Thursday, August 11, 2016

Body and Soul/Spirit Interactionism?

Conceptually or scientifically, it's not possible to know for certain that dualistic interactionism is taking place. All one can do is believe or surmise/reason that dualistic interactionism is more probable than physicalism, but the veracity of soul/spirit-body interaction cannot be known apodictically through natural means (reason, observation or experimentation). While I believe that some kind of interaction is now taking place between God, angels and the material universe, I don't know exactly how it occurs--nor does anybody else on our planet. One way that such interaction occurs is probably through secondary causes: Jehovah uses natural mechanisms to interact with physical things (e.g., the water cycle, hydrogen fusion, and weather patterns); nonetheless, secondary causes likely do not exhaust divine causation. That is where things become murkier in my view. How does Jehovah's holy spirit guide the apostles and others "in all the way of truth"? Not even a dualist can definitively answer this question. And there's also the problem of overdetermination, which I have not yet pressed.

I also hate to repeat myself, but it's problematic to use something we don't know much about to explain another phenomenon that we do not fully understand. Immanuel Kant would caution us against invoking noumena (Dinge-an-sich) to explain phenomena. Now I'm not saying that I fully buy into Kant's famed distinction--he's only brought into the discussion because it seems that invoking divine causation to explain mental causation is possibly an ill-advised move. It is like invoking the largely unknown to shed light on something else that is not completely understood. However, none of what I've said up to this point is meant to deny that Jehovah created the world, guides his congregation by means of holy spirit, and has performed miracles in the past. We just don't understand how divine causation works although we believe it works. So then how can we use an unknown to explain another largely unknown? To illustrate, some Trinitarians appeal to the Godhead to elucidate human personhood. That move likewise seems ill-advised because we know less about how spirit persons relate to one another than we know about human relations. I intentionally refrain from mentioning how wrong the Trinity is.

It would take me some time to word matters carefully and spell them out as I would like, but the spirit world and the physical/material sphere are qualitatively different in my frame of reference (Isaiah 31:3). Does that mean I view heaven and the material world as two separate realities? It depends on what is meant by "separate." For now, I say that they're qualitatively different, which means that the spirit realm is non-spatial, non-material, non-atomic, and devoid of elementary particles, and does not have any physical bodies, is not bound to the laws of physics, contains minds that are differently constituted from ours, but interaction with the physical world is still possible. I would submit that a spirit/spiritual person became human and that some humans have become/will become spirits/spiritual. Hence, there is a slight difference in how I frame the issue (spirit "minds" versus spirit persons and human "minds" versus human persons). In other words, personhood is the basic template which determines how I distinguish the spirit from the material world.


Sean Killackey said...

How do you respond to the claim that if the mind is not somehow located or related to the spirit or soul (by more than merely sustaining it) that the determinism of physical laws precludes free will in any meaningful sense. Basically I think the objection is that its bottom-up causation, so whatever exists at the higher level, such as consciousness, is just determined by lower states, and what ever top-down causation there might be is still determined by the lower states, even if the causation from the top affects those lower states later.

This link is related:

It would seem that if the consciousness is soley determined by lower states, then there is no free will; in fact, I wonder how we could even attempt to discover truth if its just chemistry or physics. But if the consciousness is not determined, at least not completely, by the brain states (on whatever level), then free will seems possible.

(I think you've mentioned before that positing a soul does not itself solve the free will problem, and I'm inclined to agree. It could, of course, but some people just seem to think that it must and that no analogous problem that confronts non-souls models confront the soul model.)

Edgar Foster said...

Sean, like John Searle who is a biological naturalist, I both affirm free will and bottom-up causation, but I allow for top-down causation being possible. My question to dualists is that if neurobiological processes (including somatic states) don't completely explain conscious states, then what else does?

Searle uses the example of thirst. We don't have to appeal to some immaterial soul/spirit to explain thirst. I would argue that the sensation of pain is analogous: pain qua a sensation is not caused by anything other than neurobiological processes. Even Jehovah could induce pain by using natural processes.

But have we Christian physicalists undermined/subverted free will? I don't think so. We may not understand how free will works, but I would submit that the brain could be hardwired for free choice/action. Research is now taking place on this very issue. However, we cannot assume souls/spirits just because we don't understand how matter could potentially bring about consciousness.

Edgar Foster said...

Additionally, even if we are free agents, there are still numerous factors that condition our existence: genetics, diet, environment, upbringing, brain chemistry, and even God's spirit can incline us one way or the other.

Sean Killackey said...

I assume that those who think that animals have souls for the most part don't think that animals have free will. Clearly their potentiality to develop a brain differs from ours, inasmuch as ours is superior. Presumably they would say that something about their souls differs from ours as well; is my appraisal of their view correct? So something about their brain clearly doesn't allow their mind to think or will freely; (I've seen it said that the brain obviously at least helps the mind/soul think.) And it would seem that something about the soul and the brain doesn't all the mind/soul to think freely.

Perhaps my point is faulty, but if it is correct, it would seem to imply something like what you said, that the brain could be so constructed to think freely. Because if souls can be so "constructed" to think freely, or not to do so (or at least the body and soul) on their view, why not just the brain?

Edgar Foster said...

There's likely a near universal consensus that animals, even if they have souls, do not have free will. some argue that humans possess rational souls, but animals have non-rational souls. They claim that we have will and intellect which are both rational, but cats and dogs, etc., do not. Furthermore, Ned Block suggests that if we have souls, for all we know, they could have been created to be fully determined. It seems that we cannot prove there are souls by using reason or science. Nor can we prove that souls have free will.

Sean Killackey said...

So what would be the typical answer to: if souls can be made so as to have free will, why can't brains? I would guess that they would say that a soul is not determined by the laws of physics, but this only seems slightly satisfying. They would still be real things, objects of some sort, and thus would have some kind of processes going on (receiving input, making sense of it - with help of the brain, as they would say - and so on). Or would they appeal to the soul as the mind, as the mental states themselves (as opposed to any brain states?) and try to make some distinction there?

In any event it would hardly be demonstrable, and I don't think necessary for someone to hold to if they believe in free will.

Edgar Foster said...

Those who believe we must have souls in order to possess counterfactual free will do appeal to the laws of physics, and research undertaken on the brain. There are also some Platonic/Aristotelian assumptions at play here. Ed Feser spells out the hylemorphic dualism position in his book "The Last Superstition." He addresses some of the questions you're raising in his book. Catholics normally say that we have souls, which have the faculties of will and intellect. Hence, they believe that the soul is not mind, but that it's responsible for mental states and freedom. Catholics and others also make a sharp distinction between brain states and mental states.