Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mind, Emergence, and Epiphenomena


I will propose a processive solution to the problem of the reality or reducibility of mind. This is an extension of the posts of the last few days, although now I am trying to think the thought in a more analytic vocabulary.

If mind is an emergent phenomenon of human physiological nature, then is there a substantive difference between the two? No, because mind cannot exist independently from its physical constituents. If mind has no independent causal power, i.e., is an epiphenomenon, then how could it be real? I ask these two questions, because I suspect that some equate emergence and epiphenomenalism, especially when it is said, as I would, that mind has no independent causal power. This leads some to want to "naturalize" or reduce mind to underlying physical states, because "really real" things have causal power or produce distinct effects.

On a process view, they are mistaken. If to exist is to be related, then not having independent causal power implies little. "Independent" becomes a formal distinction and not a substantive one. Thus, it seems arbitrary to call emergent mind an epiphenomenon (causally inefficacious), because there is no substantive difference between body and mind. There is a temporal difference, however, but that's not the same. Mind is an event that produces might produce under the right conditions.

Process rejects the simple supervenience argument that the causal properties of underlying conditions may fully account for the emergent phenomena. Supervenience of this sort is rejected; emergence is the creation of new causality.

What is needed is a notion of structural causation, the idea that existential arrangement has causal potency. Hence, what something is made of and its arrangement are semi-independent factors in causality. (Perhaps this is what Mike meant by invoking material and formal causality, in which case I agree with his comments on another post.)

I propose that mind's primary function, its distinct causal agency, is in mediating or reconstructing the symbolic systems of thought by which we inhabit and comprehend the world as meaningful. I have discussed this previously.

It is generally thought that for something to exist, it must have causal power. For a Peircean modal view of reality, this is not so. Universals are real, but have no causal power. Perhaps Levi Bryant's presumption that unviersals have causal power has lead him to accuse, ad nauseum, process philosophies of hylomorphism. I have just posted a respose to that view that goes along with this post.

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