Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Friday, November 9, 2012

Retroactive Mind

Neuro-eliminationists like to trumpet that we only ever retroactively identify with what are just neuronal states. So that when I intend to open this door, my brain has already started doing that. Then I add my intention on top of it.

But isn't this a beautiful observation that Schelling already makes? There is the blind rotation of the drives, and then I "own" them—I become "me" at that point.

(I am of course compressing the process here, for brevity's sake, because strictly "I" don't exist before this decision, this Entscheidung (as Schelling puts it, strangely anticipating Hilbert). Then again, neither does the neuronal process as "just a bunch of neuron firings." That only comes into view because of the gap between it and my weird me-ness.)

What the neuro-eliminationist seems to want to ward off is precisely this gap. They want a world without gaps, where there is smooth continuity between things. This might be very difficult to find in a reality in which there are transfinite sets, which are intrinsically gappy, to the max. For instance.

What is the gap, more precisely? It's the gap between levels of a hierarchy created by a strange level crossing feedback loop. What this means is that the eliminationist is worried about the possibility of downward causality, or, to put it a little more poetically, the possibility of a spectral dimension that exerts causal pressure on a physical one. We're not talking about something purely "mental" influencing something purely "physical." We're talking about a strange third realm that is neither "physical" nor "spiritual" in a strict sense. We're talking about how a specter or spirit, a kind of emergent pattern, can exert downward causality on the system from which it emerges.

We're talking about how causality is aesthetic, which is perfectly standard Kant: sufficient reason is on the side of phenomenon, not thing.

It seems perfectly plausible that a level crossing feedback loop can happen, and indeed, denying that it can happen means you have to take issue with Gödel. Good luck!

No amount of torture—strangely medieval Inquisitorial practice for a supposedly modern neuro-eliminationist—will prove me wrong.

3 comments:

Bill Benzon said...

Neuro-eliminationists like to trumpet that we only ever retroactively identify with what are just neuronal states. So that when I intend to open this door, my brain has already started doing that. Then I add my intention on top of it.

It's not as though it's someone else's brain that told your body to open the door. It's your brain that's moving your body.

It's the gap between levels of a hierarchy created by a strange level crossing feedback loop.

Yes, with a nit-picky qualification. The "strange" isn't needed. Don't know why you guys are always talking about "strange this" and "weird that". It's just the world as its always been. I don't know what work is being done by the "strange's" and the "weird's." Seems to be a marker of your realization rather than having anything to do with what you now realize. It's like I suspect that post-Sandy there's a few folks that have become believers in global warming and they may find this "new" global-warming world weird in relation to the old world two weeks ago that wasn't warming. But really, it's the same world, and not at all weird. It's the believer that's weirded out.

On downward causality, is the causal 'force' exerted by the thermostat on the boiler downward (independently of the likelihood that the boiler is likely to be physically below the thermostat)?

As for a third realm, FWIW, some years ago JC Eccles and Karl Popper propunded a trialist view of the world, though they parsed things rather differently that you are.

Bill Benzon said...

Neuro-eliminationists like to trumpet that we only ever retroactively identify with what are just neuronal states. So that when I intend to open this door, my brain has already started doing that. Then I add my intention on top of it.

It's not as though it's someone else's brain that told your body to open the door. It's your brain that's moving your body.

It's the gap between levels of a hierarchy created by a strange level crossing feedback loop.

Yes, with a nit-picky qualification. The "strange" isn't needed. Don't know why you guys are always talking about "strange this" and "weird that". It's just the world as its always been. I don't know what work is being done by the "strange's" and the "weird's." Seems to be a marker of your realization rather than having anything to do with what you now realize. It's like I suspect that post-Sandy there's a few folks that have become believers in global warming and they may find this "new" global-warming world weird in relation to the old world two weeks ago that wasn't warming. But really, it's the same world, and not at all weird. It's the believer that's weirded out.

On downward causality, is the causal 'force' exerted by the thermostat on the boiler downward (independently of the likelihood that the boiler is likely to be physically below the thermostat)?

As for a third realm, FWIW, some years ago JC Eccles and Karl Popper propunded a trialist view of the world, though they parsed things rather differently that you are.

* * * * *

What guess that I really think, Tim, is that this kind of discussion of Libet's results is not terribly useful. It's not contributing to our understanding of those results. It's just serving as a device people can use in philosophical discussions and battles where what's said has more to do with philosophical positions than with the nervous system, the mind, or the perplexing relationship between the two. We're better off admitting we don't know than maintaining some philosophical position (it doesn't matter which one) chosen from a universe of discourse that's all but rendered obsolete by that bit of empirical research.

President Gas said...

I wonder if you could explain what you mean by aesthetic in this sentence: "We're talking about how causality is aesthetic" -- I've read it six times now, and still I don't get it.

(And I sort of like the feeling of not getting it -- but at the end of the day, I would like to understand what you mean.)