Christian Thought in the 21st Century

Consciousness: Mind, Spirit, Brain.

Part 2

New Dualism Emerging

The functionalists are those who would reduce consciousness to mere brain function, who argue that thoughts are just chemicals in the brian, who stipulate that our most deeply cherished truths are merely the product of illusory forces at work in the nurons, and who would wither humanity to the valueless status of robots. Even though this line has been swallowed by the atheist, hook, line, and quallia, there are voices clammering to be heard above the automoton's din of babble. These include many physicists, psychiatricist, and philosophers.

TimesApril 16, 1996Arizona Conference Grapples With Mysteries of Human ConsciousnessBy SANDRA BLAKESLEE[T] UCSON, Ariz.

"The study of consciousness is like the study of physics before Newton, said Dr. Piet Hut, a theoretical physicist at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, N.J. In fact, he said, if people had organized a conference about physics in the Middle Ages, they would have dismissed Copernicus and Galileo as crackpots. "We shouldn't make that mistake today," Hut said.But before progress can be made on the question, some definitions are in order. Consciousness has many guises.In Tucson, the tone of discourse was set by a young philosopher from the University of California at Santa Cruz, Dr. David Chalmers. He is widely credited for posing the so-called hard problem of consciousness.To explain this concept, Chalmers first described the so-called easy problems of consciousness, the sorts of questions being tackled in neuroscience laboratories around the world: How does sensory information get integrated in the brain? How do we see and reach out for an object? How are we able to verbalize our internal states and report what we are doing or feeling?"These problems are not trivial,"

2) Dualists represent major scientific approach

The New York TimesApril 16, 1996Arizona Conference Grapples With Mysteries of Human ConsciousnessBy SANDRA BLAKESLEE[T] UCSON, Ariz.

The next major group of consciousness seekers might be called modern dualists. Agreeing with the hard problem, they feel that something else is needed to explain people's subjective experiences. And they have lots of ideas about what this might be.According to Chalmers, scientists need to come up with new fundamental laws of nature. Physicists postulate that certain properties -- gravity, space-time, electromagnetism -- are basic to any understanding of thee universe, he said."My approach is to think of conscious experience itself as a fundamental property of the universe," he said. Thus the world has two kinds of information, one physical, one experiential. The challenge is to make theoretical connections between physical processes and conscious experience, Chalmers said.Another form of dualism involves the mysteries of quantum mechanics. Dr. Roger Penrose from the University of Oxford in England argued that consciousness is the link between the quantum world, in which a single object can exist in two places at the same time, and the so-called classical world of familiar objects where this cannot happen.Moreover, with Hameroff, he has proposed a theory that the switch from quantum to classical states occurs inside certain proteins call microtubules. The brain's microtubules, they argue, are ideally situated to perform this transformation, producing "occasions of experience" that with the flow of time give rise to stream of consciousness thought.

The New York TimesApril 16, 1996Arizona Conference Grapples With Mysteries of Human ConsciousnessBy SANDRA BLAKESLEE[T] UCSON, Ariz.

Chalmers said. "They may take 100 years or more to solve, but progress is being made."The hard problem is this: What is the nature of subjective experience? Why do we have vividly felt experiences of the world? Why is there someone home inside our heads?Thus far, nothing in physics or chemistry or biology can explain these subjective feelings, Chalmers said. "What really happens when you see the deep red of a sunset or hear the haunting sound of a distant oboe, feel the agony of intense pain, the sparkle of happiness or meditative quality of a moment lost in thought?" he asked. "It is these phenomena, often called qualia, that pose the deep mystery of consciousness."

Glen Miller, Christian Think Tank:

"As you can see, there are some rather fundamental shifts going on in this area, and it is appropriate to ask about the status of older-style dualism. But before I jump into that, let me simply point out that we are just learning in this arena. The old reductionist optimism--that we would be able to unambiguously associate specific neural states to ALL qualia, subjective experiences, intentional states, and executive functions of the consciousness, thereby 'explaining' the latter by the former--has become more of a 'old religion' than a well-grounded prediction. Those closest to the data, the neurologists and physiologists, are the ones describing our limited progress in this descriptive task. To be sure, great and useful progress as been made in associating SOME neuro-data with SOME psycho-data, but the hope of exhaustively and precisely identifying a specific neural state with 'a vision of Pearl's pickup truck'.
There are actually several problems in this area:

* We don't actually know what neural activity IS!"

C. Study data supports Mind as irreduceable to brain.

1) Re-emergence of Daulistic and metaphysical views due to strength of data for mind.

There is a great deal of data supporting the irreduceability of consciouseness, and thus the mind. This has led to a re-emergence of a type of dualism and the blurring of distinctions bwetween materialist and dualistic paradgims. Given this indication it may be safe to say that there is evidence here for something beyond the materailist level. This may be evidence for God since it implies a trasncendence of the material in the universe.

a. Anti dualistic assumptions due to ideological bias

Glenn Miller:


Guzeldere in surveying the current trends [CS:JCS:2.2,112-143] notes:

"It seems that the opposing attitudes towards consciousness stem largely form pre-theoretical, though (or perhaps therefore) deep-rooted and very strongly held, intuitions." [p.127]

"The eliminativists charge the defenders of phenomenal consciousness with believing in a fiction and crating a philosophical problme out of it. In return, the eliminativists get charge with holding the most preposterous philosophical fancy." [p.138]

"Unfortunately, the dialectic of the debate seems to be at an impossible impasse: the contention is at the fundamental level of taking for granted versus denying the existence of a feature of mentality which can at best be defined ostensively...This is unfortunately the kind of philosophical junction at which most worthy disagreements hit rock bottom, and recede into a matter of faith" [p.138]

J. Shear also highlights how big the 'gap' is [CS:JCS:198]:

"Such past successes [of reductionism] have led many influential defenders of the standard paradigm to insist that, whatever the conceptual difficulties, consciousness and its phenomenal content will ultimately turn out to be explicable as and reducible to purely physical phenomena, even if we cannot now foresee how this will happen. However, to others the gap between the qualia-free material world of the physical sciences and the qualia-filled contents of phenomenal awareness at present remains so great that this insistence appears to be little more than an act of faith"

And finally,

b) Dualism re-emerges in new guise

Glenn Miller:


Now, given this turbulence, re-evaluation, and re-definition going on the field, what is the status of DUALISM?

Well, the first thing that comes to MY mind is that 'dualism' simply changed its public relations firm and won acceptance!

Strangely enough, the way this was accomplished was simply by defining reality 'bigger'. As one allows consciousness or mind INTO 'nature' as a fundamental 'thing' itself (with causal powers), the dual-worlds were simply collapsed into one 'bigger' world that has both elements in it! Dualism (in most, but not all, senses of the term) was simply given a new name, such as "naturalistic dualism" (Chalmers) or "liberal naturalism" (Rosenberg).

No one puts this as clearly as Todd Moody, in responding to someone's 'fear of dualism' [JCS:2.4.371]:

"It's true that I am not troubled by this, in part because I don't find such a sharp line of demarcation between dualistic and materialistic metaphysics in the first place. If we cannot escape the conclusion that the physical description of the world is incomplete (as Elitzur states and many others agree), the main thing is to try to find a more complete one and not worry about whether it resembles previous versions of materialism or dualism"

It is very difficult to avoid this conclusion of 'emergent dualism' (chortle, chortle)with all the proposals floating around (reviewed above). The mind as 'immaterial'--in the sense of classical matter--is also accepted as a brute fact! Consider some of the statements and concessions (bold, my emphasis; italics, their emphasis):

* The introductory chapter in CS:TSC (p.1) opens with this statement: "This volume begins with a series of philosophical chapters devoted mostly to the explanatory chasm between reductionist mechanisms and the subjective phenomenon of conscious experience. The chasm is so daunting that many support 'dualism', the notion that the mind is distinct from the brain and merely interacts with it."

* Erich Harth, (Univ. of Syracuse, Dept. of Physics) [CS:TSC:611ff] notes that dualism is "not quite as dead as some would have us believe" (p.619), and then goes on to show that the most common objection to old-style dualism just doesn't wash [p.620]:

"Dualist approaches have been generally shunned for introducing unscientific or antiscientific notions. But this need not be the case. The argument most frequently advanced against mind-brain dualism is that, to assert that nonphysical elements such as mind could affect physical processes in the brain, and ultimately determine behavior, would violate all laws of physics as we know them. Just how fallacious this argument is can be is seen in the following quotation by Dennett..." (he goes on to 'dismantle' a few of Dennett's statements about 'fundamental principles of physics')

* Physicists, predictably [in a quantum wave probability sense, of course..;>)], are very open to this interpenetration of mind/matter: Compare the free-floating quote of noted physicist Feynman: "Mind must be a sort of dynamical pattern, not so much founded in a neurobiological substrate as floating above it, independent of it" [cited in CS:DP:24]

* Hameroff's model [CS:JCS:108] claims to be both reductionist AND dualist:

"As a model of consciousness, quantum coherence in microtubules is reductionist in that a specific molecular structure is featured as a site for consciousness. It is seemingly dualist in that the quantum realm (which is actually intrinsic to all of nature) is seen to act through microtubules."

* Atmanspacher gives his view that the dual-world is just this 'bigger' one-world [JCS:1.2.168-9]:

"One of the hot topics in this respect concerns the question of whether material reality and its non-material counterpart can indeed be considered as independent from each other as the concept of Cartesian dualism assumes. The most precise and best formalized indications for a negative answer to this question can be found in quantum theory."

"Two important concepts that present evidence against any ultimate relevance of the corresponding dualism are the concepts of complexity and meaning. In addition to quantum theory, these concepts reflect tendencies to bridge the Cartesian cut from both realms, that of physics as well as that of cognitive science..."

* Grush and Churchland [CS:JCS:2.1.10-29] express amazement at how many 'intellectual materials' seem to have 'strong dualist hankerings' (p.27). They talk about these 'residual dualist hankerings' as being a rather widespread phenomenon.

* An interesting possible example of this is in Hodgson' book The Mind Matters. In the review of the book [JCS:2.1.93], Squires makes this comment:

"Often I find in this book that the author is almost saying that within a person there is something that is in its essence not physics, but then he realises that this is dualism, which he feels should be avoided, so he tries to escape. These escapes are unsatisfactory."

* Chalmers actually refers to his position as 'naturalistic dualism' and says that it does qualify as a type of dualism, but an innocent dualism [e.g. CS:JCS:2.3.210]

* McGinn notes that "recent philosophy has become accustomed to the idea of mental causation" [CS:JCS:2.3.223]

* This 'bigger' aspect can also be seen in Rosenberg's 'liberal naturalism' [CS:JCS:3.1.77]:

"The emergence of the Liberal Naturalist is a sign that we are continuing to mature as naturalists. We are now beginning, just beginning, to realize that the natural world we actually live in encompasses the physical, but only as an aspect. Consciousness shows us that our world has another fundamental aspect that we must understand if we are to understand the qualitative character of our mental lives."

[In a footnote, he distinguishes his view from physicalism and, at the same time, attempts to bypass anti-dualism attacks by calling it 'naturalism'!]


"What can be seen from these sample quotes is that 'dualism' has been grafted back into the universe. The basic obvious reality of downward causation of a mind-not-physical (in the classical sense) has finally been noticed! The tendency to reductionism is shown to be without warrant in view of the data. In fact, it is beginning to be questioned as simple 'cultural baggage'! Compare this insightful--albeit disturbing--quote about Harmon's contribution to CS:TSC, in CS:TSC:726]: "

"Appropriately, the most ambitious chapter of this section is the final one by Willis Harman. Is the conceptual framework of science sufficiently broad to encompass the phenomenon of consciousness, he asks, or must it be somehow enlarged to fit the facts of mental reality? Attempting an answer, he considers the degree to which science can claim to be objective and to what extent it is influenced by the culture in which it is immersed. Those who disagree might pause to consider the religious perspective from which modern science has emerged.

"There is reason to suppose that the roots of our bias toward determinism lie deeper in our cultural history than many are accustomed to suppose. Indeed, it is possible that this bias may even predate modern scientific methods. In his analysis of thirteenth-century European philosophy, Henry Adams (1904) archly observed: "Saint Thomas did not allow the Deity the right to contradict himself, which is one of Man's chief pleasures." One wonders to what extent reductive science has merely replaced Thomas's God with the theory of everything.

"The question of scientific objectivity becomes more compelling when one considers that doubts about the reductive paradigm are by no means new. William James (1890), Charles Sherrington (1951), Erwin Schrodinger (1944, 1958), Karl Popper and John Eccles (1977)--among others--have insisted that the reductive view is inadequate to describe reality. This is not a fringe group. They are among the most thoughtful and highly honored philosophers and scientists of the past century. How is it that their deeply held and vividly expressed views have been so widely ignored? Is it not that we need to see the world as better organized than the evidence suggests?

Page 3: Data Supports Mind over Brain

The Religious A priori