Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Russell and Whitehead Solved the Problem

I was struck by Carey R. Carlson’s opening lines in the preface to his book, The Mind-Body Problem and Its Solution:

“The mind-body problem demands a description of how the mental and physical parts of the world go together to make up the whole. The problem was solved around 1927 by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead.”

(1927 saw the publication of Russell’s Analysis of Matter, and was the year of Whitehead’s Gifford lectures which formed the basis of his Process and Reality.)

Since I think the Russellian stance on the mind-body problem is superior to the traditional options of dualism and materialism and also think Whitehead’s speculative process metaphysics was far ahead of its time, I was excited to see this passage and curious as to how well Carlson would back it up over the course of a short book. After reading the book I can say I think he did an excellent job in showing how the ideas from these thinkers can be put together into a compelling argument for a more coherent view of the world: that of a causal network of events which share a character which naturally underpins what we characterize as the mental and physical.

Carlson is an independent thinker and writer from Minneapolis who studied philosophy some years ago and concluded Russell and Whitehead had it right. He says he was perplexed that this seemed unappreciated. While he ended up pursuing a career outside philosophy, he finally was able to put together his views on the matter on paper (he put out this book in 2004). He and I corresponded via e-mail recently and that led to my interest in reading his work.

Both Russell and Whitehead explained why you cannot identify the world with our mathematical descriptions of it: you leave out the intrinsic qualitative character of the world we know via experience. Both philosophers showed, in somewhat different ways, that what we think of as mental events and physical events can both fit into a picture of a causal network, whereas our usual intuition of the world as a spatial container holding static objects or substance won’t work – whether one posits one kind of object or two.

Carlson’s outstanding contribution is to carefully describe what this ontology of causal relations can do: it can describe space-time and all that’s in it while also accommodating mental events. He then shows how scientific theory really is an elucidation of a causal web and how it must actually fit into our network of experiences in order to be formulated. This leads to the final postulate that all nature has a sentient character, and that this best explains how mind and world are unified. While I was already sold on this idea, I think Carlson’s book may convince other readers of the merits of a panexperientialist solution to the mind-body problem inspired by sound philosophy of science.

All in all, this book does credit to its ambitious title. Along the way, it is also a fine exposition of some of the work of two of our greatest twentieth century thinkers.

My chapter-by-chapter notes and comments follow below.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In the first chapter, he lays out the problem. Like others, he locates the “hard” problem for materialism in the raw feeling of being or sentience. He speaks of “the sensorium” of unified experience. If materialism or physicalism sees the mathematically characterized world as all that exists, then it does not include nor will it explain sentience – that which is given in phenomenal experience. The mind-body problem could be called the “phenomenology-physics problem”, he says (p.13).

Chapter 2 deepens this discussion, taking a closer look at the history of physics. Even with the advent of modern physics, taking quantum field theory for example, there seems to be a left-over tendency to conceive the world as physical matter or energy existing in a container of physical space. There certainly is no role for mental features in such a worldview.

After touching very briefly on some historical philosophical perspectives in Chapter 3, we start to move toward the solution in Chapter 4 with a review of Russell’s analysis of the world in terms of structure and relations (and specifically causal structure and relations). Here, Carlson pulls relevant passages from Russell’s Human Knowledge (this book I had not read – I had read the Analysis of Matter). Structure is defined as a pattern of relations. Relations relate terms of a class (which is just any definite set of entities). Russell discusses a variety of types of relations: dyadic and higher-order, symmetric/asymmetric, transitive/intransitive. Relata, relations and structure together form a complex, which is a whole or a fact. This approach can be seen as applying to pure mathematics, and it can also be seen as characterizing the phenomena of the world, as presented to us. In physics, we apply mathematics to real world phenomena. But one can’t identify the phenomena as identical with the mathematical description. Here’s a quote from Russell: “There is, however, a very definite limit to the process of turning physics into logic and mathematics; it is set by the fact that physics is an empirical science, depending for its credibility upon relations to our perceptive experiences.”

While Russell’s philosophy of science is obviously not unknown, commentators I have read don’t always stress the role of relations in his analysis. The fact that the world is made of relations (rather than the static objects or “stuff” of our intuitions) is a key point for Carlson, which will also provide the link to the work of Whitehead (Carlson notes with interest the history here: while Russell and Whitehead were famous for their collaboration on the Principia Mathematica, that seemed to be the end of their formal work together – yet the “fingerprints” of this shared history writing the Principia can be seen in their similar later critiques of the role of logic and mathematics in science).

In Chapter 5, Carlson argues that the most basic feature of physics, space-time, can be analyzed in terms of causal structure. Here he gives credit to the role the theory of special relativity played in showing the way forward: in it we can see how causal relations could be responsible for both spatial and temporal order. Since causal relations are relations in time, it is the temporal ordering of events which is fundamental, while the spatial is derived.

Since “real” causation is an asymmetric relation, Carlson shows how we can use arrows to graphically illustrate causal relations. One can see how “space-like” and “time-like” relations between events arise from a causal structure. He then shows how a “particle” could be defined as a recurring pattern of activity -- a certain geometric pattern repeated along a time-like route in a larger causal lattice). One of Carlson’s interesting ideas is that since different numbers of arrows could connect two given events, one gets a notion of relative temporal frequency. This allows for the introduction of the concept of energy into a causal network of events.

With these examples, we can see how the notion of the physical world (traditionally seen as a spatial container plus stuff inside it) can be replaced by a network of time-like causal relations alone. This is consistent with a basic notion of what science does: it looks at the world and analyzes what comes before what. Carlson notes that progress in physics eventually arrived at quantum events – discrete events which “do not admit of further before-and-after analysis” (p.71). These elementary events and the causal connections among them constitute the world. So the physical world is not space plus what it contains, but rather time-like causal relations only. And this picture is one which allows for the solution to the mind-body problem.

In Chapter 6, Carlson argues that mental events can be located in the causal network in the same way as “physical” events. Our experience can be seen as participation in a sequence of time-ordered mental events. So, do mental and physical events “interact”? Interactionist dualism is often seen as an incoherent perspective on the mind-body problem. But we’re not talking about static substances. Russell reminds us that mental events are unavoidably part of the causal network which describes the world, since the structure of physics has to empirically connect to the sensations of the physicist. Mental and physical events are interspersed in the causal network. Now, our human experiences seem very different than the entities of micro-physics, but when you break down it all down, both can be situated in a causal network. “The distinction between mental and physical now hinges upon the assumption that mental events are characterized by sensory qualities, while physical events are not. (p.87)”

Carlson does a good job in this chapter in trying to break down our intuitions, and it’s hard to do it justice in this summary. But I think he does a good job showing how an event ontology can situate the mental as well as the physical in one world-web. Some questions arise here: what are the base-level indivisible quantum events connected by the arrows of causal relations, such that they can form the basis for everything? What is the quantum event’s intrinsic nature?

Heading toward an answer to this is the discussion in Chapter 7. While in Chapter 6 Carlson tries to show how mental events can be situated in a world we think of as physical, in Chapter 7 he (again leveraging Russell) shows that we really do need to invert this. All physical theorizing and experimentation does take place within the context of mental events. This shows there really is no reason to distinguish between the two kinds of events. Science gives us nothing but causal structure. We know some causal events have a mental character and the physical events are only known via the mental.

Russell “stops” at this point. He was agnostic about whether the intrinsic character of the physical (non-directly experienced) events was also of mental or sentient character in any way. He said we just don’t know. Phenomenal character is the only kind of intrinsic quality we’re familiar with, but we can’t know the intrinsic character of the rest. Given this stance, some have cast Russell’s theory as a form of neutral monism.

But Carlson wants to go further, so he states that his final chapter (no.8) “belongs to Whitehead”. Whitehead’s critique of materialism was very similar to Russell’s (for example the first several chapters in his Science and the Modern World). But in Process and Reality, he was much more ambitious. Among other things in that work, he goes ahead and postulates that all events have a sentient character. Carlson endorses the idea that it is both fitting and simpler to posit this, rather than to assume there is some other unknown form of intrinsic content. Further, under this assumption, the world just makes more sense in terms of unifying the human experience with the rest of the world. In Whitehead’s theory, the causal structure of all events are grounded and ordered in the same way.

Carlson does a good job in just a few pages in summarizing some of Whitehead’s ideas. This is difficult because of all of Whitehead’s invented terminology and his hard-to-penetrate prose “style”. Whitehead’s treatment of causation is richer than what Carlson has discussed so far, including the transition from subjective to objective poles for each event, and the inclusion of purpose and self-determination as a causal factor in the setting the course of events. He also discusses Whitehead’s treatment of the unactualized possibilities (eternal objects) which are presupposed by the view that the temporal process establishes the contingent facts of the world. He finally then discusses Whitehead’s theory of how events (occasions) are organized into enduring societies and how the parts work to satisfy the determination of the whole -- a template for describing the human mind.

I don’t have very much critical to say about the book except as it relates to my thinking about what might be added to expand the discussion. Events and causation are the primitives in the theory. Until the final chapter on Whitehead, how causation works is not described. We can probably improve on Whitehead in this area (Gregg Rosenberg’s theory would be one to possibly consider). Related to this would be drawing more connections to an interpretation of quantum mechanics to better describe what is going on in an elementary quantum event and what the status is of wavefunction associated with a quantum system. Also, we need to someday improve on Whitehead with regard to the combination or composition problem – explaining how micro-events clump up into macro-events like the ones making up human experience.


25 comments:

Mike Wiest said...

Hi Steve,

Sounds pretty cool...I hope I get to read it sometime. Especially as I've so far found Whitehead impenetrable, and I had no idea Russell was anti-materialist or even panpsychist...!

Regarding the combination, composition, clumping, chunking, binding problem--what else can really (ontologically) do the job besides macroscopic quantum entanglement in the brain? But my functionalist friend Blue Devil Knight ("some of my best friends are functionalists...") says I'm making a content-vehicle confusion.

One question--in "Unsnarling the World Knot" Griffin described Whitehead's theory as involving some kind of "phasic" dynamic, where there would be a mental phase followed by its physical realization or actualization. Was this present in Carlson's version? Does it map naturally onto the quantum wave-function collapse?

Cheers
Mike

Steve said...

1. I should clarify that Russell stopped just short of endorsing panpsychism. He said physical events have an instrinsic nature beyond the mathematical and logical relations revealed in physics, and, yes, phenomenal qualities are the only intrinsic properties we are acquainted with, but he remained agnostic regarding the whether we should conclude the intrinsic nature of matter is indeed experiential. That's why some interpret his work as supporting a neutral monist as opposted to a panpsychist view.

2. I've gone back and forth but these days I lean toward agreeing with you on a role for quantum coherence/entanglement.

3. Carlson doesn't discuss the process of causation much (he takes causation as a given) until his last chapter which present's Whitehead's model. This, as you note from Griffin, involves a subjective prehension of past occasion(s) transitioning into a determination or actualization phase which results in an objective basis for the next occcasion(s). Since a quantum measurement is also an actualization event - the wave function collapse, we can indeed make a connection here IMO.

Clark Goble said...

I might have to give this book a shot. I've tried getting into Whitehead many times. In many ways he's got a lot of parallels to Peirce (arrived at largely independently although Whitehead's main disciples like Hartshorne were obviously also big Peirceans as well) However ever time I reread his main books or even a few commentaries I have I get the basics but get really hung up on some key issues (such as the nature of time).

Maybe I'll get this one and see if it is more successful.

Steve said...

Hi Clark. I recommend the book, but should mention that a relatively smaller part of it is spent explicitly elucidating Whitehead (mostly the last chapter). More time is spent presenting and expanding ideas from Russell (many of which have parallels in Whitehead to be sure).

Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks for the summary. Does the author discuss the problem of epiphenomenalism in a panpsychist worldview? For me that's the biggest concern.

Mike said:
Regarding the combination, composition, clumping, chunking, binding problem--what else can really (ontologically) do the job besides macroscopic quantum entanglement in the brain? But my functionalist friend Blue Devil Knight ("some of my best friends are functionalists...") says I'm making a content-vehicle confusion.

Heck yeah!

A million neurons talking to each other all at the same time could possibly be a useful clumping/aggregation mechanism However, in a panpsychist worldview, which all this presupposes, it's not clear my content-vehicle criticisms would work.

Say, for fun, that we have physical events that are also mental events, little flashes of red experience. Do these things, from the outside, have to be red? I think that would be weird. This suggests there is still a content/vehicle distinction to be made even within the panpsychist framework.

Steve said...

Hi BDK:
On your first question, the analysis of everything in terms of a causal network means to avoid any possibility of epiphenomenalism. At the micro-level, mental and physical events are not happening in parallel. What we see as mental events and physical events are distinguished only by whether one participates directly or indirectly in the causal chain.

The final panpsychist step is to infer that all events in the causal network are essentially experiential: so no dualism and no epiphenomenalism.

Blue Devil Knight said...

This sounds a lot like Rosenberg, from the little I've read or understood :)

The flat-footed objection is something as caveman-like as "OK, if electrons are conscious, then consciousness is epiphenomenal because you can take away the conscious aspects and retain all the other aspects, even intrinsic aspects relevant to causality other than experience."

So, at least logically, it seems we can strip away the experiences and maintain the same causal fabric. E.g., a billiard ball hitting another billiard ball may have an associated experience, but we can also think of this causal interaction happening the exact same way without the experience associated. What does adding 'oh, and there's experience there too' add to the causal story?

It seems almost like a sleight-of-hand. "OK, there is this problem with panpsychism, that you could strip away the mental properties while keeping the causal properties the same. Hence the experiential aspect of the stuff doesn't actually do anything.

"But here we have a view in which causation and experience are one, so there is no problem!"

OTOH, my ad hoc is someone elses explanans that neatly ties up a bunch of loose ends. So I'm not really giving an argument as much as balking.

So let me try to address your point more directly. You said:
"At the micro-level, mental and physical events are not happening in parallel. What we see as mental events and physical events are distinguished only by whether one participates directly or indirectly in the causal chain."

The first sentence I understand, sort of. The second sentence I am less sure of. Do you mean to say that mental events are those that participate directly in the causal chain? What is it to participate indirectly?

Also, while the mind may be necessary for breathing life into equations, I think we need to be very careful of taking this too far. This could be true and panpsychism false. Our physical theories depend on our minds but are not about our minds, but volcanoes, DNA, and the like. Even if experience is necessary for humans to formulate, verify, and understand scientific theories, that doesn't imply panpsychism. I know you aren't saying that, but a couple of things you said in the summary got sort of close so I'm trying to feel out the logical space here.

For the record, I believe either:
A. Some kind of dual aspect theory/neutral monism (including panpsychism as a special case, as well as bounded-psychism (only a few things are conscious in the universe, just as only some things are harder than coal)), or
B. Some form of eliminativism

are the only real options wrt consciousness ontology.

I don't understand neutral monism well enough to say how it relates to X-psychism (where X is a quantifier over what we normally call physical properties or things such as electrons---as X becomes the 'all', then you have panpsychism). My hunch is that X is small, not the 'for all'.

Note eliminativism isn't as contentious as it is often portrayed, as I don't think consciousness will be really eliminated tout court, but that certain strange theories of it will be modified until it fits more comfortably into the natural world (e.g., the claim by Chalmers that by inspection we see that qualia will never be reduced to causal or functional terms, sometimes taken as definitional of qualia, will be modified).

So I'm not a panpsychism basher in general, I just don't like it because of the above worries about the consciousness in electrons doing nothing, making it somewhat superfluous.

Steve said...

(We are squarely in Rosenberg territory. His analysis of the hard problem in the first few chapters of his book are very much in the spirit of Russell – physical relations need an intrinsic “carrier”. Then he turns to a theory of causation and finds a “place for consciousness” in the causal nexus. Compared to what Carlson discussed and what we’re talking about here, Rosenberg’s theory of causation is more elaborate.)

With regard to your question about what I meant to participate directly in an event vs. indirectly, I just had something simplistic in mind. Say you are conducting a research study and I’m a subject. You electrically stimulate a spot on my cortex causing me to have some experience (the event). I experience the event. You record my report and capture it on the fMRI. You experience the event via those intermediaries. When you publish the study, readers will experience the event at yet a greater distance. For you it is classified as a physical event, while for me it was a mental event. But it was the same event (and Russell thinks it notable that all physical events take place within a web of mental events). Let me know if this makes sense.

BDK, the bottom line is I think you are right in noting that if one adopts a Russellian stance that physical relations need “life breathed into the equations” then the logical options are not limited to panpsychism. One could posit a neutral intrinsic character for micro-phyiscal events and then develop a different story for how human experiences come to arise from this backdrop. (What you cannot do is say the world consists only of non-experiential facts.) The panpsychist believes it is simpler and therefore preferable to posit an experiential character for all events. It is still a problem to figure out how micro-experiences coalesce into macro ones, but there is no ontological leap.

(In fact I just read a paper in the Journal of Consc. Studies by a philosopher named Emmett Holman which discusses just this question. Unfortunately it’s not online, so I’ll post a summary on the blog in the near future).

Blue Devil Knight said...

I understand what you mean by direct vs indirect now. I was thinking it was more esoteric than that :)

BDK, the bottom line is I think you are right in noting that if one adopts a Russellian stance that physical relations need “life breathed into the equations” then the logical options are not limited to panpsychism. One could posit a neutral intrinsic character for micro-phyiscal events and then develop a different story for how human experiences come to arise from this backdrop. (What you cannot do is say the world consists only of non-experiential facts.)

I could say that all experiential facts supervene on (depend on) nonexperiential facts. E.g., experience emerged in evolution, minds in general emerged in evolution from nonmental stuff. Once evolved, they made science and theorizing in general possible. Before that, there was no theorizing, no thought, no mind.

This would be the anti-panpsychist line of course, and the mainstream position (which I tend to prefer to panpsychism).


The panpsychist believes it is simpler and therefore preferable to posit an experiential character for all events.

I think ultimately this should be a sort of quasi-empirical question. We could discover from the study of human consciousness that qualia are only associated with certain bundles of certain types of stuff. To put it stupidly to make the point, perhaps electron-proton interactions but not neutron-proton interactions are conscious. (This is what I was getting at with my horribly opaque description of X-psychism, where X could be 'electron', 'boson', or even 'pan').

I don't see any reasons to prefer on view over another with this, and it isn't clear that X='pan' is any simpler than X='electron' or whatever. The simplest, many would argue is that X is the null set :)

It is interesting, all this work people have been doing to create a space for panpsychism that doesn't fall for the usual problems with more naive dual aspect or dual property theories, in which things run along in parallel so it is easy to imagine stripping away one of the parallel streams without affecting the other. I frankly don't see how it can avoid the problem, but I am also not certain it cannot avoid the problem :)

Mike Wiest said...

Hi Fellas

Content/vehicle: I agree BDK that a content/vehicle distinction will remain useful in the context of a panpsychist theory. We use the same word "red" for the experience and the physical properties that usually trigger the experience, but these are clearly different things. Still, I think my argument that the UNITY of the experience (or content) implies the unity of the vehicle survives even when we make this distinction. I.e. I claim that the unity argument is NOT analogous to saying the neurons responsible for my red quale must themselves be red-colored. As we've discussed before, what I'm doing in the unity argument is, from a general property of my contents, inferring a necessary property of the vehicle. The fact that my percepts have distinct features bound together means that the physical representation must have distinct degrees of freedom bound together.

Re: the carrier solution to the epiphenomenalism problem--I think "my ad hoc is someone else's explanans that neatly ties up a bunch of loose ends" pretty much covers it. We can't really hope to derive the answer to these questions: the best we can do is come up with a "best explanation." (That might follow from Godel, as in the paper by Stanley Jaki that you showed me.)

Re: X-psychism vs pan-psychism. It's interesting to formulate this theory space in terms of X-psychism. I would just submit that there is more than a quantitative difference between X-psychism and pan-psychism, because sub-pan-psychism has a conceptual problem that pan-psychism doesn't have: namely the boundary between the psychic and non-psychic matter, and the issue of strong emergence of a truly new fundamental property. I think this is the "ontological leap" that Steve referred to.

Re: BDK's X-psychist quasi-functionalism. Although I'm fairly hostile to functionalism in general, I'm somewhat receptive to BDK's speculation that in the future we might relax Chalmer's doctrine that qualia can't be reduced to functions (in the causal, not teleological sense). Well, not quite. I can't accept that qualia could be eliminated in favor of functions, or derived from functions, but I can accept that there might be a bottom-level physics that we can identify with qualia or at least "proto-experience." My cartoon for such a theory would be to identify the mental as the "first-person" aspect of the quantum mechanical path integral, which "considers possible actions and chooses an action that is somehow optimal." But I remain hostile towards attempts to identify consciousness with high-level functions or neural architectures, because the boundary between the conscious and unconscious part of the brain then depends on an arbitrary functional decomposition of the brain in the mind of some theorist, instead of an intrinsic property of the brain.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Mike:
We'll likely never agree on your claim that an experience of unity implies a special kind of quantum unity in the stuff doing the experiencing.

I don't see how sub-pan-psychism's need to delineate which types of stuff are conscious and which aren't is all that big a deal. They don't have any ontological leap to worry about, at any rate, since even for the sub-panpsychist experience is built into the universe from the start (my stuff above about consciousness evolving from nonconscious stuff was not sub-panpsychist, but straight materialist).

I don't believe in both physicalism/functionalism and X-psychism. I think they are the two best options.


But I remain hostile towards attempts to identify consciousness with high-level functions or neural architectures, because the boundary between the conscious and unconscious part of the brain then depends on an arbitrary functional decomposition of the brain in the mind of some theorist, instead of an intrinsic property of the brain.

Only if you think behavior is biologically arbitrary. But you think even hearts and lungs are arbitrary, so we won't agree here either.

PS This all follows trivially from Godel unpublished third incompleteness theorem.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Mike:

Are neurons part of an 'arbitrary functional decomposition of the brain', or an intrinsic property of the brain?

Mike Wiest said...

Hey BDK

Re: unity, hearts, lungs, neurons: OK.

Re: ontological leap. OK, there may be a class of sub-pan-psychist theories that don't have the leap problem. I think your example of a theory where you give consciousness or proto-experience to only the electrons might fall into that class. Then the rest of the theory would have similar issues to deal with as regular pan-psychism.

I think you get the "leap," i.e. serious conceptual problems, when X = "brains" or "the claustrum" or "synchronized neural oscillations," etc. Then you have to explain the "strong emergence" of a fundamental new mental property out of parts that don't have anything like that property.

When X = "electrons" I think you are safe from this problem because you can explain the brain's consciousness in terms of the (proto-)consciousness of its electrons. But for the X = "brain" version, you have to explain how matter takes on a new quality that wasn't even present in implicit or fragmented form in the matter that makes up the brain.

We might debate whether the leap is crossable in the strong emergent X = "brain" type theory, but it does seem to be present...

Another question about brain-psychism, which perhaps is more semantic than substantive, is whether it reduces to functionalism. That is, by calling it X-psychism we're putting it on a spectrum with pan-psychism, but if it reduces the brain's mental properties to the large-scale functional architecture of the brain then is it just plain old functionalism?

Anonymous said...

Wow -- fascinating site! I just stumbled upon it recently, and the posts on panpsychism and related views caught my eye. My "hunch faculty" inclines me toward views of this kind, especially after reading Chalmers. I have to read your posts and the subsequent threads carefully, but initially I would think that there isn't a supervenience problem for at least some versions of this sort of view. For if the mental or proto-mental is part of the supervenience base, then the supervenience of the mental on the base is logical, and not natural (in Chalmers' senses of these terms), no?

In any case, phil. of mind isn't one of my AOSs, and so I'm way out of my league. But these are some of my initial, hazy intuitions here.

Steve said...

Thank you for visiting here and for the nice comment.

Chalmers himself points out that his conceivability argument against materialism is addressed if one takes the Russellian view:
the structural (or extrinsic) properties of physics do not necessitate the mental, but the intrinsic properties of physics combined with the structural properties do.

So yes, the necessitation here is metaphysical/logical not just natural/nomological.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I agree it would be weird if x=brain since pp'ists want chess in there from the start

On iPhone short mssg

Mike Wiest said...

Chess?! What the...?

I'd assume you meant consciousness if your name weren't "Blue Devil Knight."

Hi Anon--I think we're mostly dilettantes and amateurs here so let the hazy intuitions fly! I don't remember Chalmers sense of "logical" and "natural" supervenience. Are you relating the issue of supervenience to BDK's concern about epiphenomenalism? It seems to me that supervenience can be dissociated from the epiphenomenalism issue... I think you could have no problem with supervenience, (which I am understanding as a mapping between the mental and physical), but still have a problem about epiphenomenalism (if the mental causes seem redundant).

In my current understanding, the Russell/Whitehead/Rosenberg "carrier theory of causality" tries to avoid the epiphenomenalism of the mental by positing that all causes are mental in their inner nature (ok Russell apparently stopped short of this point), so there is no redundancy or doubling of physical and mental causes.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Yes, I wrote cness (short for c-ness), but iphone "corrected" it to chess.

You are right that you could believe in supervenience of the mental to the physical/biological and also be an epiphenomenalist.

Steve said...

Good clarification on the issue of epiphenomenalism. When it comes to Russell's work, some commenters take his analysis of physical entities in a static, object-oriented way - this wouldn't necessarily rule epiphenomenalism in or out. The event ontology/causation interpretation of the analysis strives to rule it out.

Aliman Sears said...

I read Steve's post, but not the comments, so maybe this was already addressed: it seems Carlson gives much too much credit to Russell. Russell didn't solve. Whitehead solved the MBP, while Russell at best moved pieces around on the chessboard but never really committed. The huge world of difference is that W. developed a full metaphysical system, and Russell thought that kind of endeavor was folly. Aloha!
http://alimansears.wordpress.com

Steve said...

Thanks Aliman. I probably haven't read enough Russell to comment with any authority. But I would say that Russell's analysis is very helpful in describing why the path is the right one, even if he (as he said himself) was more conservative than Whitehead and stopped short of "finishing the job".

(At least in the introduction to Analysis of Matter, Russell made a respectful reference to Whitehead's contemporary work, and did not call his effort folly or anything like that.)

Thoughts said...

I like this approach. Whitehead was certainly one of the "great" twentieth century philosophers. He understood science at a level that sets him way above the current crop of "philosophers of mind" and maybe that is why he is not as referenced as he deserves.

It is interesting that there is a direct link from Aristotle to Whitehead (See Perceiving perception and seeing seeing

Steve said...

Thanks very much. I'll check out the link. - Steve

Stephen Paul King said...

I am so happy to have found this blog! I found the following comment a bit problematic:
"Since “real” causation is an asymmetric relation, Carlson shows how we can use arrows to graphically illustrate causal relations. One can see how “space-like” and “time-like” relations between events arise from a causal structure. He then shows how a “particle” could be defined as a recurring pattern of activity -- a certain geometric pattern repeated along a time-like route in a larger causal lattice). One of Carlson’s interesting ideas is that since different numbers of arrows could connect two given events, one gets a notion of relative temporal frequency. "

This line of thinking seems to be predicated upon the notion that there exists a unique and pre-defined ordering of events such that a "causal structure" can be used as a substrate upon which a "recurring pattern of activity..." can be defined. This is problematic because it mixes mathematical and physical concepts as if they are on the same ontological level.

Carey Carlson said...

For the formal reduction of physics to temporal succession, see "Causal Set Theory and the Origin of Mass-ratio," online. (A causal set is any sequential time-ordered structure.)
Temporal moments and temporal transitions are the only primitives used in the reduction of physics to time. Logically, or mathematically, the moments and transitions belong to a generic class of relata and a generic class of dyadic relations, respectively. By interpreting those two logical primitives as generic moments of time and generic temporal transitions, the application of mathematics to physics is accomplished, since time is a key parameter of physics.
Note that all things physical are analyzed as arrangements of quanta (arrangements of temporal transitions in accord with chronology protection.) There are no continuous waveforms in the theory, so no collapse of waveforms. Neither is there such a thing as a spatial state to which a waveform could collapse. There is just the temporal succession of moments, which Whitehead calls "occasions of experience." Occasions are perfectly distinct-- there is no clumping of occasions to make "bigger ones." -- Carey