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Are you a dualist?

Are you a dualist?

  1. Yes, I'm a dualist

  2. No, I'm not a dualist

  3. I'm unsure

  4. I don't know

  1. Oct 9, 2010 #1


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    Edit: This is to clarify the poll choices.
    1. I'm a dualist.
    2. I'm not a dualist.
    3. I don't understand what dualism is.
    4. I don't know if dualism is valid or not.

    The question is, “Are you a dualist?”

    By “dualist” I don’t mean to refer to the religious definition of the word (i.e.: there is a soul that is separate and distinct from the body). Dualism here will refer to the term as it is used regarding cognitive science (philosophy of mind) as explained for example, by Chalmers.

    In his book (Chalmers, ’96) “The Conscious Mind” (starting on pg. 123), he entitles the chapter, “Naturalistic Dualism”. Here, he asks whether or not consciousness itself is physical. Certainly, Chalmers is not alone in his acceptance of naturalistic dualism. Jaegwon Kim for example, has “come out of the closet” as a dualist. I mention Kim because his consistent distinction between mental and physical facts about the world helps tremendously to define what phenomena are involved when making the distinction between the physical world and mental phenomena.

    Before going into the issue of dualism, we just need to define what is meant by consciousness or mental phenomena. Actually, there are numerous references to these phenomena that authors are trying to pick out. But to cut through all that, I think it is enough to recognize that there are certain phenomena (i.e.: things that occur) that are being talked about. We can generalize these phenomena as “qualia”, or “phenomenal experiences”, which are subjectively experienced but as far as we know, are not objectively measurable.

    Take for example, an objectively measureable phenomenon such as wing flutter. Here’s a terrific video to help understand wing flutter and related phenomena. Just watch the first minute, the rest is superfluous!
    Wing flutter is a phenomenon that occurs. This phenomenon can be understood by understanding the comings and goings of material things. It is a physical phenomenon that can be described by describing what physically happens. There is no need to appeal to any description of the phenomenon that is not a description of what physically occurs. In addition, this phenomenon is calculable, and today is analyzed using multiphysics computer programs that combine both fluid dynamics and structural analysis. So in short, physical phenomena can be explained in physical terms and analyzed by calculating the comings and goings of material things.

    In comparison, dualism says that there are phenomena that occur that can NOT be explained by explaining the comings and goings of material things. No explanation of the physics involved will explain the essence of the phenomenon we seek to describe. So such things as the experience of the color red, what pain feels like, what a rose smells like, and many others, are examples phenomena that are not explained by explaining the physical state of the neurons that are involved with the experience. We can describe the physical state of the brain that produces these phenomena in as much detail as we wish, but dualism would have it that these descriptions are insufficient in providing an explanation of phenomenal consciousness.

    In his book, Chalmers points out that we can describe the world we live in exhaustively by explaining the physical facts about the world, but in the end, we will never be able to explain the facts about consciousness by explaining these physical facts. A “zombie” world is one in which conscious phenomena do not occur. Logically then, one can claim there are additional facts (i.e.: phenomenal facts) about the world that are not explained by explaining the physical facts about the world.

    One further note is that this form of dualism does accept that these phenomenal facts about the world supervene on the physical facts. That is, a change in the physical facts about the world will necessarily change the mental facts. Furthermore, any two identical physical states produce the same mental states. So dualism does not dispute that mental states are supervenient on (wholly dependent on) the physical states. It only suggests that there are additional facts about the physical states that can’t be explained by explaining those physical facts.

    So if you believe there are additional facts about the world that can’t be explained by explaining the physical facts, you are (probably) a dualist. If you feel there are no additional facts about the world that need explanation once you’ve explained the physical facts, you are (probably) NOT a dualist.
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 9, 2010 #2
    My role-model Goethe was a dualist, and I find that it is a rational position to hold.
  4. Oct 10, 2010 #3
    "So if you believe there are additional facts about the world that can’t be explained by explaining the physical facts ...."

    And what are "physical facts"? They are facts that belong to physics? But physics is not dead. It grows. Which facts will belong to physics in one thousand years from now? Facts that today are beyond the reach of physics tomorrow can be in the reach of expanded physics. Therefore the quoted sentence is fuzzy and does not tell us much. It is much like asking: do you believe physics is dead or alive? And of course some people prefer to deal with a dead body that can be at most just dissected, than to deal with a living body that can unexpectedly jump and kick.
  5. Oct 10, 2010 #4


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    That's a valid question. I'll try and respond from both sides of the argument.

    The Dualist: I tried to make it clear in the OP why the dualist would say there are "additional" facts that are not physical facts about the world. The argument goes that there is, in principal, no way for physics to describe a certain class of phenomena. That class of phenomena are those phenomena experienced subjectively. Note that we can, in principal, describe everything there is to explain for typical phenomena such as wing flutter. Sure, there are phenomena we may not be able to predict such as radioactive decay, but there are no additional phenomena created that need explaining in those cases.

    Phenomena such as dark energy are similar to radioactive decay in this regard. Here is a phenomenon that can't be accurately predicted and we can't determine an exact cause (today), but we can, in principal, understand the phenomena by understanding the comings and goings of physical things. In fact, it is BECAUSE we find an increase in the expansion of the universe, that we can determine that dark energy, or something like it, exists. It is a phenomenon that makes itself known by its affect on the comings and goings of material things.

    For the dualist, the argument is at least the contention that there are phenomena created that can't be explained in principal, by explaining those physical interactions. A dualist might also contest that these phenomena have an influence over material things and are not merely epiphenomena.

    The Non-Dualist: In comparison, a non-dualist will say that we can explain everything there is to know about the brain (or a computer) by explaining the interactions of neurons, molecular reactions, (transistor state changes in the case of strong AI), and so on. Someone who is NOT a dualist will say that there are, in principal, no additional facts that need explaining. In fact, if there are additional facts that need explaining as a dualist would contest, then the counter arguement is to point out that such phenomena might then be put beyond what we can know about using physics and taking physical measurements of the system. Furthermore, dualism might allow causes that are not physical causes. A non-dualist would contest that phenomenal experience can have no influence over the physical facts about the world, so delving into dualism is akin to denying that physical laws govern every concievable interaction in the universe. Thus, mental causation comes into play as a tool to deny the dualist argument which is why Kim's "coming out of the closet" is interesting - Kim has always argued the incoherence of mental causation.

    Here's an interesting article in defence of the non-dualist approach:
  6. Oct 10, 2010 #5
    actually I'm a different kinda dualist... see there's this "gut feeling" I get quite often which turns out to be usually right... so let's just say this is the soul for me! :biggrin:
  7. Oct 10, 2010 #6


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    Any sufficiently analyzed magic is science!

    What would constitute an "explanation of phenomenal consciousness"?

    Suppose that scientists could monitor you, and tell you exactly what you are feeling, smelling, and experiencing. Then, they could decide what they want you to feel, do something, and voila, you feel it. They could take a physical situation, analyze it, predict what experiences feelings, and smells you will have when you encounter it, and then when you encounter it, it turns out they were right.

    Then, would that not count as consciousness being "physical facts"?

    What if everything above was done in terms of observation of your neurons and calculations made in terms of that? Now does it count as a "physical fact"?

    (incidentally, I hope you aren't using "explanation" in an unreasonable sense)
  8. Oct 10, 2010 #7
    Do you seriously believe that it is possible to analyze and predict the inner complexity of a whole model? How do you intend on acquiring all of the data? It's physically impossible.
  9. Oct 10, 2010 #8


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    I'm not asking someone to invent such a scientific theory this instant. I'm asking if it would count as a refutation of dualism, as presented.
  10. Oct 10, 2010 #9
    And this way he will discredit himself completely by assuming is that tomorrow our science will not grow in an extraordinary way to include new concepts and new way of looking at reality - as it happened in the past. To assume that there will be no more scientific revolution is an act of faith that has no support whatsoever in the facts.
  11. Oct 10, 2010 #10
    If it could make completely accurate predictions with no error, sure.

    Problem is, the universe isn't deterministic. There's a framework that we can't discern. :)
  12. Oct 10, 2010 #11
    Perhaps, it is. But, for some reasons, due to our limitations, we are unable to perceive it as such.
  13. Oct 10, 2010 #12


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    TLDNR (too long did not read)

    Skipped to last paragraph.
    OK I am not a dualist.
  14. Oct 10, 2010 #13
    To even fully understand a real system *completely*, you have to understand the history of everything that comprises it, and to predict its future, you have to know everything that the object/thing in question will interact with. It's impossible.

    Small things add up. You may be able to calculate one factor, but there are a million others. Yes, I know that only a few factors predominate in affecting the object/thing, but if you want to predict with 100% certainty, you'd have to know all of those things.
  15. Oct 10, 2010 #14


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    Is that relevant? Are you saying non-determinism implies dualism?

    This too. Is this relevant?
  16. Oct 10, 2010 #15



    reductionist materialism implies determinism, non-dualism, etc.
  17. Oct 10, 2010 #16
    I don't want it, and I don't think there is even one thinking person that wants it. What I want is to be able to predict with some good reliability, sufficient for making reasonable decisions.
  18. Oct 10, 2010 #17


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    Hurkyl, you're coming at this from the perspective of a non-dualists, and certainly you have a valid concern. If we can predict accurately, every future physical state from prior physical states (as we can for example, for a computer today), that certainly is a good argument for a non-dualist, and this position has been taken for example, by Dennett and by Priestly (who's article is linked at the end of my last post).

    For this thread, I'm going to make an effort to play devil's advocate. So... in responce, a dualist will say that regardless of how well you've understood and predicted the physical states, you haven't explained the phenomenal experience. You have merely predicted that a person for example, will say, "yes, that tickles" or "no, that isn't too hot", or how they will behave, or some other description of the physical states. These physical states are supposedly subjective descriptions of the phenomenal experience that are also ACCURATE and CONSISTENT descriptions of the phenomenal states being experienced. By predicting future physical states, you haven't described the phenomenal states. There is still a set of facts or 'properties' if you will, about the phenomenal states above and beyond the physical ones.

    I think what makes it even more difficult to make your type of argument stick is the knowledge paradox as explained by Rosenberg. What you've said is that we can predict the future physical states by examining the existing physical states and using physical law to predict the next physical state. Thus, there is no "mental causation" as Kim would say (Kim has argued extensively against mental states having any influence over physical states). The future physical states are strictly dependent on prior physical states and mental states (phenomenal experience) have no place in the evolution of this physical system. So these mental states are epiphenomenal - they serve no purpose. But what Rosenberg and others have pointed out, is that we can't then ever know if the mental state corresponds to the physical state at all! How can we know if a person is experiencing anything if only physical states are needed to predict future physical sates? We can no longer say we've seen his behavior or the person has stated that they are experiencing a mental state, because these mental states (phenomenal experiences) are only a function of the physical states. Alegedly, there is a 1 to 1 correlation between the two, but the statements and the behavior are not caused by the phenomenal experience, they are merely in addition to, and epiphenomenal on, the physical states, which leads to a paradox.

    Rosenberg on Shoemaker:
    I think this knowledge paradox takes some time to grasp. We have preconceived notions as to the way nature works, and we don't always take the logical steps needed to understand where we are going wrong. That's one role of philosophy, to create these logical steps and point out where we have these preconceived notions and what we have to explain in order to extricate ourselves from paradoxes and illogical assertions like these.
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2010
  19. Oct 10, 2010 #18


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    If I don't know dualism isn't, then I can't know what dualism is. :smile:

    I'm a little confused by your post, since it seems to contain a FAPP refutation of dualism. If I cannot ask or have answered any questions about your mental state, then it is irrelevant for me to consider it.

    OTOH if our mental states do affect each other and depend on our past mental states, then we can still take a scientific approach, except that it would be hard to write answers down on paper. (although we can hope our machines happen to write down what our ghosts want to remember)
  20. Oct 10, 2010 #19
    If I were to say my position, it may be a type of naturalistic dualism, (or naturalistic monism) this is due to what I believe to be the fact that conscious experience cannot exist seperate from the natural world. That said, I believe conscious activity to be of a fundamentally different character then what we have studied thus far. This leads me to it being different (dualism), but still being an aspect of the world, realized differently (monism). I do not think that our conceptual tools for analyzing phenomena thus far will prove sufficient to describe or "explain" conscious experience. The idea that "brain states" correspond directly to specific subjective experiences seems to a certain extent naive. First, subjective experience simply will not be fully explained or reduced, because it is fundamentally different, it is of a qualitative character. I believe that the history of an individual and his experience is very important to his feelings/predictions etc, and so I believe that the brain may hold a template for certain prediction patterns based on past information, but the type of novel behavior that could arise from history will not be able to be fully "predicted" under a brain theory.
    If we talk about the simple assumption that a brain state can be manipulated and you can say "you will be feeling x" explains the brain, is not necessarily right. I believe that we may be able to do some things like this for sensations like pain/pleasure, but more complex subjective experiences may not be able to be manipulated in that manner. Also, in order to say "You will be feeling X" we must have felt x before, had a linguistic description for it, and then be able to say that you will feel it. Consider something like abstract poetic experience, or subtle emotional feelings of grandeur. Consider something produced by a drug such as LSD, would we ever be able to look at the brain states and be able to say "you will feel x"...certainly not, the experience in itself is many times inexplicable, yet from a subjective standpoint, real...We wouldn't know what the brain states correspond to.
  21. Oct 10, 2010 #20


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    I think the idea of a zombie is flawed. The closest thing to a zombie is somebody that is dead (they have all the brain matter, but no thought process). But they're still not a zombie, because there's definitely a physical difference (in terms of events and interactions) between a live and dead person. We can make simple EEG measurements to confirm this.

    But even further, brain death occurs in the living (it's actually the death of the forebrain... the hindbrain, having a separate resource supply). The living hindbrain will keep somebody alive technically, but their mind is essentially dead. They are not processing language or perceiving the n (>5) known senses. None of the activities are going in in their brain that go on in the brains of subjects of cognitive experiments.

    We can also make the mind "smaller" by cutting out part of the forebrain. We can eliminate particular aspects of consciousness selectively.

    Even further, our mind is a product of our memories and learning experience, which is currently becoming better and better understood (hippocampus for generalized learning, basil ganglia for reward/fear learning). And the way we store the information in our brain affects how we are conscious and what we are conscious of.

    On the matter of subjectiveness, the non-dualist still has nothing to offer, but it's not apparent to me how the dualist perspective is going to help us understand anything even if it were correct. If things are measurable in a consistent way, they have a physical basis. If they're not... then we're pretty much screwed on understanding it.
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