Monday, October 24, 2016

The Material and Spiritual Worlds of Jehovah's Creation: Mental States and Brain States (Dualism and Christian Physicalism)

I don't accept substance dualism or any belief/philosophy that indicates we have immaterial (nonmaterial) souls. One problem I have with appealing to the spirit world in order to buttress dualism in the human sphere is that we don't know how things operate in the spirit (non-material) realm; nor do we know how the spirit realm interacts with the physical world. So how can we try to support dualism by appealing to Jehovah interacting with our world or Jesus becoming a man, then becoming non-material again, if we don't know how any of these events happened (i.e., the exact mechanisms/processes that brought these effects about)? Worded another way, I attempt to explain obscure things by using more transparent and certain data; however, I'm not denying that Jehovah or the angels can interact with the physical realm. Some divine effects produced in our world are likely brought about directly (through remote causes) whereas others are produced indirectly (by secondary/proximate causes). Yet we don't understand how Jehovah directly interacts with physical things; we don't comprehend how Jesus became a man or how he became spirit again. That is to say, we don't fully understand the exact causal mechanisms/processes, which made these effects possible.

For the sake of argumentation, I concede that dualism is possible (logically or metaphysically), and that minds could possibly be immaterial. What I don't concede is the logical entailment: "If a non-material world exists (p), then an entirely physical world or human sphere cannot/does not exist (q)." Adding "possibly" to q (the consequent) doesn't seem to help much either. It's not clear how one statement logically entails the other. Additionally, as I maintain above, trying to explain material phenomena by evoking spiritual phenomena is highly problematic. It's like explaining temporal causation by means of atemporal causation, something we do not understand. Lastly, I think the term "dualism" needs to be clarified, although this concern is tangential.

Scientific work is just beginning (in earnest) on these kinds of problems. The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has written books that attempt to integrate free will and a physicalist account of the self. He and Hanna Damasio (along with many others) have extensively studied the case of Phineas Gage, and given an account of what it potentially tells us about mentality. See Descartes' Error by Antonio Damasio. I also have a book that I've begun reading entitled The Neuroscience of Freedom and Creativity: Our Predictive Brain written by Joaquin M. Fuster (Cambridge Press). Joel B. Green has published works that partly address these issues as well. Admittedly though, much work needs to be done in this area. I would not agree that it's impossible in principle to explain memory (for instance) or pain in (Christian) physicalist terms, since pain can be explained by the overabundance of uric acid or the wearing away of cartilage (etc). Long-term memory can be accounted for by invoking the hippocampus or the fight/flight response can be explained by the amygdala. Physicalists have worked on qualia too, with no definitive result. Identifying qualia within a materialistic framework is still a lively and open question in the philosophy of mind. Almost every writer I've read accepts the existence of qualia, but there's no unanimous consent respecting how we experience "raw feels" or subjective sensations. Does dualism fully address this question? Not to my knowledge.

Yes, I agree that an explanation needs to account for how something works. That's one problem I have with dualism though. One first has got to substantiate the actual existence of the mental in the human realm before he/she proceeds to explain the mental. All I've seen demonstrated by any anthropological dualist is the logical possibility that we are two things: no one has ever conclusively proved that we have souls/spirits/non-material minds. Nor has the mind-body problem been solved by dualistic anthropology. As a matter of fact, it was a dualist who raised the difficulty of the mind and body problem (Descartes). We're still vigorously discussing this issue in the philosophy of mind and in neuroscientific circles. May I also demur a little and say that many physicalists take great pains to rationally justify their ideas and findings. I don't know if it's fair to say that Damasio, Joseph Ledoux, Francis Crick or Llinas have simply assumed that it's possible for neural processes to generate abstraction. The last author (Llinas) has written an entire work on the subject, and he's been interviewed and done extensive work on PBS here in the States. I can assure you that he's not merely assuming physicalism can possibly explain mind. We already know that there are neuronal correlates which can be mapped onto mental phenomena (e.g., depression and serotonin deficiency). It's just a question of proving that the correlation between the neuronal activity and the mental phenomena demonstrates causation, which is difficult to accomplish by using a posteriori means.

Both approaches have explanatory gaps. Dualism has not resolved the problem of free will or the mind-body problem. As I've sometimes pointed out to my classes: The mind-body problem is one that entails causal interaction (hammer hits thumb, I feel pain or beer goes down throat and I feel euphoric). How can something mental exert causal force on something that is physical? Granted, dualism allows for interaction between the mental and the physical, a dualist might appeal to the spiritual realm to support the idea that we're composed of two substances. Nevertheless, dualism still doesn't tell me how a physical event (hammer hits thumb) causes a mental event (I feel pain): the explanatory gap apparently remains. Or how is it possible for a non-material entity like the soul/spirit to move a 200 lb. object like a human being from point A to point B. I don't know of any dualist books/writers that offer satisfying or conclusive resolutions to these questions.


Duncan said...

This is an interesting piece. When you refer to PBS are these some of the programs? -

I do not want to be picky but I have to point out that "depression and serotonin deficiency" is a misleading statement that many doctors and psychiatrist have been guilty of perpetuated over recent years.

Short term treatments for depression include both drugs that increase and decrease serotonin. Both have been found to possibly be helpful in the short term. It is now thought that the chemical kick is due to the shift in chemical balance. There is no evidence that a depression patient is deficient in serotonin the analogy often used (as a diabetic lacks insulin) if patently false.

I have sent you videos before of Peter Gotche from the Nordic cochrane institute.

Time and attention can be just as effective in many cases (and of course, good nutrition).

When a market for a drug starts to falter they just move it to a new application:-

I am not stating this to in anyway undermine the rest of your argument.

Duncan said...

Duncan said...

Edgar Foster said...

I'm going to allow these comments although I believe this thread should not become a debate about nutrition. The main thrust of the paper concerns issues pertaining to dualism and Christian materialism. So the serotonin remark is a subsidiary issue, but I would agree that any comment made in a paper should be correct, plausible or potentially sustainable as a claim.

We're not going to resolve the medical debate about what causes depression, and I'm not qualified to pass judgments like that anyway. Again, I am not going to debate this question, because that's not my focus or expertise. Moreover, medical authorities disagree among themselves.

However, here are some links I found on the subject. All material on this subject needs to be read critically:

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan, the closer to truth series was also what I had in mind. I think it's a wonderful and enlightening series.

Duncan said...

Edgar, please note that the information you provided on serotonin is somewhat older than any of my posts. Sheraton appears to be a correlation not a causation similar to modern research on cholesterol. The information I provide is far from controversial -

The information will continue to appear controversial in the media while profit can still be made.

Evidence based medicine and evidence based nutrition. Cochrane and nutrition facts both have the not for profit researchers to provide it.

As for the brain and it's imbalances they are far more complex but that still does not change the underlying effect whether it be serotonin or nutrition to the brains ability to function.

Edgar Foster said...


I tried to pick two highly regarded sites on the web. The ncbi link was published in 2007; the other (Webmd) is dated 2011. Okay, these two links may not be from 2016, but I'm certain there are many sources that back up my view of serotonin and depression. BTW, I'm not being dogmatic about cases for depression, nor do I claim to be right. My paper is only tangentially about serotonin or depression. My only contention is that it's possible that serotonin deficits and depression are connected. See

This site has a number of links here:

I don't take antidepressants, and have not used them for more than a decade. So I'm not advocating one treatment over another. My interests are metaphysical and theological.

Edgar Foster said...

I tried some of the links for the Bristol site, and they are not working. Sorry one can't link to them. Here are some links that do work:

Edgar Foster said...

One last thought. Here's a 2015 refernece. Use F to find the word serotonin on the page:

Duncan said...

Duncan said...

Duncan said...

Note inflammation which is combatted by antioxidants so it's coming back to whole plant foods.

Duncan said...

This article from one of your recommended sources puts some nails in the coffin of the serotonin theory.

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan, I'm going to make a few remarks and let the matter rest for now. The whole reason I even mentioned serotonin was to illustrate how a physical cause might explain a so-called "mental" effect. Whether serotonin is a cause of depression or not, my point is that a physical cause is likely responsible for depression, not a sick soul or mental entity.

Secondly, the mayoclinic link does not refute what I wrote about serotonin. It only addresses serotonin syndrome, which is a different issue altogether.

Thirdly, I acknowledge that not all psychologists (etc) are going to say that serotonin is a (not necessarily the) cause of depression. When is there ever unanimous consensus about such things? I have shown that some very weighty authorities do believe serotonin plays some role in depression. That is all I needed to demonstrate for my suggestion in the blog entry to work.

Lastly, the ncbi article concludes in part:

"Simple biochemical theories that link low levels of serotonin with depressed mood are no longer tenable. However, experimental and computational accounts of how serotonin influences emotional processing throw an intriguing light on the neuropsychology of depression and its pharmacological treatment."

I don't think that statement puts nails in the coffin of the serotonin idea. It doesn't rule out serotonin playing some causal role in depression.

That's all I have to say about this matter for now.



Duncan said...


Serotonin syndrome is of significance if one is taking drugs that stimulate serotonin production when there is no proven baseline for serotonin levels in humans. People with high serotonin can be depressed just as people with low serotonin can be "normal". It is playing with fire.

Why nutrition is never seen as the primary point of treatment is staggering since it is the thing with which we have the most intimate connection. Diet should always be at the forefront and then other interventions to augment it. Unfortunately "alternative" pseudo medicine gives food a bad name but when approached with the same rigor as pharma in the majority of cases it wins, hands down and why shouldn't it?

As I said before, I like your post & I generally agree with it's idea. The only mechanism that stands apart from all others is the actual spark of animation.

Duncan said...

Foods for thought:-