Seeking Closure on the Closure Discussion

Bel Roise once again asks a question to attack the Foundation of my philosophy. Okay, not really, but I could not resist the pun.

Time permits me at the moment only to reply to one remark in his long and thoughtful response:

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?

When you see a woman with whom you are in love, the loveliness of the beloved draws you, sets your soul in motion, and is the final cause, the purpose or goal, of the various acts of courtship and valor by which the brave deserve the fair. Agreed? This is motion, but it is not physical motion. It is a cause, but it is not a mechanical cause. The photons bouncing off the bouncy young girl are not pushing the suitor to go pick flowers and scribble bad poetry with means of and only by means of the mass-energy of the photon. Photons of a similar mass and energy coming from a flashlight have never produced a single ode.

Your question is ambiguous, in that you are actually asking about ’cause’ in the sense of ‘purpose’ or ‘goal’ or ‘inspiration’ or ‘aspiration’ but you are using the word ’cause’ in the sense of a mechanical lever applying external pressure to an inert and animate body.

Because these words are the same in English, and because all our metaphors and words for mental events are the same words we use for physical events, it is nearly impossible in our thoughts to make and maintain this distinction, even though the distinction clearly exists in reality.

If I see the beloved and run to her, the mechanical actions of my legs can be explained in terms of physics and follow the laws of physics with nothing unexplained and nothing left over to be explained. But since I run the same way when running from a taxgatherer, or running for fun, or for sport, or for health, or for no reason I can name, clearly the explanation of why I am running is not a question physics even begins to dream of addressing.

The huge, elaborate, centuries old argument about determinism and indeterminism, materialism and dualism, and so on, are all based on this crucial failure to distinguish two completely unrelated questions: how I run versus why I run. The materialist says that why I run is a subset of how I run, so that answering the one question answers the other.

Namely, he says that a careful examination of my leg muscles and the nerve impulses actuating them and the life processes of my cells can tell him what little molecular wheels and gears and springs are unwinding in my brain like clockwork, and that my mind and my brain are one and the same, and that therefor the epiphenomenon called love is an illusion, or, rather, that love is a physical pressure of nine inch-ounces of force pushing against the gear in my medulla oblongata that turns the crack in my hypothalamus that sends the electrons to the leg that jerks the muscle in galvanic response.

Now this is obviously nonsense on stilts and all sober philosophers are right to howl in laughter until they hiccup at the idea, holding their sides, slapping their knees, and wiping their eyes. You cannot have a quality called love equated or transliterated or set to represent a physical momentum measured in quantities of ounce and inches, because the mental act of equating or transliterating or representing is a symbolic, that is, a mental, act and not a physical one. We often use physical metaphors to describe the act of inventing or perceiving the relationship between a symbol and the thing a symbol represents. We can call it a link, and think of a oval of iron, or call it an image, and think of a photograph, or call it a logic gate, and think of a portcullis or sluice that opens or closes, barring or permitting traffic to flow.

My contention here is that if we cease to use the metaphor of materialism, and make the careful distinction between the two unrelated topics of how I run and why I run, we can see that there is not one but two ways in which words like “motion” or “move” is being used.

If Joe Onlooker happens to see a blind orphan in the snow next to his dead seeing eye dog (whom the orphan does not yet realize has died of the cold) get run over by an improperly parked car sliding down an icy hill, this scene will surely move Joe to tears. But the orphan has not sprayed pepper into Joe’s eyes. To describe this ‘movement’ as a chemical reaction is irrelevant and foolish. The actual physical mechanism by which Joe’s emotion of pity and horror is expressed by the symbol and the somatic reaction of eye-wetness is of interest only to a medical doctor.

If, on the other hand, Joe runs to snatch the orphan out of harm’s way, and is struck by the car, Joe is “moved” in a very different sense of the word, and the distance his broken body rebounds as the momentum of the fender, hood and windshield is imparted to Joe’s flesh and bone can be measured with all the nicety and precision a physicist in a lab coat and thick green goggles might desire.

So, to answer your question, qualities, like Joe’s pity for the orphan, does not and cannot “move” objects like Joe’s nerves and muscles, if by move we mean “react to a mechanical cause.” If the qualities cannot be reduced to quantities, no quantitative measurement of them is possible. The mechanical cause of Joe’s muscular and nervous action must be traced back to molecular cellular reactions, biological processes, and ultimately to nutrients in the ecology and to the sun, or traced backward through all the generations of Darwinian evolution to the first single celled organism in Eden. At no point in this chain is there any mechanical motion set in motion without a mechanical reason that is prior in time.

But, to answer your question in another way, qualities, like Joe’s pity for the orphan, does and can “move” Joe’s soul, if by move we mean “inspire a motion in the mind.” The virtue of self sacrifice shown in this hypothetical is the product of mental and spiritual activities, such as Joe’s upbringing and education, the kind of character Joe’s parents and peers raised and trained Joe to be, and the kind of man Joe persuaded and raised and trained himself to be. In this particular hypothetical, pity and physical courage combine to make the self-sacrificing decision, and perhaps it is a decision made by Joe’s inner character before he is consciously aware of it.

The way we usually talk, because usually we are not concerned (and rightly so) with the niceties of philosophy, we would say “Joe saw the danger to the orphan; the sight caused his heart to fill with pity and bravery; and he threw himself in the path of the car to knock the orphan to safety.”

And so it sounds like the chain of cause and effect goes” (1) from the photons carrying the message of danger to the ophan (2) to Joe’s eyeballs to that mysterious something-or-other materialists always gloss over that performs a miracle that makes a decision to react (3) to Joe’s brain matter, which generates an electric signal (4) to Joe’s leg muscles which set him in motion (5) which flings his body in harm’s way.

The materialist is confident that step (2) where the miracle occurs will soon, perhaps next week, be explained by some neurologist in Sweden. After all, things once thought to be qualities, like colors and sounds, have been reduced to measurements of quantities of component wave vibrations, so why not the miracle even of step (2) and all human decisions?

But the chain of cause and effect is not how it sounds. There are two chains of cause and effect, one going from past-to-future and describing the mechanics, and one going from future-to-past and describing the purposes.

The first chain of cause and effect runs from creation through to the mechanical and biological facts that led to Joe’s ancestors, to Joe’s childhood, to Joe, and includes the unnumbered molecular and cellular and medical facts of all the processes in Joe’s body. Joe’s decision to move is not a biological process, but it is a process with a biological component or aspect or viewpoint, and everything medical science can tell us about the neural and muscular actions of a man setting himself in motion will reveal this first chain of cause and effect without ever once needing to refer to any decision on Joe’s part.

This is not because Joe is an automaton whose thoughts are determined by mechanical brain actions and this is not because Joe is a magician whose immaterial spirit creates brain electrons out of nothing by telekinesis. This is because and only because if you and I are talking about the medical and mechanical chains of cause and effect leading from past to future, we never talk about his decision.

We don’t say it is a cause, like a spirit that creates action without reaction, and we don’t say it is not a cause, like the helpless automaton.

We simply don’t talk about it at all.

If we want to talk about the decision, we talk from a different starting point and use a different vocabulary, not the vocabulary of measuring ounces and inches and electron-volts, but the vocabulary of events in the human mind and soul, abstractions concerning the spiritual world and Platonic forms. We talk not about the physical cause and effect leading from past to future but about the final cause and effect leading from future to past.

In this second conversation, Joe foresees and foretells the death of the orphan, and this causes both the emotion of pity and the passion of fortitude in his guts and heart, the seat of instinct and of passion. He has the virtue of fortitude because he has been trained to perceive and love courage, and he contemplates the images of courage as he sees them manifest in the world around him, and in the abstract in the world superior to this world. Not just his reason, but his whole character at once calls out to him to save the orphan, and so complete is this decision of his will, that there is no need for debate or introspection, and this, ironically, makes the decision less difficult than many a decision of less importance where his mind was not made up. His goal is to save the boy; he examines the means available, and there is nothing at hand efficiently to pull the child out of danger without risk to himself, and do he willingly takes the risk. He examined the morality of the situation, and being a civilized man, he accepts the mystical and Christian notion that the strong must serve the weak, and protect widows and orphans, and being a man from a free country which does not have socialized medicine, his soul has not been corrupted into a passive habit of waiting for an authority to act on his behalf and in his stead; but not being a Libertarian only concerned with looking out for number one, he does not stand with his hands in his pockets telling other onlookers that a free market would have produced a car with better brakes, or a private police force been more efficient at saving orphans.

In this second conversation, we may talk about upbringing and virtue and heroism and self sacrifice. We do not need to be Buddhists or partisans of Bishop Berkley who say that the physical body does not exist except as an illusion produced by the mind, which is the only reality and the only substance, and therefore the muscles were set in motion my the mind in the same way any imaginary object can be made to move by he who imagines it moving. In this second conversation, we are not talking about muscles at all.

So, if your question is, “how does the mind set the body in motion?” my answer is, if we are talking in casual conversation, “the will moves the body. I decide to run, and then I move my legs” In a more philosophical conversation, my answer is, “Mentally speaking, the will is set in motion by inspiration of the Good, which is the ultimate goal of all action, and the specifics of the action are modified or initiated by virtue, habit, passion, and considerations of ends and means. Physically speaking, the leg muscles are moved by nerve impulses moved by other neural and cellar pulses and motions reaching back and back through all my ancestors to the primordial slug science teaches us is named Ubbo-Sathla.”

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