Sunday, October 18, 2009

Talk Amongst Yourselves


Is there some special reason to think that non-physical concreta can't -- or even probably wouldn't -- exist if theism weren't true? In particular, why think it's even slightly more likely than not that theism is true if, say, the mental or quasi-mental is a fundamental feature of concrete substances?

Just to be clear: The hypothesis on the table isn't that the mental supervenes upon or emerges from the physical. Rather, the hypothesis is that the mental or quasi-mental is part of the bedrock of concrete reality.


UPDATE: Here is a link to the SEP entry on neutral monism. It also includes helpful descriptions of somewhat similar views (e.g., panpsychism, dual aspect theory, neo-Russellianism, etc.). Non-physicalistic naturalist views of concreta such as these seem to me to pose one sort of problem for apologetical arguments from consciousness to theism.


Luke said...

Not sure what you mean by "bedrock." Are you asking whether mental properties can be exemplified by fundamental particles? Something like what Scaruffi suggests?

I wish you would have linked to some relevant papers, as you often do.

exapologist said...

Hi Luke,

Sorry I wasn't clearer. I mean a disjunction of hypotheses, actually: any hypothesis that allows that, in addition to the basic objects and properties listed in physics and chemistry textbooks, there are other, immaterial objects and properties. And these objects and properties are not caused by, or did not originate from, the fundamental objects and properties listed in a physics and chemistry textbook.

Here is an example hypothesis of the sort I have in mind:

H1: There is just one sort of substance. It has two fundamental sorts of properties: physical and mental/representational. And the mental/representational properties are just as fundamental to the substance as the physical properties.

Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with much literature on this head. Historical precedence can be found in, e.g., Spinoza, though. Bertrand Russell held a similar sort of view as well. David Chalmers is a contemporary philosopher who holds a view of this sort.

stevec said...

Just to be sure I understand, the hypothesis is that the "hard problem" of consciousness would be that it is a fundamental property of the universe, sort of like matter and anergy "just are," if we assume that mental phenomena "just are,"... is that about it?

And then the question is, assuming that, how does this impact the answer to the question, "do any gods exist?"

Do I follow correctly?

I think the neuroscientists would have something to say about the validity of this hypothesis, but maybe that doesn't matter for the question you propose, if I get what you're asking.

(Hope I haven't only confused things.)

exapologist said...

Hi SteveC,

That's the basic idea: Assume arguendo that the so-callled "hard problem" of consciousness can't be solved on straight physicalism. Would that raise the probability of theism above .5?

That's right: neuroscientists would have interesting and helpful things to say here, but I'm pursuing the separate question above. I have no firm convictions about a given answer yet, but my hunch is that the answer is 'no'.

I'm interested in feedback on this, so that I can reach at least a tentative conclusion on the issue.

Luke said...


Aren't you a moral non-naturalist? Would you include moral properties among the properties that "are not caused by, or did not originate from, the fundamental objects and properties listed in a physics and chemistry textbook"?

Still I can't think of any reason the existence of non-natural properties would require the existence of so specific a non-natural being as God.

exapologist said...

Hi Luke,

Aren't you a moral non-naturalist?

Well, at least some days I am. Ethics isn't my area of specialization, but I'm attracted to such a view. 

Still, I can't think of any reason the existence of non-natural properties would require the existence of so specific a non-natural being as God.

Yeah, me neither. There are a lot of issues to untangle and sort out here.

 Let me start with this: Suppose there is just one kind of substance, and it has both ordinary physical properties and informational/representational properties essentially and fundamentally. Suppose further that it's an uncreated, eternal, and at least de facto indestructible substance (since it's a "free-standing", metaphysically independent sort of stuff, and it turns out that nothing else that exists in our world has what it takes to annihilate it). Call this "The Quasi-Spinozistic View".

On The Quasi-Spinozistic view, then, consciousness and other mental properties don't emerge from, and aren't caused by, the physical. Furthermore, no god is required to create such properties, anymore than a god is needed to make its physical properties. Finally, there's no special problem about where this substance came from or why it exists. For it never came from anything -- it's eternal and indestructible.

Now given The Quasi-Spinozistic View of substance, here are some of my initial questions:


What's so implausible about such a picture of substance from a theistic point of view? Is it that we can't get the informational/representational properties without an external cause, like a god? Well, if this is a serious problem, then it's an equally serious problem for theism. For theism likewise entails that informational/representational properties are a basic feature of an eternal substance, i.e., God, and that both they and the substance in which they inhere (viz., God) lack an external cause. 

So theism has no epistemic advantage over The Quasi-Spinozistic View in at least these respects.

2. What's so implausible about it from an atheistic point of view? Is it that the representational properties aren't properly physicalistic, scientifically describable and/or observable properties? Well, that just faults non-physical properties for not behaving like physical properties. And why, in an atheistic universe, should we expect the world to conform to what's convenient for human interests?

So these are just some initial thoughts and issues I have. I don't know whether consciousness is reducible to the physical. All I'm interested in here is this: if it should turn out that it isn't, would that provide even slight epistemic support of theism over naturalism? At this stage in my inquiry, my suspicion is that the answer is 'no'.

What do you think?

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