Immaterialism Has Little To Fear

Immaterialism Has Little To Fear

The current Philosophia Christi (14:1) includes Michael Tooley's “strongest argument for materialism,” specifically the belief that there is no soul, no immaterial mind, nothing to explain human mental and behavioral conditions except the physical brain. His explanation of that argument begins here:

One can treat the proposition that humans have immaterial, rational minds as a scientific hypothesis, and then subject that hypothesis to scientific investigation.

Following that he lists several well-known facts of neuroscience showing that our actions and behaviors in the physical world are strongly related to the health of various parts of our brains. This demonstrable physicality of the brain-mental state-behavior connection, he takes it, demonstrates that there is no immaterial, non-physical mind influencing our mental states and our behaviors.

But there is a problem with that. Before I explain it, I want to point out that Tooley has no problem with supposing that an immaterial mind could interact causally with the material world:

Nor do I think that there is any serious a priori objection to the idea of causal connections between physical states of affaris and states of an immaterial mind, since virtually every analysis of causation that has ever been advance is compatible with the possibility of such a connection.

Some readers think such connections are impossible; Tooley does not. His problem with an immaterial mind lies elsewhere, in what I summarized above.

Unless I'm reading him wrong, though, it seems to me as if he is saying that the reason it's hard to believe immaterial mind exists and has causal influence in the physical world is because there is evidence that the brain has causal influence in the physical world. But that's tantamount to saying that we should reject immaterial mind's causal influence in the physical world if it exercises that influence by way of the brain. Why would that be?

Here's the same question, expanded:

1. Any genuine scientific hypothesis includes a differentiating factor: “if condition X, then x; if condition not-X, then y.”

2. Among all the people I know who believe in an immaterial mind, everyone agrees that when an immaterial mind causes something to happen in the physical world, it causes something to happen in the physical world. If I ever meet someone who denies that, I promise I will pay them no further attention. Most believers in immaterial mind take it for granted that when Smith (with his immaterial mind) mind decides to lift an arm, the effect will generally be that Smith will lift his arm.

3. But I do not know of anyone who thinks that Smith's immaterial mind acts directly upon Smith's arm. We all agree that what happens to the arm depends on what happens in the brain.

4. Thus (2 & 3) it is perfectly consistent with belief in an immaterial mind acting on the physical world to suppose that its actions are processed through the brain.

5. But the effect of Smith's decision to lift his arm not always be the lifting of his arm. Perhaps Smith's arm has fallen asleep (once both my arms fell so totally asleep they were temporarily paralyzed). Perhaps his arm is under a heavy rock. Perhaps Smith is an amputee, and doesn't have that arm. Quite obviously Smith's intentions can be thwarted by conditions in the physical world.

6. Immaterial mind's effects are processed through the brain (4), which of course exists in the physical world; so (5) the physical-world effect of Smith's decisions, made in his immaterial mind, can be affected by physical conditions in Smith's brain. If there is a lesion in a particular point in his brain, his decision to lift his arm will have no affect on his arm.

7. Now, whether any of this (2-6) is the case or not is debatable. What's not debatable is that it means that immaterialism predicts that what happens in the physical brain will affect what Smith's immaterial mind can make happen in the physical world. Materialism and immaterialism both predict the same effect. Therefore (1) Tooley's hypothesis does not differentiate materialism from immaterialism; his observations support both theories quite nicely.

If that's his strongest argument for materialism, then the immaterialism has little to fear.

 

15 thoughts on “Immaterialism Has Little To Fear

  1. Tom:

    Permit me to rephrase Tooley so that his claim is directed to Intelligent Design:

    One can treat the proposition “the development of life on earth, irrespective of the mechanism(s), cannot have arisen as the result of an unguided process” as a scientific hypothesis, and then subject that hypothesis to scientific investigation.

    The proposition in quotes summarizes well, albeit with a Plantingesque twist, the position of Intelligent Design theorists. I’m assuming readers understand that a “guided process” is one at least initiated by a rational agent, and I’m assuming “design” is understood in such a process in a teleological sense.

    By means of such a contextual comparison, one should be able to see that both Tooley and ID theorists are wrong. Why? Because the KIND of objects that are presupposed by both (Tooley – immaterial mind; ID – design) to be allegedly subject to natural scientific investigation are, in fact, not. Period.

    The natural sciences presuppose material objects and physical phenomena that undergo some form of change, with time being the metric for change. In other words, there is an initial state and a final state and a span of time during which the change occurs. The natural sciences attempt to understand the change from one state to another in order to make predictions, and hence gain further insight and understanding. Further presupposed is that change in such objects is—either immediately or with the assistance of tools/instruments—accessible to the senses—if not, no physical change can be detected, and hence natural sciences can’t do their work.

    I repeatedly provide the example of the neutrino to try to clarify the point. A rational agent, with the help of physics, can infer the existence of the neutrino directly from the physics BECAUSE the neutrino is a material object with observable properties amenable to direct investigations of physics. It’s the rational agent that “does” the actual science by relying first on sense data directly accessed from the object—the neutrino. A neutrino is “accessible” to physics precisely because it is the ontological kind of subject matter physics studies: non-living material objects subject to change, and that change is reductively physical motion.

    But, what ontological KIND of thing is “design” or “immaterial mind”? Well, for the latter, it’s pretty clear: the mind is an immaterial KIND of thing… which makes Tooley’s claim a non-starter: how in the name of Jimmy the Greek are immaterial KINDS of things subject to the natural sciences? In fact, can the natural sciences say anything about immaterial KINDS of things? Most certainly not: such KINDS of things can’t be observed through the senses. Period. Moreover, the natural sciences cannot—in any way, shape, or form—assert one way or the other whether such KINDS of things even exist. Period. The ONLY way one can make the latter assertion must be through reasoned argumentation—through philosophical reflection. The only way one can provide an argument for the existence or non-existence of God is through philosophical argumentation. And, the only way one can provide an argument for design is through philosophical argumentation.

    True enough, philosophical argumentation is deeply, fundamentally informed by our observation and understanding of the material/physical extra-mental world—no question there. But the REASONING to immaterial verities is wholly philosophical. It’s hilarious that Tooley spouts his nonsense when Aristotle used reason in the De Anima to argue for the existence of an immaterial, immortal animating principle of rational agents—the soul. The only tool Tooley wants to use is the hammer of the natural sciences (which itself is a philosophical position, by the way), and hence every problem looks like a nail to him… and he only ends up denting his already soft head.

    The irony is ID theorists fall for that same paradigm. I mean, are you kidding us Mr. Dembski, final cause, formal cause, and design “measureable”?!? “Nature imitates art”… are you kidding us, Mr. Behe?!? Applying Information Theory to “meaning” and “functionality”—which are both mathematically ambiguous, are you kidding us, Mr. Meyer?!? What part of an immaterial mind are you going to observe and measure so that material-based hypotheses can be drawn… are you kidding us, Mr. Tooley?!?

  2. True enough, philosophical argumentation is deeply, fundamentally informed by our observation and understanding of the material/physical extra-mental world—no question there. But the REASONING to immaterial verities is wholly philosophical.

    Doesn’t science regularly employ this step when drawing conclusions?

  3. Hi SteveK:

    The short answer is no. The modern empirical sciences reason to the existence of material/physical “things”–NOT to immaterial verities. It’s the object that’s important, i.e., what’s important is the KIND of thing to which one obtains through reason.

    Again, physics inferred (e.g.,) the existence of a material object–the neutrino–from observations of the material world. Philosophy argues to (among other things) immaterial verities through reflection upon real-world observations.

    An example is the KIND of thing the scientific method is: which modern empirical science can detect (i.e., through the senses) the existence of the scientific method? None. Now, granted, the scientific method is a being of reason–an artifact of human reasoning that helps to guide our reasoning about real world phenomena.

    A better example is causality writ large–that which the MESs presuppose and depend upon. Even better examples are the mind, free will, identity, etc. Indeed, none of the MESs “see” any of these, but to deny them (through the MESs… heh!) is to appeal to them.

  4. I don’t think that the ‘forward reaction’ of mind-body interactionism is an issue, for the reason you’ve stated. I see no problem in seeing the material brain as a tool used by the immaterial mind. The familiar analogy is that of a radio transmitter and a receiver. By smashing the receiver, I can certainly impair its ability to produce noise. But that doesn’t mean that the transmitter does not exist. The harder problem is the ‘backward reaction’ where the brain influences the mind.

    In other words, we all know what it is like for your mind to issue a command like ‘Move my arm’ and your body to fail for physical reasons (e.g. my arm fell asleep). But it is harder to see why our immaterial mind should be influenced in dramatic ways by my physical brain. Minor neurological issues are not problematic. For instance, if there is some mind-brain interaction, it makes sense that getting physically drunk could impair my mind. But why should removing a part of my brain suddenly render my mind unable to recall memories or be aware of my left hemisphere or recognize color? I haven’t been able to come up with a goo analogy for this part of the interaction.
    -Neil

  5. It may be that there is no good analogy, Neil.

    I think it’s a good question and I’ll want to give it some more thought. One thing is that God designed us so that we would learn and change through experience. Our minds would have to be affected by the physical aspect of reality in order for that to be possible, and that, too, is likely mediated through our brains.

    Another thing I want to remember is that the material and immaterial are different orders of reality, but of the same reality. Even though I can’t think of a good analogous physical system, I have no trouble thinking of the two sides of reality affecting one another in a two-way interaction.

  6. But why should removing a part of my brain suddenly render my mind unable to recall memories or be aware of my left hemisphere or recognize color?

    Exactly. There goes all of Gilson’s nonsense that “Materialism and immaterialism both predict the same effect.” If that is the case why are the vast majority of neuroscientists and philosophers of mind materialists and would flatly disagree with such ridiculous assertion, I wonder? So they’ve all gotten it wrong, while a layman like Tom Gilson has gotten it right? Really? It always amazes me just how deluded a faith-head can be and how willing to dismiss the century-long research and unanimous conclusions pertaining to an entire field of science.
    At this point I’d simply suggest to you that you read. There’s a lot of information available on this subject, and at the very least you’ll get an idea why almost everyone knowledgeable of this subject is a materialist, and immaterialism is regarded to be on par with the Phlogiston theory. Currently your ignorance is as overwhelming as it is pathetic. Anyway I’m done writing comments here.

  7. @AgeOfReasonXXI:

    Anyway I’m done writing comments here.

    Thank you. The atmosphere is already cleaner.

  8. @Neil Shenvi:

    The mind-body interaction problem is fairly intractable, but then it is a problem bequeathed to us by the radical wedge modernity, and Descartes in particular, placed between the mind and body. If you buy the Cartesian mechanistic conception of the universe, Cartesian dualism is more or less inevitable because in such a universe, everything that cannot be encompassed by a mechanistic reductionism must be ejected to the mind (rationality, subjectivity, intentionality, etc.), which *must* therefore be a radically different kind of thing if it is to house such eminently “non-physical” phenomena. But also because it is radically different, its interaction with other physical things is quite the intractable mistery.

  9. AOR21, I have read. (Did you notice that I had read Michael Tooley? But I have read much more widely than that on this topic.)

    And I have also offered arguments. Whether I have a neuroscientist’s credentials or not has nothing to do with whether the arguments are valid. The arguments stand or fall on their own merit.

    One way to display one’s lack of knowledge of a topic is to stand on the edge of the discussion and call someone ignorant, without offering any information or critical reasoning of your own. I’m just sayin’.

    I’m fine with your being finished writing comments here.

  10. Hi Holo,

    The short answer is no.

    I was thinking about things like randomness in the area of biology / evolution, uncaused events and infinite sets that are physical. Would these (random, uncaused, infinite) be examples of unscientific conclusions, or unscientific hypotheses / theories?

  11. @SteveK:

    I was thinking about things like randomness in the area of biology / evolution, uncaused events and infinite sets that are physical. Would these (random, uncaused, infinite) be examples of unscientific conclusions, or unscientific hypotheses / theories?

    Excuse me for butting in, but the short answer is again no. To quote from Holopupenko

    The modern empirical sciences reason to the existence of material/physical “things”–NOT to immaterial verities. It’s the object that’s important, i.e., what’s important is the KIND of thing to which one obtains through reason.

    All the examples you gave are examples of non-physical “things”.

    1. Randomness: there is a specific *technical* sense of randomness, and insofar as it is quantifiable, it is amenable to Scientific inquiry. But this is probably not what you have in mind. If by random you mean “unguided” or “purposeless” then no, this is invisible to the MES (to revert to Holopupenko’s acronym). Of course if “unguided” or “purposeless” events are invisible to the MES so are their contraries, “guided” or “purposeful” events. Contrapositively, if you insist that such and such a phenomena *can* constitute empirical, scientific evidence for purposefulness then you must also admit that such and such a phenomena can constitute evidence for purposelessness. But how would the MES establish the purposelessness of some, any phenomenon? No matter how much you scratch your head, there is simply no way to do it — although the MES can provide the input data, premises for reason to establish such type of conclusions, but here we are already on a whole different level, say the level of the philosophy of nature.

    2. Uncaused: this is pure anti-rational nonsense, but if per absurdum, such events did happen then the MES would not be able to “see” them. The reason is much the same as 1. for so as the very existence and nature of causality is established via philosophical reasoning, so must be its negation. Of course, reason would not know what do with uncaused events, and I have absolutely no idea how one could even *recognize* uncaused events in the first place.

    3. Infinite: again no, but this is the iffiest of the three, so let me expand on it a little. Instead of asking for an actual infinity of things let us be more modest and ask for the existence of numbers. I am typing this in my home computer; in front of me there is a shelf with 35 books, 9 about programming and 26 about mathematics. Now, does this constitute evidence that 35, 9 and 26 exist? But what do we mean by saying that numbers exist? That they have extra-mental reality, that they exist independently of our intellects. But what kind of objects are numbers, granting for the moment that they do exist? Certainly, they are not anything physical, so once again how would the MES reason to their existence? They cannot. And if this is true for finite numbers, it is true with even more force for sets and actual infinite sets and all the pathological beasts that mathematicians routinely invent and delight themselves with. There is a strong tendency, traceable to the first Greek philosophers, to reify abstractions — such as say, the mathematical ones postulated by physical theories — and endow them with a concrete existence when there is none to be had and without even bothering to offer an argument to justify the reification. Just as an example, I once read a *research physicist* saying that General Relativity proved Euclidean geometry wrong, which is about as inept and idiotic a claim as it can be.

    Note also that even some would-be evidence is not in fact evidence. Let me unpack this latter claim. I imagine that your question is inspired by the Kalam argument so suppose for the moment that the universe was past-eternal. One could reason like this: tracing backwards in time, there was a particle at t_0, a different particle at t_1, another at t_2 and so on ad infinitum, so there is an actual infinite set of things. This argument does not work for the past, while real in a sense, does not have the same claim to being that other things have. In particular, collecting particles (or time instants or whatever) at different times and forming their set does not thereby give us any reason to suppose that such a set is anything more than an abstraction or that it has any extra-mental reality.

    Hope I did not commit any egregious blunder.

  12. G. Rodrigues,
    I could not tell if you you agreed with me, or not, because in one instance you repeated what Holo said and in another instance you said – All the examples you gave are examples of non-physical “things” – which would imply that science is indeed guilty of reasoning to these non-MES things.

    I’m not sure if the idea of a singularity is still the current theory associated with the Big Bang, but back in the day, didn’t science “reason” its way to an infinitely dense point? Yes, the singularity itself is physical so science is within its proper bounds to reason to the singularity, but the qualifier “infinite” seems to be beyond the reach of the MES’s. Yes?

  13. @SteveK:

    which would imply that science is indeed guilty of reasoning to these non-MES things.

    Scientists (not science, which is not a thing but a fuzzy name given to a complex set of phenomena) who do make such unwarranted inferences are indeed guilty of fallacious reasoning.

    I’m not sure if the idea of a singularity is still the current theory associated with the Big Bang, but back in the day, didn’t science “reason” its way to an infinitely dense point? Yes, the singularity itself is physical so science is within its proper bounds to reason to the singularity, but the qualifier “infinite” seems to be beyond the reach of the MES’s. Yes?

    Ah, I misunderstood what you meant by “infinite” in your question. Infinite has various different senses in mathematics; the one I used in 3. was in the set-theoretical sense of infinite cardinality. While the existence of an actual infinite set is beyond the MES, the existence of an actual infinite set of *particulars* is not in principle beyond the MES, because here what we are asking is not whether an abstract object, an actually infinite set, exists but whether there is an actual infinite set of things. And just as we can count, it is in principle possible that there could be some sort of (indirect) empirical evidence for the existence of an actual infinite set of things.

    note: I hasten to add that there is no evidence of such and on the contrary, there are plenty of arguments against it.

    As for your specific question, the “infinite” qualifier is being used in a different, but also *technical* sense: in geometric terms, the big-bang is a singularity where the physical laws break down, and this breaking down is expressed precisely by the fact that certain quantities like density diverge to infinity. So once again, since this divergence has to do with quantity, the MES can handle it, at least in principle. Of course, there are all sorts of problems with singularities in GR, and with the Big Bang in particular, and I believe the consensus among cosmologists is that in such high density regimes quantum effects become prominent and prevent the formation of such singularities and the plague of infinities. There are several areas of physics plagued by infinite quantities; since no sense can be made of them, several ingenious methods — but rather mysterious from the mathematical viewpoint — are used to “extract” finite answers and make the theory sensible (e.g. renormalization in quantum field theories).

    Sorry for the technicalities, but summarizing, the “infinite” qualifier is used in a technical sense, but since no sense can be made out of infinite quantities, if the theory does imply they appear somewhere this is almost surely a sign that the theory breaks down at that point and something needs to be done to correct it. But assuming for the sake of argument that sense can be made out of such infinite quantities, then in principle, they are within the reach of the MES.

    Hope it helps.

  14. [ 9 ] Jaegwon Kim defines supervenience as the idea that “once all the physical facts about your body are fixed, that fixes all the facts about your mental life… [W]hat mental properties you instantiate is wholly dependent on the features and characteristics of your bodily processes. This ‘supervenience physicalism’ may be regarded as… the weakest commitment any physicalist must make” (p. 580 of ” Mind-body problem, the ” by Jaegwon Kim in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy edited by Ted Honderich). Kim also points out that “[o]thers maintain that the mind-body relation is adequately characterized as one of ‘supervenience’–that is, in the claim that there could not be two entities, or worlds, that are exactly alike in all physical respects but differ in some mental respect… [T]he reductionist, the functionalist, and even the epiphenomenalist are all committed to mind-body supervenience” (p. 576 of ” Mind, problems of the philosophy of ” by Jaegwon Kim in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy edited by Ted Honderich). Epiphenomenalism is a type of property dualism which contends that mental states are mere nonphysical by-products or effects of neural firings that themselves have no effects on the physical world–including the brain–whatsoever.

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