Tuesday, April 2, 2013

If consciousness causes collapse and physics is simple, then naturalism is false

  1. If the right interpretation of Quantum Mechanics is that consciousness causes collapse (ccc), then naturalism is false or the fundamental laws of physics are extremely complex.
  2. The fundamental laws of physics are not extremely complex.
  3. So if the right interpretation of Quantum Mechanics is that consciousness causes collapse, then naturalism is false.

Why accept (1)? Well, on the ccc interpretation, the fundamental laws of physics will have to have sufficient complexity to describe conscious states. And if naturalism is true, descriptions of conscious states will be very complex, since mental or even teleological properties will not be fundamental, or even close to fundamental, given our best naturalistic theories.

I find (2) very plausible, and so do a number of physicists I suspect, but I don't know if I have a naturalistically acceptable argument for it.


Michael Gonzalez said...

Isn't Thomas Nagel still considered a naturalist, despite being basically a panpsychist? If so, wouldn't he be a counter-example to your argument?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I wouldn't consider him a naturalist myself.

praymont said...

Is there any difference in meaning between 'naturalism' and 'physicalism'? Intuitively, the former should be defined via a methodology while the latter should be understood in terms of a metaphysics.

Michael Gonzalez said...

praymont: Naturalism and physicalism are often used interchangeably, and philosophers seem to distinguish between "epistemological naturalism" and "metaphysical naturalism". Epistemological naturalism is usually just a methodological position (something akin to what Alex Rosenberg calls "scientism"). It's basically the view that science is the only real source of knowledge. And you can be an epistemological naturalist without being a metaphysical naturalist. But a metaphysical naturalist is, in my opinion, indistinguishable from the physicalist. She believes that all that exists is the physical world (augmented though that may be in a perfect physics vs. our current level of knowledge).

Hodo Kwaja said...

But if consciousness causes collapse then it follows that consciousness is physical.

Alexander R Pruss said...


Hodo Kwaja said...

Interaction problem. If it has a physical effect it can't be utterly non physical, though you could go for dual aspect monism of some sort.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I've never understood the interaction problem.

Completely nonliving things can interact with living things.

Completely non-green things can interact with green things.

On some theories, completely non-particulate things (e.g., magnetic fields) can interact with particulate matter.

Completely non-conscious things can interact with conscious things.

There is no general principle that says that to interact with Fs you need to be an F. Why should you need to be physical to interact with physical things?

Hodo Kwaja said...

But all the things in your examples are mutually interchangeable. Non green things can become green. Conscious things can become unconscious and vice versa. Even mass and energy are equivalent.

Are the physical and the mental similarly interchangeable?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I don't see what how interchangeability makes causation easier. Plus suppose we found some particle x that can't turn into a particle y. Why would that make x unable to affect y?

Hodo Kwaja said...

Well if two thing can interact then they have a point of contact, which is to say, a commonality. So if the mental and the physical interact then the mental can't be utterly non physical and the physical can't be utterly non mental.

Two particles that can interact can exchange something - one can exert force upon the other - so in the same way they cannot be utterly different substances.

I'm not sure if all particles are currently fungible at this point in the unfolding of the universe, that's a good point. It's not my specialty but I believe cosmology posits an undifferentiated condition in the early universe - a high energy soup - so things would be fungible in principle even if not in practice under current conditions - they all ultimately derive from the same "stuff".

Heath White said...

On the interaction problem: this is a relic of corpuscular mechanics, which was cutting-edge in Descartes' day but is now obsolete. The model of causation is one in which A causes B by bumping into it. A little less narrowly, it is a relic of a model of causation in which causation is a matter of transfer of some property: momentum or energy or impetus or perfection or what have you. In that case, A has to have some properties in common with B.

As soon as you adopt a model of causation on which A causing B is a matter of conformity to law or some kind of regularity, the problem disappears entirely.

David Chalmers makes this argument somewhere.

On naturalism vs. physicalism: Originally, the idea of "physicalism" was that physics was the ur-science; all other sciences could be reduced to physics; and physics could completely describe reality. "Naturalism" is the looser thesis that there is nothing but "nature". Thus, for example, some pre-Socratic philosophers count as naturalists but not physicalists.

Alexander R Pruss said...

"As soon as you adopt a model of causation on which A causing B is a matter of conformity to law or some kind of regularity, the problem disappears entirely."

Or one can just think that causation is a singular relation.

But in any case, one must remember what we learned from Hume: ordinary physical causation between billiard balls is no less mysterious than mental causation.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Hodo: Particles exchanging a force-carrier particle back and forth (e.g. a boson) doesn't lessen the problem. We can conceive of a possible world where they pass the boson back and forth and yet no effect at all results. The simple fact is that, if minds are part of the world, then there is no reason why they couldn't interact with other parts of the world (and good reason to think they can, since our minds are doing it all the time).

On the matter of Hume and Causality in general: Hume was right to say that physical causation is no less mysterious than mental, but he was wrong to ascribe causation to regularities, and I think it is his legacy (amplified by Kant) that is causing (no pun intended) some of our conceptual problems here. If we take the approach of the medieval philosophers (as well as people like Richard Swinburne, in our time), we will say that causation is a matter of certain kinds of substances having certain powers, and the liability to exercise those powers under certain circumstances. And the difference between persons and other objects will simply be that a non-personal object must exercise its powers under the given circumstances, whereas a person has a choice in the matter.

So, to apply that to Pruss' original question, I think we need to stop thinking in terms of the laws of nature which would have to hold, and rather think of which powers and liabilities a particular kind of substance (mental or physical) must have. Of course, one could say that "law of nature" simply is a general statement of the kind "substances of X category have A, B, and C powers and the liability to exercise such powers under circumstances 1, 2, and 3".

Michael Gonzalez said...

And then, it seems to me, if the ccc is true, and yet one wants to be a naturalist, one will have to explain how the relevant mental properties are produced by (or "supervene upon", whatever that means) a particular set-up of particles, or relationship between such composites.