This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Comment

← The raw deal of determinism and reductionism

Steve Zara's Avatar Jump to comment 17 by Steve Zara

Comment 15 by logicophilosophicus

Personally I think awareness itself, and probably also volition, will require new physics. I'd certainly regard it as an unwarranted act of faith to assert that the known particles and forces, as of this moment in time, MUST be entirely sufficient to explain free will, intention, purpose, ethics, value and the rest.

I often come across this view. It seems reasonable to some, because when you look at conventional physics it doesn't appear to have what is needed for awareness and so on. However, it doesn't take much thinking to show that this view simply doesn't work.

Firstly, if there is something that seems so strange about awareness that the physics we know doesn't appear to be sufficient, then there is no reason to expect adding more physics will help. The problem is that awareness seems strange and irreducible, so adding more physics which we understand won't assist with removing the strangeness or make it seem any less irreducible.

Secondly, awareness cannot in fact be irreducible. We have evidence of its reducibility from the fact of us being able to talk about it! Talking about it arises from the firing of neurons in the brain, and so awareness must, through its presence, mean that some brain cells are active that otherwise would not be, and therefore there must be some aspect of awareness that involves normal physics, because brain cells don't fire because of magic.

Thirdly, because brain cells don't fire because of magic, there can't be any physical evidence for any new physics. Because brain cells don't break the principle of conservation of energy, any new physics must have effects that when summed up add to precisely zero. It must have the same effect as nothing.

The third reason is called 'causal closure', and is why only a minority of philosophers now accept the idea of dualism, that there is more going on than conventional brain activity.

There is another reason to reject the idea of new physics, and involves the recent discovery of the Higgs boson! This discovery means that we understand physics pretty well up to energies a million million times higher than anything that happens in the brain.

In thinking of awareness and volition as attributes of the mind that need explaining we look at things completely the wrong way. Because we talk about them using our physical bodies and firing brain cells, then our beliefs about awareness and volition have to involve normal quite normal physics.

Fri, 13 Jul 2012 11:06:49 UTC | #949046