Roger Bissell Posted December 20, 2005 Share Posted December 20, 2005 This is the story of my and Bill Dwyer's discussion with Nathaniel Branden about the Mind-Body Problem and the Dual-Aspect Theory of Mind...reb==============================================Back in 1997 on the Objectivism-L list, there was a discussion of Nathaniel Branden's new book The Art of Living Consciously. Ken Barnes kicked off the discussion on September 13 with some brief remarks under the heading "An Underlying Reality." Ken wrote: ...beginning on page 200 Branden gets into a discussion of the ultimate 'stuff' of reality. Briefly, the mystical traditions conclude that this ultimate 'stuff' is consciousness or mind. On the other hand, materialists say that all that exists is matter and its motions, and that all phenomena of consciousness can ultimately be reduced to these motions. To reconcile these positions Branden posits an underlying reality of which both matter and consciousness are manifestations.Then Barnes quoted this passage by Branden:Metaphysically, mind and matter are different. But if they are different in every respect, the problem of explaining their interaction seems insuperable. How can mind influence matter and matter influence mind if they have absolutely nothing in common? And yet, that such reciprocal influence exists seems inescapable...Without going into details, I will suggest a possible way out. There is nothing inherently illogical—nothing that contradicts the rest of our knowledge—in positing some underlying reality of which both matter and consciousness are manifestations. The advantage of such a hypothesis is that it provides a means to resolve a problem that has troubled philosophers for centuries—”the mind-body problem,” the problem of accounting for the interaction of consciousness and physical reality. If they have a common source, then they do have a point of commonality that makes their ability to interact less puzzling. How we would test this hypothesis, or provide justification for it, is another question.' (Branden 1997, 201-2) I was intrigued and posted the following comments on September 17, 1997:I've read this excerpt several times already, and each time I do, I can't help but note how it smacks of the Lockean conception of a "substance" (entity) that is like a metaphysical pin-cushion, into which its various attributes are stuck like pins. But we don't know the pin-cushion, only the pins! The "manifestations." Of course, Branden and any other Objectivists that go this route, might reply: oh, but its "manifestations" are how we know the "underlying reality." Maybe so, though I suspect that this is an opening big enough for Kant to drive a Mack truck through. :-) Anyway, the main problem I have with this view is that it doesn't really solve the problem of the supposed "interaction" of consciousness and matter. As I have relentlessly harped over the years, consciousness does not have causal efficacy--but neither does matter! They are just attributes of entities, by virtue of which entities have causal efficacy. It is entities and their parts--which are characterized by material and/or conscious attributes--that interact, not the attributes. If you like, an entity's attributes may be regarded as being the causal efficacies of the entity. But they do not themselves have causal efficacy. The entity, by virtue of having them, has causal efficacies of various kinds. So, it is reification of the most misleading kind to regard matter and consciousness as doing things. Some Objectivists (I think Rick Minto is working in this direction, but this is third-hand information, and he is welcome to clarify or object) want to talk about processes interacting, and since consciousness is regarded as a process, why not allow for interaction between conscious processes and non-conscious material processes? We should not be scared about "process-talk" in discussions of causality. Fine, so long as we acknowledge that what is really interacting is a part of the brain that is engaging in a conscious process (along with other, physical processes, I would maintain)--interacting with a part of the brain that is engaging in non-conscious physical processes only. Otherwise, we are reifying--attributes or actions, it doesn't matter. It is an inductively graspable fact that all entities (so far!) are physical in nature, and some entities are also conscious in nature, and that the existence of consciousness is dependent upon the existence of matter. This doesn't mean that consciousness is matter, however. So, there is a dualism of attributes. But this is actually irrelevant to the causality involved. What is interacting causally is one part of the brain with another. And just as a living physical entity can interact with a non-living physical entity, but only by virtue of the physical attributes (matter) they both possess, so too can a conscious physical entity (or part) interact with a non-conscious physical entity (or part), but only by virtue of the physical attributes they both possess. Since it is always physical entities (or parts) that are interacting, it seems clear to me that any causal efficacy we attribute to consciousness is piggybacked on the causal efficacy we attribute to matter--and that it properly belongs to the entities, in any case! So, from this, I hope it's clear why I think Branden's quasi-Leibnitzian view doesn't really explain anything. "Manifestations of an underlying reality" do not interact. It's not how entities manifest themselves to us that interacts, but the entities themselves (and their parts) that do so. The alternative is to abandon the hard-won understanding gained from the Aristotelian/Randian view that actions are caused by entities, and thus that interactions are caused by (i.e., between) entities. They indeed are caused by virtue of various attributes they have, but the attributes themselves are not the causes or the interactors. Aristotle, Rand, etc., framed their categories such that the prime foci of change are entities, and that attributes and actions (or properties and processes) are to be understood as of entities, and that causality is the (internal) relation between an entity and its actions. If this is truly metaphysically basic stuff, then no empirical observations can overturn it. On the other hand, if there can be processes and causal relations between events with no entities in evidence, then gee, I guess Aristotle and Rand are wrong, and that we can go with Hume in talking about events causing each other. Assuming, then, that this is an open question, OK, what I have written is hypothetical and up for grabs. (Hmmm--conditional metaphysics!) But what I most want to drive home to Objectivists is the full implication of the stand they are taking with Rand and Aristotle on the Categories and the nature of causality. If this stance is ontologically solid, then talk of mind-body interaction and "causal efficacy of mind" is nonsense! Or, as Gilbert Ryle would have said, category mistakes. Branden, whose work I admire very much, seems not to have sorted out the implications of and conflicts between the concepts he wrote about in The Psychology of Self-Esteem. He, more than anyone else, taught me the hard-headed Aristotelian-Randian approach to understanding action and causality as entity-based. Now he does a "180" and talks of "manifestations" interacting with each other. Huh???Dr. Branden replied to me briefly on September 18:For your information, whatever this may be worth (not much), the view I conveyed re "manifestations" is one that Rand found quite plausible when I presented it to her. I grant my presentation in the book was much too brief to adequately convey what I had in mind.Probably what Branden was groping toward was not some kind of "proto-panpsychism" (as Diana Hsieh opined, in her characteristically over-the-top tendency to put the worst possible negative interpretation on Branden's writings), but instead a way to express what is usually referred to as the dual-aspect theory or dual-perspective theory of the mind-body relation. Kelley wrote about this in the first chapter of The Evidence of the Senses, and some time earlier, I gave a paper eventually published in 1974 in Reason Papers #1, called "A Dual-Aspect Solution to the Mind-Body Problem." Whether you call them "aspects" or "manifestations" or "forms of awareness," though, what is clear is that they are not different things, but the same thing--the conscious, living organism--as we are aware of it in different ways. In any case, Branden's comments in The Art of Living Consciously did not, in my opinion, represent progress in our understanding of the mind-body problem. It was as if he were saying, "Well, since I believe in the 'causal efficacy of mind,' I will abandon my idea that actions are generated by entities and instead say that they can be generated by capacities or 'manifestations.'" There may be a place for "fuzzy logic," but fuzzy metaphysics???On September 25, 1997, Bill Dwyer posted comments on Nathaniel Branden's "underlying reality" view to Objectivism-L. (His comments were similar in content to what he posted more recently on SOLO HQ website; see the Rebirth of Reason archives for SOLO.) Later that day, he received the following brief reply from Branden:You would do well to educate yourself concerning the many philosophical criticisms that have been made against the "double=aspect" theory that you propose. Rand shared my view, as expressed in the brief passage in Living Consciously, and she called that "underlying reality" by the name of "little stuff." We did not share the implicit materialist bias that seems implicit in your remarks. We regarded consciousness as radically different from matter. The problem is not solved by calling consciousness "an attribute of matter." For more on this, see chapter 1 of The Psychology of Self-Esteem. You don't have to agree, of course, but at least you ought to understand that the view you dismiss as "nonsensical" was held by AR.Bill shared this response with me, and the next day (September 26), I wrote the following:Dr. Branden, what interests me most about this interchange is that not only William Dwyer and I, but also you and Ayn Rand hold some version or other of a "dual-aspect theory." And, ironically, the version of dual-aspect theory that held the most pitfalls, historically, was the kind espoused by you and Miss Rand.... Quoting Jerome Shaffer's article "Mind-Body Problem" in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York: Macmillan, 1967):DOUBLE ASPECT THEORIES. Some philosophers have held the view that the mental and the physical are simply different aspects of something that is itself neither mental nor physical. Spinoza is the most famous example. He held that man could be considered an extended, bodily thing and, equally well, a thinking thing, although neither characterization, nor even both taken together, exhausted the underlying substance [compare with your "underlying reality"].....There are two crucial obscurities in the double-aspect theory. First, what is the underlying unity ["reality"] that admits of the various aspects? Spinoza called it "God or Nature"....Herbert Spencer, calling a spade a spade, referred to it simply as the Unknowable. [And Rand, as you report, had her own special term: "little stuff."] Contemporary philosophers suggest that the underlying unity is the "person." [P.F. Strawson attempted a definition: 'a type of entity such that both predicates ascribing states of consciousness and predicates ascribing corporeal characteristics, a physical situation etc. are equally applicable to a single individual of a single type.' Individuals, 1959, p. 102. This is too circular to be of much help.]The second obscurity in the double-aspect theory is that it is not clear what an 'aspect' is. [You use another term, "manifestation," which seems identical in meaning, if my Webster's unabridged dictionary is any judge.] The point of talking about different aspects...is to suggest that the differences are not intrinsic to the thing [in other words, as Rand frequently stated, that there is no mind-body dichotomy in reality!] but only exist in relation to human purposes, outlook, conceptual scheme, frame of reference, etc. This point is even reflected in Spinoza's definition of 'attribute' (for example, extension or thought) as 'that which the intellect perceives as constituting the essence of a substance.' (Ethics I, Def. 4)" Shaffer concludes this section with a very telling point, which seems to echo the point Dwyer and I and others have made regarding your and Rand's concept of an "Underlying Reality": "In general, double-aspect theories fail to improve our understanding of the mind-body relationship." In general, I would agree. It certainly is true of the version that you and Rand maintained (entertained?). My own version simply sees matter and consciousness as attributes, viz., as capacities for different kinds of action–and that we are aware of these capacities and their activation through different channels of awareness (perception and introspection, respectively). And what they are attributes of is not some mysterious "underlying reality," but simply a conscious, living, material entity–i.e., a human being. Further, since they are capacities, not entities, there is no need to seek after a will-o-the-wisp explanation of how they interact. They do not, because they cannot; they are not the kinds of existents that interact.... Matter is generic, in the Aristotelian sense of capacity, and it is not right to think of it as a kind of stuff that can do things, apart from the entity that does things by virtue of that capacity. There are inanimate physical capacities of entities–"inanimate" being the most common understanding of "matter;"and there are animate physical capacities ("living matter"); and there are conscious physical capacities ("conscious matter"). Thus, as Aristotle defined "matter"–i.e., as potential (to do something)–it is obvious that any attribute, including consciousness, is material. Of course, he was contrasting matter not with spirit, but with form or actualization. And as various people including you and Rand have pointed out, what a thing is (its actuality/form) determines what it can do (its potential/matter). So, again, there is no need to wrack our brains trying to figure out how mind and matter interact, for they do no such thing. Instead, ...they are both matter–i.e., they are both potentials or capacities, by virtue of which various parts of one's physical body interact with one another (or with other entities). Thus, there are two distinct senses in which one can appropriately have what you refer to as a "materialistic bias" in one's view of consciousness, without getting into the obvious pitfall of reductive materialism:(1) one can view consciousness as part of the (Aristotelian) matter or potency of certain living organisms to engage in certain actions, and (2) one can view consciousness as necessarily dependent upon physical matter, but not vice versa. I would like to think that this is a view that all Objectivists, including you (and Rand, if she were still alive) would be comfortable with. I'll conclude by quoting Dwyer's last paragraph, which I think was very good, and then restate it in terms more compatible with what I've outlined above:...Mind is the conscious awareness characteristic of certain entities, and matter is the physical capacity for action necessarily characteristic of any entity with conscious awareness. Thus, there can be matter without consciousness–i.e., material entities that are not conscious; but there cannot be consciousness without matter–i.e., conscious entities that are not material.) Any problem in explaining their "interaction" vanishes as soon as one recognizes that they are two aspects of the same entity–and that only the parts (i.e., its cells and organs and systems) of an entity interact, not its aspects. (The aspects of an entity include its attributes– whether its length or weight or density or other material characteristics, or its being percipient or being emotional or being evaluative or being conceptual or being imaginative or other conscious characteristics–and its actions and relationships.)As I see it, you cannot escape the logic of causality being the relationship between an entity and its actions, something drilled home to me by you and Rand and Peikoff and Kelley and a number of others who were transmitting the Aristotelian view (as against the Humean event-event view). You cited "underlying reality," "little stuff," and interactions between "manifestations" as a model of mind-body held by Ayn Rand. But so is the above model of causality, which sees interactions as being between entities, not "manifestations" or attributes or processes or events or whatever. The two models seem to be incompatible, don't you think? If you can find a way to reconcile them, I'm all ears! Dr. Branden graciously responded the same day:I think you gave a very nice answer to my post. When I spoke of "matter" I did so in the contemporary not the Aristotelian sense. With the latter sense I have no argument. As to the rest, I used to think as you do–that mind depends for its existence on a physical body to which it is attached. ("Attached" is obviously a very imprecise term, but I'm in a hurry.) But in the last decade or so I've come across data that puts my own past assumption in question. I am no longer certain that brain activity exhausts the possibilities of mind activity. If mind really is, in some sense, "a separate entity" (Rand's terms)–if this is not merely a figure of speech–then its absolute dependence on a physical body is not axiomatic but becomes an empirical question. I wrestle with this a good deal. I am even willing to admit that sometimes the problem drives me nuts. But something is bothering me about even the "traditional" Objectivist take on all this. I apologize for not being clearer.That concluded my correspondence with Dr. Branden on the matter. (Bill had some further correspondence with him later in the fall. I'll let him decide whether to share it here on RoR.) I then wrote to Bill, again that same day:Branden is right that mind's dependence on a physical body is not axiomatic but instead an empirical matter. But jeez, if science hasn't by now adequately established that point–especially for an atheist who rejects the mind/body dichotomy!–when could it ever?? The "data" Branden refers to that supposedly puts this assumption of necessary mind-body connection in question is alleged instances of people having little or no cerebral cortex nonetheless walking out among the rest of us in society, with seemingly no easy way of distinguishing them from people with intact brains. (I believe the phrase he used at lunch with me and my wife several years ago was "a thin, almost microscopic layer of cortical cells.") I have yet to hear of anything remotely like this from anyone else. Sounds more like a thought-experiment than something real! If you know anything about it, or could find out, it would really help me in laying this (I think) pseudo-objection to rest.As I recall, this particular point was never resolved (although there have been recent reports of single neurons being associated with a particular thought or memory). What Bill and I both came away from this phase of the discussion with was a sense of how odd it was that Branden would advocate the form of dual-aspect theory he did, while claiming to be familiar and in agreement with the criticisms of that theory.[Note to the reader: these comments were originally posted on SOLOHQ on December 8, 2005.] Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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