On the Necessity of Ontology

A reader apparently named after a famous admiral from Trantor bent on destroying The Foundation, Bel Riose, asks an interesting question, but also cautions us not to the ongoing and endless conversation about materialism to reach its ontological and axiomatic foundations.

“I honestly cannot understand why you guys keep insisting in skipping ahead and talking about ontology when there are relevant questions about physics and questions about the physical reality that Dr. Andreassen is asking but which no dualist in this space, as far as I have traced back this discussion, has been willing or able to answer concisely and clearly.

To follow Mr. Wright’s suggestion I will use the exact philosophical terms: is there physical closure? is there nomological closure in the physical reality? what is the -physical- nature of the interaction between the mind and the physical reality? does this interaction necessarily implies that the laws of physics are nondeterministic or violates said closures?

With all due respect, another set of elaborate metaphors explaining how mental objects and physical objects belong to different categories and therefore cannot interact is not a satisfactory answer and I doubt it is going to be very helpful for any skeptic such as myself. Dualism must solve the problem of interaction.”

I am frankly baffled that anyone calls the solution unsatisfactory. It solves the problem and there is nothing left over to explain and no questions left unasked. if my solution is unsatisfactory, please tell me what you imagine a satisfactory solution would look like?

With all due respect, no, it is simply not true that Dualism must solve the problem of interaction before turning to a discussion of ontology, or indeed, at all. There is no problem of interaction.

All this is  assuming you would classify me as a Dualist. Perhaps I am, perhaps not. I believe mind and body differ in substance, by which I mean they are not talked about in the same terms or categories, but I am not a Cartesian.

I  would call myself an Accommodationist: my contention is that the use of statements about the mechanical causes of motion or material causes of matter to explain the physical aspects of reality neither confirm nor contradict the use of formal and final causes and categories to explain the nonphysical aspects. They accommodate each other. I hold that the appearance of a conflict is an illusion created by the misuse of words and metaphors.

From my point of view, Dualism has no business solving the problem of interaction before discussing ontology because Monism must first prove that there is a problem of interaction to be solved.

This is exactly where the conversation breaks down: the Monist Materialist seems to be saying that the Dualist is saying immaterial thoughts are a type of mechanical cause which creates physical force that pushes a bit of matter. The Dualist says he is not saying that.

What Dualism and Monism are really discussing is ontology, the question of whether mind and body exist, or exist in the same sense of the word ‘existence’ and how the two relate to each other, if at all.

If my thesis for the last two years has been “there is no problem of interaction to solve because there is no such thing as this so-called interaction” it is worse than useless to announce that the “problem of interaction” must first be solved before the conversation can move on.

To ask us to discuss the mind-body relation without discussing ontology is like asking use to discuss the Theorem of Pythagoras without reference to geometry.

Now, the reason why I say there is no problem of interaction to be solved is because this is a conclusion of my theory of ontology. If you agree with my theory of ontology, then you must agree with my conclusion about the illusory nature of the so called problem of interaction. But I cannot argue that the so called problem of interaction is illusory until and unless I argue the theory of ontology.

As for your questions, you have me at a disadvantage if you are using technical terms that are less than a hundred years old. I am not familiar with them and not likely to become so. Why should I use the terminology of Jaegwon Kim rather than the terminology of Aristotle?

But in the spirit of amity, I will attempt an answer:

1. is there physical closure?

Yes, by definition. Because if there is no closure, that is, a physical effect without a mechanical cause, then there is no physics. To use an older terminology: ex nihilo nihil fit.

For those of you not familiar with the term “closure” means the completeness of the explanation within the physical system, that is, there is no cause which leads to no effect, and no effect that arises without a cause, and everything is accounted for.

Please note here I am talking about closure of the description of physical systems only, such as, e.g., describing billiard balls rebounding on the table.

The description of things outside physical systems, such as pool players leaning over the table with pool cues imparting motion to the cue ball, cannot be understood, that is, the explanation will not answer the question “why?” until and unless the end-cause or final cause or meaning or qualities of the game of pool is described.

Your model will not predict which ball will go where until and unless you understand that the players are trying to strike their balls into the pockets with the cue ball. However, keep in mind that describing the game of pool is NOT a model of physics. Physics only explains the physics of the game. It does not explain the game.

If you were explaining to an onlooker the mechanics of why the eight ball went into the side pocket, by physics you can explain how a banked shot works, that the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection, or the Bernoulli effect puts spin on the ball, and so on. But to explain what it means when the eight ball goes in, you have to explain the rules of the game, which is the formal cause, and what the billiard players are trying to do, that is, the final cause of the game itself. Understanding the physics of the game is not understanding the game.

In that limited sense of the word, there is not “closure.” But I do not think you mean the word that way.

2. is there nomological closure in the physical reality?

Unanswerable. The question as it stands is incoherent.

For those of you not familiar with the term, nomological means “relating to or denoting certain principles, such as laws of nature, that are neither logically necessary nor theoretically explicable, but are simply taken as true.” For instance, Playfair’s axiom within Euclidean geometry is nomological. It is merely a stubborn fact beyond which we cannot go, or, to be precise, cannot go without leaving the realm of geometry.

Perhaps I am misinterpreting the question, but in this context the word refers to the nomological physics, that is, the facts of world as understood by current science in this our universe, and not the metaphysical realities foundational to those facts which must be true in this or any universe.

Again, perhaps I am misinterpreting the question, but it seems to be asking whether, taking the current known laws of nature as a given, can the cognitive states be deduced axiomatically from known physical and medical brain processes?

Well, I must be misunderstanding the question, because that question is silly: No one in this discussion, no one on Earth, knows a sufficient amount about the nature of brain processes to establish a one-to-one relation between physical processes of specific brain operations of nerve cells and cognition.

Hence, the discussion can only take place in a hypothetical or counterfactural of assuming the position of every atom of the brain were known and the relation, if any, between brain motions and cognitive content were known, and then only for the purpose of establishing whether such a relation is necessary (as Dr Andreassen argues) or such a relation in impossible (as I argue).

This discussion by its nature must be non-nomological. Because no one in real life knows the position of every brain atom in a human brain. No one know the relationship of brain to mind, and no one can even frame the question in a scientifically rigorous way.

No one in this discussion, no one on earth, even proposes nomoligical closure for the relation of physics to chemistry, much less a nomological closure for the relation of physics to psychology, ethics, and philosophy, and everything else referenced by any human thought process.

I assume we all hold the laws of nature to be metaphysically contingent, which means, there could have been different natural laws than the ones that actually obtain. To restrict the conversation only to non-metaphysical speculation is to halt the conversation, because we are discussing a metaphysical topic, namely, the mind-body relation.

3. what is the -physical- nature of the interaction between the mind and the physical reality?

Unanswerable. The question as it stands is incoherent. You are asking for the physical nature of the link between a physical and a nonphysical description.

Imagine the case of Pythagoras thinking about Euclid. If the link were physical, such as an electron leaving the cortex of the brain and flying up into heaven to hit Playfair’s axiom in the world of mathematical abstractions, then there is no way for an electron to hit an axiom, since electrons are physical objects and axioms are linguistic abstractions. If the link were nonphysical, such as a powerful passion which Playfair’s axiom instills or inspires into the hearts of all mathematicians, such that Playfair’s axiom acted like a moral commandment creating a duty inside the conscience of the mathematician, neither axioms nor inspirations nor duties nor any other symbolic abstraction can create a gravitational nor electromagnetic nor chemical bond to move a particle, element or electron in the brain of the mathematician.

So the link between mind and body cannot be a link, neither physical nor mental.

The answer is that there is no interaction, or, to be precise, the explanation of what goes on in a man’s mind from his own point of view cannot interact with the explanation of what goes on in his body, even though his person is one reality with two aspects, a visible and an invisible.

The only time we use one explanation, say, of mental states, to explain another, say, of physical reactions, we are indulging in an annoying ambiguity.

If someone asks “Why did you blush?” but he wants to know the description by a medical doctor of the action of capillaries, is not answering his question to answer that blood rushed to your face in anger.

Again, if someone asks, “Why did you blush?” and he wants to know what the blush represents, whether you are angry versus ashamed or just have been standing on your head, it is not answering his question to give him a medical description of skin capillary reactions to blood pressure.

A better example is when a child asks his father why he must go to bed at bedtime, and the father says “because I said so” the father is not answering the question asked. The formal reason, that is, the legal reason, why the child must go to bed is because the father’s order is lawful, but the child was asking the final cause, that is, what purpose having bedtime at this hour serves.

What is puzzling to me is why this is puzzling to anyone. There is clearly an “interaction” in all the cases I use as examples above.  There is a relation between the formality of the law which gives the father the authority to establish the child’s bed time, and there is also a prudential judgment relating to the wellbeing of the child getting enough sleep. But no one can express that relation in words. The explanation of paternal authority and the prudential judgment about getting enough sleep relate to two different worlds.

The question of “does my father have authority to command me?” and the question “how much sleep do I need before a big day tomorrow?” cannot be discussed using the same terms or categories or chains of reasoning. One is a medical question and the other is a legal question. No conclusion in one chain of reasoning has any necessary effect on any conclusion in any other chain of reasoning.

Likewise again, the question of whether I am blushing in anger or blushing in shame is such a different question from the question of the medical nuances of why my face turns red that the two questions cannot even be discussed using the same terms. No conclusion in one has any necessary bearing on any conclusion in the other.

So, the reason why your question is meaningless is that you are asking for an explanation of the physical link between two explanations of two different things answering two different questions, first asking what are the medical nuances of neurological brain actions, and the second asking what are the logical relations of Platonic forms in the world of ideas.

It would be like asking why or whether the father has the legal authority to decide the child is diurnal rather than nocturnal, and therefore must sleep at night rather than during the day, and then asking what the legal link or why by legal authority the medical question of how much sleep you need before a big day is ordained.

4. does this interaction necessarily imply that the laws of physics are nondeterministic or violates said closures?

The question is meaningless. There is no interaction, if by this we mean physical interaction. A thing that does not exist does not imply anything.

(Or perhaps this means the answer is “no”. I have said this many times before that free will is an ethical or legal category concerning the ability of a man to stand trial or be held morally liable for his actions. A child under the age of reason does not have free will enough to stand trial or be blamed for his actions, and this would be true whether we lived in under laws of physics that were deterministic or were not. Likewise, a grown man in possession of his five senses must answer for his actions, whether physics were indeterministic or not.)

The laws of physics are deterministic by nature, and the nature of man is nondeterministic by nature, which is why physics is the study of things like billiard balls or the procession of Mercury and is not the study of things like under what conditions it is morally correct to violate a statute.

The confusion in this question is a category error based on the misuse of the term “interaction.”

As I said above, this conversation can only take place if we discuss ontology. Allow me to explain my point in this regard:

There is one reality.

There is not one point of view from which to explain reality.

Man has both parts of him which can be described using the terminology and categories of mental events, and has parts of him which can be described using the terminology and categories of physical events. Likewise, the cosmos can be contemplated from a physical point of view as when we study the laws of nature, or, switching our coign of vantage, from a nonphysical point of view, as when we study the meaning, beauty, logic and moral purpose of life.

The explanations are at right angles to each other. Waxing rhapsodic about the beauty of the Rings of Saturn is not a discussion of the cosmic event which give rise to them. A man who thinks Saturn’s Rings formed out of a primordial accretion disk is not necessarily any less moved by their sublime majesty as a man who thinks they were formed due to the disintegration of a moon falling below Roche’s limit. Likewise, a man whose aesthetic theory dismisses the rings as not beautiful cannot use that same theory to decide the origin of the rings.

Mental events make no sense if an attempt were made, assuming such an attempt could be made, to explain them in mechanical terms. If someone asks you, “Why are you skeptical about such and such?” it is not an answer to say, “I am skeptical because by blood pressure is low.” This would be true even if each and every single case of skepticism were accompanied by low blood pressure. The answer is still not any sort of answer to the question being asked, any more than “Because Daddy says so!” is an answer to the child’s question “Why must I go to bed now?”

In sum, the monist assumption is that if reality is one, the explanations and discussions of reality also must be one, or, at least, must be something we can map on one to another, in the same way the points on a globe can be mapped onto the analogous points on a Polar projection or Mercator projection.

I submit that this assumption is false. I submit that no description of formal cause of any kind or degree whatsoever has any relation to any description of mechanical cause, nor does formal cause have any relation to material cause, nor any of them to any other.

The billiard ball is both round and ivory. The roundness is its form. The ivory is its matter. No discussion by geometers (be they ever so wise and subtle) about the roundness of the ball will allow any deduction to be made about its substance. Likewise no discussion of ivory by Big Game Hunters on elephant tusks will enable the Hunter to deduce the nature of the ratio between the diameter of a billiard ball and its surface area. If they start talking about that ratio, they have left off discussing the nature of ivory and have started discussing the nature of spheres. They are no longer discussing elephant teeth, but geometry.

In effect, when you demand that I explain the “interaction” between mind and body, you are demanding that I produce a way to deduce from the fact that an object is made of ivory a statement about the ratio between radius and surface area of a sphere; or that I produce a way to deduce from the fact that the ratio of a diameter to the equator of a sphere is pi that billiard balls are or are not made of ivory.

A billiard ball is a ball of ivory. The substance of the ivory does not “interact” with the form of the sphere to produce the billiard ballness. Likewise, the mind does not “interact” with the body. That entire approach to the question is wrong and wrongheaded.

The billiard ball is one. It is one thing. The mathematician who looks at the shape of the ball and ignores what it is made of discusses the form of the ball and only the form. He is dealing with mathematical objects and geometric ratios. The big game hunter who looks at a billiard ball and ignores the shape discusses only the quality of the ivory, its yellowing, whether it came from an Africa or Indian elephant. He is dealing with what it is made of and ignoring the form.

The opera is one. It is one thing. The musician who discusses the timing  of the score and the librettist who discusses the pacing of the score are discussing two different things. When they discuss how the words and music act together to create one effect, then they are discussing the opera, but this is not because of any deduction from the music that the music causes the words, and not because of any deduction from the words that the words cause the music. The relation is not a relation of cause and effect.

From Descartes time onward, philosophers tend to think of the mind and the body as two different worlds or planes of existence. I hold this to be a grave and misleading error, an error of ontology. To the contrary, I hold that mind and body are two different explanations or two different discussions about one reality, or, if you like, two different dimensions or directions toward one reality.

To put it simply, the Cartesian argument confuses Kantian categories of mind and body with a physical model of a universe of matter with a universe of spirit running parallel to it, and want to know if physical events in the one cause physical events in the other. The ontology is defective, so the question is meaningless.

I am afraid you are not going to get me to stop using analogies because this discussion is all about analogies and about nothing else. You materialists analogize mental reality to physical and empirical objects in motion, and by a clever use of ambiguous words, you continue the analogy to a point where it no longer holds. The materialist argument is not a logical argument, but an argument by analogy only.

I am also afraid that your request that we continue to dwell on a conclusion without discussing the axioms from which that conclusion is drawn is likewise meaningless. I cannot even explain what the question means without discussing the deeper question.

We cannot discuss how the mind and the body co-exist, if they do, without clarifying what we mean by the word ‘exist.’ We cannot discuss how it is that physics is not metaphysics without defining metaphysics.

Unlike in the case of certain famous public adulterer and his attempt to elude and deceive the public, in this case we actually do have to discuss what the meaning of the word “is” is.

In this case there is actually an ambiguity to be cleared up, if we are not to talk at cross purposes forever.

Please read and support my work on Patreon!