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Consciousness in the materialist perspective.

  1. Mar 10, 2010 #1
    Ok, so I know there's a significant camp of people who:
    (A) Think that consciousness is physical (by-product of the brain)
    (B) Think that they have free will, in the sense that the atoms moving around their brain don't necessarily cause their actions, or that consciousness is having a backwards causal influence on the brain thus giving them free will.

    Now, there might be some stances to add to (B), but I think that'll suffice.

    I have HUGE problems with this position, I have stated some of them in somewhat unrelated topics, but I want to address them here.

    Let consciousness = C
    Let matter = M

    The logic is as follows:

    IF C arises from M, and physical law is all that has been observed(key word) to enact/enable causality (let's not get into definition/word games here) on M, then isn't it logically fallacious, given all observations, to argue, or even expect, that C isn't bound to operate under the laws that govern M, and under nothing else, given that (in this thought experiment's model of reality) the brain, made of M, causes C?

    If that logic is correct, then doesn't it follow that we have ZERO reason, and ONLY wild speculation, to expect free will to exist if the brain causes consciousness?
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2010
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  3. Mar 10, 2010 #2


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    You might be interested in the discussion in this thread:

    Also, this is the favorite topic of Jaegwon Kim who's written numerous papers and books on the topic of mental causation. His conclusion is that mental events don't cause physical events.

    Another philosopher is Stevan Harnad who suggests that any mental causation is akin to "telekinesis". He points out that physical causes can be reduced to the four fundamental physical forces which rules out mental causes.

    I don't agree with these arguments, but you should at least understand them before arguing the case.
  4. Mar 10, 2010 #3
    Thankyou for the link and reference material(s), I'll be sure to check them out.

    But I wish to refer back to my OP, is my logic, and the conclusion that follows, consistent?
  5. Mar 10, 2010 #4


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    Yes, the logic is essentially what Kim has presented. Rather than calling it consiousness (C) and matter (M), Kim refers to the physical (P) and mental (M) - as well as the physical and mental states which occur after some time step, represented as P' and M'. In fact, Kim is so widely known that his abreviations have become somewhat commonplace in discussing mental causation, so in the future you may want to use his abreviations. His book, "http://books.google.com/books?id=WB...esnum=6&ved=0CB0Q6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=&f=false"" focuses on this. It's a relatively easy read, so you may want to take a look through what Google offers.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  6. Mar 10, 2010 #5


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    Depends whether you are interested in arguments or answers here.

    The answer is that consciousness and freewill will give you problems if you presume a materialist ontology. You are right. It cannot compute.

    So again, you have to go back and complete your physics if you want a "physical" explanation of these things.

    And I certainly don't agree with Harnad and Kim. There are many others who accept downward causation.

    But they would not talk about "mental events" causing physical events because that again is a materialist perspective. Instead, downward causation is about the constraints exerted by self-organising development.

    And who has a problem with the idea that the brain is a system that self-organises into states of constraint? It is how we anticipate this (rather than that). How we decide to do this (rather than that).
  7. Mar 10, 2010 #6


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    Hi apeiron,
    You should qualify what you mean by downward causation. Downward causation is generally defined by others in the same way as http://www.nbi.dk/~emmeche/coPubl/2000d.le3DC.v4b.html" [Broken]. defines “strong downward causation”:
    This definition is consistent with those definitions provided with Bedau, Davies, Chalmers and others. In general, the adjective “strong” is dropped and downward causation is used to mean what Emmeche defines as strong downward causation. At that point however, all differences in what is meant vanish. Everyone except “vitalists” (as Emmeche says) agree that strong downward causation is false.

    Perhaps you only mean what Emmeche calls “medium” or “weak” downward causation. An example of medium downward causation given by Emmeche is Sperry’s now famous point on a wheel rolling down a hill. As Emmeche says,
    I think the point that should be made however, is that although saying “the brain is a system that self-organises into states of constraint” is an innocent enough statement, the point is that these global constraints, self organization, and boundary conditions refer to measurable, physical things. They are part of a system’s physical state. They are not mental states, which is the point Kim and others (including the OP) want to make. They are not the same thing because we can define the mass, velocity, momentum and other properties of the physical state but none of that defines the mental state. We don’t need to hypothesize an unmeasurable “mental state” in order to explain anything that happens to the physical state. The physical things happen because of physical causes, not mental causes. That’s all Kim is saying. Certainly everything that happens in a computer for example, happens because of something physical. The computer doesn’t change state because it experiences something or possesses a mental state. Every physical event in a computer has a physical cause. There are no non-physical causes in a computer.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  8. Mar 10, 2010 #7


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    We've discussed this before.

    eg: https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=2501587&postcount=7

    I definitely mean something full strength. And I cite other authors like Peirce, Pattee and Salthe.

    To remind you - because my argument seemed unfamiliar - I am saying that both bottom-up construction and top-down constraint have equal roles in the creation of systems. They are different but equal as varieties of causality. And you need both for a complete story.

    This is not about which causality should be priviledged over the other but the recognition of a true duality.

    You can argue against my position, but you need to understand what is being claimed. It does include radical ingredients like the bottom-up construction also being "emergent".

    The existence of the fundamental materials is "weak" you might say. Though vague is the Peircean terminology I would prefer.

    And the fundamental materials then become strongly existence in the presence of top-down, potential firming, constraints.

    There have been other populist attempts to talk about this kind of causality.


    As well as some classic papers.


    Which is what I argue. The whole point of the exercise is to be able to generalise the modelling of systems so we are talking about "physics". Physical models are more general than chemical, biological or psychological, as you would agree.

    But: The claim is that there is more than just a material basis to physical systems (their local substance, their constructive actions). There is also their formal organisation, their global constraints.

    And radically, each leads to the emergence of the other. It is a story of synergy.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synergetics_(Haken [Broken])

    Of mutual causality.


    Of condensed matter physics.


    Is the world composed of atoms? Yes. And the atoms are also created by the expression of global constraints (the self-organising symmetry breakings of the standard model as mentioned elsewhere).

    The two-way causality is already implicit in "materialist" theory. Where do the "laws of physics" reside except as self-organising constraints that develop as a dynamic equlibrium balance?

    What exactly is there to fight against except some sense that deviating an inch from material monism is to surrender to the equally distorted philosophy of mind~body dualism?

    Dualism (or rather, dichotomisation) is not wrong. It just needs to be done right.
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  9. Mar 11, 2010 #8
    Even without the OPS logic.. The thing is that the subjective experience of consciousness has no direct control over the physical brain.
    I don't see why it's so hard to expect that the brain does all the processing, creates consciousness -> consciousness is bound to the rules of the brain.

    We have free will in the sense that a decision hasn't been made until after the brain has processed the information, and we don't even know the real power behind the universe.
    On a more observant note.. The more I think about my consciousness, the more 'physical' I like it to be. It's very focused on external things and can easily be manipulated by physical events.

    I do believe in its vast diversity, however not in its separation from the brain.
  10. Apr 1, 2010 #9
    Very interesting posts! My take on consciousness is simply, who knows? I study, have read hundreds of books and live my life based on what I have learned about the human nervous system, nlp, and many other things and it is my belief that the brain does not cause consciousness, but rather consciousness causes the brain to fire the neurons. However, when attempted, many times, consciousness cannot be found. Science can't find YOU in your body, or in your nervous system.

    It is my belief that choice, is there. Once a person becomes aware of conditioning, how they work as a human being and starts to really observe, interject and shape, that person begins to become, at least, more mentally liberated. My theory is surface thinking delivers surface results and I agree with the main theme of the 7 habits of highly effective people, that it doesn't work to go from the outside in. The significance is not in the "physical reality," if that even exists, it is in the reality in which you live, on the inside. Great Posts everyone
  11. Apr 1, 2010 #10
    In these sorts of arguments, I often sense a flaw in definitions. In this case, I see 'consciousness' bandied about as a noun, a thing in its own right; in my estimation, consciousness is more of a process of what the brain does, not something that is. This both respects and eliminates the problems of the mind/brain duality. The brain is; the mind is what the brain does. Your computer hardware is; your computer software is what the computer does.
  12. Apr 1, 2010 #11
    I think people, due to naïve realism, have done this the reverse way since old.

    People always seek to reconcile the human property of consciousness with the physical theories around them, while they A: cannot define what consciousness is an B: their intuitive notion of it is often hard if not impossible to reconcile with the modern materialistic views of science.

    Now, the dualistic 'ghost in the machine' model is already pretty impossible, indeed, it was impossible from the moment of alcoholic intoxication, influence the machine and influence the ghost. The model available now is that, though all the actions of the human body can be explained by the reductionist model of neurons flowing, they still induce a consciousness that is in effect completely not in control and in the illusion of being in control.

    A lot simpler is to simply say that human beings are not conscious, none of us, not you, not I, not any person on this board. However we claim to be conscious, we say it all the time, but in reality were are a bunch of soulless automatons shaped by evolution, programmed for self-praeservation, and claiming to be conscious is one of the things that aids in that. We're just the classical case of a robot that's programmed to find creative ways to praeserve itself. Try to terminate that robot and it'll say 'No, don't do it, I'm self aware!', and then a mass debate follows, is that robot really self-ware, or does it just claim to be? My stance is that there is no effective difference, all human beings do is claim they are self aware while they have no more feeling or introspection than a falling rock.
  13. Apr 3, 2010 #12

    Hmmm. Doesn't this belief cause you to doubt if you are not dreaming up everything, including us who are answering your questions? I mean, if you are so certain that you are not conscious... how could you be certain that we have objective existence?

    What happens when you bang your head against the wall and doctors claim you've become unconscious? Or are you saying you are conscious of the fact that you are generally unconscious and whatever happens when you lose consciousness is also a mental trick played to fool you that you had been conscious, when in fact you never were?

    In general, wouldn't it be better to say that we don't know what a mind is and leave it that, instead of going so far as claiming we are unconscious? It should not be surprising that we don't know something. What's surprising is that we know as much of the universe as we actually do know, given that there's no reason why we should. In physics, even the most basic concepts, we just don't know what matter really is. We don't know what charge really is. We don't know what a quantum field really is. Does anybody know what an electron really is in itself? If you are seeking a satisfactory answer, we have to say - No. If we don't have a satisfactory answer(agreed on by the whole physics community) of what matter is in itself, is it so surprising we don't understand how matter can generate minds?
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2010
  14. Apr 3, 2010 #13
    If people truly lacked free-will, how would they have the choice to perceive their will as free or externally determined?

    If the choice between believing in free-will or external determination is an illusion of consciousness, what would be the point of trying to ascertain what the relationship between them or cause of either is.

    If something other than free-will causes people to argue that free-will exists, what is the point of arguing against them? After all, they would have no choice but to believe that it exists.

    Last question: how can the belief that free-will is impossible ever lead to anything other than solipsism or nihilism? And why would you even bother choosing to answer the question?
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