Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Self Requisite For Causation? Part II

Part 1 Here

Mental causation?

In our Cartesian picture we referred to the fact that this self, whatever that may be ultimately, is the cause of various forms of cognition and action. The first thing we need to do then is delineate exactly what it is that this self would or would not be responsible for, in order for us to investigate it.

The way we could think about this is by dividing up the domain into the various functions that we think we can and cannot control.

 I'm sure you could fill out this list in its entirety since we have many bodily functions we can't control like digestion and there are many more physical activities we can do. In any case, we will start with non-conscious actions and investigate these. 

You may not think I am justified in separating these categorisations in this way, but thats fine as you can simply substitute your own. The point here is that I had this ontological view point when I started out. Many people start out with these shared assumptions and this ontology (a theoretical framework in laymans terms) is representative of our common sense cultural understanding.  

So, how do we characterise non-conscious actions then? 

Do they just happen of their own accord, or do they require any conscious thought?

Looking at our direct experience we can try and take conscious control of certain actions. Can you, for example, influence and regulate the rate at which you synthesise ATP from Glycogen, metabolise proteins, produce insulin etc? 
As you can see when you look, these kinds of processes happen of their own accord and cannot be manipulated simply by willing them. 
This would also be adequately demonstrated during our sleep, since it is not requisite that we are conscious of these processes. 

It may seem a little trivial to do this but we have utilised looking at direct experience to see if we can manipulate these processes and we have discovered that the following proposition is necessarily true: That there are certain aspects of physiology that we cannot consciously control. 
We have also logically worked on this because we have found the conditions under which our logic holds. Were it requisite that we consciously had to will these states we would have no explanation for why these processes occur during our sleep or in the event we were comatose for example. 

If we could refute this line of reasoning just once we could discard it, however, we have discovered that consciously willing is neither necessary nor sufficient for this type of causation. 

Part of doing things in this way is that we don't rest on this as universal truth and we acknowledge that this reasoning is based on other suppositions such as there being a real physical brain that regulates our metabolism, and some 'thing' that is conscious to try and look to see if it can manipulate these brain states. 
We also have to leave open the possibility that we may find sufficient cause through simply willing the action to occur at some point. This is because it's impossible to prove a negative. 

In light of the lack of evidence in empirical reality, we have to concede there is no evidence to suggest that willing is a sufficient cause for non-conscious actions. I am sure there are very few, if any, that would argue against this conclusion but we must leave open the possibility nevertheless. 

Having looked at non-conscious actions we can see that there are a couple of other things to look at in that list. There is one I've highlighted in particular and that is what we will be exploring next.

Interactionism With Emotion

Our task now then, will be to think about how a Cartesian self would interact with the body in this picture. On the non-conscious side we might decide that there is a way we could influence our emotions. We would certainly agree that emotions are a somatic response we are conscious of when we are experiencing them, however, we can certainly question the degree of control we have over them and how they are triggered. 

For example, we could easily imagine a confrontation that we expect to happen when we enter a room. 

We could be stood outside the door worrying to the point where our hands get clammy, our heart rate increases, and we start trembling before we enter. In this sense we might suggest that this could be mentally caused by imagining a future situation. It does seem to follow that our thoughts caused this situation at first glance.

Next, we will imagine that we have calmed down an hour or so later, and we might look at the thoughts that would occur to us. It would be here that we might claim we were nervous at that particular time, and we might even beat ourselves up about it, or blame ourselves for getting nervous. 

We might kick ourselves for not getting our point across because we were so panicky. We would then think of this emotion as a faculty of ourselves that we wish we had control over. 

However, this is very odd. 

In one sense we might blame ourselves for being nervous but on the other hand there is no way in which we could possibly be responsible for it. 
If there was any choice in the matter we would of course simply choose not to be nervous - right? 

How do we deal with this contradiction then?

What we tend to do is attribute it to an unconscious mechanism of ourselves. On one hand we blame ourselves, yet we actually put it down to an unconscious mechanism that we have no control over. 
So despite the fact that we attribute this reaction to ourselves, the fact of the matter is that we really don't have any choice in the matter and hence the appearance of us causing this emotional response is just an illusion. 

It might be argued at this point, that right now, we can remember a time we had a fight for example. 

Upon recalling this memory we can notice that we have a somatic response to the mental imagery. In this sense we can account for the mental causation of emotions. This does depend on the status that we give to this feeling though. 

If we accept that an emotional response of fear entails an increase in heart rate, sweaty palms, and butterflies in the stomach then we are only experiencing a somatic pattern associated with the memory, and not an emotion as such. We can allow this pattern is caused by our cognition for now, but you will have to come back and investigate this later when we look at controlling our thoughts.

Moving on, we can also say the same about having a funny reaction or reflex to a situation that may be embarrassing - we might be surprised and pull a funny face. 
This again, is something that we might attribute to ourselves, or certainly others will, even if this is something beyond our control.
This is particularly interesting here. On the one hand we have no control over these bodily processes yet on the other, we act as if we and other people do. We can get embarrassed about these things or perhaps even laugh about it when others commit a faux pas. 

We relate these things to identity and they seem to form a measure of our, or someone else's, self worth in a given situation. Surely though, this is exactly the wrong kind of thing to constitute self worth? A process to which we have no control over?

There is no sense in which ourselves or others can actually have any control over these processes but for now we can leave open the possibility that we might be able to influence them somehow. We have the appearance of being able to stop ourselves from blinking, hold our breath to stop breathing, and hold our nerve, metaphorically speaking, to counteract our fear. 

At best, all we can muster is that we might be able to influence them through muscular control or cognition. These processes, as it were, are simply happenings that proceed anyway despite any seeming efforts that we make. 

Where we have no control over certain functions but we act like we do, along with the rest of society, this does point to the fact that the self is a mere linguistic construction. 

This whole lot of I, me, and you did 'X' is simply an action we attributed to ourselves and others - a story about the self that is not there when we look. 

We attributed these emotions and some of these reflexive actions to the self but the reality is they happen of their own accord upon investigation. Whilst we have not broken all the tenterhooks yet we are starting to rattle the foundations on which it is based, and as we go through all the points what we find eventually is that the self is inherently empty.   

Don't take my word for it though let's keep digging.

Part III Here


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