Causal closure & naturalism

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Causal closure & naturalism

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jan 22, 2013 2:03 pm

In contemporary science there is a widely held idea of "causal closure" which posits "that any mental and biological causes must themselves be physically constituted, if they are to produce physical effects. It thus gives rise to a particularly strong form of ontological naturalism, namely the physicalist doctrine that any state that has physical effects must itself be physical." (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism/)

Having pondered this for some years I've come to wonder a few things, but we'll start with one point.

- If language and cognition of it is at least partly non-physical (the qualia of it), then we have a non-physical causative force, no? For instance, if someone suddenly announces they will kill you in a language you do not understand, there is no increased heart rate, but then if someone says it in a language you understand, there are numerous measurable physical reactions that result. There is nothing inherent in the sound waves reaching the ear that prompt this reaction. It is the experience or qualia with respect to cognized language that prompts the physical bodily reaction.

This of course assumes language is non-physical and not encoded in the brain as might be suggested. Clearly the brain as an organ has a part to play in reception of the data, but then the experience and projection of language at a distance (such as issuing an order and another person physically responding to it), at least as I see it, are not material processes.

If causal closure is rejected, then it opens up the space for all kinds of non-physical causes acting on physical processes. I think this is important as Buddhist because Buddhist traditions throughout history have all rejected materialism in whatever form it held and moreover it is a prevailing ideology in our present day at odds with basic Buddhadharma like karma and rebirth.
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Re: Causal closure & naturalism

Postby futerko » Tue Jan 22, 2013 2:44 pm

Huseng wrote:This of course assumes language is non-physical and not encoded in the brain as might be suggested. Clearly the brain as an organ has a part to play in reception of the data, but then the experience and projection of language at a distance (such as issuing an order and another person physically responding to it), at least as I see it, are not material processes.
Are you suggesting that sound has no physical property? Is it even possible to conceive of a form of communication that has no sensory component whatsoever?
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Re: Causal closure & naturalism

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jan 22, 2013 2:57 pm

futerko wrote:
Huseng wrote:This of course assumes language is non-physical and not encoded in the brain as might be suggested. Clearly the brain as an organ has a part to play in reception of the data, but then the experience and projection of language at a distance (such as issuing an order and another person physically responding to it), at least as I see it, are not material processes.
Are you suggesting that sound has no physical property? Is it even possible to conceive of a form of communication that has no sensory component whatsoever?


No, sound is part of it, just as an arrangement of stones in the shape of the letter A is an arrangement of material components conveying a recognized symbol. The patterns that we cognize and the experience thereof are not physical.
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Re: Causal closure & naturalism

Postby futerko » Tue Jan 22, 2013 3:18 pm

Huseng wrote:
futerko wrote:
Huseng wrote:This of course assumes language is non-physical and not encoded in the brain as might be suggested. Clearly the brain as an organ has a part to play in reception of the data, but then the experience and projection of language at a distance (such as issuing an order and another person physically responding to it), at least as I see it, are not material processes.
Are you suggesting that sound has no physical property? Is it even possible to conceive of a form of communication that has no sensory component whatsoever?


No, sound is part of it, just as an arrangement of stones in the shape of the letter A is an arrangement of material components conveying a recognized symbol. The patterns that we cognize and the experience thereof are not physical.
Right, but without any physical component what would be left? The idea that there is a strict division between the physical and non-physical strikes me as an assumption made by the naturalistic paradigm in the first place. What I'm suggesting is that for any symbol to be recognisable it must have a physical component, even if that is an animal's scent marking. We could speak about telepathy, but if the telepahic commication had no sensory component then nothing would be communicated. Therefore the initial statement, "that any mental and biological causes must themselves be physically constituted" proceeds on the basis of a reduction that is false - there is no such thing as a mental aspect that has no physical aspect, nor any physical aspect that is beyond the mental.
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Re: Causal closure & naturalism

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jan 22, 2013 3:35 pm

futerko wrote:Right, but without any physical component what would be left?


The recognition of a pattern can be experienced without any physical component at all. We can visualize patterns and symbols. There are plenty of patterns that have no physical component like grammar, logic and mathematics.



The idea that there is a strict division between the physical and non-physical strikes me as an assumption made by the naturalistic paradigm in the first place.


It is actually a Eurocentric idea. I grant that. In the English language though inevitably this comes up. It isn't strictly naturalist, either, because idealists address the same dichotomy between the mental and physical.

In a lot of Buddhist traditions rupa dissolves into the four great elements which themselves are identified by their characteristics (for instance, water = wetness, fire = warmth) -- in other words, the elements are qualia.

What I'm suggesting is that for any symbol to be recognisable it must have a physical component, even if that is an animal's scent marking.


I don't believe that's true. Grammar is not physical. The perception of an adjective describing a noun ("loud voice") in my mind is not physical, though it can be used to describe physical things. Likewise with logic and mathematics. These are experiences which can reflect and describe physical processes, but the perception is not physical.


We could speak about telepathy, but if the telepahic commication had no sensory component then nothing would be communicated. Therefore the initial statement, "that any mental and biological causes must themselves be physically constituted" proceeds on the basis of a reduction that is false - there is no such thing as a mental aspect that has no physical aspect, nor any physical aspect that is beyond the mental.


Again, perhaps the dichotomy between mind and matter (the "hard problem") is the real problem here.

My concern is mostly with demonstrating that causal closure is an inaccurate description of reality that rejects a lot of non-physical mental and/or metaphysical phenomena we readily experience and furthermore which possesses causal efficacy.

If causal closure is true, karma ceases to make sense. I'm not saying karma is beyond nature (I don't really believe in anything supernatural if by supernatural we mean anything acting outside the laws of causality), but just that as materialists understand it it must be rejected in the case of causal closure.
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Re: Causal closure & naturalism

Postby futerko » Tue Jan 22, 2013 4:58 pm

Huseng wrote:
futerko wrote:Right, but without any physical component what would be left?


The recognition of a pattern can be experienced without any physical component at all. We can visualize patterns and symbols. There are plenty of patterns that have no physical component like grammar, logic and mathematics.
"We can visualize patterns and symbols." - Without this "visualization", the abstract idea vanishes along with the correlative image which represents it.
Equally, without a concept of "the physical" the whole thing collapses from the other side of the equation.
Huseng wrote:Again, perhaps the dichotomy between mind and matter (the "hard problem") is the real problem here.

My concern is mostly with demonstrating that causal closure is an inaccurate description of reality that rejects a lot of non-physical mental and/or metaphysical phenomena we readily experience and furthermore which possesses causal efficacy.

If causal closure is true, karma ceases to make sense. I'm not saying karma is beyond nature (I don't really believe in anything supernatural if by supernatural we mean anything acting outside the laws of causality), but just that as materialists understand it it must be rejected in the case of causal closure.
The "hard problem" is only really an (illusory) issue for science, which after all only occurs in the minds of scientists, but shouldn't really be a problem for Buddhism. That's why I'm not really sure what you mean by a mental or metaphysical cause because I can't imagine one without any sensory correlate whatsoever.
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Re: Causal closure & naturalism

Postby Jnana » Tue Jan 22, 2013 9:56 pm

Huseng wrote:Again, perhaps the dichotomy between mind and matter (the "hard problem") is the real problem here.

My concern is mostly with demonstrating that causal closure is an inaccurate description of reality that rejects a lot of non-physical mental and/or metaphysical phenomena we readily experience and furthermore which possesses causal efficacy.

If causal closure is true, karma ceases to make sense. I'm not saying karma is beyond nature (I don't really believe in anything supernatural if by supernatural we mean anything acting outside the laws of causality), but just that as materialists understand it it must be rejected in the case of causal closure.

I agree that the so-called "hard problem" may be a result of unwarranted dualistic assumptions. Nevertheless, it seems that there is some degree of mind-body dualism and mental causation present in Dharmakīrti's arguments for rebirth in his Pramāṇavārttika.

At any rate, in terms of responses to modern notions of reductionism, physicalism, and causal closure, notions related to downward causation are explored in Downward Causation and the Neurobiology of Free Will (also here).

Some other non-reductionist responses have been published in Mind and Its Place in the World: Non-Reductionist Approaches to the Ontology. The paper How Not To Be A Reductivist includes a critique of causal closure (but Hasker's own substance dualism doesn't seem to resolve the issue either).

Also, there's the phenomenon of self-directed neuroplasticity, where it has apparently been shown that volitional intention and attention can alter the physical brain. However, in the writings of Schwartz, Stapp, & Beauregard such as Quantum Physics in Neuroscience and Psychology: A Neurophysical Model of Mind–Brain Interaction this idea of self-directed neuroplasticity gets tied to the von Neumann/Wigner interpretation of quantum mechanics, which may be problematic.
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Re: Causal closure & naturalism

Postby Jinzang » Wed Jan 23, 2013 2:23 am

The argument for causal closure that I am aware of rests on the assumption that any cause and effect relationship depends on an exchange of energy. But this is simply false. Broad gives the example of a pendulum bob on a string in "Mind and its Place in Nature". Another example is the gravitational force of the Earth keeping the moon in orbit. Neither involves an exchange of energy.
In any case the laws of physics are not cause and effect laws, they are conservation laws and gauge theories. If we are arguing that everything is reducible to physics, dragging in cause and effect seems an odd way to argue it.
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Re: Causal closure & naturalism

Postby Indrajala » Wed Jan 23, 2013 5:42 am

futerko wrote:...I can't imagine one without any sensory correlate whatsoever.


The verb "to think" (as in the perception of a verb "think" which causes further mental events).
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Re: Causal closure & naturalism

Postby Indrajala » Wed Jan 23, 2013 5:46 am

Jnana wrote:I agree that the so-called "hard problem" may be a result of unwarranted dualistic assumptions. Nevertheless, it seems that there is some degree of mind-body dualism and mental causation present in Dharmakīrti's arguments for rebirth in his Pramāṇavārttika.


There indeed is with Dharmakīrti, though in the general Buddhist context when not dealing with materialists, it seems such a dichotomy is less of an issue. The idea of wheat seeds producing wheat and not oats as an analogy for mental causes causing mind rather than physical causes isn't so much about a mind-body dichotomy, but just identifying homogenous causes and effects.
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Re: Causal closure & naturalism

Postby futerko » Wed Jan 23, 2013 11:42 am

Huseng wrote:
futerko wrote:...I can't imagine one without any sensory correlate whatsoever.


The verb "to think" (as in the perception of a verb "think" which causes further mental events).
To think about...? Can you describe an actual thought that has no reference to any sensory qualities?

Wiki-la says, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causal_closure)
    "Causal closure has two main formulations - a weak and a strong form. The weak form states: "No physical event has a cause outside the physical domain." - Jaegwon Kim.[1] Whilst the stronger version of the theory holds that all physical effects can be ultimately reduced to physical causes, thus allowing for mental causation so long as it is in turn reducible to a physical cause.

    Causal closure is especially important when considering dualist theories of mind. If no physical event has a cause outside the physical realm, it would follow that non-physical mental events would be causally impotent in the physical world. However, as Kim has agreed, it seems intuitively problematic to strip mental events of their causal power.[2] Only epiphenomenalists would agree that mental events do not have causal power. Because epiphenomenalism is objectionable to many philosophers, the problem presented by causal closure has served as an argument for physicalism. If the causal closure argument is correct, the only way to maintain mental causation (without epiphenomenalism) is to argue that mental events are actually physical events.[3]"

I guess this almost corresponds to what I was saying above, although it seems unbalanced in terms of the dualist paradigm. I would maintain that such events are neither wholly physical nor mental. (I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "homogenous" in your reply to Jnana, but it does seem to echo this idea).
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Re: Causal closure & naturalism

Postby Jnana » Thu Jan 24, 2013 2:42 am

BTW, there are other alternatives that can accommodate causal closure of the physical that don't entail physicalism. For example, Gregg Rosenberg's Liberal Naturalism, which is a panexperientialist neutral monism. He doesn't reject causal closure of the physical, but argues that physics doesn't offer a complete picture of causation, i.e. physics doesn't provide a theory of causation. Thus, he rejects physicalism (and he rejects epiphenomenalism and interactionist dualism as well).

A Place for Consciousness: Probing the Deep Structure of the Natural World.

Overview of A Place for Consciousness.
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Re: Causal closure & naturalism

Postby Astus » Thu Jan 24, 2013 1:09 pm

Huseng wrote:There indeed is with Dharmakīrti, though in the general Buddhist context when not dealing with materialists, it seems such a dichotomy is less of an issue. The idea of wheat seeds producing wheat and not oats as an analogy for mental causes causing mind rather than physical causes isn't so much about a mind-body dichotomy, but just identifying homogenous causes and effects.


A common reasoning in Buddhism is that thoughts don't come from matter because the cause of a thought must be a previous thought. The difference between Buddhism and dualist views is that Buddhism considers all things phenomenological and not separate substances.
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