Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The traveling minds interpretation of indeterministic theories

I'm going to start by offering a simple way—likely not original, but even if so, not very widely discussed—of turning an indeterministic physical theory into a deterministic physical theory with an indeterministic dualist metaphysics. While I do not claim, and indeed rather doubt, that the result correctly describes our world, the availability of this theory has some rather interesting implications for the mind-body and free will and determinism debates.

Start with any indeterministic theory that we can diagram as a branching structure. The first diagram illustrates such a theory. The fat red line is how things go. The thin black dotted lines are how things might have gone but didn't. At each node, things might go one way or another, and presumably the theory specifies the transition probabilities—the chances of going into the different branches. The distinction between the selected branches and the unselected branches is that between the actual and the merely possible.

The Everett many-worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics then provides us with a way of making an indeterministic theory deterministic. We simply suppose that all the branches are selected. When we get to a node, the world splits, and so do we its observers. All the lines are now fat and red: they are all taken. There are some rather serious probabilistic problems with the Everett interpretation—it works best if the probabilities of each branch coming out of a node are equal, but in general we would not expect this to be true. Also, there are serious ethics problems, since we don't get to affect the overall lot of humankind—no matter which branch we ourselves take, there will be misery on some equally real branches and happiness on others, and we can do nothing about that.

To solve the probabilistic problems, people introduce the many-minds interpretation of the many-worlds interpretation. Each person has infinitely many minds. When we get to a branch point, each mind indeterministically "chooses" (i.e., is selected to) an outgoing branch according to the probabilities in the physics. Since there are infinitely many of these minds, at least in the case where there are finitely many branches coming out of a node we will expect each outgoing branch to get infinitely many of the minds going along it. So we're still splitting, and we still have the ethics problems since we don't get to affect the overall lot of humankind—or even of ourselves (no matter which branch we go on, infinitely many of our minds will be miserable and infinitely many will be happy).

But now I want to offer a traveling minds interpretation of the indeterministic theory. On the physical side, this interpretation is just like the many-worlds interpretation. It is a dualist interpretation like the many-minds one: we each have a non-physical mind. But there is only one mind per person, as per common sense, and minds never split. Moreover our minds are all stuck together: they always travel together. When we come to a branching point, the physical world splits just as on the many-worlds interpretation. But the minds now collectively travel together on one of the outgoing branches, with the probability of the minds taking a branch being given by the indeterministic theory.

In the diagram, the red lines indicate physical reality. So unlike in the original indeterministic theory, and like in the many worlds interpretation, all the branches are physically real. But the thick red lines and the filled-in nodes, indicate the observed branches, the ones with the minds. (Of course, if God exists, he observes all the branches, but here I am only talking of the embodied observers.) On the many-worlds interpretation, all the relevant branches were not only physically real, but also observed. Presumably, many of the unobserved branches have zombies: they have an underlying physical reality that is very much like the physical reality we observe, but there are no minds.

The traveling minds interpretation solves the probability problems. The minds can travel precisely according to the probabilities given by the physics. Traveling minds as generated in the above way will have exactly the same empirical predictions as the original indeterministic theory. (In particular, one can build traveling minds from a Copenhagen-style consciousness-causes-collapse interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, or a GRW-style interpretation.)

Traveling Minds helps a lot with the ethics problem that many-worlds and many-minds faced. For although physical reality is deterministically set, it is not set which part of physical reality is connected with the minds. We cannot affect what physical reality is like, but we can affect which part of physical reality we collectively experience. And that's all we need. Note that "we" here will include all the conscious animals as well: their minds are traveling as well. In fact, as a Thomist, I would be inclined to more generally make this a "traveling forms" theory. Thus the unselected branches not only have zombies, but they have physical arrangements like those of a tree, but it's not a tree but just an arrangement of fields or particles because it lacks metaphysical form. But in the following I won't assume this enhanced version of the theory.

Now while I don't endorse this theory or interpretation—I don't know if it can be made to fit with hylomorphic metaphysics—I do want to note that it opens an area of logical space that I think a lot of people haven't thought about.

Traveling minds is an epiphenomenalist theory (no mind-to-physics causation) with physical determinism, and is as compatible with the causal closure of the physical as any physicalist theory (it may be that physicalist theories themselves require a First Cause; if so, then so will the traveling minds theory). Nonetheless, it is a theory that allows for fairly robust alternate possibilities freedom. While you cannot affect what physical reality is like, you can affect what part of physical reality we collectively inhabit, and that's almost as good. We have a solution to the mind-to-world causation problem for dualism (not that I think it's an important problem metaphysically speaking).

I expect that I and other philosophers have incautiously said many things about things like epiphenomenalism, determinism and causal closure that the traveling minds theory provides a counterexample to. For instance, while traveling minds is a version of epiphenomenalism, it is largely untouched by the standard objections to epiphenomenalism. For instance, one of the major arguments against epiphenomenalism is that if minds make no causal difference, then I have no reason to think you have a mind, since your mind makes no impact on my observations. But this argument fails because it assumes incorrectly that the only way for your mind to make an impact on my observations is by affecting physical reality. But your mind can also make an impact on my observations by leaving physical reality unchanged, and simply affecting which part of physical reality we are all collectively hooked up to.

1 comment:

Alexander R Pruss said...

Barrett's version of Albert and Loewer's Single Mind View is a case of this interpretation.