Essay:The Death Knell of Dualism?

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1 Introduction[edit]

A number of RationalWiki articles [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] dismiss dualism[1][8][9] as just so much "spiritual woo."[10] One ("Non-Materialist Neuroscience"[2]) even proclaims, ”physicalist causes become both necessary and sufficient to explain all of thought….In a way, neuroscience is the death knell of dualism.” The following explains why I believe that reports of dualism’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. The argument examines consciousness under Occam’s razor[11][12] and concludes that it survives only through its interdependence with volition in a non-material mind, which is a perspective you might not have seen elsewhere.

2 Volition[edit]

Material objects interact with each other in ways that can be explained (and that are arguably pre-determined) completely by physical laws. This is true even in quantum mechanics (see § 8). As such, material objects are inherently and fundamentally incapable of possessing the attribute of volition, which is taken here to be the ability to effectuate one of at least two alternative courses of action with absolute freedom of choice. Volition is also taken here to be substantially equivalent to free will,[13][14] although others make a distinction. Entity is taken here to include material objects as well as conscious beings.

3 Consciousness[edit]

A material object's response to and impact in any particular set of circumstances are completely unique, pre-determined, and unaffected by any conscious awareness it might be purported to have. Because any purported consciousness of a material object fails to have discernable purpose or impact on anything, no material object possesses the attribute of consciousness. This is a consequence of Occam's razor,[11][12] one aspect of which is that no purported object, entity, or attribute exists unless it is essential to understanding observed reality. As a purported attribute of one or more material objects, conscious awareness simply is not needed for understanding observed reality.

3.1 Chinese Room[edit]

Searle's “Chinese Room”[3][15] thought experiment quite effectively illustrates the fact that no material object possesses the attribute of consciousness. The following is my own adaptation of that thought experiment. Someone — let's say an American — with no knowledge of written or spoken Chinese is given precise mechanical instructions (much like a computer program) for generating a string of Chinese characters in response to an input message consisting of any arbitrary string of Chinese characters. The American then receives a series of Chinese messages written by a Chinese man who is prevented from seeing the American to whom the messages are sent. By mechanically executing the instructions given — much as a computer executes a program — the American generates written responses to each message in Chinese. Depending on the quality of the instructions given, the Chinese man providing the messages might believe he is carrying out an intelligent conversation with a creative human being fluent in Chinese. But does the American generating the mechanical responses have the slightest clue, understanding, or conscious awareness of what the "conversation" was about? Clearly not! Nor would a computer doing the same thing!

Critics argue that consciousness is an emergent attribute of the combination of the American (serving as a material computer) and the instructions (serving as an algorithm) working together. But just where is conscious awareness in this combination and what purpose does it serve? A computer does not need conscious awareness to execute any program, nor could conscious awareness change anything it does. Likewise, this combination always responds to the same input in the same completely unique, pre-determined, and predictable fashion exactly as it was designed to do and without any consideration of or reliance on any conscious awareness. Consequently, any consciousness purported for this combination fails to have any purpose or discernable impact on anything, is not needed to understand how the combination works, and thereby fails to survive Occam's razor.

So what’s the missing ingredient for consciousness? Dualists answer, “A non-material mind.” A small minority of materialists – which happens to include Searle[16] and Penrose[17] – answers, “Specific non-computational, biological features of the brain.” For all the other materialists, the "Chinese Room" thought experiment amusingly turns the tables on them, now shifting back onto them the burden of answering their own question: "Where is the ghost in the machine?"[4][18] (“The ghost” is a sarcastic reference to an ethereal conscious mind.) There is no credible reply. (See § 5.)

3.2 Emergent from Material Objects?[edit]

3.2.1 The Materialist Viewpoint[edit]

More generally, the materialist counterargument asserts that consciousness arises as an inherent, inseparable “emergent"[19][20][21] attribute of appropriately configured material objects, and that the same configuration of material objects lacking the purported emergent consciousness (a so-called "philosophical zombie"[5][22]) is exempt from even hypothetical consideration, because it is a theoretical impossibility.[23] But the "theoretical impossibility" asserted by materialists assumes without proof that consciousness is an inherent, inseparable attribute of appropriately configured material objects. With no proof of that assumption, the materialists beg the very question at issue. Similarly, the "theoretical possibility" of philosophical zombies asserted by dualists assumes without proof that consciousness is not an inherent, inseparable attribute of appropriately configured material objects. With no proof of that assumption, the dualists also beg the very question at issue.

3.2.2 Burden Under Occam’s Razor[edit]

Regardless, all the philosophical pontification concerning conceivability, possibility, and necessity serves only to evade scrutiny under Occam's razor and to illegitimately reverse the burden of proof. Materialists assert that consciousness is an attribute of appropriately configured material objects. To defend their assertion, materialists have the burden under Occam's razor to demonstrate how their purported material consciousness could discernably impact anything. Regarding the materialists’ assertion, dualists have no burden under Occam's razor to demonstrate anything.

The closest that materialists have come to satisfying their burden is the Turing test[24][25] proposed in 1950 and generally believed to have been passed by Google’s LaMDA[26][27] in 2021 if not also by earlier programs.[28] However, Turing himself explicitly excluded consciousness from the attributes he claimed to be assessable by the Turing test.[29] And for good reason. The Turing test's abductive reasoning[30][31] ["If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck" ("Duck Test"[32])] tacitly concedes that whatever mental capability it seeks to assess — whether intelligence, consciousness, or whatever — is beyond the reach of deductive demonstration.[33] Although the same is also true for assessment of consciousness in anything other than one’s own self, the abductive leap from oneself to another human being is far more reasonable than that to a heap of electronics (§ 5.2).

Furthermore, the vast majority of artificial intelligence experts believe that LaMDA is not sentient. LaMDA appearing to have passed the Turing test without being sentient confirmed the long-growing suspicion that the Turing test is not a valid test for consciousness.[27][28][34] But there is no consensus on what might replace it as a standard for artificial general intelligence. So more than 70 years after proposal of the Turing test — during which computing advanced from vacuum tubes to quantum processing — materialists have come no closer to meeting their burden under Occam's razor.

3.2.3 Sidebar: Emergence and Occam’s Razor[edit]

Emergent objects and attributes do not escape scrutiny under Occam's razor simply because they are emergent. The following discussion describes emergent objects and attributes and how they are appropriately handled under Occam’s razor. First of all, "weak emergence" is not smoke and mirrors. Biological structures and functions emerge from molecules and chemical reactions, which themselves emerge from collections of subatomic particles interacting according to the Schrödinger equation of quantum physics (see § 8). These are truly amazing examples. Yet, as all other cases of “weak emergence,” these examples result solely as consequences of the laws of physics governing subatomic particles.

That fact alone, however, does not disqualify emergent objects and attributes under Occam's razor. For example, gases are emergent objects having explosivity as an emergent attribute. Although neither pure hydrogen gas nor pure oxygen gas is explosive by itself, an explosive gas mixture emerges from two volumes of hydrogen gas and one volume of oxygen gas allowed to intermix. The emergent attribute of explosivity survives Occam's razor due to the fact that explosive gas mixtures explode when exposed to a spark, whereas non-explosive gas mixtures do not. This and all the other laws of chemistry passed muster under Occam's razor prior to discovery of Schrödinger's equation. But now that equation can be used — in principle — to determine the course of all matter at subatomic detail. Does that fact now force Occam's razor to invalidate solids, liquids, and gases as objects; their physical properties as attributes; or the laws of chemistry? No. The reason is that Schrödinger's equation provides no clue to the emergence of macroscopic objects. It is unable to see the macroscopic forest for the subatomic trees and provide a framework “essential to understanding observed reality” (§ 3) at the emergent macroscopic level. A similar dynamic is seen in the emergence of macroscopic objects from rules governing individual cells in cellular automata such as Conway’s “Game of Life.”[19]

Nonetheless, purported emergent objects and attributes do not escape scrutiny under Occam's razor. Consider the example of the hydrogen-oxygen gas mixture of the previous paragraph undergoing a cyclic process in which the gas mixture is detonated, the resulting water is subjected to electrolysis, and the resulting pure hydrogen gas and pure oxygen gas are allowed to remix, thereby regenerating a gas mixture identical to that at the start of the cycle. One might propose "number of completed cycles" as an emergent attribute of the reemergent gas mixture. That proposed attribute would fail to survive Occam's razor, because the gas mixture finishes each cycle in exactly the same state with no discernable change in anything. "Number of completed cycles" might be useful as a historical attribute, but it is not an attribute of the gas mixture's state.

The definitions and examples of so-called “strong emergence” that I have encountered are (for me, at least) either indistinguishable from “weak emergence,” too ambiguous to enable discussion, or perhaps just smoke and mirrors.

3.3 Not of Material Origin[edit]

As a purported emergent attribute of appropriately configured material objects, consciousness — specifically awareness on any level — fails by itself to have any discernable purpose or impact on anything. [The missing attribute — volition (§ 4.1) — is not available to material objects (§ 2).] This is consistent with our own experience that by itself, mere awareness does not translate into action or change. Furthermore, in a material universe, an object's response to and impact in any particular circumstance are completely pre-determined by its attributes, the attributes of the other objects with which it interacts, and physical law without any consideration of or reliance on conscious awareness. The exception is cases of wave function collapse (if such exists in a material universe; see § 8), in which physical law determines all that can be determined, with purely random chance deciding everything else. Consider a material universe in which conscious awareness is purported to emerge from some combination of objects having certain combinations of attributes, and the purported conscious awareness causes wave function collapse (or some other discernable result). But there is no need for the purported conscious awareness to intervene in the process: the wave function collapse (or other discernable result) is better understood under Occam's razor to have been caused directly by the same combinations of objects and attributes from which conscious awareness had been purported to emerge. The fatal flaw of any purported material consciousness is that it has no independent existence: its entire information content is redundant, being completely dependent upon and contained within other attributes of the same and other objects. Consequently, any purported material consciousness — emergent or otherwise — fails to have discernable purpose or impact, is not needed to explain or understand observed reality, fails to survive Occam’s razor, and therefore simply does not exist. Yet, since the advent of solid-state electronics, it has become increasingly politically incorrect to challenge the god of strong artificial intelligence by serving notice that it is not wearing any clothes. (See § 7.)

4 Volition and Consciousness Are Mutually Interdependent Attributes of a Non-Material Mind[edit]

So where is there opportunity for consciousness or volition? Only in an entity possessing both. Each spares the other from amputation by Occam’s razor.

4.1 An Entity Having Consciousness Must Also Have Volition[edit]

A conscious entity must have capabilities that give consciousness purpose, discernable impact, and therefore coexistence with Occam's razor — none of which is available to consciousness in a material object (§ 3.3). Such capabilities are exactly those provided by volition. By providing capability to have discernable impact outside the realm of deterministic physical law, volition distinguishes a conscious entity from a material object as required by § 3.3. Through volition's reliance on conscious awareness of both

  • a choice between alternative actions and
  • the means for making and acting upon that choice,

volition provides consciousness purpose, discernable impact, and therefore coexistence with Occam's razor. These two types of awareness empower volition, are inherently unavailable to material objects, contain information completely absent from other attributes of the same or other entities, and therefore provide consciousness an independent existence that is unavailable in any material object.

4.2 An Entity Having Volition Must Also Have Consciousness[edit]

Volition is willful choice based on and enabled by knowledge, not random thrashing in blindness. Without consciousness, there cannot be even the awareness of a volitional choice — let alone the ability to act upon it — rendering volition useless, with no discernable impact, and therefore a casualty of Occam's razor.

4.3 Summary[edit]

(1) No material object possesses volition. (§ 2)
(2) No material object possesses consciousness. (§ 3.3)
(3) An entity having consciousness must also have volition. (§ 4.1)
(4) An entity having volition must also have consciousness. (§ 4.2)
Note that (1) and (3) imply (2), and that (2) and (4) imply (1). Because no material object possesses consciousness or volition, both may be characterized appropriately as mental attributes of a non-material mind.[1][8][9]

5 The Ghost in the Machine[edit]

Materialists use the term “ghost in the machine”[4][18] sarcastically to characterize the ethereal nature of the non-material mind possessing the consciousness and volition that are the fundamental essence of a person. We now return to the materialists’ question that they themselves are unable to answer in regard to the “Chinese Room” (§ 3.1): "Where is the ghost in the machine?" We start with the witness of our own introspection.

5.1 The Preeminence of Our Own Consciousness[edit]

Consciousness and volition are the fundamental essence of a human being. If so, where is their discernable impact? Are they falsifiable?[35][36] The impact and reality of our own consciousness and volition are directly discernable from our own introspection. Our own direct perception of our own consciousness and volition is sufficient for us to be certain that they both exist, and acknowledgment of their reality is prerequisite to our consideration of anything, including falsifiability and the scientific method. The realities of our own consciousness and volition are axiomatic in the sense that any argument challenging their existence would be self-defeating. Whenever we are presented any argument, we first make the volitional choice to either consider the argument or not, and, if so, when we will do so. When we consider the argument, we presume that we have the requisite attributes of consciousness to understand and evaluate the argument. So we already presume the validity of our own consciousness and volition as we consider any argument. Such axiomatic status precludes our own consciousness and volition from being falsifiable. Our own consciousness and volition stand in judgment over falsifiability and the scientific method, not the other way around!

5.2 Other Minds[edit]

Demonstration of consciousness in entities other than our own self is the so-called “problem of other minds,” which is discussed extensively elsewhere.[37] (Also relevant to the "problem of other minds" are the philosophical zombie references.[5][22][23]) Suffice it to say that we can reasonably conclude by analogy to our own personal experience and as the best explanation of the behavior of others that the vast majority of humans also have consciousness [and therefore volition (§ 4.1)]. Such conclusion is not reasonably extended to any hardware, software, or combination thereof, no matter how massive or complex, because neither consciousness (§ 3.3) nor volition (§ 2) is an attribute of material objects. There simply isn’t any ethereal "ghost" of a conscious mind inherent to any such machines. Turing himself explicitly excluded consciousness from the attributes he claimed to be assessable by the Turing test[29] (§ 3.2.2).

5.3 So Where’s the Ghost in the Machine?[edit]

So where’s the ghost in the machine that is our material body? We might sense it to be in our brain, but at least some of the myriad reported out-of-body experiences[38][39] might be manifestations of mind-body separation as well as duality. The non-material mind might not reside in the material body or even have location as an attribute. However, it clearly interacts intimately with the material brain, and neuroscience might be able to provide insight into that interaction.[2][40]

6 Recognition of Science’s Limitations Is Not Anti-Science[edit]

None of the foregoing is “anti-science” or “reactionary,” just merely what has been self-evident to most of humanity for millennia. On the other hand, denial of the foregoing conclusions would appear to be rejection of Occam's razor or the reality of consciousness and volition. But scientific inquiry and argument axiomatically presume the participants' willingness (volitional choice) and ability (consciousness) to seek and discern truth, wherever it may lead, and Occam's razor is among the tools needed in such discernment. Finally, without consciousness and volition, there can be no accountability, no right or wrong, no good or evil, no hero or villain, no purpose or meaning. Science is a window to some but not all truth, just as formal logic is a window to some but not all mathematical truth….

7 Formal Logic Is a Window to Some But Not All Mathematical Truth[edit]

Gödel’s proof of his first incompleteness theorem[41] shows how, in any consistent, recursively enumerable formal logic capable of simple arithmetic, the human mind has the ability to construct a statement that cannot be proved within the formal logic but that can be proved by the human mind. (All finite and many, but not all, infinite formal logics are recursively enumerable.) The human mind's ability to prove things that cannot be proven by machine "intelligence" is yet another demonstration of its non-mechanical, non-material nature. The RationalWiki article "Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems"[6] responds, “What Gödel's theorem absolutely definitely most certainly doesn't say is that humans possess some kind of superior unformalizable intuition that allows them to see mathematical truths that cannot be captured by ‘mere math’ or ‘mere logic.’" (Italics are in the original.) Yet the RationalWiki article provides no explanation, no counterargument, merely the statement in a footnote that “Works with counterarguments are too numerous to list here.” The reason that the “counterarguments” are so numerous appears to be that none of them is convincing. With no “counterargument” sufficiently convincing to achieve a consensus of agreement, the “counterarguments” just keep coming, each with its own novel idea of how to controvert the Gödel proof’s prima facie demonstration “that humans possess … superior unformalizable intuition that allows them to see mathematical truths that cannot be captured by ‘mere math’ or ‘mere logic.’" How dare anyone challenge the god of strong artificial intelligence! Yet it stands naked in its folly for all who would see. (See § 3.3.)

8 Addendum: Quantum Mechanics[edit]

In the absence of wave function collapse,[42] the state of a quantum system as represented by its wave function evolves with time completely deterministically and with no ambiguity according to the time-dependent Schrödinger Equation.[43] However, whenever a measurable attribute (e.g., position or momentum) is measured, the wave function undergoes “collapse” to just one of the possible alternative values for the measured attribute. The wave function immediately prior to collapse determines the probabilities for observation of the various possible alternative values. Beyond this determination of probabilities, there is no opportunity for anything to influence the outcome of a measurement. So in the sense that physical law determines all that can be determined, even wave function collapse is deterministic.

But why and how does wave function collapse occur during measurement of an attribute? Despite desperate attempts to find politically more palatable explanations, the best explanation for wave function collapse remains that it is the result of non-material consciousness interacting with the material world. (See related discussion.[44][45][46]) This topic merits a new essay of its own.

9 References[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Dualism
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Non-materialist neuroscience
  3. 3.0 3.1 Chinese room
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Ghost in the machine
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Philosophical zombie
  6. 6.0 6.1 Gödel's incompleteness theorems
  7. Essay:What does it mean to say that the mind is a computer? And is it?
  8. 8.0 8.1 Mind–body dualismWikipedia
  9. 9.0 9.1 Robinson, Howard, "Dualism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  10. Spirituality
  11. 11.0 11.1 Occam's razor
  12. 12.0 12.1 Occam's razorWikipedia
  13. Free will
  14. Free willWikipedia
  15. Chinese roomWikipedia
  16. Biological NaturalismWikipedia
  17. Shadows of the MindWikipedia
  18. 18.0 18.1 Ghost in the machineWikipedia
  19. 19.0 19.1 Emergence
  20. EmergenceWikipedia
  21. O’Connor, Timothy, "Emergent Properties," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  22. 22.0 22.1 Philosophical zombieWikipedia
  23. 23.0 23.1 Kirk, Robert, "Zombies," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  24. Turing Test
  25. Turing testWikipedia
  26. Collins, Eli and Ghahramani, Zoubin, "LaMDA: our breakthrough conversation technology," The Keyword, May 18, 2021, Google LLC. Accessed October 7, 2022.
  27. 27.0 27.1 LaMDAWikipedia
  28. 28.0 28.1 Oremus, Will, "Google’s AI passed a famous test — and showed how the test is broken," Washington Post, June 17, 2022. Accessed October 7, 2022.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Turing test: Consciousness vs. the simulation of consciousnessWikipedia
  30. Abductive reasoning
  31. Abductive reasoningWikipedia
  32. Duck testWikipedia
  33. See Schieber, Stuart M., "The Turing Test as Interactive Proof," Noûs, 41(4):686-713, December 2007.
  34. Kahn, Jeremy, "A.I. experts say the Google researcher’s claim that his chatbot became ‘sentient’ is ridiculous—but also highlights big problems in the field," Fortune, June 13, 2022. Accessed October 7, 2022.
  35. Falsifiability
  36. FalsifiabilityWikipedia
  37. Avramides, Anita, "Other Minds," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  38. Out-of-body experience
  39. Out-of-body experienceWikipedia
  40. NeuroscienceWikipedia
  41. Gödel's incompleteness theoremsWikipedia
  42. Wave function collapseWikipedia
  43. Schrödinger equationWikipedia
  44. Von Neumann–Wigner interpretationWikipedia
  45. Conscious observation in quantum mechanics
  46. Schrödinger's cat

More Than Magnetic Ink (talk) 05:42, 16 October 2022 (UTC)