Dualism and Joint Causality

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In his response to my argument against property dualism from its inadequate account of personal identity, Brett made a suggestion that if the soul together with the body is adequate to generate a continuity of consciousness, that the body alone is adequate to generate a continuity of consciousness. Here I will examine and critique these suggestions.

Brett wrote:

“I have no problem accepting a materialist account of the mind and here is why: if the dualist hold that certain material states of the brain “capture” or “hold in” the soul to the body, then they believe that it is sensible to say that some physical state causes the continuity of the soul’s interaction with the body. It appears to me that a dualist would have to accept this in light of what we know about labodomis: if dualism is true, then the altering, or rather severing, of the frontal lobe causes the aspect of the “soul” that causes emotion to vanish and go off somewhere else. Therefore, from this, we can draw a general principal (lets just assume that other phenomena of the mind like belief work in the same way emotion has been demonstrated to work) that physical states are a necessary factor for states of consciousness to endure continually. Well, if ((X and S)->continuous Y) where X is a certain chemical combination, S is some soulish agent, and Y is the consciousness being presently experienced, then it necessarily follows that (X->continuous Y) is also possible, where X and Y are the same things. If one is to say that X, since it is material and its parts are being replaced, cannot be one of the casual factors in bringing about uninterrupted consciousness because its token is changing constantly (X->continuous Y), then it follows that X should also be insufficient to continually “cage in”, or “hold onto” the soul in an uninterrupted fashion, as would occur in the case of ((X and S)->continuous Y). In short, it seems that the argument that Michael uses to critique the brand of materialism under question is either valid, and therefore the dualist and the monist account of consciousness are both incompetent, or the critique is invalid, and the dualist and monist models are both workable. I believe that both models, the dualist one and monist alike, are possible and that the critique does not show that either are incompetent, but I think the monist account wins because it does not multiply as many bodies to explain the phenomena as with the dualist account, when taking occum’s razor into consideration.”

I will try to analyze this part of Brett’s post in 3 segments.

(1) Brett first states that “if the dualist hold that certain material states of the brain “capture” or “hold in” the soul to the body, then they believe that it is sensible to say that some physical state causes the continuity of the soul’s interaction with the body. It appears to me that a dualist would have to accept this in light of what we know about labodomis: if dualism is true, then the altering, or rather severing, of the frontal lobe causes the aspect of the “soul” that causes emotion to vanish and go off somewhere else. Therefore, from this, we can draw a general principal (lets just assume that other phenomena of the mind like belief work in the same way emotion has been demonstrated to work) that physical states are a necessary factor for states of consciousness to endure continually.”

Brett uses language of “capturing” which seems to imply that on his view of dualism, the dualist is saying that the body is what causes the continual interaction between soul and body. But this is false. Dualists would hold that a precondition for the interaction of the soul with the body is the existence of specific physical states (the body, and more specifically, certain causal channels within the body). But preconditions (Brett’s “necessary factors”) aren’t causes. The example of lobotomy does show that the soul may have some powers that are inactive if certain physical states aren’t in place that the soul will normally act through. But that doesn’t imply that the body and specific brain states are efficient causes of the soul continually interacting with it–no more than the existence of a plaster surface is the efficient cause of a three week painting project.

It is the assumption that physical states cause the continual interaction that leads to Brett later arguing that “if the body can cause continual interaction, then the body can adequately cause continual consciousness”. I will continue to address the soul/brain relation below as related issues come up (see [3]).

(2) Next Brett says “Well, if ((X and S)->continuous Y) where X is a certain chemical combination, S is some soulish agent, and Y is the consciousness being presently experienced, then it necessarily follows that (X->continuous Y) is also possible, where X and Y are the same things.”

It seems to me that this is false–even obviously so. Take for instance the good ole’ volcano experiment that you did in fourth grade. You wanted to make foamy, fizzy bubbles. So you took vinegar (ingredient x) and baking soda (ingredient s) and you put them in the cheap paper-mache volcano sculpture. You got a whole ton of bubbles (continuous Y) and were a very happy kid.

But was it ever reasonable to believe that ingredient x was adequate on its own to give a continuous Y? I don’t see how. It is not in fact sufficient. The fact that X and S can lead to Y doesn’t imply by any known rules of inference that I’m aware of that X is sufficient by itself to generate continuous Y.

But, you might protest, we *know* this to be the case with baking soda and vinegar because we’ve *seen* the interaction between them and that both are joint causes of bubbling. But that isn’t true with the soul and brain states. We haven’t seen that they’re *both* jointly necessary. We just know that the brain states are necessary–the question of whether they are jointly necessary is something else. So its simpler, given this consideration, to assume that the soul is not a necessary factor and need not be postulated to explain consciousness.

I would agree with this (other things being equal–like assuming we don’t have any other arguments for the existence of a soul). But that last comment (“we know this to be the case with baking soda and vinegar… but that isn’t true with the soul and brain states…”) is the *real* intuition–a principle of parsimony–that motivates the assumption that a soul isn’t necessary to explain consciousness. All by itself, the assumption in the last comment (“we know…but this isn’t true…”) serves to undercut the assumption that a soul is necessary. But this is very different from the line of reasoning expressed in the argument for “possibly, X–>Y”. That original reasoning was what I have already criticized above; I thought it was more closely analogous to assuming that because baking soda and vinegar are jointly necessary and sufficient for bubbles, that vinegar by itself is necessary and sufficient for bubbles. Why incorporate that whole extra first part that is, by itself, fallacious reasoning until you add in the principle of parsimony to explain what you’re really trying to say (“we shouldn’t assume both are necessary for consciousness if we only experience one”) if the principle of parsimony would have got the job done in the first place?

(3) Next, Brett suggests that “If one is to say that X, since it is material and its parts are being replaced, cannot be one of the casual factors in bringing about uninterrupted consciousness because its token is changing constantly (X->continuous Y), then it follows that X should also be insufficient to continually “cage in”, or “hold onto” the soul in an uninterrupted fashion, as would occur in the case of ((X and S)->continuous Y).”

I think this assumes that on my account, a single continuous physical state is causally responsible for the
continual interaction between soul and body (I already discussed this above somewhat). But I deny this; I think that the soul by its nature interacts with its body so long as the body is available. The soul’s qualities are what cause the continual interaction with the brain, through the various causal channels in the brain.

You might think of it in terms of a computer–more specifically, a robot–like this: certain faculties of the soul are like USB ports. They can sense whether a USB drive (the body–specifically the brain) has entered into it (whether the soul and body are united). When the USB drive does enter into the port, it accesses it, (the soul is aware of the body) and displays it as available on the computer screen (kind of like the brain displaying sensory data [transmitted through the eyes] to the soul). Then the computer (soul) can interact with the USB drive (body/brain), transferring files on and off of it (causing brain events, and allowing physical/brain events to be preconditions to the soul causing mental events–if they are identified as the appropriate kind of physical events). But it is the computer’s robotic arm that goes through the process of inserting the USB drive (it is the soul that causes itself to be united to the body and keeps that union in place).

So some powers of the soul cause it to automatically be joined to the body if the right physical preconditions are in place.

Now, even if we grant the assumption that the body causes the soul to remain united to it, what follows? I’m not sure we can automatically go to Brett’s conclusion–that it follows that the body could be an adequate grounding for the continual existence of certain mental entities. Why would we have to assume that in order for the soul to remain united to the body, there must be the *same* body parts that cause it to be continually united? I don’t see why the physical states that causes soul-body union couldn’t be replaced over time slowly so that eventually they are totally replaced. It could be that every physical state of the type U (cause of the union between soul and body), whether it be U1, U2, or U3… Un, U[n+1], will automatically cause the union of what remains of the body with the soul that was united to it before. So why not think the soul remains united to the body so long as there is a state of type U?

For an analogy, think of a king’s throne that a servant has to carry on his shoulders to keep the king up. In order to keep the king supported, all you need is an entity of type S–a “strong servant type” of human being. There doesn’t have to be absolute numerical sameness throughout time–you can replace one servant with another after the first guy gets tired. All that has to be there is *someone* who can handle the load. Because we aren’t talking about an identity relation here (the servant example is illustrating continual causality, not sameness or identity) its okay for him to be replaced. He can uphold the king, who remains elevated in place the entire time.

So I think the problems with Brett’s arguments are numerous. Some of them seem to be fallacious (until coupled with considerations that would have illustrated the same point just fine on their own); others seem to be working off of assumptions that dualists aren’t willing to grant; while still others seem to be easily answerable.

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