Thursday, March 17, 2005

A Philosophy of Mind, Consciousness, and the Soul Consistent With Christianity (Part Two)

Edited by Dave Armstrong

Part Two
Go to Part One

XI. David J. Chalmers and John Searle: Closer to Truth Dialogues

CLOSER TO TRUTH (CTT) is a new cross-media genre presenting to broad public audiences "Knowledge Affairs" in which the fundamental questions of our times are explored by creative and thoughtful scientists, scholars and artists. CTT, as it is disseminated nationally on public television, in a companion book, on video and audio tapes, and through this unique Web site ( affords the broad U.S., and soon the global community, the opportunity to explore and contribute to the competitive marketplace of fundamental ideas. CTT was created and organized by Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn as a consequence of his long interest in fundamental ideas. He has a Ph.D. in brain research. The following dialogues are from transcripts of the TV show.

David Chalmers is a philosopher at the University of Arizona, where he heads the Center for Consciousness. He is considered one of the leaders in the emerging field of consciousness studies, and is the author of the widely-discussed book, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. Dave wonders whether consciousness may be just as fundamental as matter and energy, and believes that the mind cannot be explained by the brain alone.

John Searle (University of California, Berkeley), is considered to be the leading living philosopher of mind. He has authored many books, including The Mystery of Consciousness, The Rediscovery of the Mind, The Construction of Social Reality, and Minds, Brains and Science. John believes that while consciousness is a real phenomenon, it arises solely from the brain, and that there is no special need to invoke quantum physics.

("What is Consciousness?":

ROBERT: Are you conscious? How do you know? What is consciousness-our thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams; the hidden voice of our private selves; our inner identity? What might consciousness consist of? All of us think we can understand consciousness, but none of us can explain it--therein lies its mystery. Think about yourself reading this chapter, and at the same time, observe yourself thinking. This is self-awareness, the interior mental experience we call consciousness. But why should you be self-aware at all? Is there something special about consciousness--something unique to humans beings, something not found in computers, something of the mind not in the brain? Many scientists, taking the so-called reductionist approach, believe that the inner voice we all experience is simply the illusion of selfhood, manufactured by our brain functions. These people subscribe to materialism, the philosophy that only the physical is real and that nothing nonphysical can exist. But there are a few scientists who wonder whether consciousness may be a fundamental part or property of existence, like matter, energy, space-time--and whether some obscure form of stuff may constitute our private selves. Then there are many people who believe in the existence of an independent, metaphysical spirit or soul, which is somehow an attribute of all human beings and in concert with the human brain forms the human mind. These people--traditional theologians are an example--espouse dualism, the philosophy that two radically different forms of stuff exists in the world: mind, the essence of which is thought; and matter, the essence of which is extension in space and time. Dualism traces its roots to the ancients but was famously expounded by the seventeenth-century mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes, who also said, "I think, therefore I am," thus asserting the primacy of consciousness. Materialism and dualism have been the two principal combatants in the philosophical tug of war commonly known as the mind-body problem. But there are related (and somewhat less respectable) belief systems--such as idealism, which asserts that mind is the reality and matter the illusion, and solipsism, which holds that the self is the one and only true reality. (Modern variances of materialism, such as Eliminative Reductionism and Functionalism, are discussed in the books of our guests.)

ROBERT: John, you're one of the leading philosophers of mind. Why is consciousness such a mystery?

JOHN: We don't know how to explain it. Compare consciousness to physics. We're doing pretty well in physics, even though we have some puzzling areas, like quantum mechanics. But we don't have an adequate theory of how the brain causes conscious states, and we don't have an adequate theory of how consciousness fits into the universe . . . In my worldview, there isn't any question that consciousness is caused by brain processes. Anytime I have any doubts about that, all I have to do is take an aspirin, or drink too much whiskey, and I detect immediately the effect on my consciousness of changes in my brain . . .

DAVE: There's no question that a really deep connection exists between the brain and consciousness. If you duplicate my brain in reality, you're going to duplicate my consciousness in reality. You affect my brain, you affect my consciousness. The real question is, What is it about the brain that can explain consciousness? You can tell stories about how the neurons interact within the brain, such as how the prefrontal cerebral cortex produces motor responses [i.e., what happens in the brain to cause movements like fingers playing a piano]. This will explain only how I behave. It will explain how I can talk to you, and how I react to your constant questioning, and so on. Physical processes are really good for explaining physical structure and physical behavior. But once we get to consciousness, it seems that we're dealing with a whole new class of problems. It's no longer a problem about the structure and behavior of physical objects--it's now about the internal qualitative feel of inner mental awareness. And here is where the standard method of physical explanations may well need to be amended . . .

JOHN: . . . we want to be able to recognize that consciousness is a real feature in a real world. It's a biological phenomenon. It's real in the same sense that digestion or photosynthesis is real biological phenomena. We're not going to get rid of consciousness, or show that it doesn't really exist or that it's all an illusion . . . Maybe we can create consciousness artificially in some machine, but as far as we know to date, it exists only in human brains and in certain animal brains . . .

ROBERT: Dave, do you agree with the gastric secretions analogy?

DAVE: The difference as far stomachs are concerned is that you can tell a physical story to make it transparently clear just why you find those gastric secretions there. You tell a physical story about the brain--how the neurons hook up to each other, how brain areas are wired together--and you can say that this is what produces consciousness, and probably it does, but does that explain why it produces consciousness? No. Consciousness seems to be an irreducible, further fact that seems to be tacked on to the story somewhere. What we need in the science of consciousness is an explanatory theory that connects brain processes and mental self-awareness . . .

ROBERT: John, tell me about those who would take issue with you and deny altogether the very existence of consciousness. The brain is real, they contend, but consciousness is not. What are their best arguments? . . .

JOHN: OK, here we go. Their argument goes as follows: Science demonstrates that the way the world works is entirely physical or material. Nothing exists that is not physical. Therefore if some people still believe that consciousness requires something else to exist--something in addition to the physical, some touchy-feely, airy-fairy kind of stuff like Searle kind of talks about--then it must be unscientific and hence imaginary. Consciousness can't be anything like that. So consciousness is in fact an illusion--an artificial, artifactual, deceptive illusion generated by�, and here follows whatever your favorite theory is. Nowadays the favorite theory is "by computer programs in our brains," and these programs, we're told, is all that consciousness ever was. How about that? Was that honest enough?

DAVE: For much of this century, science has been afraid of subjectivity. Science is meant to be objective, right? No subjective elements allowed. But consciousness is subjective by its very nature, so some people conclude, by a priori definition, either that science can't touch consciousness or that consciousness doesn't exist . . . John says that consciousness is caused by the brain, that consciousness arises from the brain. But I think there can be subtle problems with cause and effect. Cause and effect are often different things. So even if consciousness does arise from the brain, it isn't at all clear that consciousness must therefore be reducible to the brain. One must keep these two separate domains distinct, even if interwoven, in their fundamental natures . . .

("Do Brains Make Minds?":

. . . ROBERT: Any solutions here to the mind-body problem?

JOHN: There are really two mind-body problems. One is the overall philosophical question--What are the general relationships between the mind and the brain?--and I think we can now say what those are: brain processes cause mental states and mental states are realized in the brain. But the second mind-body problem is what Dave [Chalmers] calls the hard problem--How exactly does it work? How do brain processes cause mental states?--and we don't know the answer to that . . .

ROBERT: Dave, your book The Conscious Mind makes the controversial case for "mind" and "consciousness" being a primary element of reality, like mass and energy, and not an epiphenomenon, or secondary phenomenon arising meaninglessly from the brain. What would it take for you to reverse your position--change your mind, as it were--and discard the mind as a primary element of reality and realize that you should have been a good old materialist all along . . . . believing that mind is just the output of the brain as urine is just the output of the kidneys? What kind of data would you have to see?

DAVE: Well, I started out life as a materialist, because materialism is a very attractive scientific and philosophical doctrine . . . Brain research is going to give us better and better correlations between states of the brain and events in the mind. That's what we're seeing now; it's beginning to happen. We find these kinds of strong correlations in many areas. Take the visual cortex, which is associated with certain kinds of visual experiences. Areas of brain function and different states of consciousness are indeed coming together. But finding correlation is not the same as finding an explanation, a reduction of mind to brain. To truly bridge the gap between the physical nature of brain physiology and the mental essence of consciousness, we have to satisfy two different conceptual demands. It's not yet looking very likely that we're going to reduce the mind to the brain. In fact, there may be systematic reasons to think there will always be a gulf between the physical and the mental . . . I think all the evidence is going to be about correlation, not about cause. So we're going to have input/output, if you like--input to the brain, output to the mind. But the really interesting question is, "How do you get from input to output?" . . . The question of whether correlation, however strong, is in itself an explanation or reduction isn't a scientific question; it isn't an empirical question. It's strictly a philosophical question . . .

ROBERT: . . . Now consider computers--massively parallel supercomputers and go out numerous generations. The big question of the moment is, Can computers become conscious?

JOHN: I've been in an argument with these people, and the short answer is no, because if you define a computer in the classic sense as a device that manipulates formal symbols--usually zeros and ones--then that by itself is not enough for consciousness and mental life, because such manipulations are a purely formal operation.

ROBERT: Why can't formal operations, at some level of complexity, generate consciousness?

JOHN: It's the difference between syntax as a bunch of symbols and semantics as meaning. There's a one-sentence proof of this. It's kind of a long sentence, but anyway....Imagine that you're the computer, and imagine a task that you don't know how to perform. I don't know how to speak Chinese.

ROBERT: Go to your Chinese Room.

JOHN: I imagine myself locked in a room, and I have a rule book in the form of a computer program that enables me to answer questions put to me in Chinese. So the Chinese symbols come in, and I look up in the rule book what I'm supposed to do in response to each symbol, and the rule book gives me other Chinese symbols. I look at a symbol that comes in, and I look up what symbols I'm supposed to respond with, and I give back those Chinese symbols as answers. To people outside the room, it might appear as if I understood Chinese. But I don't understand a word of Chinese, because all I have are the symbols--the syntax. Now--this is the point; it's the end of the sentence--if I don't understand Chinese, even though I'm implementing the program for understanding Chinese, then neither does any other digital computer on that basis, because that's all any computer can do. The computer is a device for manipulating formal symbols.

ROBERT: Dave, what do you see when you look inside a computer? Do you see syntax but no semantics, symbols but no meaning?

DAVE: Look inside a brain; you see a bunch of neurons interacting. Do you see any semantics in that? Somehow, and we don't know how, all those neurons interacting give rise to a conscious, meaningful mind. I don't see a difference in principle between carbon-based neurons, which are wet, and silicon-based chips, which are dry.

JOHN: OK, I'll tell you exactly the difference. The brain is a causal mechanism. "Computation" does not name a causal mechanism. It names a formal symbolic mechanism that can be implemented in a causal mechanism.

DAVE: A computer is a causal mechanism.

JOHN: You mentioned silicon. Computation has nothing to do with silicon. Computation is an abstract formal process that we, currently, in our backward technology, have found ways to implement in silicon. I have no objection to the idea that silicon might be conscious, but silicon has nothing to do with computation. Computation needs an abstract, formal symbolic process that we can implement in any medium whatever . . .

ROBERT: . . . Do you think it would ever be possible to create consciousness in some medium other than brains?

JOHN: I don't think so. I think it's out of the question.

ROBERT: You don't think you can?

JOHN: My statement is a factual thesis, not a philosophy proof. The philosophy proof goes as follows: just having the formal symbols, abstract zeros and ones, by itself, isn't sufficient to guarantee the presence of consciousness . . . I think that there's no PC that's ever going to replace Ludwig. The reason is very simple: I know that Ludwig is conscious and I know that a computer is not. And this conclusion has nothing to do with computing power. You can expand the power all you want, hooking up as many computers as you think you need, all in parallel, and they still won't be conscious, because all they'll ever do is shuffle symbols. Computers don't have the causal powers of brains. So, no; no computer as currently defined is going to replace my dog, because computers aren't conscious . . .

("Strange Physics of the Mind?":

. . . DAVE: I don't know whether the mind is everywhere. But here are two problems to consider. Problem one: we don't understand the mind; we don't understand the mind's place in physical reality. Problem two: we don't understand the intrinsic nature of physical reality. So there can seem to be an attractive notion--some of the time--that we might try to solve these two problems at once. Maybe there's mind right at the very basis of physical reality. I don't know whether that's the case.

ROBERT: Does this mean that you can envision mind as being more causative of physical reality than physical reality is causative of mind?

DAVE: Mind might well be more fundamental to the universe than is commonly believed. We already know from physics that the world is a weird place. We already know from philosophy that the mind is a weird place. Who knows about a world of mind? . . . There are some particularly strange things about quantum mechanics. For example, quantum mechanics tells us that an electron can be in two places at once. Now, that's not a problem; that's just a little bit weird. But what happens when someone makes an observation? If an observer comes in, with a conscious mind, then that electron can only be in one place at one time. That's the thing that's hard to understand.
Put it this way: if people want to find a role for mind in physical reality, if they already have a bias to do so, quantum mechanics would be exactly the place to look . . .

XII. David J. Chalmers: Review in First Things and Interviews

(Books in Review, First Things [a Christian periodical] 77 [November 1997]: 52-56,
"A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma":
The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. By David J. Chalmers. Oxford University Press. 414 pp. $29.95. Reviewed by Stephen M. Barr, Associate Professor of Physics at the Bartol Research Institute, University of Delaware)
(Complete review:

Physics cannot explain why an apple looks red. This will surprise some people, but it is a fact that can hardly be disputed. Physics does indeed tell us why an apple reflects red light and what red light is�an electromagnetic wave whose wavelength is between 620 and 700 nanometers. Biophysics can explain why different wavelengths of light affect certain retinal cells differently, and thus how the brain can tell one color of light from another.

But what is left to explain is why the apple looks red, the sensual experience of redness. Why is it that when I see light of 650 nanometers I do not experience the sensation of shocking pink or pale yellow, rather than red? Indeed, if mechanical devices can distinguish wavelengths of light without having sensations, then why do I experience any sensation at all?

This is what philosophers nowadays call the problem of "qualia." Physics deals exclusively with quantities: The equations of theoretical physics allow one to calculate only quantities, and the devices of experimental physics measure only quantities. But since one cannot reduce to numbers what it is like to have a toothache or a paper-cut, to taste licorice or smell a lilac, to hear a flute or fingernails on a chalkboard, it is impossible that these subjective experiences, these qualia, can be derived from any equation. As Erwin Schrödinger put it,

[While] all scientific knowledge is based on sense perceptions, the scientific views of natural processes formed in this way lack all sensual qualities and therefore cannot account for the latter.

. . . To the extent that subjective experience is noticed at all by the modern materialist, it is dealt with�and eliminated�by the "identity theory," according to which mental states and brain states are the same. This is the reigning orthodoxy in modern cognitive science. In the words of the philosopher Hilary Putnam, "It is no longer possible to believe that the mind-body problem is a genuine theoretical problem, or that a "solution" would shed the slightest light on the world in which we live."

David J. Chalmers, a young Australian-born professor of philosophy at the University of California-Santa Cruz has written a book saying that there really is a problem, that there really is something called consciousness, and that we really do not have even the beginnings of a theoretical understanding of it. His book has attracted considerable attention both within the academic world and in the popular press. That this should be so when he is merely arguing for something transparently obvious may seem odd, but we should be thankful, for we live in an age when the obvious has few partisans.

Chalmers accepts a great deal of the current orthodoxy. He has no doubt that a mechanistic account can be given of all of the behavioral "cognitive mind," including our capacity to understand and to will. He certainly does not believe in a spiritual component in man. He does believe, however, that missing from the physicalist picture is the "phenomenal mind": the realm of subjective experience and its sensual aspects, the qualia.

Building on the arguments of many philosophers, notably Frank Jackson and Saul Kripke, Chalmers makes the case very powerfully that physical science cannot explain qualia. He is forced, against his own admitted predispositions, to reject materialism and embrace what he dubs a "naturalistic dualism." What makes his dualism naturalistic, he says, is that he posits no "transcendental element" (by which he probably means a soul or spirit). He believes that behavior can be entirely explained physically, and he thinks that consciousness can be naturally, though not physically, explained.

Chalmers makes some advance beyond people like Roger Penrose who suggest merely that consciousness cannot be explained by the presently known laws of physics: No physical laws, Chalmers argues, could ever explain qualia . . .

Chalmers creates . . . [a] difficulty for himself by his belief that all of behavior can be understood physically. He has to believe this because he takes it to be a fact that "the physical domain is causally closed" and therefore cannot be influenced by anything that lies outside of physics, such as the "phenomenal mind." For him, consciousness is entirely passive, and he believes he thereby escapes the well-known conundrums of "interactionist dualism."

(Chalmers interviewed by Andrew Chrucky. An abbreviated version of this interview was published in
Philosophy Now, Issue 21, 1998)
(Complete paper:

. . . Chalmers: Within the philosophy of mind, the problem of consciousness is no big news. All the same, materialism -- the view that the mental is nothing more than the physical -- has become a received wisdom in recent years, even though there has been a sort of unease about consciousness in the background. People have managed to avert their eyes and hope for the best. There have been a number of people putting forward anti-materialist views, but these have been a little piecemeal, often in the form of bite-sized articles rather than detailed research programs. In my book I try to give some really systematic arguments, drawing on a background framework in metaphysics and the philosophy of language, for why materialism and the existence of consciousness can't be reconciled, and then I try to outline in some detail where we should go from there . . .

Chrucky: You argue in your work that neuroscience will not be able to give a complete theory of consciousness. Do you think that current scientific work on consciousness is misguided?

Chalmers: Sometimes the sort of non-materialist view I put forward is seen as anti-scientific, but I don't see it that way at all. I argue that neuroscience alone isn't enough to explain consciousness, but I think it will be a major part of an eventual theory. We just need to add something else, some new fundamental principles, to bridge the gap between neuroscience and subjective experience. Actually, I think my view is compatible with much of the work going on now in neuroscience and psychology, where people are studying the relationship of consciousness to neural and cognitive processes without really trying to reduce it to those processes . . .

Chrucky: One thing that puzzles me, as a student of the history of philosophy, is the widespread controversy about the existence of qualia. This is surprising because almost all philosophers prior to roughly 1950 accepted the existence of qualia -- they referred to them, of course, by other names: sense impressions, phantasms, ideas, sense data, sensa, sensibilia -- though the term 'quale' was also used -- by C. I. Lewis, I believe. Am I correct in believing this? And what happened to produce this widespread aversion to sense data or qualia?

Chalmers: Actually, I think most people accept the existence of qualia. Only a few deny them -- Dan Dennett, for example, and even there the denial isn't unequivocal. What's controversial about my own view is not so much that I defend the existence of qualia, but that I argue that they are nonphysical. Many contemporary philosophers would like to have their cake and eat it too, by accepting qualia and holding that they are physical. That would be nice if it worked, but at the end of the day I think it just doesn't work . . .

I take materialism, or physicalism, to be the thesis that the only fundamental properties and laws in nature are those characterized by physics: space, time, mass, charge, and so on, and the various laws governing them. To speak metaphorically, we might say that after God had created all of physics and had set up the boundary conditions, everything else came along for free. My central claim is that this is false. One needs further fundamental properties to accommodate consciousness -- experiential properties, or proto-experiential properties . . .

I see the options as falling into three classes. There is epiphenomenalism, on which the new properties don't play a causal role, so I suppose they can't be physical-1 in Sellars' sense. There is interactionism, on which they do play a causal role, so they might or might not be physical-1, depending on whether they are located in spacetime. And there is "panprotopsychism", the last view on which the novel properties are somehow inside the microphysical network from the start. I am perhaps most sympathetic with the last view, which is beautiful and elegant if the details can be worked out. But I have days when each of them seems attractive. It all depends on how a detailed fundamental theory shapes up, sometime in the future.

Chrucky: It seems that it is possible to classify various philosophers by their stance towards qualia. Using C. D. Broad's terminology (in Mind and Its Place in Nature), those who view qualia as delusive are the eliminativists; those who view them as reducible or identical to physical properties of inanimate life are reductionists, and those who claim that qualia are neither eliminable nor reducible, like yourself, are non-reductive or emergent materialists. Although there don't seem to be too many non-reductive materialists around, I am wondering how your version compares with those of others.

Chalmers: Broad is another marvelous under-read metaphysician. I like his taxonomy of the seventeen fundamental positions on the mind-body problem, with various symmetrical kinds of materialism, mentalism, dualism, and neutralism. Some of his seventeen don't have many contemporary proponents, but some do. He dismisses out of hand the sort of materialism that holds that qualia are "delusive", but nowadays people like Dennett come close to this view. Then there are many reductive materialists, of course. There is also a popular view he didn't really consider, on which mental facts are not deducible from physical descriptions, but on which the mental is somehow physical in any case. These people often call themselves "nonreductive materialists". That view is perhaps halfway between Broad's "reductive" and "emergent" materialism. Then there are a good number of dualists, and a few mentalists and neutralists.

My own view might well be seen as a version of his own favorite view, "emergent materialism", which has new fundamental principles governing the emergence of consciousness from the physical. I would prefer to call it a "property dualism" rather than a version of materialism, but that's mostly a terminological issue . . .

Chrucky: In reading your exchange with Searle, in the Exchange; reply 2, I was not sure how to take his charge that you are, on the final analysis, a panpsychist. If you are, you are in good company with someone like Alfred North Whitehead. Can you formulate your understanding of panpsychism, and in what way you are or are not a panpsychist.

Chalmers: In my book on consciousness I discuss panpsychism fairly sympathetically, but I'm not committed to the idea. What I am committed to is the idea that experience is somehow fundamental to nature, and that there are fundamental laws connecting experience with the physical processes we know and love. One natural way for this to go would be for some sort of experience, or proto-experience, to be associated with every physical process. That would make a theory particularly elegant and simple, and it may also help integrate experience inside the causal order, rather than having it dangle outside as a sort of epiphenomenon.

The trouble, of course, is that people think the idea is crazy. In the book I argue that it's not as crazy as people think it is. There needn't be anything like "minds" as we usually think of them at the fundamental level, for example -- I'm not suggesting that electrons are having deep thoughts about the protons they're revolving around! It's just some sort of very simple, primitive analog of experience, going all the way down. I think one needs to take the idea seriously -- after all, it may be a requirement for a theory of consciousness that it contains at least one crazy idea. But after saying all this, I should say that panpsychism is just one way that a fundamental theory might go, and I think the true shape of such a theory is very much an open question.

("Column: Interview with David Chalmers," Christopher Lovett: Cognitive Science Online, Vol. 1, Issue 1, Winter 2003)
(Complete paper:

A: . . . In my 1996 book I argued that consciousness is an irreducible part of nature, and in particular is not reducible to brain processes, though it is systematically correlated with brain processes . . . explaining consciousness isn't just a matter of explaining behavior and explaining functioning. Even once one has explained things, there's always a further question: why is this accompanied by subjective experience? And a neural account alone leaves this question unanswered. So one might say that neuroscience provides correlation with consciousness, but correlation is not explanation . . .

Q: If you could have a discussion with any philosopher or scientist no longer living, who would that person be? What are some of the issues you would like to discuss or questions you would like to ask?

A: I think it would have to be Descartes. He was both such an interesting philosopher and so far ahead of his time as a scientist. I think what I'd enjoy most is telling him about all the developments in the last few centuries in both philosophy and in cognitive science, and hearing his reactions. Somehow I suspect that he'd get up to speed very quickly, and would have all sorts of quite unexpected insights.

("Interview with David Chalmers")
(Complete interview:

. . . Q: So there wasn't so much a particular moment of conversion, of shifting from a materialist view over to the idea that there needed to be some other kind of explanation.

A: Not really no. I've always been very sympathetic to the materialist view myself. I was sort of brought up in the scientific materialist tradition. I've always in some kind of sense wanted to be a materialist, I find it a very attractive and elegant sort of view of the world - everything as being made up of physical entities interacting in the spatio-temporal void, and this is going to explain everything.

But on the other hand I think you've also got to face up to the fact that consciousness poses these extraordinary problems. For a long time I tried to see how one could accommodate them into a materialist framework but it's more or less like banging your head against a brick wall. Eventually I decided, for systematic reasons, that you just had to face up to the arguments which made it pretty clear to me that that just didn't work. One had to bring in something extra.

Q: You've postulated the idea of having fundamental rules or laws to describe consciousness. Can you draw us a rough sketch of what sort of model you're looking for?

A: Well, I guess the first thing about that is why I postulate consciousness as a fundamental thing in the first place. The argument there is that you can't explain consciousness is terms of anything more primitive. In physics you have a few fundamental categories - mass, space, time, and so on - and you take those things as fundamental and from those things you read off everything else - chemistry, biology and so on - as a kind of consequence. But then everything in those physical theories seems to be compatible with the absence of consciousness. And though these give you great explanations of structure and function, there's nothing there to tell you why you should have consciousness at all.

So in order to bring consciousness into the picture one needs to take it as something irreducible, something which one doesn't explain in terms of things which are more fundamental. One does the same thing elsewhere in physics. One doesn't explain space and time in terms of things more fundamental, one just takes them as what they are. So if we just take consciousness as what it is, as a primitive component of the world, then it doesn't just stop there any more then you stop physics by saying "Well, there's mass and space and time." What you want to do is give really detailed theories of these things and the laws that relate them and just how they behave, and just how to characterise their structure and so on, and then you get a detailed fundamental theory of physics.

So I'd aim to do the same thing with consciousness. Even though we're taking consciousness as this irreducible entity, there's still obviously deep and systematic links to everything else in the world, to physical processes, to the brain and so on. If you change the brain in certain ways, you change consciousness, there's obviously a really tight connection between the two, and what we really want is ultimately an account of that connection. What I'd be looking for is a theory of fundamental laws underlying that connection between physical processes and consciousness, in the same way that physics gives a theory of fundamental laws relating features like mass and space and time.

. . . it's certainly very odd and very bizarre. The more you think about consciousness, the more you come to the conclusion that the world just has to be very odd. The same thing goes on elsewhere again, quantum mechanics is kind of like that. The more you think about quantum mechanics, the more you realise no matter how you're going to come down on certain crucial questions the world is going to end up pretty bizarre. So consciousness is a little bit like that, so a little bit of craziness in a theory is not necessarily a disqualifying factor . . .

XIII. David J. Chalmers: Papers on Consciousness and the New Philosophical "Dualism"

("Modal Rationalism and the Mind-Body Problem")
(Complete paper:


If the anti-materialism argument is accepted . . ., we're left with about three positions to choose from. All might be called versions of "phenomenal fundamentalism" (it's arguable whether (iii) is dualism).

(i) Epiphenomenalism: Causally closed physical world, naturally supervenient phenomenal properties. (No knockdown arguments against this, but counterintuitive and more importantly inelegant.)

(ii) Interactionism: No causal closure, two-way psychophysical laws. (Not merely compatible with physics, but positively suggested by one natural interpretation of quantum mechanics; fertile grounds for exploration.)

(iii) Panprotopsychism: Fundamental protophenomenal properties serve as the categorical basis for microphysical dispositions in a causally closed physical world. (Might be seen as materialism, but might equally be seen as a non-Berkeleyian idealism. Or maybe best described as a dual-aspect view with an underlying neutral monism. Deeply attractive, if the constitution relations can be figured out.)

("Materialism and the Metaphysics of Modality" -- Chalmers: This appeared in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 59:473-93, as a response to four papers in a symposium on my book The Conscious Mind. )
(Complete paper:

The argument against materialism in The Conscious Mind has two parts. The first part, in Chapter 3 of the book, argues that facts about consciousness are not necessitated a priori by physical facts. The second part, in Chapter 4 of the book, argues that facts about consciousness are not necessitated a posteriori by physical facts . . .

Type-B materialism has been perhaps the most popular position on consciousness in recent years. It simultaneously promises to take consciousness seriously (avoiding the deflationary excesses of type-A materialists) and to save materialism (avoiding the ontological excesses of the property dualist). For these purposes, Kripke's introduction of a posteriori necessities has seemed a godsend. In recent years, almost every type-B materialist (Loar is a notable exception) has appealed to Kripkean examples in support of their position. On such a view, the relationship between consciousness and physical processes is supposed to be like that between water and H2O, or between Hesperus and Phosphorus. In The Conscious Mind I argue that this does not work . . .

. . . I hold that conceptual possibility = logical possibility = metaphysical possibility (at the level of worlds). But when we are discussing a potential distinction between conceptual and metaphysical possibility, "logical possibility" always goes with the former and not with the latter . . .

. . . If it were not that the antecedent impulse to believe materialism were so strong (I share it, too), and my conclusions so hard to accept, I think the arguments would be relatively uncontroversial. As things stand we are in the situation where we scratch around for a materialist "way out", and the existence of any potential loophole in the argument, no matter how ad hoc, is seized upon. I don't say this is a bad strategy, given one's initial subjective probabilities, but I think it is clear where the wishful thinking lies.

. . . the explanatory gap . . . is indeed a problem for the type-B materialist view (how could a physical process necessitate conscious experience? . . .) . . . even if a type-B materialism is accepted, the explanatory gap is still a major issue . . . There are questions about explanation, and there are questions about ontology, and the former are as at least as important as the latter. In the book, I devote at least as much space to the explanatory issues, and in the end they may matter more in developing a theory of consciousness.

Although a type-B materialism will reject my conclusions about ontology, it will (in effect) accept my conclusions about explanation. It remains the case that crossing the gap requires epistemically primitive bridging principles. These principles will be called "identities" or "necessities" rather than "laws", but their role in a theory will be much the same. A theory of consciousness will still need to have a primitive vertical structure, not derivable from the horizontal structure of physical theory. No matter how we interpret the ontology, the shape of a theory of consciousness will be entirely different from theories in other domains.

So even if one saves the letter of materialism, it is not clear that one saves the spirit. The materialist dream of a seamless explanatory web from physics on up will fail, and we will need to search for a theoretically independent bridge. We will eventually want to systematize and simplify this bridge until we are left with a set of simple (fundamental?) identities or necessities from which all the others follow. The result will be something much like the sort of psychophysical theory that I advocate in my book (and the specific suggestions I make in the second half of the book may apply equally well or badly here). In a way, the type-B materialist ought to be as concerned with the search for a "fundamental theory" as I am.

Hill & McLaughlin say that I endorse epiphenomenalism, and that my anti-materialist argument implies epiphenomenalism. This is not strictly true. In fact perhaps my favorite position on the mind-body problem (as Yablo in effect notes) is not epiphenomenalism but the "panprotopsychist" (or "Russellian") position on which basic physical dispositions are grounded in basic phenomenal or protophenomenal properties. Far from making experience causally irrelevant, this view holds that experience will be part of the categorical grounds of causation.

I think there is also more to say about interactionism than I said in my book. In particular, I think there is no knockdown argument against a quantum interactionism on which consciousness is the categorical basis of wave-function collapse. I don't favor this view myself, but it needs to be taken seriously.

Both the panprotopsychist view and the quantum interactionist views are counterintuitive, but both are elegant and appealing and not obviously false. In both cases there are questions about whether they can really be made to work, but those issues remain open. So the conclusion of my anti-materialist argument ought not to be taken as epiphenomenalism. Rather, it is the disjunction of panprotopsychism, epiphenomenalism, and interactionism. The question between these three views is really a distinct issue, as it can only be decided by considerations further to the argument against materialism. For my part, I rank the options in roughly the order given, but it is a deep question on which I have no settled opinion . . .

("Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness"; Chalmers: This appeared in the Journal of Consciousness Studies in 1995 [2:200-219]. Also online is my response, "Moving Forward on the Problem of Consciousness", to 26 articles commenting on this paper. That paper elaborates and extends many of the ideas in this one.)
(Complete paper:

Consciousness poses the most baffling problems in the science of the mind. There is nothing that we know more intimately than conscious experience, but there is nothing that is harder to explain. All sorts of mental phenomena have yielded to scientific investigation in recent years, but consciousness has stubbornly resisted. Many have tried to explain it, but the explanations always seem to fall short of the target. Some have been led to suppose that the problem is intractable, and that no good explanation can be given.

To make progress on the problem of consciousness, we have to confront it directly. In this paper, I first isolate the truly hard part of the problem, separating it from more tractable parts and giving an account of why it is so difficult to explain. I critique some recent work that uses reductive methods to address consciousness, and argue that such methods inevitably fail to come to grips with the hardest part of the problem. Once this failure is recognized, the door to further progress is opened. In the second half of the paper, I argue that if we move to a new kind of nonreductive explanation, a naturalistic account of consciousness can be given. I put forward my own candidate for such an account: a nonreductive theory based on principles of structural coherence and organizational invariance and a double-aspect view of information.

There is not just one problem of consciousness. "Consciousness" is an ambiguous term, referring to many different phenomena. Each of these phenomena needs to be explained, but some are easier to explain than others. At the start, it is useful to divide the associated problems of consciousness into "hard" and "easy" problems. The easy problems of consciousness are those that seem directly susceptible to the standard methods of cognitive science, whereby a phenomenon is explained in terms of computational or neural mechanisms. The hard problems are those that seem to resist those methods . . .

The really hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. When we think and perceive, there is a whir of information-processing, but there is also a subjective aspect. As Nagel (1974) has put it, there is something it is like to be a conscious organism . . .

At the end of the day, the same criticism applies to any purely physical account of consciousness. For any physical process we specify there will be an unanswered question: Why should this process give rise to experience? Given any such process, it is conceptually coherent that it could be instantiated in the absence of experience. It follows that no mere account of the physical process will tell us why experience arises. The emergence of experience goes beyond what can be derived from physical theory.

. . . At this point some are tempted to give up, holding that we will never have a theory of conscious experience. McGinn (1989), for example, argues that the problem is too hard for our limited minds; we are "cognitively closed" with respect to the phenomenon. Others have argued that conscious experience lies outside the domain of scientific theory altogether.

I think this pessimism is premature. This is not the place to give up; it is the place where things get interesting. When simple methods of explanation are ruled out, we need to investigate the alternatives. Given that reductive explanation fails, nonreductive explanation is the natural choice.

Although a remarkable number of phenomena have turned out to be explicable wholly in terms of entities simpler than themselves, this is not universal. In physics, it occasionally happens that an entity has to be taken as fundamental. Fundamental entities are not explained in terms of anything simpler. Instead, one takes them as basic, and gives a theory of how they relate to everything else in the world. For example, in the nineteenth century it turned out that electromagnetic processes could not be explained in terms of the wholly mechanical processes that previous physical theories appealed to, so Maxwell and others introduced electromagnetic charge and electromagnetic forces as new fundamental components of a physical theory. To explain electromagnetism, the ontology of physics had to be expanded. New basic properties and basic laws were needed to give a satisfactory account of the phenomena.

Other features that physical theory takes as fundamental include mass and space-time. No attempt is made to explain these features in terms of anything simpler. But this does not rule out the possibility of a theory of mass or of space-time. There is an intricate theory of how these features interrelate, and of the basic laws they enter into. These basic principles are used to explain many familiar phenomena concerning mass, space, and time at a higher level.

I suggest that a theory of consciousness should take experience as fundamental. We know that a theory of consciousness requires the addition of something fundamental to our ontology, as everything in physical theory is compatible with the absence of consciousness. We might add some entirely new nonphysical feature, from which experience can be derived, but it is hard to see what such a feature would be like. More likely, we will take experience itself as a fundamental feature of the world, alongside mass, charge, and space-time. If we take experience as fundamental, then we can go about the business of constructing a theory of experience.

. . . This position qualifies as a variety of dualism, as it postulates basic properties over and above the properties invoked by physics. But it is an innocent version of dualism, entirely compatible with the scientific view of the world. Nothing in this approach contradicts anything in physical theory; we simply need to add further bridging principles to explain how experience arises from physical processes. There is nothing particularly spiritual or mystical about this theory - its overall shape is like that of a physical theory, with a few fundamental entities connected by fundamental laws. It expands the ontology slightly, to be sure, but Maxwell did the same thing. Indeed, the overall structure of this position is entirely naturalistic, allowing that ultimately the universe comes down to a network of basic entities obeying simple laws, and allowing that there may ultimately be a theory of consciousness cast in terms of such laws. If the position is to have a name, a good choice might be naturalistic dualism . . .

("Moving Forward on the Problem of Consciousness" -- Journal of Consciousness Studies 4:3-46.)
(Complete paper:

Perhaps the most common strategy for a type-A materialist is to deflate the "hard problem" by using analogies to other domains, where talk of such a problem would be misguided. Thus Dennett imagines a vitalist arguing about the hard problem of "life", or a neuroscientist arguing about the hard problem of "perception". Similarly, Paul Churchland (1996) imagines a nineteenth century philosopher worrying about the hard problem of "light", and Patricia Churchland brings up an analogy involving "heat". In all these cases, we are to suppose, someone might once have thought that more needed explaining than structure and function; but in each case, science has proved them wrong. So perhaps the argument about consciousness is no better.

This sort of argument cannot bear much weight, however. Pointing out that analogous arguments do not work in other domains is no news: the whole point of anti-reductionist arguments about consciousness is that there is a disanalogy between the problem of consciousness and problems in other domains. As for the claim that analogous arguments in such domains might once have been plausible, this strikes me as something of a convenient myth: in the other domains, it is more or less obvious that structure and function are what need explaining, at least once any experiential aspects are left aside, and one would be hard pressed to find a substantial body of people who ever argued otherwise.

When it comes to the problem of life, for example, it is just obvious that what needs explaining is structure and function: How does a living system self-organize? How does it adapt to its environment? How does it reproduce? Even the vitalists recognized this central point: their driving question was always "How could a mere physical system perform these complex functions?", not "Why are these functions accompanied by life?" It is no accident that Dennett's version of a vitalist is "imaginary". There is no distinct "hard problem" of life, and there never was one, even for vitalists.

In general, when faced with the challenge "explain X", we need to ask: what are the phenomena in the vicinity of X that need explaining, and how might we explain them? In the case of life, what cries out for explanation are such phenomena as reproduction, adaptation, metabolism, self-sustenance, and so on: all complex functions. There is not even a plausible candidate for a further sort of property of life that needs explaining (leaving aside consciousness itself), and indeed there never was. In the case of consciousness, on the other hand, the manifest phenomena that need explaining are such things as discrimination, reportability, integration (the functions), and experience. So this analogy does not even get off the ground.

. . . Often, a proponent will simply assert that functions are all that need explaining, or will argue in a way that subtly assumes this position at some point. But that is clearly unsatisfactory . . . the problem is being "resolved" simply by placing one's head in the sand.

. . . If one takes the third-person perspective on oneself -- viewing oneself from the outside, so to speak - these reactions and abilities are no doubt the main focus of what one sees. But the hard problem is about explaining the view from the first-person perspective. So to shift perspectives like this - even to shift to a third-person perspective on one's first-person perspective, which is one of Dennett's favorite moves - is again to assume that what needs explaining are such functional matters as reactions and reports, and so is again to argue in a circle.

. . . Proponents of the "no problem" view sometimes like to suggest that their view is supported by the results of modern science, but all the science that I know is quite neutral here: I have never seen any experimental result that implies that functions are all that need to be explained. Rather, this view seems to be rooted in a philosophical claim. This claim does not seem to be supported either by empirical evidence or by non-circular argument; at the end of the day, it may be that the position is grounded instead in some sort of unargued axiom, such as Dennett's third-person absolutism. And to anyone who is impressed by the first-person phenomenology of consciousness, such an axiom will always beg the crucial questions. The position reduces to an unargued denial.

This is not to say that type-A materialism cannot be argued for at all. There are a few sophisticated arguments for such a position in the literature (for example, Shoemaker 1975 and White 1986), but even these ultimately come down to "consider the alternatives", isolating the difficulties that one gets into if one accepts that there is a further phenomenon that needs explaining. There is no doubt that these difficulties (both ontological and epistemological) are considerable; life would be a lot easier if the hard problem did not exist. But I think these difficulties are solvable; and in any case, to deny the problem because of the difficulties has the flavor of solution by decree. So while I think such arguments need to be taken very seriously, they do little to actually remove the problem. To truly make the problem go away, one needs positive and non-circular arguments for the counterintuitive conclusion that the functions are all that need explaining; and such arguments are very hard to find . . .

I prefer to set up the hard problem in such a way that a solution is not defined out of existence. The hard problem, as I understand it, is that of explaining how and why consciousness arises from physical processes in the brain. And I would argue the sort of theory I advocate can in principle offer a good solution to this problem. It will not solve the impossible problem of providing a reductive explanation of consciousness, but it will nevertheless provide a theory of consciousness that goes beyond correlation to explanation.

. . . is the physical world causally closed? In the paper I accepted that it was, not because I think things have to be that way, but because to deny this is to go a long way out on a limb. One does not have to go out on that limb to embrace the irreducibility of consciousness, so I prefer to stay neutral, lest the baby of consciousness once more be thrown out with the bathwater of Cartesian dualism . . .

. . . (It is interesting that philosophers reject interactionist dualism because they think it is incompatible with physics, whereas physicists reject the relevant interpretations of quantum mechanics because they are dualistic!). On most days of the week, I lean toward a different interpretation of quantum mechanics (Everett's), but interactionist collapse interpretations have obvious attractions and are not to be dismissed lightly. (I lean toward them about two days a week, and toward Bohm's interpretation on Sundays.) At least it seems clear that interactionist dualism is not incompatible with physical theory, as we understand it today.

. . . as Stephen Hawking (1988) has noted, physical theory says nothing about what puts the "fire" into the equations and grounds the reality that these structures describe. The idea of a world of "pure structure" or of "pure causation" has a certain attraction, but it is not at all clear that it is coherent. So we have two questions: (1) what are the intrinsic properties underlying physical reality?; and (2) where do the intrinsic properties of experience fit into the natural order? . . .

I think this question is wide open. There are at least three potential ways of seeing the metaphysics here: the epiphenomenalist version, the interactionist version, and the Russellian version. All have pros and cons, and I think the question of their mutual merits is one that deserves much further investigation . . .

I am most attracted to a Russellian interpretation on which experience forms the "intrinsic" (or realizing) aspect of informational states which are fundamental to physics but characterized by physics only extrinsically. There is at least a kinship between the informational model and the Russellian metaphysics here, and exploiting it would lead to definite double-aspect ontology. ("Physics is information from the outside; experience is information from the inside.") But I am not certain that this can be made to work, and more straightforwardly dualistic interpretations are also available.

. . . Proposals [to the "hard problem"] with a neurobiological and cognitive flavor were made by Crick and Koch, Baars, and MacLennan. The philosophical orientations of these range from reductionism to property dualism; this alone illustrates that a neurobiological approach to consciousness is compatible with many different philosophical views. Even if neurobiology and cognitive science alone cannot solve the hard problem, they may still play a central role in developing a theory.

. . . Some of the most intriguing pieces, to me, are those that speculate about the shape of a fundamental theory of consciousness. Many of these proposals invoke some form of panpsychism. Panpsychism is not required for a fundamental theory; it is not written in stone that fundamental properties have to be ubiquitous. Libet and Stapp, for example, both invoke fundamental theories without invoking panpsychism. But the idea of a fundamental theory certainly fits well with panpsychism, and the proposals by Hut and Shepard, Rosenberg, and Seager are all explicitly panpsychist.

Some contributors (e.g. Mills and Hardcastle) roll their eyes at the idea of panpsychism, but explicit arguments against it are surprisingly hard to find. Rosenberg and Seager give nice defenses of panpsychism against various objections. Indeed, both upbraid me for not being panpsychist enough. I do not know whether panpsychism is true, but I find it an intriguing view, and in my book I argue that it deserves attention. If a simple and powerful predictive theory of consciousness ends up endorsing panpsychism, then I do not see why we should not accept it.

Panpsychist views need not ascribe much of a mind to simple entities. Sometimes the term "panexperientialism" is used instead, to suggest that all that is being ascribed is some sort of experience (not thought, not intelligence, not self-awareness), and a particularly simple form of experience at that. And some versions do not even go this far. Instead of suggesting that experience is ubiquitous, such views suggest that some other property is ubiquitous, where instantiations of this property somehow jointly constitute experience in more complex systems. Such a property might be thought of as a proto-experiential property, and the associated view might more accurately be thought of as panprotopsychism.

("Consciousness and its Place in Nature")
(Complete paper:

. . . In what follows, I will discuss each of these views. The discussion is necessarily speculative in certain respects, and I do not claim to establish that any one of the views is true or completely unproblematic. But I do aim to suggest that none of them has obvious fatal flaws, and that each deserves further investigation.

9 Type-D Dualism

Type-D dualism holds that microphysics is not causally closed, and that phenomenal properties play a causal role in affecting the physical world.[*] On this view, usually known as interactionism, physical states will cause phenomenal states, and phenomenal states cause physical states. The corresponding psychophysical laws will run in both directions. On this view, the evolution of microphysical states will not be determined by physical principles alone. Psychophysical principles specifying the effect of phenomenal states on physical states will also play an irreducible role.

*[[Type-D dualists include Foster 1991, Hodgson 1991, Popper and Eccles 1977, Sellars 1981, Stapp 1993, and Swinburne 1986.]]

The most familiar version of this sort of view is Descartes' substance dualism (hence D for Descartes), on which there are separate interacting mental and physical substances or entities. But this sort of view is also compatible with a property dualism, on which there is just one sort of substance or entity with both physical and phenomenal fundamental properties, such that the phenomenal properties play an irreducible role in affecting the physical properties. In particular, the view is compatible with an "emergentist" view such as Broad's, on which phenomenal properties are ontologically novel properties of physical systems (not deducible from microphysical properties alone), and have novel effects on microphysical properties (not deducible from microphysical principles alone). Such a view would involve basic principles of "downward" causation of the mental on the microphysical (hence also D for downward causation).

It is sometimes objected that distinct physical and mental states could not interact, since there is no causal nexus between them. But one lesson from Hume and from modern science is that the same goes for any fundamental causal interactions, including those found in physics. Newtonian science reveals no causal nexus by which gravitation works, for example; rather, the relevant laws are simply fundamental. The same goes for basic laws in other physical theories. And the same, presumably, applies to fundamental psychophysical laws: there is no need for a causal nexus distinct from the physical and mental properties themselves.

By far the most influential objection to interactionism is that it is incompatible with physics. It is widely held that science tells us that the microphysical realm is causally closed, so that there is no room for mental states to have any effects. An interactionist might respond in various ways. For example, it could be suggested that although no experimental studies have revealed these effects, none have ruled them out. It might further be suggested that physical theory allows any number of basic forces (four as things stand, but there is always room for more), and that an extra force associated with a mental field would be a reasonable extension of existing physical theory. These suggestions would invoke significant revisions to physical theory, so are not to be made lightly; but one could argue that nothing rules them out.

By far the strongest response to this objection, however, is to suggest that far from ruling out interactionism, contemporary physics is positively encouraging to the possibility. On the standard formulation of quantum mechanics, the state of the world is described by a wave function, according to which physical entities are often in a superposed state (e.g., in a superposition of two different positions), even though superpositions are never directly observed. On the standard dynamics, the wave function can evolve in two ways: linear evolution by the Schrödinger equation (which tends to produce superposed states), and nonlinear collapses from superposed states into nonsuperposed states. Schrödinger evolution is deterministic, but collapse is nondeterministic. Schrödinger evolution is constantly ongoing, but on the standard formulation, collapses occur only occasionly, on measurement . . .

. . . quantum mechanics appears to be perfectly compatible with such an interpretation. In fact, one might argue that if one was to design elegant laws of physics that allow a role for the conscious mind, one could not do much better than the bipartite dynamics of standard quantum mechanics: one principle governing deterministic evolution in normal cases, and one principle governing nondeterministic evolution in special situations that have a prima facie link to the mental . . .

. . . Of course such an interpretation of quantum mechanics is controversial. Many physicists reject it precisely because it is dualistic, giving a fundamental role to consciousness. This rejection is not surprising, but it carries no force when we have independent reason to hold that consciousness may be fundamental . . . I am still not especially inclined to endorse interactionism, but I now think that the argument from physics is much too glib . . .

All this suggests that there is at least room for a viable interactionism to be explored, and that the most common objection to interactionism has little force. Of course it does not entail that interactionism is true. There is much that is attractive about the view of the physical world as causally closed, and there is little direct evidence from cognitive science of the hypothesis that behavior cannot be wholly explained in terms of physical causes. Still, if we have independent reason to think that consciousness is irreducible, and if we wish to retain the intuitive view that consciousness plays a causal role, then this is a view to be taken very seriously.

10 Type-E Dualism

Type-E dualism holds that phenomenal properties are ontologically distinct from physical properties, and that the phenomenal has no effect on the physical.[*] This is the view usually known as epiphenomenalism (hence type-E): physical states cause phenomenal states, but not vice versa. On this view, psychophysical laws run in one direction only, from physical to phenomenal. The view is naturally combined with the view that the physical realm is causally closed: this further claim is not essential to type-E dualism, but it provides much of the motivation for the view.

*[[Type-E dualists include Campbell 1970, Huxley 1874, Jackson 1982, and Robinson 1988.]]

As with type-D dualism, type-E dualism is compatible with a substance dualism with distinct physical and mental substances or entities, and is also compatible with a property dualism with one sort of substance or entity and two sorts of properties. Again, it is compatible with an emergentism such as Broad's, on which mental properties are ontologically novel emergent properties of an underlying entity, but in this case although there are emergent qualities, there is no emergent downward causation . . .

Overall, I think that epiphenomenalism is a coherent view without fatal problems. At the same time, it is an inelegant view, producing a fragmented picture of nature, on which physical and phenomenal properties are only very weakly integrated in the natural world. And of course it is a counterintuitive view that many people find difficult to accept. Inelegance and counterintuitiveness are better than incoherence; so if good arguments force us to epiphenomenalism as the most coherent view, then we should take it seriously. But at the same time, we have good reason to examine other views very carefully . . .

11 Type-F Monism

Type-F monism is the view that consciousness is constituted by the intrinsic properties of fundamental physical entities: that is, by the categorical bases of fundamental physical dispositions.[*] On this view, phenomenal or protophenomenal properties are located at the fundamental level of physical reality, and in a certain sense, underlie physical reality itself.

*[[Versions of type-F monism have been put forward by Russell 1926, Feigl 1958/1967, Maxwell 1979, Lockwood 1989, Chalmers 1996, Griffin 1998, Strawson 2000, and Stoljar 2001.]]

This view takes its cue from Bertrand Russell's discussion of physics in The Analysis of Matter. Russell pointed out that physics characterizes physical entities and properties by their relations to one another and to us. For example, a quark is characterized by its relations to other physical entities, and a property such as mass is characterized by an associated dispositional role, such as the tendency to resist acceleration. At the same time, physics says nothing about the intrinsic nature of these entities and properties . . .

This view has elements in common with both materialism and dualism. From one perspective, it can be seen as a sort of materialism. If one holds that physical terms refer not to dispositional properties but the underlying intrinsic properties, then the protophenomenal properties can be seen as physical properties, thus preserving a sort of materialism. From another perspective, it can be seen as a sort of dualism. The view acknowledges phenomenal or protophenomenal properties as ontologically fundamental, and it retains an underlying duality between structural-dispositional properties (those directly characterized in physical theory) and intrinsic protophenomenal properties (those responsible for consciousness). One might suggest that while the view arguably fits the letter of materialism, it shares the spirit of antimaterialism . . .

As I see things, the best options for a nonreductionist are type-D dualism, type-E dualism, or type-F monism: that is, interactionism, epiphenomenalism, or panprotopsychism. If we acknowledge the epistemic gap between the physical and the phenomenal, and we rule out primitive identities and strong necessities, then we are led to a disjunction of these three views. Each of the views has at least some promise, and none have clear fatal flaws. For my part, I give some credence to each of them. I think that in some ways the type-F view is the most appealing, but this sense is largely grounded in aesthetic considerations whose force is unclear . . .

Not everyone will agree that each of these views is viable. It may be that further examination will reveal deep problems with some of these views. But this further examination needs to be performed. There has been little critical examination of type-F views to date, for example; we have seen that the standard arguments against type-D views carry very little weight; and while arguments against type-E views carry some intuitive force, they are far from making a knockdown case against the views. I suspect that even if further examination reveals deep problems for some views in this vicinity, it is very unlikely that all such views will be eliminated.

In any case, this gives us some perspective on the mind-body problem. It is often held that even though it is hard to see how materialism could be true, materialism must be true, since the alternatives are unacceptable. As I see it, there are at least three prima facie acceptable alternatives to materialism on the table, each of which is compatible with a broadly naturalistic (even if not materialistic) worldview, and none of which has fatal problems. So given the clear arguments against materialism, it seems to me that we should at least tentatively embrace the conclusion that one of these views is correct. Of course all of the views discussed in this paper need to be developed in much more detail, and examined in light of all relevant scientific and philosophical developments, in order to be comprehensively assessed. But as things stand, I think that we have good reason to suppose that consciousness has a fundamental place in nature.

[Dualist References]

Broad, C. D. 1925. The Mind and its Place in Nature. Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Campbell, K. K. 1970. Body and Mind. Doubleday.
Foster, J. 1991. The Immaterial Self: A Defence of the Cartesian Dualist Conception of the Mind. Oxford University Press.
Hodgson, D. 1991. The Mind Matters: Consciousness and Choice in a Quantum World. Oxford University Press.
Huxley, T. 1874. On the hypothesis that animals are automata, and its history. Fortnightly Review 95:555-80. Reprinted in Collected Essays. London, 1893.
Jackson, F. 1982. Epiphenomenal qualia. Philosophical Quarterly 32:127-136.
Popper, K. and Eccles, J. 1977. The Self and Its Brain: An Argument for Interactionism. Springer.
Robinson, W. S. 1988. Brains and People: An Essay on Mentality and its Causal Conditions. Temple University Press.

Sellars, W. 1981. Is consciousness physical? The Monist 64:66-90.
Stapp, H. 1993. Mind, Matter, and Quantum Mechanics. Springer-Verlag.
Swinburne, R. 1986. The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford University Press.

See also:

"Response to Searle" (

"On 'Consciousness and the Philosophers' " (2nd Response to Searle)

David Chalmers' Home Page (

1284 Online Papers on Consciousness (

XIV. Douglas Groothuis: Minds, Bodies, and Persons

(Complete paper:

Interactionist dualism has certainly fallen out of philosophical fashion, despite some noteworthy exceptions [Richard Swinburne and Karl Popper] . . . Rather than defending dualism against its many modern foes, I will discuss several of Richard Taylor's salient criticisms of dualism which serve as roadblocks to an intelligible presentation. After discussing these, I will briefly turn my attention to a response which attempts to avoid the problems of both dualism and materialism by making the notion of a "person" -- rather than mind or body -- the primitive and primary reference.


For Richard Taylor, humans are living organisms and no more than material bodies. There is no mental component or soul or mind to be added to the corporeal configuration. The mind-body problem is solved by dropping the mind. Taylor finds the idea of a distinct soul as unnecessary to explain the human capacities often invoked by dualists as evidence for the soul. Matter will do just as well, thank you. But will it?

Taylor says that it "it is quite plain" that "the difficulties of simple materialism are not overcome by any form of dualism." [Metaphysics (3rd Edition), Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1983, 25] This is because of (1) the difficulty in associating a nonphysical spiritual or mental substance with a very different physical body and because (2) there are just as many problems in ascribing "personal and psychological predicates and descriptions" [Ibid., p. 26] to minds as there are in ascribing them to bodies. We will first address this rather novel second move and then consider whether the supposed problems with associating mind and body render interactionism indefensible.

Taylor thinks that "all forms of dualism arise from the alleged disparity between persons and physical objects." [p. 26] People, unlike rocks and weeds, can think, believe, feel, wish and the like. We have mental states unascribable to nonliving physical objects. We may think of a rock, but a rock may not think of us. Hence the dualist argues that these unique mental states indicate something different about humans, that we have minds that think, believe, feel, and wish. The assumption is that mental predicates cannot rightly affix to material objects.

To this, Taylor argues that we have no reason not to affix these predicates to material objects because the "real difficulty here is in seeing how anything at all can deliberate, choose, repent, think, be virtuous or wicked, and so on." [p. 26] This difficulty, Taylor thinks, is not overcome by positing an immaterial "thinker." The proper perspective is just that humans are like other physical objects in some senses -- they have weight, dimension, color, etc.-- and unlike other physical objects in other senses�they think, choose, hate, etc. Since it is the case that humans have physical bodies -- even the dualist will grant this -- it is better to assume that humans are physical bodies, and that "some bodies think, feel desire, choose, etc." Taylor thinks this argument is just as good as the dualists' argument and avoids "a morass of problems concerning the connections between soul and body." [p. 27]

Such a materialism, Taylor realizes, is open to the charge that certain mental states cannot be adequately explained in simply physiological terms. The mental cannot be reduced to the material without remainder. Taylor gives examples of intentional mental states where a person has a desire for something or has a fear of someone. That is, the mental state is about something or concerns something outside itself. Dualists have often appealed to such states as inexplicable on materialist grounds alone. Can a material object or process -- say, alpha brain waves -- be afraid of spiders or fall in love with someone? Taylor grants that this "referential character" of certain mental states poses a problem for materialists. He says:

It is fairly well known, for example, what physiological changes a person undergoes when in a state of fear; but when these changes are artificially invoked, the person does not experience fear in the usual sense. He describes his state as being vaguely like fear but finds that he is not afraid of anything.

[p. 29]

The "referential character" of fear is not replicated through physical inducement alone. Something is missing. The dualist says the mind is missing, the materialist something else.

Taylor's solution is to posit "unfamiliar states of matter" [p. 29] which are, in his words, "identical" with psychological states. Our "ordinary methods of biology, chemistry, and physics" may not pick up this covert corporeality, but it is there to be found, nevertheless--lest materialism fail us. Taylor insists that this is not question-begging because the "soul philosophers" always appeal to unobservable states of the soul and because nothing nonmaterialistic follows from the fact that every psychological state has yet to be correlated with a bodily state. Further:

From the fact that a certain state is in some respect unusual it does not follow that it is a state of an unusual thing, of a soul rather than a body, but rather, that if it is a state of body it is an unusual one, and if it is a state of the soul it is no less unusual.

[p. 29]

Taylor's argument seems to be that the dualist explanation is no better than the materialists', and the materialist is not freighted with somehow connecting a soul with a body . . . Taylor is really arguing for a "matter of the gaps" solution to the mind-body problem. There are gaps or explanatory lacunas in our ability to adequately describe mental states in purely physical terms. In dealing with intentional or referential mental states we are, as yet, at a loss as to how to describe them physically.

The dualist wants to give a "mind of the gaps" solution to the same problem in that merely physical explanations can never fill in all the gaps between mental states and physical descriptions. There is an irreducible mental element in human beings called the mind or soul which is not identical to any material state. This alone explains the kind of referential states described by Taylor, as well as any mental state.


What should we make of Taylor's argument thus far? First, his claim that mental states are just as easily predicable to bodies as to minds is less than compelling. The issue at hand is how to explain the unique attributes of mental life. In no other cases of material objects do we predicate rational calculation, hope, faith, love, etc. A rock is not loving; a bed is not hateful. These attributes are uniquely human . . . There is, I argue, a difference in kind between mental and physical states which has ontological implications.

. . . My claim is that mental states and physical states differ in kind, not in degree. Thus they cannot be identical, given this very simple -- and, I think, uncontroversial -- principle of identity: "Whatever differs in kind cannot be identical." One could also grant the principle, "Whatever differs in degree can not be identical," given Leibniz' law; but applying this to the mind-body problem could give materialists a wedge to argue that mental states are really highly complex or rarefied physical states. They could argue that mental states differ in degree of complexity from other physical states but not in kind, and can so be viewed as essentially identical physical states. To forestall this ploy, I will argue from the more intuitively certain principle that whatever differs in kind cannot be identical. Then I will argue that mental and physical states differ in kind, not degree.

The following discussion is meant to show that there is no metaphysical halfway house between mental and physical states. They are just too different. What one lacks, the other has, and vice versa. There is no graduated spectrum of states between the mental and the physical. In fact, mental states lack the defining properties of physical states; and physical states lack the defining properties of mental states. Contradictory properties cannot attach to the same thing.

. . . Taylor wants to maintain that thoughts are, in some sense, identical to material states. He thinks we can, at least in principle if not in present day science, find the physical state of affairs that explains the as yet mysterious referential mental states. This is a kind of promissory note for future science. Such explanations should be, or at least can be, discovered by a more advanced scientific procedure. They are in principle knowable. Karl Popper calls this "promissory materialism" which "consists, essentially, of a historical (or historicist) prophecy about the future results of brain research and of their impact." [Karl R. Popper and John C. Eccles, The Self and Its Brain, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977, 97] But does this promise make any sense?

Even if a particular mental state is correlated with a particular brain state this does not mean that the mental state is identical to the brain state. Most basically, the experience of joy can never be adequately or completely described by reference to physical states. Brain waves aren't joyful; neither are they melancholic or anhedonic. Rather, people experience these emotions, people who differ drastically from nonhuman, physical objects.

. . . The advocates of mind-brain identity often claim that the mind just is the brain in the same sense that lightning just is the motion of electrical charges. They are two different descriptions of the same thing . . . Hick says: "To assume that such cases offer a valid analog for the identity of a physical event with a mental event is simply to beg the question at issue, which is precisely whether physical and mental events can be identical." [John Hick, Death and Eternal Life, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1976, 116] These sorts of analogies don�t get us very far because they exclude the very sorts of mental states that are at the heart of the issue.

. . . if brain states are identical to mental states it must be the case that whatever is true of one is true of the other. But it is certainly not the case that my first person subjective experience (mental state) of testing syllogisms for soundness and validity is true of the brain state I am in when I work on logic. There may be correlation, but there can be no identity. Neither is there a difference in degree between the experience of thinking logically and the physical description of the brain state one is in while during so. No brain state is semi-logical, not any mental state semi-physical. As Leibniz noted, if we liken the human brain to a factory, we could see any number of movable parts, but we could never see the thinking. To suppose we can equate brain states with mental states is a category mistake of the first order, as Berkeley noted:

To expect that by a multiplication or enlargement of our faculties we may be enabled to know a spirit [soul or mind] as we do a triangle, seems as absurd as if we should hope to see a sound.

(George Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge, #142)

The point here is that mental experience in the first person is logically distinct from third person observations Thus mental and physical events are not equivalent or identical. Consider one more case: A research scientist was born without the sense of smell. His area of interest is olfactory responses and processes in humans. He knows more about the physiological components of smell than any living researcher. Yet he has never smelled anything in his life. Can we say he knows what it means to smell because he has such a wide knowledge of the physical processes involved in smell? I think not. But if through a new operation�which he himself helped develop, given his encyclopedic knowledge of the subject -- his olfactory faculty was restored, he could then be said to have experienced smell in the first person for the first time. He can then experience the mental state of smelling everything within his nose�s glad grasp. The physical correlates of smell are not identical to the mental state of smelling. If they were, our scientist would have had no new, post-operative experience.

Some future science may find that every mental state is correlated with a particular brain state or several possible brain states, but this would establish no more than the contingent correlation of these two very different kinds of states. It would show that the states are existentially inseparable (given what we know), but it would not show that they are ontologically identical.

Still Taylor may argue that while matter may have odd properties only found in humans, the supposition of a separate soul or mind in order to explain mental events puts us in no better position than the mysteries of materialism. So we are on safer ground to say that mental and physical states are equivalent in some way yet to be discovered. But, interestingly, several scientists specializing in brain function have concluded that there is more to the person than the brain alone. The existence of a distinct mind better explains, they think the scientific findings. This claim is in direct odds with Taylor's hope for a super-scientific materialist explanation. But what sort of scientific evidence, if any, could support dualism?


Dr. Wilder Penfield was known for his ground-breaking work with epilepsy. His work involved stimulating brain tissue in conscious patients in order to find the causes of epilepsy. During these sessions Penfield found that the prodding of certain areas of the brain triggered vivid memories of past events. The patients reported remembering clearly such things as the taste of coffee. One patient, while on an operating table in Montreal, Canada, remembered laughing with cousins on a farm in South Africa. [As cited in Arthur Custance, The Mysterious Matter of Mind, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980, 64-65]

What amazed Penfield was that his patients, who were not under anesthetic, were simultaneously conscious of the re-experienced memories and of being prodded by an electrode in an operating room. Penfield called this a "double consciousness" wherein a memory was stimulated physically but was attended to and recognized as a memory by a conscious patient. Penfield likened this to the patient watching a television program while remaining aware that it wasn�t now happening.

Penfield repeated these results on hundreds of epileptic patients and concluded that a separable mind was able to track what the brain was doing as a result of the artificial stimulation. One�s mind in a sense could transcend the operations of the brain, monitoring memories without actually placing oneself in the situation remembered. Penfield noted that "The mind of the patient was as independent of the reflex action as was the mind of the surgeon who listened and strove to understand. Thus, my argument favours independence of mind-action." [Ibid., 65] Penfield also stated that if we liken the brain to a computer, it is not that we are a computer, but that we have a computer. [Ibid., 65]

Penfield, who began his research as a materialist, switched to dualism after extensive research with epileptic patients. He said, "Something else finds its dwelling place between the sensory complex and the motor mechanism. . . . There is a switchboard operator as well as a switchboard." [Ibid., 62]

Although nonepileptic patients do not respond similarly to brain stimulation, other researchers, such as Sir John Eccles, a neurobiologist, have similarly concluded that the brain alone cannot account for a many phenomena. Eccles�

Hypothesis is that the self-conscious mind is an independent entity that is actively engaged in reading from the multitude of active centres in the modules of the liaison areas of the dominant cerebral hemisphere. The self-conscious mind selects from these centres in accord with its attention and its interests and integrates its selection to give unity of conscious experience from moment to moment.

(Popper and Eccles, ibid., 355)

Thus, Eccles' conclusions agree with Penfield�s, and his areas of research extend farther than that of epileptic patients. Eccles deems the "monist materialist" hope for an eventual physical explanation for mental events as wrongheaded in principle because mental events are not "simply derivative of aspects of nerve endings. There is no evidence for this whatever." [John Eccles, "Modern Biology and the Turn to Belief in God," in The Intellectuals Speak Out About God, edited by Roy Abraham Varghese, Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1984, 49] Further, Eccles argues that his "strong dualist-interactionist hypothesis . . . has the recommendation of its great explanatory power. It gives in principle at least explanations of the whole range of problems relating to brain-mind interaction." [Popper and Eccles, 374] Eccles notes that it has been impossible to develop a materialist explanation of "how a diversity of brain events come to be synthesized so that there is a unified conscious experience of a global or gestalt character." [Ibid., 362] Given this impasse, Eccles proposed that "the self-conscious mind" serve to integrate the apparently disparate brain processes into a unified consciousness. [Ibid.]

My aim is not to give a detailed account of the evidence cited by the likes of Penfield and Eccles but to note that eminent, experimental scientists believe that dualism better accounts for the phenomena than does materialism. Mental activity seems to transcend that which is describable with reference to brain states or processes alone. Of course, Taylor could simply wait for the discovery of some subtle state of matter to explain these phenomena (the "matter of the gaps" approach), but we shouldn't evaluate materialism according to its post-dated checks. Eccles claims that his interactionist idea is a genuine scientific hypothesis "because it is based on empirical data and is objectively testable." [Ibid., 375] If so, Taylor would have to judge it on its own merits instead of dismissing interactionism in favor of materialism�which still awaits a scientific explanation of the mysterious "referential states." While the materialist hopes for a future explanation for facts not presently explicable on materialist grounds, Eccles and others offer theories that claim to account for a full range of phenomena by virtue of the existence of the mind.

Taylor may here simply deny such attempts a priori, given the problems he finds with how an immaterial mind can be understood to interact with matter. But this need not cripple the interactionist endeavor. As Mortimer Adler has pointed out, if there is good reason to question materialism and to grant the immateriality of mental states, the problems of interaction should be considered after the fact. These kinds of puzzles should not disqualify interactionist while there exists arguments and evidence in favor of it. [The Difference of Man and the Difference it Makes, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968, 198-199] There are any number of puzzles and conundrums concerning the activity of sub-atomic particles whose existence is, nonetheless, well established. If interactionism were logically contradictory or hopelessly unintelligible, arguments for it would be disqualified on that basis alone. But this does not seem to be the case. (Taylor admits that his own materialist position is not without mystery.) [Taylor, ibid., 32]

. . . When the gap between the subjective and the objective consists in a difference in kind, it is not just difficult to bridge but impossible. G. K. Chesterton's quip has no little philosophical punch:

It is obvious that the materialist is always a mystic. It is equally true that he is often a mystagogue. He is a mystic because he deals entirely with mysteries, in things that our reason cannot picture; such as mindless order or objective matter becoming subjective mind.

(Generally Speaking, New York: Dodd, Mead, and Co., 1929, 106; quoted in The Quotable Chesteron, eds. George J. Marlin, Richard P. Rabatin, and John L Swan, Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1987, 211)


To this point, some may readily agree: "The reduction of persons to material properties is fundamentally misguided. Reductionism is wrongheaded." Yet the further retort would be: "Drop all the references to minds or souls being somehow in persons. We reject Taylor's materialism but we also reject interactionism. Let's rather speak of persons as the logically primitive term." We will call this perspective personalism.

Personalists agree that something has gone wrong if we assume that the "brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile," as a Philosopher once said. Bodies don't think, hope, will, desire, fear, or do mathematics. People do these things. But why split the person into a distinct soul and body, considering all the traditional difficulties in such a dichotomy? Persons think, not minds in bodies. The personalist need not appeal to scientific interpretations attempting to distinguish mind and body. We know that persons have unique properties without recourse to scientific experiments. That is enough. While this position is superior to materialism, because it is more in harmony with ordinary language, it still leaves some important questions unanswered regarding the nature of these unique persons.

First, it doesn't seem odd to inquire as to what part of a mechanism accounts for a particular function. If asked what part of the car carries the gasoline we answer that the gas tank in the rear of the car does. If asked what part of the car illuminates the road ahead we answer that the head lights do. If asked what part of the car turns the car we answer that the front wheels do. We can still say, of course, that "my car holds twenty gallons of gas" or "my car lights up the road at night" or "my car turns" but when pressed for a more particular and specific explanation we appeal to certain aspects of the car in question which explain functions: the gas tank, the head lights, and the front wheels.

Similarly, we might say that our professor thought long and hard before giving out the grades in the graduate seminar. Here the personalist chimes in, "Right! The professor, the person, thinks, Say no more." But must we stop here? Yes, the professor thinks. We don't want to say that the brain produces thought as the stomach digests food. But it seems natural to ask what it is about the professor that allows him to think when the chair on which he sits can do no such thing. If we say, "Well, he's a person. People think and chairs don't," we really haven't explained anything except the difference between the professor and the chair�something that was already understood before the question was asked. We haven�t explained the reason for the difference. The issue is: What makes people different? What accounts for their unique mental abilities?

The personalist will say that persons have mental abilities and that's all there is to it. This seems somewhat analogous to saying a car carries gas, illuminates the road, and turns -- and that's all there is to it! But we want more. What is it about the car that carries gas, illuminates the road, and turns? How are these functions fulfilled? What makes them possible?

The interactionist, of course, will say that the person thinks because of the mind's capacity to think. It is just this factor that distinguishes humans from nonhuman material objects. The function of thought is best explained by reference to an organ of thought distinct from the body alone. My elbow does not think, neither does my toe. I think But what do I think with? I think with the mind, a nonmaterial part of me. So for the interactionist, a person is both physical and mental. The mental aspect accounts for the unique properties of mental states. In other words, the mental states are states of something, of an entity called the mind. Similarly, physical states are states of various objects or bodies, including my own body. There is a parallel. States of affairs or properties are states of affairs or properties of something. Weight, color, mass, and texture are, indisputably and uncontroversially, states of physical bodies. Hope, fear, joy, and love are states of the mind, not physical bodies. The mental states are not reducible to the physical states. Mental states entail something that produces them in persons�the mind.

Taylor objects that an unusual state (a mental state) does not imply the existence of an unusual thing (the mind) . But this seems wrong. If, as argued, mental states are not identical with physical states, they cannot be states of matter, even Taylor's "unfamiliar states of matter." [Taylor, ibid., 29]. Materialism cannot explain the difference in kind between mental and physical states. It only makes sense, then, to understand mental states as states of mind. They are states of that kind of thing, and it is not material. Therefore, contra Taylor, these "unusual" states do imply the existence of an "unusual thing" -- the mind.

But Taylor's terms shouldn't throw us off the philosophical trail. Mental states are not unusual at all. We all experience them. They are only unusual when one is boxed in my materialistic constraints. To conceive of matter thinking is indeed unusual, to say the least. To conceive of a mind thinking is not.

The personalist will argue that the material/immaterial disjunct is illegitimate. We should rather speak of physical objects in some cases and persons in other cases. There is no need for immaterial minds. But the interactionist resounds that there must be something different about persons, something more than just their physical complexity, that renders them so different from nonpersons. The factor missing from a rock that prohibits it from thinking is a mind. Persons do think. They think with their minds.

If the personalist believes that the death and dissolution of the body is the end of the person (unless there is a later resurrection), then it becomes difficult to see just how she differs from the materialist. Persons can�t exist apart from bodies. There is no separable soul. So whatever makes a person different from a mere impersonal body, it must simply be a more complex organization or form of physical states, since the person is terminated with the cessation of bodily functioning.


The interactionist -- however he responds to the classical problems of his position -- appeals to the soul as the deciding factor accounting for human mentality. And it is just this, as classically understood, that endures bodily death. For the interactionist, then, there arise no problems of personal identity on account of gaps in existence between the pre-mortum (pre-resurrected) and post-mortum (post-resurrected) persons. The soul continues to exist until re-embodied or resurrected. There is then no gap to be bridged. Likewise, there is no gap to be bridged when all of my bodily cells have been replaced over a ten year period but I consider myself the same person despite this comprehensive physical overhaul.

XV. Alvin Plantinga: An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

(Complete paper:

Richard Dawkins (according to Peter Medawar, "one of the most brilliant of the rising generation of biologists") once leaned over and remarked to A.J.Ayer at one of those elegant, candle-lit, bibulous Oxford college dinners that he couldn't imagine being an atheist before 1859 (the year Darwin's Origin of Species was published); "...although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin", said he, "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." The Blind Watchmaker Dawkins goes on:

All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind's eye. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.

. . . If (naturalistic) evolution is true, then our cognitive faculties will have resulted from blind mechanisms like natural selection, working on sources of genetic variation such as random genetic mutation. And the ultimate purpose or function . . . of our cognitive faculties, if indeed they have a purpose or function, will be survival - of individual, species, gene, or genotype. But then it is unlikely that they have the production of true beliefs as a function. So the probability or our faculties' being reliable, given naturalistic evolution, would be fairly low.

. . . Naturalistic evolution gives its adherents a reason for doubting that our beliefs are mostly true; perhaps they are mostly mistaken; for the very reason for mistrusting our cognitive faculties generally, will be a reason for mistrusting the faculties that produce belief in the goodness of the argument.

. . . The traditional theist, on the other hand, has no corresponding reason for doubting that it is a purpose of our cognitive systems to produce true beliefs, nor any reason for thinking the probability of a belief's being true, given that it is a product of her cognitive faculties, is low or inscrutable. She may indeed endorse some form of evolution; but if she does, it will be a form of evolution guided and orchestrated by God. And qua traditional theist -- qua Jewish, Moslem, or Christian theist - she believes that God is the premier knower and has created us human beings in his image, an important part of which involves his giving them what is needed to have knowledge, just as he does.

The conclusion to be drawn, therefore, is that the conjunction of naturalism with evolutionary theory is self-defeating: it provides for itself an undefeated defeater. It is therefore unacceptable and irrational.

(From: "Darwin, Mind and Meaning," originally published in the May/June 1996 issue of Books and Culture, a bi-monthly intellectual journal published under the auspices of Christianity Today, Inc., the publisher of Christianity Today and other periodicals)

According to the English philosopher John Lucas, philosophical naturalism is now the orthodoxy of the Western intellectual world. This is plausible; it is at any rate one of the current academic orthodoxies (another, perhaps, is the sort of creative anti-realism and relativism with respect to truth associated with certain brands of post modernism). Perhaps the easiest way to understand naturalism to see it as the view that there no such person as God (no all powerful, all knowing and wholly good person who has created the world and has created human beings in his image), nor anything at all like God. The naturalist--the contemporary naturalist, at any rate--typically adds a high view of science, seeing it as the only possible source of our salvation.

Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea is a big (very big), bright exploration and defense of naturalism--or at least of one aspect of it. In several areas it is authoritative; it is written with passion and power; I wouldn't be at all surprised if this book acquires the status of a minor (or maybe major) classic among statements of naturalism . . .

Dennett doesn't confine himself to matters just of theoretical interest. He sees serious religion as steadily dwindling with the progress of science, but suggests that we should keep a few Baptists and other fundamentalists around in something like cultural zoos (no doubt with sizable moats to protect the rest of us right-thinking nonfundamentalists) . . .

. . . Dennett just takes it for granted that serious religion is disappearing, despite the fact that there are far more Baptists than believers in Darwin's dangerous idea. He also fails to note that even in academia--and perhaps especially in the hard sciences--there is a sizeable ground swell of classical religion. Indeed, the same is true even in philosophy, Dennett's own subject. The Society of Christian philosophers, founded some 20 years ago, now has more than 1000 members; 40 years ago such a society could have had no more than a tenth as many.

. . . There is much to be said for Dennett's book. It contains a wealth of enthusiastic information about Darwinian thinking generally, as well as many detailed explanations of particular Darwinian theories . . . The book is well written, if a bit windy. It is fun to read, although some may be put off by its prolixity (no classical restraint and economy here), by frequent and sometimes inexplicable digressions, and by a certain pervasive tendentiousness, or perhaps a certain list towards demagoguery. There is also something to be said against the book. In particular, although Dennett purveys his wares with religious fervor . . ., his forays into philosophical theology and philosophy of religion are at best underwhelming. To say that they do not inspire confidence would be colossal understatement.

. . . Darwin's dangerous idea, says Dennett, is really the idea that the living world with all of its beauty and wonder, all of its marvelous and ingenious design, was not created by God or anything at all like God, but produced by blind, unconscious, mechanical, algorithmic processes such as natural selection--a process, he says, which creates "design out of chaos without the aid of Mind." The idea is that mind, intelligence, foresight, planning, design are all latecomers in the universe, themselves created by the mindless process of natural selection. The idea is that human beings are the outcome of a mindless process; they are not designed or planned for by God or anyone else. And this idea is dangerous, he thinks, because if we accept it, we are forced to reconsider all our childhood and childish ideas about God, morality, value, the meaning of life, and the like. Christians, of course, believe that God has always existed; so mind has always existed, and was involved in the production and planning of whatever there is. In fact many have thought it impossible that mind should be produced just from unthinking matter; as John Locke puts it, ". . . it is as impossible to conceive that ever pure incogitative matter should produce a thinking intelligent Being, as that nothing should of itself produce Matter." [Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) IV, x, 10] Darwin's dangerous idea is that this notion is not merely not impossible; it is the sober truth of the matter.

. . . Dennett distinguishes what he calls cranes from skyhooks:

Let us understand that a skyhook is a "mind-first" force or power or process, an exception to the principle that all design, and apparent design, is ultimately the result of mindless, motiveless mechanicity. A crane, in contrast, is a subprocess or special feature of a design process that can be demonstrated to permit the local speeding up of the basic, slow process of natural selection, and that can be demonstrated to be itself the predictable (or retrospectively explicable) product of the basic process.

An example of a crane would be sexual reproduction, by virtue of which, says Dennett, organisms "can move through Design Space at a much greater speed than that achieved by organisms that reproduce asexually." On the other hand, God's specially creating life, or mind, or human beings, or sparrows, or whatever would be a skyhook, as would be any unspecified or unknown process (elan vital, e.g.) that takes up the slack left by alleged deficiencies in Darwinian evolution.

Now Dennett thinks there are many who have quite properly given up childhood religion and reject the idea that there is such a person as God, who endorse the idea that all living things including ourselves have somehow arisen by way of evolution, who pay at least lip service to Darwin's dangerous idea, but who nonetheless don't or can't embrace its full implications. They find themselves doubting that Darwinian evolution can really explain or account for such things as the development of the human brain, for example, or language, or consciousness. They don't necessarily doubt that we have somehow evolved, but they doubt or deny that Darwinian mechanisms are sufficient; there must have been something else. Such people, Dennett thinks, should be ashamed of themselves. They are soft on religion, or at least lust after skyhooks; and in so doing they display a sort of failure of nerve, a false consciousness. Lusting after skyhooks is a bad thing, and much of the book is devoted to disapproving discussion of those who (he thinks) do--Noam Chomsky, Roger Penrose, John Searle, and especially Stephen Gould. (Of course the ambivalence of these thinkers may be due to something other than bad faith or faint-heartedness; perhaps they are inclined to accept Darwin's dangerous idea, but also see some of its implications as giving serious occasion for pause, rather than as new discoveries to be enthusiastically embraced.)

One question that naturally occurs to a reader of the book: why does Dennett think we should accept Darwin's dangerous idea? Concede that it is audacious, revolutionary, anti-medieval, quintessentially contemporary, with it, and has that nobly stoical hair shirt quality Bertrand Russell said he liked in his beliefs: still, why should we believe it? I think Dennett means to attempt an answer to this question (and isn't merely preaching to the naturalistic choir). He repeats several times that believing in an "anthropomorphic" God is childish, or irrational, or anyway nowadays out of the question. What he sees as an anthropomorphic God, furthermore, is precisely what traditional Christians believe in--a God whom we human beings resemble by virtue of being persons, the sorts of beings who are capable of belief and knowledge, who have aims and ends, and who act on their beliefs in such a way as to try to accomplish those aims.

Well, why is this childish? Dennett's answer, as far as I can make it out, is that the traditional arguments for the existence of God don't work. He mentions only one argument, the so-called argument from design: the universe and many of its parts give the appearance of having been designed by an extraordinarily knowledgeable and powerful designer, so probably there is an Intelligent Designer. Dennett thinks Darwinian considerations suffice to dispose of this argument; they show how it could be that all this apparent design in the living world arises without the aid of an intelligent Designer. Nowadays, however, the most popular version of the argument from design involves the exquisite fine tuning of the laws or regularities of nature. The fundamental constants of physics--the speed of light, the gravitational constant, the strength of the weak and strong nuclear forces--must apparently have values that fall within an extremely narrow range for life to be so much as possible. If these values had been even minutely different (if, for example, the gravitational constant had been different in even the most minuscule degree) habitable planets would not have developed and life (at least life at all like ours) would not have been possible. This suggests or makes plausible the thought that the world was designed or created by a Designer who intended the existence of living creatures and eventually rational, intelligent, morally significant creatures. Like its 17th and 18th century predecessors, this version of the argument is probabilistic rather than deductive: given the nature of the world, it is likely that it was fashioned by an intelligent Designer. The premises don't entail the conclusion, but are supposed to give you some reason to accept it.

Dennett's rejoinder to the argument is that possibly, "there has been an evolution of worlds (in the sense of whole universes) and the world we find ourselves in is simply one among countless others that have existed throughout all eternity." And given infinitely many universes, Dennett thinks, all the possible distributions of values over the cosmological constants would have been tried out; as it happens, we find ourselves in one of those universes where the constants are such as to allow for the development of intelligent life (where else?). Well, perhaps all this is logically possible (and then again perhaps not). As a response to a probabilistic argument, however, it's pretty anemic . . .

Dennett's reply shows at most ('at most', because that story about infinitely many universes is doubtfully coherent) what was never in question: that the premises of this argument from apparent design do not entail its conclusion. But of course that was conceded from the beginning: it is presented as a probabilistic argument, not one that is deductive valid. Furthermore, since an argument can be good even if it is not deductively valid, you can't refute it just by pointing out that it isn't deductively valid. You might as well reject the argument for evolution by pointing out that the evidence for evolution doesn't entail that it ever took place, but only makes that fact likely. You might as well reject the evidence for the earth's being round by pointing out that there are possible worlds in which we have all the evidence we do have for the earth's being round, but in fact the earth is flat. Whatever the worth of this argument from design, Dennett really fails to address it.

But there is a more important question here that Dennett completely ignores. As I say, he seems to think one could be a sensible believer in God only on the basis of some argument, something like one of the traditional theistic arguments. But why think a thing like that? Why think you need an argument to be rational in believing in God? There are plenty of other things we rationally accept without argument--that there has been a past, for example, or that there are other people, or an external world, or that our cognitive faculties are reasonably reliable.

. . . Darwin's dangerous idea is really two ideas put together: philosophical naturalism together with the claim that our cognitive faculties have originated by way of natural selection working on some form of genetic variation. According to this idea, then, the purpose or function of those faculties (if they have one) is to enable or promote survival, or survival and reproduction, more exactly, the maximization of fitness (the probability of survival and reproduction). Furthermore, the probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable (i.e., furnish us with a preponderance of true beliefs) on Darwin's dangerous idea is either low or inscrutable (i.e., impossible to estimate). But either gives the devotee of evolutionary naturalism a defeater for the proposition that his cognitive faculties are reliable, a reason for doubting, giving up, rejecting that natural belief. If so, then it also gives him a reason for doubting any beliefs produced by those faculties. This includes, of course, the beliefs involved in science itself. Evolutionary naturalism, therefore, provides one who accepts it with a defeater for scientific beliefs, a reason for doubting that science does in fact get us to the truth, or close to the truth. Darwin himself may perhaps have glimpsed this sinister presence coiled like a worm in the very heart of evolutionary naturalism: "With me," says Darwin,

the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?

(Letter to William Graham, Down, July 3rd, 1881. In The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin Including an Autobiographical Chapter, ed. Francis Darwin, D. Appleton and Company, 1887, vol. 1, p. 255)

Modern science was conceived, and born, and flourished in the matrix of Christian theism. Only liberal doses of self-deception and double-think, I believe, will permit it to flourish in the context of Darwinian naturalism.

(See also, Plantinga's article, "Naturalism Defeated," )

End of Part Two (and the Paper)
Go to Part One

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 29 March 2003.

No comments: