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.

38 Comments

  1. Comment by mhssu:

    Wow, that was a terrific read, Mr Wright. Amazing how an Aristotelian metaphysics cuts through such problems. The more I study philosophy, the more I am convinced that there was probably no greater bungle in the history of thought than the abandonment of Aristotle and Aquinas.

  2. Comment by The OFloinn:

    Sauwohl, Herr Wright. I was contemplating the suggestion of tea and basketballs, but the billiards covered the points. No one asks how it is that sphere and billiard ball “interact.”

    • Comment by Randall Randall:

      “”” No one asks how it is that sphere and billiard ball “interact.” “””

      For more than one reason, I think, but the most important one is probably that even those who are willing to say that mind exists without brain do not often seem to believe that the sphericity of a billiard ball exists without the ball.

      • Comment by The OFloinn:

        Correct. For inanimate forms, “there is no ‘white’ without a white ‘thing.’” No “round” without the billiard ball. (Though I did study it in mathematics without a billiard ball in sight.)

        The same is even true of the animated forms of plants and animals, and is mostly true for the form even of human beings. If the power rests in something physical, it is gone when the physical thing is gone.

        However, the power known as the intellect (and its appetite, the will) are immaterial. (A point often confused by mixing up intellect with “intelligence” or even “consciousness”!) There is no prior reason why something immaterial should decay from the corruption of material things.

        When Aquinas spoke of the immortality of the soul, he specifically noted that only the intellective portions of the soul would subsist. Things like sensation, perception, memory, imagination, emotion, and motion would not. (This is one reason why there must be a resurrection of the body. “My soul is not ‘I’,” Aquinas wrote. ‘I’ am a hylemorphic union of form with matter.

  3. Comment by lotdw:

    Yeah, this person should know that Catholicism was around 1500 years before Descartes, and Catholics aren’t Dualists, generally (even in the pre-Cartesian sense).

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      To be fair, not all Catholics are Thomists, and I am not even a proper Thomist, merely trending that way.

      • Comment by Tom Simon:

        From what you’ve said on philosophical subjects lately, I should venture to guess that you’re approximately as Thomist as I am. To inform the comparison, I find myself generally in agreement with St. Thomas when I understand him; but I am still learning the Scholastic language and terms of art, and besides, I have about four zillion pages of the Summa still to go. He has, however, solved some old conundrums for me so brilliantly that I regard him as a guide worth following.

      • Comment by Nostreculsus:

        The Catholic understanding of free will was discussed extensively by the learned Jesuit Luis de Molina

        That agent is called free who, with all the prerequisites for acting having been posited, is able to act and able not to act, or is able to do one thing in such a way that he is also able to do some contrary thing.

  4. Comment by Tom Simon:

    Sir, I have lately read Edward Feser’s Aquinas, and I can say that your discussion of mind and body, and why the Cartesian dichotomy between them is a false one, is as sound and cogent as Dr. Feser’s; and I mean that as high praise.

    Oh, and to take up another topic at most tangentially related: Happy Birthday!

  5. Comment by bel riose:

    Dear Mr. Wright:

    I have been trying to post a somewhat lengthy response but I don’t seem to be able to get pass your spam filter. Or perhaps it is held by moderation. Please, let me know if there is any way I can fix the problem.

    In any case, I am afraid I might have caused some unintentional spamming. I am very sorry!

  6. Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

    Thanks for your last posts and essays on metaphysics and ontology. Your texts and the ensuing discussions make for a terrific read, as “mhssu” says.

    Permit me a bit of nitpicking, though, as well as a couple of questions.

    “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.”
    I suppose there could have been different natural laws in our visible world only if there were different ontological laws (first principles). But I find it very hard to conceive. In fact, I am not sure it is even theoretically possible.

    “…authority and the prudential judgment about getting enough sleep relate to two different worlds.”
    It seems to me they relate to the same world of ethics, no?

    Monism/dualism
    You certainly know all that, but just to make things more clear I want to point out that monism and dualism are both erroneous views and that Aristotelico-Thomism is neither. Reality is one, for sure, as being is one, but only in an analogical sense: all existent beings have being in common (so being is one in a particular respect), but each existing being is also a unique and specific thing (so being is purely and simply manifold) and can be examined from multiple facets, as you said.

    Also, nowhere is being divided in two irreducible blocks, for example immaterial and material. There is instead a hierarchy of being from the First Cause and Pure Act, to superior spiritual beings which are separate forms (angels, each one of which is distinct from the others by his essence: Plato’s intuition of separate forms becomes true in the Treaty of angels), to hylemorphic beings, that is, composite beings made of matter informed by an essence: body and spiritual soul for humans, body and (more or less) sensitive soul for other living things and body with physical form for inanimate beings.

    Descartes, in his disdain for Aristotelian-Thomist metaphysics, returned to dualism and affirmed that man’s soul was a complete substance possessed with intuitive intelligence like an angel, trapped in a body that was also a complete and irreducible substance. Intuitive intelligence was certainly an appealing theory for many a brilliant mind, but it was of course delusional and gave birth to unending errors in philosophy and Descartes’ erroneous epistemology resulted in ever-expanding encroachments of empirical science over metaphysics.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I suppose there could have been different natural laws in our visible world only if there were different ontological laws (first principles).

      With respect, I very strongly disagree. If a Prince of Amber or the Wizard of Oz tomorrow made me wake up in the universe which acted exactly as Aristotle described, so that heavier objects fell faster, or exactly as Newton described, so that there was no upper velocity to light, which was an etheric vibration without mass, no first principle and no law of logic would be violated. All the metaphysical realities of the laws of logic and the nature of being would remain the same, and men would still have free will and be held accountable for their actions. And yet the laws of physics would be markedly different in the Aristotelian, Newtonian, and Einsteinian model.

      Whether the earth goes around the sun or the sun goes around the earth does not change the fact that two things equal to a third thing are equal to each other, which is a first axiom of geometry and a metaphysical statement of the nature of being.

      In proof whereof, I offer the fact the in the real world in real life the metaphysical realities have not changed even as our models of physics change.

  7. Comment by bel riose:

    Dear Mr. Wright,

    first of all I would like to thank you for your patience and for elaborating such a thorough answer. It is much appreciated.

    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.

    I should probably say that I am not a materialist. I am also not a philosopher; I am a scientist and although my field is somehow related to the question at hand, I am certainly ill equipped to make a coherent argument in favor or against monism. However, if you indulge me, I would like to make a few remarks:

    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.

    I tend to agree. And I certainly meant the word in that way. If there is physical closure, then there are no physical events without a purely physical cause. Which moves me onto the next question, which I believe you misunderstood.

    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.

    This is not what I meant. As far as my understanding reaches, nomological closure is a weaker proposition than physical closure. To claim that the physical is nomologicaly closed means that the causal relation between any physical event and its physical causes can always be explained by physical laws. These laws, however, may not be deterministic and therefore a physical event may have non-physical causes, albeit preserving said laws.

    The answer [to 3.] 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.

    To say that there must be an interaction is not the same as saying that what goes on on a man’s mind can be reduced to or explained in terms of physical facts. If you argue with a physicalist you may ask him how qualia or, to use your prefered terminology, final causes, can be explained in terms of electrical impulses and in so doing point out a fatal flaw in their contention. But I am not claiming such a thing, nor am I saying that dualism must attempt to solve that problem.

    I was merely asking how can it be that qualia, which I know to be real and which we both agree are not reducible to physical facts, can move objects or -perhaps I should put it this way-, how can objects in the physical move in such accordance to qualia? If you tell me that this parallelism does not have an explanation in physical terms, that indeed it is not a question about physics but one about metaphysics and that in order to say anything further you need to explain your theory of ontology, then I would gladly leave the question aside and humbly ask you about it.

    However, I find it logically necessary that, if physical closure is true and mental events have no causal interaction whatsoever with the physical, and if the laws of physics are deterministic, then perfect knowledge of the laws and the contents of the physical would allow us to predict every physical event, from the procession of Mercury to the exact angle at which a player is going to hit the billiard ball. This is not a metaphysical statement; it refers only to physical events and physical facts. If you insist that such predictions are not possible within the physical reality you will be implying that, in that sense, there is a difference between brains and billiard balls. That is the source of my confusion: you seem to imply that there is a locus of interaction in the physical, which you otherwise claim is nonsense.

    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 have to admit I understood your contention was somehow based or related to the Cartesian view, or perhaps that of Malebranche, which I gather is St. Augustine’s. If you have already explained your theory, I would very much like to know where. If you have not and you have the patience to give an outline to someone who has never read Aristotle, I would be very grateful.

    ps. I fear my comment may finally be too lengthy for this space. Also, I am afraid my English tonight is even worse than it usually is. My apologies.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “However, I find it logically necessary that, if physical closure is true and mental events have no causal interaction whatsoever with the physical, and if the laws of physics are deterministic, then perfect knowledge of the laws and the contents of the physical would allow us to predict every physical event, from the procession of Mercury to the exact angle at which a player is going to hit the billiard ball.”

      Given the premise that people are just elaborate manikins no different in principle than a collection of billiard balls, one hitting another hitting another, yes, this would follow. But what happens if the player decides to throw the game, and hits the ball at a wrong angle to miss? Is everything predictable based on physical causes then?

      You see, I take it as a given that a man cannot break the laws of nature by an act of will. I also take it as a given that man has free will — for if he does not, there is no point in discussing this or any topic, or in thinking or acting.

      I conclude that the idea that it breaks a law of nature by a man deciding to hit the cue ball with his pool cue rather than break his opponent’s skull is an illusory idea, a misunderstanding of what physics is for, what it studies, what it assumes, and what it ignores.

      Physics never claims to be able to predict human behavior. This is not due to a lack of knowledge of neuropsychology. This is due to the axiomatic limitation of physics that physicists all agree to pretend that there is no such thing as final cause. They restrict themselves to describing how rocks fall and never bother their heads about why rocks fall. However, that restriction becomes comically meaningless if applies to people. If the coroner is asking why Brody plunged from the Brooklyn Bridge, he does not want to hear that the rate of fall was 32 feet per second per second. He wants to know if the man jumped or was pushed.

      All that is happening is that we are confusing an assumption with a conclusion. We assume it is a fact of physics that nothing happens without a physical cause and that no final cause need be considered. We then look at what seems to be a human decision, and conclude that the mental act of making the decision happens for a physical cause, and that the willpower is a billiard ball hanging two inches behind my eyes pushes upon by other billiards set in motion by inanimate forces.

      But it is not a fact of physics that nothing happens without a physical cause and that no final cause need be considered. It is an assumption of physics, or, rather, a rule of the game of physics that physicists will not talk about final causes and will only pay attention to physical causes. When a man jumps from a bridge, only the parts of that event which can be meaningfully described by the game of physics are those where he is not making a decision, such as the rate of his fall, or the medical information about how the muscles work in his leg muscles and nerves to produce his lateral motion. But the medical information is the same if he decides not to jump but to go drink coffee. The acceleration due to gravity is the same whether he jumps or walks away from the edge.

      The idea of ‘closure’ is a conversational idiom, not a reality of human nature. It does not apply to human decisions, only to the forces of physics acting on a human body.

      (The idea of ‘closure’ does not even actually apply to falling rocks except as an idiom of conversation, it is just that we assume the rocks move as they do because of their nature, and they have no will and no freedom of the will and no capacity to act. Physicists cannot tell you why God make the rocks fall and the fire rise, and he does not try to; he can only tell you at what rate or in what form rocks fall and fire rises.)

  8. Comment by Sean Michael:

    If Bel Riose is here, maybe we can hope to be visited by Hari Seldon, Lazarus Long, Bilbo Baggins, Paul Atreides, Nicholas van Rijn, or Dominic Flandry! (Smiles)

    Apologies for my trivial levity!

    Sean M. Brooks

  9. Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

    For convenience I repeat my comment on the previous post here, somewhat expanded and clarified. Let me try a different format; I will make some assertions, axioms if you will, and you can say which one you disagree with.

    1. I can measure the mass and velocity of each particle in Shakespeare, his surroundings, the Earth, and the Galaxy at any given time.

    2. The total mass times velocity, the momentum, in each of three dimensions, is a conserved quantity, which Shakespeare cannot change by any act of will. Therefore, if I measure the total momentum on two different days, it will be the same, whatever Shakespeare does in the meantime.

    3. Suppose I measure the momenta on Monday, when Shakespeare receives the news of his son’s death; and on Tuesday, when I observe him drinking coffee. Suppose further that they are the same. In that case, if we consider instead a hypothetical Shakespeare who jumped in the Thames at the moment when the real one was making coffee, the momenta of the world that contains the hypothetical Shakespeare would be different.

    Do you disagree with any of these assertions?

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Of course. Is this a trick question? If statement 2 is true, statement 3 must be false.

      From the principle of the conservation of energy, we can deduce that the total energy (you use the term momentum) of the physical universe is the same whether Shakespeare drinks coffee or jumps into the Thames or whatever he decides to do. He can transfer energy from one form to another, but not create it and not destroy it. He can make coffee, but he cannot make it out of nothing. He can drown himself, but he cannot wish his body into vanishing.

      From the principle of conversation of energy, however, it is not a permissible deduction to assume that any actions on Shakespeare’s part other than drinking coffee would produce differences in amount of energy conserved, and from this to deduce that therefore it is not logically possible for him to decide to jump in the Thames, or to perform any actions at all, other than the one inevitable act.

      It is not merely a leap of logic, it is an absurd gut-busting hysterically funny leap of logic to try to argue that the law of conservation of energy means that Shakespeare cannot act (no pun intended).

      Sir, much of what I say about philosophy is technical, and I do not blame you for being bored with it or being unable to follow it. But this is not technical, this is just silliness on your part.

      Whoever told you that human decision-making was a physical system like Newton’s three body problem or Hero’s steam engine took advantage of your gullibility. You should have asked him a few questions.

      The reason why physics is physics, the fundamental assumption that Christianity brought into the world when we drove out astrology and witchcraft and pagan superstitions, was that natural objects and forces act of their own nature. Rocks fall because they fall, not because fairies push them. Inanimate objects do not make decisions. Inanimate objects move according to the formal causes of their nature, which in Greek is ‘physis’ hence our word ‘physics’ which we use to refer to natural philosophy.

      The fact that you are asking me with a straight face whether or not human decisions are a physical system studied by physics and bound to follow the metaphysical assumptions of physics is like asking me whether human beings are alive or dead.

      You are in effect arguing that humans cannot be alive because life violates the principle of conservation of energy. Because billiard balls can have and only have the moment imparted to them by a cue ball, therefore grass does not grow and birds do not peck for worms. It is an illogical conclusion and a grossly flat-headed misinterpretation of the law of conservation of momentum.

      And when I say that men and birds and blades of grass are alive, and physics does not even attempt to describe their actions, except insofar as they act like other bodies, you say that a carbon atom in a living man’s cells has the same properties and obeys the same laws as a carbon atom in a star or a stone. But from this the conclusion that men are inanimate objects like stars and stones is not permissible.

      You seem to be unaware of the origins and limitation of your own field of study, and not to know even the basics of what your field of study studies.

      You will never move one iota from your dogmatism until you examine the ontological and epistemological assumptions on which they are based. You will not be able to defend your ideas from simple and obvious attacks against your weak spots (see above) until you know what those ideas are, and on what grounds they are based.

      I do not understand why, if you are so patient with this discussion, you are not willing to have this discussion. Every time I say “examine your assumptions and axioms” you simply ignore me. You do not react. You do not agree nor disagree. Why is this?

      • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

        It is not a trick question at all. I am glad I have finally gotten you to state which axiom you disagree with:

        If statement 2 is true, statement 3 must be false.

        Very good. Both these statements are just direct consequences of Newtonian physics. So when you say that one of them must be false, that is precisely what I mean when I say that Shakespeare jumping in the Thames would violate the laws of (Newtonian) physics. (If you like, we can find some other phrase, on the grounds that physics does not apply to Shakespeare so he cannot violate its laws.) But at any rate you hold that statements 2 and 3 cannot be simultaneously true, while I hold that they are; and it seems to me that this is a disagreement about assertions within the realm of physics and observable facts, not philosophy or ontology.

        Will you agree that these are matters which are open to empirical investigation? It may, of course, be the case that statement 2 is false for living systems; it has, after all, only been tested in the lab. As for statement three, it cannot be tested directly but it follows from Newton’s third law and some simple math; again, though, perhaps the third law is not accurate for living systems, or perhaps the math makes inaccurate assumptions. But will you agree that they are both at least in principle testable by the methods of experimental physics?

        Because billiard balls can have and only have the moment imparted to them by a cue ball, therefore grass does not grow and birds do not peck for worms.

        That does not follow from what I said. You are drawing a completely wrong conclusion, a silly conclusion even; assuming that I must hold it; and then mocking me for silliness. In fact it is silly even on your own terms, since there is nothing in conservation of momentum that prevents a clockwork bird pecking for clockwork worms.

        You have repeatedly said that I do not understand philosophy. Well, sir, you do not understand physics, and you are not even aware of your own ignorance. The conclusions you attempt to draw from conservation of energy – which you confuse with conservation of momentum; they are not the same – are, to coin a phrase, just silliness on your part.

        I do not understand why, if you are so patient with this discussion, you are not willing to have this discussion. Every time I say “examine your assumptions and axioms” you simply ignore me. You do not react. You do not agree nor disagree. Why is this?

        It is because you have been making really elementary errors in physics, and thus making it very hard for me to figure out what you were actually saying; and until I am sure I understand your mere words on easy points, I can certainly not engage in any sort of useful discussion of difficult ones. It is not that I am unwilling to examine ontology and epistemology, it is that I cannot do so with you until I am sure we have a vocabulary in common. At the moment it appears that we do not, or did not: You have been unwilling to agree that the Shakespeare who jumps in the Thames breaks the laws of physics, and yet you are willing to assert that either statement 2 or 3 must be false – and that is exactly what I mean by the phrase “breaks the laws of physics”. Hence my confusion on what you were saying; it came about because you did not understand what the laws of physics actually say, and therefore asserted contradictory things.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Both these statements are just direct consequences of Newtonian physics. So when you say that one of them must be false, that is precisely what I mean when I say that Shakespeare jumping in the Thames would violate the laws of (Newtonian) physics.

          Your understanding of Newtonian physics is faulty — if I may be forgiven the understatement — if you conclude that a man jumping into a river violates Newtonian physics.

          When asked why you cannot give your ontological or epistemological justifications for your belief, you decide that the fault is because I am making elementary mistakes in physics. This, from a man who tells me it violates Newton’s Third Law of Gravity if Shakespeare falls into the Thames; and from a man who writes two contradictory statements, and then tells me that both are deductions of Newtonian mechanics.

          The reason you cannot justify your dogma is because your mind is a blank when someone asks you why you believe what you believe. Philosophy is not something you have studied, and you do not have the humility necessary to have an intelligent discussion about it as an amateur.

          Or the honesty.

          An honest but uninformed person can still ask intelligent questions and give intelligent answers. Your reactions and responses and questions have the strange onesidedness of a neurotic obsession, combined with a disturbing evasiveness, and a continual implied request for approval, as if you are expecting me to treat you as a serious thinker, despite your Herculean efforts to avoid thinking about the topic.

          Enough is enough. Why do you continue? What do you hope for from this discussion?

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            Your understanding of Newtonian physics is faulty — if I may be forgiven the understatement — if you conclude that a man jumping into a river violates Newtonian physics.

            That is not what I said. I said that, on the assumption that Shakespeare drinking coffee at a particular time conserves momentum, then Shakespeare jumping into the Thames violates it. My exact words were “Suppose further that they are the same. In that case” where ‘they’ refers to the momenta on Monday and Tuesday. You cannot make this into a general prohibition on jumping into rivers. Please keep the assumptions firmly fixed in your mind, and do not leap beyond them. You seem to have great difficulty with this; you are always jumping off into the wild blue yonder and drawing sweepingly wrong generalisations from very specific statements of mine.

            writes two contradictory statements, and then tells me that both are deductions of Newtonian mechanics.

            On what grounds do you conclude that they are contradictory? I suggest that your objection is that, taken together, they contradict one of your axioms. Then you should at least consider the possibility that the axiom is at fault.

            It seems you are not willing to accept what I say about physics. Still, there are other commenters here who know something of the subject. Perhaps you’d like to ask someone else what Newtonian physics implies?

            onesidedness of a neurotic obsession

            And there’s another reason I find it necessary to ignore large parts of your posts: Because your keyboard drips venom at the slightest excuse, and you mistake your own ignorance for dishonesty on my part.

            What do you hope for from this discussion?

            You will eventually realise just how contradictory your statements have been, and I’m curious to see how you’ll react.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              Pfui. Set your curiosity at rest. I am a perfect philosopher: the moment I find I have a false axiom, I discard it without the slightest hesitation or emotional attachment, despite any possible ramifications, and with no concern for how well cherished the belief was hitherto.

              Do you think I would become an ardent Christian after having been an outrageously vituperative atheist and enemy of Christ for 35 years in a single afternoon, in a single hour, if I were as worthless a man as A.J. Ayer (who saw God in a vision, and preferred his theory to his facts)?

              If that is all you are waiting to see, go away. I have done such things in the past in my life often enough that it is hardly exceptional. I go where reason leads, nowhere else. When I call myself a Houyhnhnm, I am only exaggerating, not kidding.

              Do you want a specific example? An ardent pro-homosexual convinced me that homosexual so-called marriage was reasonable when I had been convinced hitherto that it was not. That happened here on this blog in the sight of anyone idle enough to care to look. But he continued to rail and carp at me, because my reasons were not pure enough for him: he did not convince me that perversion was indistinguishable from sanity.

              What happens when someone changes my mind is that I change my mind. What happens when someone repeats a dogma he can neither defend nor define is that he does not change my mind.

              Continuing a discussion for two years without ever once addressing the fundamental assumptions on which the discussion is based after it has been pointed out to you that this is the source of the disagreement is neurotic. You continue to do the same thing under the same conditions and expect different results. I compliment your cool temper when I speak intemperately, but this was not a case of venom.

              Your behavior seems abnormal to me. I regret that I insult you by saying this, but it would be untruthful of me to deny it.

              Do you not see the difference between the way you talk and the way other people here talk, even when they are supporting your side of the argument? Do you not notice that they engage the topic, answer questions, ask new questions, and, in a word, react to me and to each other like human beings?

              You don’t. You treat me like a vending machine that will not give you the expected drink, so you put another quarter in, and when that does not work, another and another and another.

              The fault is mine for being not venomous enough! I should have banned you when I first began to suspect you of neurosis. My Christian sense of charity and forbearance prevented it, and, not to mention the far less admirable reason, my stubborn sense of pride as a philosopher not willing to walk away from an argument, even one that is a waste of time, lest my honor be impugned.

              But, even so, if you can find another witness, someone with a high school level of physics or higher, a credible expert, to tell me that Shakespeare jumping into the Thames violates the law of conservation of momentum on that assumption that Shakespeare drinking coffee conserves momentum because the local momentum of some but not all of the particles in the nearby universe differ, go get him and have him post a comment. Make sure he understand the niceties of the hypothetical.

              I have read Newton. In Latin. Starting with:

              Lex I: Corpus omne perseverare in statu suo quiescendi vel movendi uniformiter in directum, nisi quatenus a viribus impressis cogitur statum illum mutare.

              He is a terrible writer and I did not read the whole thing by any stretch of the imagination. But I think I know the basic concept of what he says.

              So have your witness tell me by section number, proposition, lemma and line, which part of the PRINCIPIA is violated by a man jumping into the water if he decides not to drink coffee.

              Otherwise, counsel for the defense of sanity moves to dismiss on the grounds of failure to state a cause of action.

              • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                Do you want a specific example? An ardent pro-homosexual convinced me that homosexual so-called marriage was reasonable when I had been convinced hitherto that it was not. That happened here on this blog in the sight of anyone idle enough to care to look. But he continued to rail and carp at me, because my reasons were not pure enough for him: he did not convince me that perversion was indistinguishable from sanity.

                I am digressing, but I must confess I missed this event. Was it perhaps on your LiveJournal, which I rarely read? I would in fact rather like to see that; do you remember roughly when it happened?

                But, even so, if you can find another witness, someone with a high school level of physics or higher, a credible expert

                All right, I’ll see what I can do.

      • Comment by The OFloinn:

        Actually, statement 1 is false per Heisenberg, who said:

        “In the strict formulation of the law of causality—if we know the present, we can calculate the future—it is not the conclusion that is wrong but the premise.”
        – “On an implication of the uncertainty principle.”

        But Statement 3 fails because at a certain level, all that can be predicted is a probability distribution, and not a specific outcome.

        Otherwise, the failure comes from ignoring formal causation. One cannot predict the behavior of a valence electron from the behavior of a free electron. What a thing does depends on the whole of which it is a part. If this is so regarding inanimate matter — sodium atoms do not behave like a collection of protons, neutrons, and electrons; table salt does not behave like a flammable metal and a poisonous gas — it is even more so regarding animate being, which contains its own principle of motion within itself. The moon moves its location because it is influenced by the earth, the sun, Jupiter, and so on ad infinitum. A cat moves because it wants to. To suppose otherwise is mere astrology: the cat acts as it does because of the influence of sun and the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars. When you poke a cue ball with a stick in a certain way, it will move in a certain way. When you poke a cat with a cue stick it may run off in any direction or may turn and scratch you.

        In short, as Jaki once observed, physics does not exhaust chemistry, and chemistry does not exhaust biology and biology does not exhaust psychology.

        • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

          Yes, yes, quantum mechanics, whatever. For the twentieth time, the argument does not change if “amplitudes and phases of the fields” are substituted for “masses and velocities of the particles”.

          sodium atoms do not behave like a collection of protons, neutrons, and electrons

          They most certainly do.

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            Dr A and I disagree on nearly everything, but I am with him in saying that I wish people would stop bringing up Quantum Mechanics or probabilistic fields. The argument is about the mind body relationship, and that argument does not change one iota or one jot above an iota if the material chain of cause and effect is deterministic or probabilistic. He and I are discussion whether there is such a thing at all as a nonmaterial cause. Whether the material chain of cause and effect is sharp or fuzzy is irrelevant. It is not spiritual, it is material.

            I will add one caveat and side with Mike Flynn on this: if the chain of cause and effect is probabilistic, it is not symmetrical backward and forward through time. Which means one an deduce the cause from the effect but not predict the effect from the cause. And sodium atoms do not behavior like a DISCONNECTED group of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Their mass behavior has emergent properties. NaCl does not act like Na in isolation near some Cl. Which means one an deduce the cause from the effect but not predict the effect from the cause.

            • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

              NaCl does not act like Na in isolation near some Cl. Which means one can deduce the cause from the effect but not predict the effect from the cause.

              The behaviour of NaCl and of Na and Cl in isolation are both predictable from the Schrodinger equation plus the charges, masses, and spins of the electrons and nuclei. (Some computing power required; fundamental constants not included.)

            • Comment by The OFloinn:

              The behavior of the atom emerges from the form of the atom — the number and arrangement of its parts — which is different from the behavior of loose collections of those parts. It is the form of a thing, the formal cause, that makes the thing what it is. (That makes it a ‘thing’ in the first place!)

              Ditto, a neutron is not a proton because, while both are composed of three quarks (as the current theory runs), the number and arrangement of those quarks is different. I.e., they differ in their formal causes.

              (Since the purported quarks differ in their properties, they too must be composed of parts, and so it goes. When you reach formless matter at last it is no particular thing at all, and thus can do nothing.)

              Animated forms are more complex than inanimate forms, since they contain the principle of their own motions. It is a mistake to suppose that the science of animated forms can be pursued with the same tools as the science of inanimate forms.

              Heisenberg’s point was that the Newtonian program was doomed in principle. Even if you did know the entire system state at time T, you would be unable to predict the system state at time T*. That is, time is asymmetric. Just because Newton had no need for t in his formulas does not mean that the universe runs backward as easily as forward. It means that Newton was just looking at things gravitationally.

          • Comment by Darrell:

            Dr. A

            I must admit that I might have a rather more holistic manner of thinking than you or Mr. Wright appear to be subject to and so, while it is somewhat out of place here, I was wondering if you might answer a question that I’d asked of you earlier? If, as you contend, MWI is the correct interpretation of quantum mechanics why does the instance of me that I am thinking of as “I” go to world X rather than Y? Also wouldn’t this “break” conservation of energy or am I just thinking of this all wrong?

            • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

              If, as you contend, MWI is the correct interpretation of quantum mechanics why does the instance of me that I am thinking of as “I” go to world X rather than Y?

              A very good question! Answer it and go to Stockholm. Why squares of amplitudes should correspond to subjective probabilities is one of the few genuine mysteries, as opposed to merely counterintuitive facts, in quantum mechanics.

              Also wouldn’t this “break” conservation of energy or am I just thinking of this all wrong?

              Energy is conserved in each world. It’s not clear that it makes sense to speak of the total energy of all the worlds.

              • Comment by Darrell:

                Dr. A

                Thank you or your response.

                A few other questions if you have time.

                It seems counter-intuitive that there is no energy loss when worlds separate, why do we believe that there isn’t? In part it seems that massive amounts of energy are continually being created/duplicated.

                Would worlds ever merge? It “feels like” this would happen but would open up all sorts of odd questions.

                • Comment by Nostreculsus:

                  There is a popularized exposition of Many Worlds at the Less Wrong blog and a level- headed appraisal here.

                  • Comment by Darrell:

                    Thank you for the link.

                    Dr. Motl seems to find MWI self-evidently wrong from the math and no one in the comments seemed prepared to substantively argue the point. I was sort of hoping that Dr. Andreassen would provide his perspective on this.

                    • Comment by Nostreculsus:

                      Links (plural). One pro and one con. It would be dishonest to present just one side as if it were the general conclusion of all scientists.

                      A balanced view was presented at Berkeley by Mermin . Luis de Molina’s 1588 treatise, the Concordia, discussed the logic of counterfactuals. Mermin grapples with the same subject.

                    • Comment by Darrell:

                      I apologize for the lack of a plural. The iPad is not always the best tool for combox posts.

                      Admittedly however I focused more on Dr. Motl’s post about the Many Worlds Interpretation than the others as it was only one post and his thesis was essentially that there was a very simple maths error that rendered the theory nonsensical. I did look for someone to counter this claim but didn’t find a direct response.

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