[Wittrs] Re: How Does Causal Reduction Entail Ontological Reduction?

  • From: "SWM" <SWMirsky@xxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 28 Mar 2010 19:05:06 -0000

--- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Joseph Polanik <jPolanik@...> wrote:

> SWM wrote:
>  >Joseph Polanik wrote:
>  >>how did you decide or come to know that a causal account of the
>  >>origin of consciousness explains how consciousness is reduced to the
>  >>brain rather than explaining how consciousness emerges from the brain.
>  >Now you've made it a matter of word usage.
> I'm clarifying what is meant by what is said. what else would you expect
> on a Wittgenstein oriented list?

Wittgenstein, though he focused in his later years on the way language shapes 
our thinking, wasn't merely about word usage in the sense of competing 
stipulations, definitions and such. He was about exploring the nuance of 
meaning and how usage influences and often controls how we think about things 
and how it reflects our practices, learned, instinctive, and as determined by 
what we are. But no matter. It's always appropriate to ask what someone means 
though whether you mean to do more than compare and argue over competing 
meanings we'll see below.

> * * *
> let me summarize some of the linguistic issues that should no longer
> distract our attention from an important flaw in your case for
> classifying Searle as a Cartesian dualist.

I classify Searle as an ontological dualist. You insisted the proper 
terminology was "substance dualist" and that it went back to Decartes. I noted 
that the idea that Searle was a dualist in this sense was to be found at the 
heart of Dennett's points about the CRA, too. You said you could find no such 
information in Dennett's Consciousness Explained and challenged me to find a 
passage supporting my claim.

I found an extensive passage reflecting Dennett's criticism of the CRA and 
ending with the statement that it took a Cartesian dualist to think the CRA 
demonstrated computational processes running on computers can't produce minds.

Since you equated Cartesian dualism with "substance dualism" and we had agreed 
that by "ontological dualism" I meant the same thing as what you meant by 
"substance dualism", Dennett's claim that it took a Cartesian dualist to read 
the CRA as Searle read it amounted to the assertion that "ontological dualism" 
(or "substance dualism") lay at the heart of the CRA.

To THAT you responded by insisting that to be a Cartesian dualist was to 
subscribe to Descartes' entire philosophy, a claim which neither I nor Dennett 
had made with regard to Searle and the CRA. Dennett's position, with which I 
agree, amounts to the claim that there is a certain way of thinking about mind 
that is consistent with Descartes' way of thinking about mind and which 
underlay his various philosophical doctrines which Searle, insofar as he 
embraces the conclusions of the CRA, shares.

> we do not yet have a causal account of consciousness; but, we expect
> that scientists will eventually provide one.
> you seem to be saying that having a causal explanation of consciousness
> justifies saying that consciousness has been causally reduced whatever
> causes it because 'causally reduced' means no more than causally
> explained. if so, I agree.


> you also seem to be saying that the same causal explanation that
> justifies saying that consciousness has been causally reduced also
> justifies saying that consciousness has emerged from whatever causes it;
> provided that emergence is not taken for anything magical, miraculous or
> inherently mysterious. if so, I agree.

It may be mysterious at present. My point is that it is not inherently so, 
i.e., an insurmountable metaphysical problem (though it could be if the world 
acted differently than it currently does).

> perhaps, then we can now focus on something important to your case
> against Searle. how do you justify your claim that a causal explanation
> (whether considered as a reduction or as an emergence) entails an
> ontological reduction?

Some causal reductions are ontological in nature, i.e., the idea that the 
wetness of water is explainable via description of certain atomic level 
phenomena. The wetness is nothing more than that behavior.

> this is important to your case because you say that Searle, having
> conceeded the causal reduction of consciousness to brain, falls into
> self-contradiction because he denies the ontological reduction of
> consciousness to brain.

I think he confuses ontological description with ontological reduction. We can 
describe all sorts of things in the universe and even agree that we MUST speak 
of them in certain ways but not in others. But that doesn't mean they are 
necessarily irreducible in a causal sensse to more basic constituents. Searle 
makes a distinction between causal explanation and ontological description but 
doesn't see that ontological description can apply in causal reductions as 
well. All ontological description is is to classify the different distinct 
types of existents.

> my contention is that Searle does not contradict himself.
> he merely contradicts you.

He contradicts himself in this way:

He says that computers can't produce consciousness because the processes going 
on in a computer aren't conscious in themselves. That means he is assuming that 
consciousness is irreducible to constituents that aren't themselves conscious.

But when he speaks of brains, although he gets kind of fuzzy about it, he says 
we know brains cause consciousness. Assuming he means certain physical events 
in brains (their processes) are the causal agents in this case, he must be 
asserting either one of two things:

1) Some brain events, which are physical and not conscious in themselves, 
somehow manage to do it; or

2) Some brain events, which are physical and not conscious in themselves, have 
the property of being conscious while others don't.

If the first, then he is allowing for brains what he will not allow for 
computers and is therefore in contradiction concerning how he thinks about 
consciousness (claiming consciousness is irreducible in relation to computers 
but not to brains).

But if the second, then he is asserting that there are a certain class of 
properties that certain physical events have and which simply belong to those 
physical events -- not because they cause them but because they have them. In 
this case he would be dualist but, since he claims he is not dualist, he is 
again in contradiction.

> your claim that causal reduction entails ontological reduction can be
> symbolized, thus: CR -> OR.

I don't claim that causal reduction entails ontological reduction. See above. I 
claim that some instances of causal reductions are also ontological in that 
they involve ontological descriptions (identifying and classifying distinct 
types of existents).

> Searle's position is CR & -OR.
> these two positions are logical negations of each other.

Searle separates ontological claims as being descriptive from causal reduction 
claims without noticing that some causal reduction explanations also involve 
ontological descriptions, i.e., the wetnes of water is just Y.

> we've heard Searle's defense of his position.

We've read Searle's defense against the claim that he is a "property dualist" 
and we've read his claims that Dennett misses his point. But I have nowhere 
seen Searle's response to the allegation that he is an ontological dualist. I 
would guess that he has answered this somewhere too though, so if you or Gordon 
have a link (or if I have just missed it in one of the links already provided), 
it would be a good thing to post it here (again, if need be) so we can read it 
first hand and discuss it.

> what is your argument in favor of your claim that causal reduction
> entails ontological reduction?
> Joe

It's not my claim.

I said some causally reductive explanations ARE also ontological descriptions 
and that Searle simply misses that when he makes the distinction between causal 
explanations and ontological descriptions.


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