thought would be interesting, but have never got around to reading. Skrbina has some brief comments on him in chapter 6 of his thesis covering the history of panpsychism.

I can see your distinction between parallelism and epistemic dualism Steve. Griffin and Whitehead wanting the objectively available phase of an occasion not to occur at the same time as the subjective “for itself” phase makes things messier, but seems to be a consequence of them rejecting ontological dualism but preserving some form of interactionism.

In terms of the interactionist dilemma you’ve posed Mike, their model does not posit physical laws as immutable or inviolable, but as “habits” which may vary depending on the context or evolve over time (the change in fundamental constants such as the speed of light is cited as possible evidence for the latter).

On this view, the series of occasions which constitutes our conscious “minds” may exert “downward” influence such that particles in the brain may at times behave differently from particles outside. This would of course generally be considered sacreligious to most of the scientific community, but seems an empirically open issue to me.


Justin said...

Here is the correct Skrbina link:

Michael said...

I'm in the thick of Schopenhauer (vol. 1) now. I'll just say I find him very exciting and very...Rosenbergian! (Where would be the appropriate place to share some thoughts about Schopenhauer when I'm further along?)

Parallelism & Interactionism -- Steve, is Leibniz the only one who (apparently) advocates the kind of two substance dualism that you associate with the term "parallelism," i.e. the "pre-established harmony"? Other than that could we say that every one is a monist, from the "two-aspect" explicitly monist parallelism of Spinoza to this monist "effective" dualism of Whitehead and Griffin? Similarly, the two modes of existence in quantum theory may be genuinely ontologically distinct, but we still situate them in one self-consistent uni-verse, so I don't think we have to be too worried these dualisms as such...

Over all though Steve, as I've read back over this very helpful discussion, I think I'm coming around to your anti-interactionist view that advocated "work[ing] with
the idea that experience and function always go together." At least until we get empirically to a deeper level...

Now, this could be taken to support what I would call a "naive functionalist" view, in which certain neural architectures are taken to be conscious purely by virtue of instantiating some algorithm that plans or attends or what have you. I don't know if we've discussed this, but to me these theories are fatally flawed roughly because they are trying to equate a relational, observer-dependent property--ie. interpretation as a computer or symbol--with an intrinsic property--ie. consciousness.

In the panpsychist context I think your suggestion points to the need for a psycho-physical mapping at the fundamental physics level (although possibly in the fundamental physics of "higher-level individuals"). So, for example, we should be able to identify the fundamental physical dynamic that corresponds to a generalized notion of "pain," which pushes systems away from painful states. Maybe you guys are right and the funda-mental dynamic won't map in any obvious way onto our own feelings like "pain," but I would argue we still need some mapping between "motives" and "forces."

The only one that comes to mind as consistent is to equate the physical action (in its technical sense) with suffering, since the universe seems to try to minimize its action (in the Lagrangian formulation of quantum or classical dynamics). Have I gone off the deep end?

(Someone named August Stern has written a book about some kind of computational meaning of field theory but I've never gotten my hands on it.)

Justin--I forgot about the "habit" view of natural law... That's another idea that I'm not sure if it's coherent or not. I mean, if the speed of light changes it does so according to some law we don't know about yet, right? Or am I being like Einstein when he proclaimed that God doesn't play dice?

Thanks for that link; I checked out that thesis with the summary of Schopenhauer. It's a fascinating catalogue of thinkers. I'd better not try to comment on it right now though...

Schopenhauer's vision (or theory) speaks to all of these issues in a pretty distinctive and penetrating way. I'd love to hear what you guys think about his big thought, because I think most of the general discussion on him is by artists and musicians, not focusing on mind-body and causal ontology. And he's not going to tell me what he think for example about quantum mechanics--but together we might figure out how his theory reconciles with modern physics and evolutionary theory.

I feel a bit guilty for stealing attention and consideration away from Molnar's book...

Steve said...

Hi Mike:
With regard to creating an appropriate place for your thoughts on Schopenhauer, I have a thought. Could you e-mail me, and I'll share it with you (please use address on the blogger profile page)?

I don't know any other advocates of ontological parallelism off-hand, although I imagine some theists might have such a view.

Your thought on the paralell with minimizing physical action is interesting, and I want to think about that.

Justin said...


Your comments re mapping of motives and forces resonate for me with Aphorism 36 from Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (Nietzsche was heavily influenced by Schopenhauer though claimed - inaccurately perhaps?- to have repudiated him).

I think it’s a wonderful passage, although I think that things tending toward their lowest energy state- eg an electron ‘seeking’ it’s lowest energy orbital- seems to equate more, as you say, with avoiding suffering rather than a “Will to Power” (now I’m getting that ‘deep end’ feeling - oh well, at least there’s some good company there, as Skrbina attests).

I had a brief look at this book - The Quantum Nietzsche - it’s by a professor of French, looks like it could be an interesting read.

Re “law as habit”, intuitively this view feels coherent to me. At any rate, it seems more metaphysically satisfying than the instrumentalist view that fundamental laws and properties are what they are and there’s nothing more to be said on the matter.

I can sort of envisage a Darwinian flux of events with the repetition or persistence of an event being dependent on it’s surrounding context and the interconnectedness of the whole system. Any changes in fundamental laws could perhaps be attributed to “random drift” of the whole system (unless one was so inclined and wanted to impute an overarching will or drive to the universe itself).

Michael said...

Hi Justin,

That is a cool Nietzsche quote that I'll have to chew on some. I haven't looked into Nietzsche for years. Does he ever get systematic about his theory of mind and matter, or is it all sort of poetical "aphorisms" and musings that are hard to piece together? On a first read that passage sounds pretty Schopenhauerian (there's an ugly word), so I'd be very interested to hear Nietzsche's critique of Schop. Aphorism 36 would seem to be in line with parallelism as opposed to interactionism, right?

Re: will to power. At this point I don't see a fundamental difference between the will to live and the will to power. Shop's will to live also seems very like Spinoza's "striving to persist in its existence" by every individual existing thing.

The table of contents of the Nietzsche book made my head spin. Is there really that much in Nietzsche that one can really grab hold of and relate to quantum theory? Well, let us know if you give it a read-through.

Re: law as habit & Darwinian flux--it's just that if we precisely define the Darwinian flux and random drift dynamic, we've got another set of fundamental laws on our hands...but if we don't define them...what have we got? Is it a actually a hypothesis or theory?

Schop. does have a bit more to say about where the fundamental laws and properties come from (I'm still digesting it)...but he still ends up saying there are some things that we have to take as given without a causal explanation.

Justin said...

Hi Mike

- Aphorism 19 from BGE I think may be representative of Nietzcshe’s criticism of Schopenhauer. I think the gist of it is that the will is a lot more complicated than often supposed and it is unwarranted to attribute willing to an “I” or a thing, as opposed to will acting on will ( “our body is but a social structure composed of many souls”).

I don’t know if he has misrepresented Schop, but I think the passage highlights that a clear conception of what is meant by “will” would be needed for any panpsychist extension of the concept. Can you point to any passages which encapsulate how Schop uses the term?

In terms of a systematic theory, most of Nietszche’s writing on the W to P are derived from his unpublished manuscripts - some commentators think a sophisticated and coherent ontology can be made out of these, others not (I’m not sure about that book either - I tried to find a scientifically informed review of it, but no luck).
W to P is definitely closer to parallelism than interactionism, but being a monism probably neither term fits.

With the fundamental laws (and I think this is the realm of metaphysical speculation rather than testable hypothesis) , I see a distinction between a system unfolding according to it’s own internal relations or “immanent” law, and laws as extrinsically imposed constraints. But on the Whiteheadian view, I think the immanent unfolding would also include elements of genuinely indeterminate creativity.

Michael said...

Hi Justin,

Thanks for Aphorism 19, which was straight to the point. I am trying to collect my thoughts about Shop and I will definitely try to find a good representative statement about the will.

Schop does say we can introspectively recognize the conscious phenomena of will as distinct from our conscious representations of objects and their properties. But he certainly does recognize that the will phenomena include many complex and varied feelings that are woven together with our objective representations so tightly that it is ALMOST impossible to pull them apart...

On first reading of Aphorism 19, it seems that at the end Nietszche is explaining that free will is an illusion. I can't tell if this is still directed at Schop. Schop's account of the freedom or lack thereof of the will is...different. Basically he is a determinist about the will, so that I suspect many people would simply classify him as such and leave it at that. However, there is one very important exception to this determinism, which I won't try to explain now, because it's not really like the "man in the street" picture of free will that Niet seems to be deriding.

Our body as "social structure composed of many souls" is a very interesting picture that I think could be read as consistent with Shop.

The thing is, what I get from this passage of N's is a bunch of insights or observations about how complex reality is, and how mistaken people are, but I don't know what he thinks the answers are. One attraction of Shop is how unified his whole theory is, and how everything relates back to his main ideas, which are subtle but at the same time pretty simple and intuitive. I'm going to try to articulate a summary of his vision in words soon...

I am not able to say at this point whether Shop "includes elements of genuinely indeterminate creativity."

Michael said...

One other thing: you mentioned Niet sees will as acting on will rather than belonging to an "I" or object. For Schop, all the phenomena of the world turn out to be phenomena of will, so I think he could agree with Neit that "will acts on will." He might even be where N got the idea.

Justin said...

Hi Mike

I read somewhere that Niet has a “reliable tendency to bite off the hand that feeds him; the thinkers of whom he is most critical are often those from whom he takes the most inspiration”, so his disagreements with Schop may be more subtle than his grandiose statements suggest.

I’ve been reading Richard Schacht’s “Nietzsche”, which does a very good job I think of systematically presenting N’s philosophy (or at least the author’s interpretation of it).

In it, he characterises the Will to Power in it’s most fundamental form as “quanta of force” with the disposition to extend influence over and resist diminution by other quanta. N sees such a disposition having more explanatory power than, say, a will to self preservation.

You mentioned previously re fundamental laws and properties that Schop “ends up saying there are some things that we have to take as given without a causal explanation”. Niet’s system would hold that the behaviour of quanta of force is solely determined by their own disposition and that of those around them, without the need to posit any laws acting over and above this interaction. Perhaps this is an instance of where N might say that his conception has greater explanatory power than Schop’s.

Michael said...

Hi Justin,

It's sort of a shame we've had this discussion in a hidden spot under an almost unrelated post.

I think Nietzsche & Schacht's "quanta of force" picture is still very similar to Shop's picture. You may be thinking that will-to-power is very distinct from will-to-live. However, S's generalized notion of will is meant to underly everything in the objective world, including inanimate physics, not just life. Moreover, he only occasionally calls it the "will to live."

One major difference may be (I'm speculating in ignorance now about what N might think) that N is more of a realist about the objective existence of all the different objects and forces and agents in the world, whereas Shop thinks of all of the objective world in spacetime as arising out of one single will. (It's not God because it is unconscious and has no ultimate purpose.) Nevertheless, different aspects of that one will appear in spacetime as distinct individuals that are often in competition and conflict, just as in the N picture.

So I don't see that the N picture has more explanatory power than S's, because N still has to specify what the elementary "dispositions" are, i.e. the laws of physics.

I'm a few pages from finishing Volume 1 of Shop, and I've started drafting a brief (!) summary of it with emphasis on the mind-body issues we've been talking about...