Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Self Requisite For Causation? Part III

Cause For Concern?

When we start to bring in theories related to mental causation of non-conscious processes we have uncovered some stark contradictions in our thinking, and also these questions have arisen so far in our investigation:

How is it that we and others think emotions and reactions are attributes of ourselves, or our identity, when it seems this is not a faculty a self could even control?

Can we say that emotions are mentally caused? - If so, we would have to hold the view that there are both conscious and unconscious mental processes, which are necessarily non-physical according to dualism.

If we do claim emotions and other non-conscious processes are either mentally caused, or physically caused, can we account for these positions from within our Cartesian framework? That is to say simply, can we make non-conscious processes intelligible in terms of our Cartesian picture?

We might still be able to explain these questions away but the point at this stage is that we simply always assumed this Cartesian picture was true. However, under scrutiny it seems that we are running in to difficulty maintaining our assumptions, and this is the only certainty we have found so far in our endeavours.

These non-conscious processes defy easy categorisation into either physical bodily processes, or mental processes. On the one hand we want to say that the self plays a causal role and emotions are mentally caused, but we are very inconsistent in the way we apply this to ourselves as we have illustrated.

We might be tempted at this stage to allow that non-conscious actions can be mentally caused.

For instance, Sigmund Freud postulated a subconscious and unconscious mind. In this way we could allow non-conscious actions to be consistent with mental causation, and thus we can deny there is a problem. In doing this we can allow a self, whatever that may be, to be able to mentally cause emotions below the level of our conscious awareness.

However, this has ramifications for the way in which we conceptualise a self, and forces us in to a number of counter intuitive views.

Dual causes

If we claim that emotions and non-conscious actions are mentally caused then, being consistent with our model of dualism, we are committed to the view that these mental states are also non-physical. That is to say, all mental causes are necessarily non-physical in our Cartesian picture.

Furthermore, we can contrast these mental causes with the appearance of conscious mental causation, e.g. thinking about raising our arm. In this sense, there are two types of mental causation, namely mental causation that is within our conscious awareness, and mental causation that is of the non-conscious type (sufficient for emotions etc.)

In subscribing to the Cartesian picture, we are also committed to the view that any subjective aspect of experience is mental. The experience of thought, emotions, pain etc. are purely mental and subjective aspects of experience. They may have physical correlates but ultimately, if we subscribe to the Cartesian picture we are also committed to this view.
So, if we postulate an unconscious mind which is responsible for all the bodily processes below our level of consciousness, then we would also assert that emotional triggers are controlled by a non-physical process of mental causation that ultimately becomes the conscious experience of emotion.

This then leads us to 2 different problems. The first of these is related to the causal mechanism of the brain. If we consider that emotions are caused by a non-physical state, this then would have to trigger a physical state in the body. Emotions have physical effects such as racing heart, change in posture etc. However, the upshot of this view is that in order for us to feel any sensation, which don't forget is mental, then there has to be a conversion process back to the non-physical.

So not only do we have to have an unconscious non-physical mental state causing a physical state, we also have to have, in turn, another non-physical state i.e. the experience of emotion, which has to be converted back from this physical event as a mental effect.

Rather than just the simple cause-and-effect picture we had in our minds, we now have to have a cause and effect and then another cause and effect in the chain in order for us to feel the sensation.
This means we have to bring in another auxiliary theory to account for this, namely a theory of interactionism that explains how physical states cause non-physical states. This means that in order for dualism to work we have to postulate two auxiliary theories to account for the interaction between the non-physical > physical and vice versa.

Worryingly, and more difficult on this view though, is that we are obliged to account for how something unconscious and non-physical, triggers something physical, which then becomes non-physical again, and then, crucially at this point, becomes conscious.
Why wasn't it conscious in the first place, and what is the cause of non-physical states becoming conscious?

These howling absurdities makes this view seem a very bizarre way of formulating a cause-and-effect relationship. The notion seems almost occult as we are literally inventing 'magical forces' which are beyond the sphere of possible human experience. This is not enough to prove its falsity, as a robust theory might appear in the future. However, it is certainly enough to raise our suspicions and even if such a theory could be formulated coherently, it would always remain beyond the realms of any kind of proof and would be considered crack pottery.

A more complex objection arises when we consider the purpose of emotions. The emotional response of fear is characterised as a rapid physiological response to the environment, which can bypass the conscious mind. 
If we had to think about reacting in these instances, it would be already too late as the decision takes time. In evolutionary terms we evolved to be able to avoid being the sabre-tooth tigers meal.

Part of this mechanism entails that we are 'saved from our rationality'.
To illustrate, imagine if we had to assess whether something was a threat before we ran away. In evolutionary terms we would stand far more chance of survival if we bypassed our rational ability to ponder whether the sabre tooth tiger has seen us or not, and make a sharp exit. If this was not the case it would mean that we would not be much good at survival.

Given this evolutionary view, if we opted to explain this in terms of mental causation, we would have to attribute this to a non-conscious and, in line with our dualist assumptions, a non-physical cause. 
However, such a theory of these causal states would have to account for how non-conscious, non-physical mental states, are triggered by our perceptual mechanisms to interact with the emotional system.

Surely it is the perceptual mechanism that triggers the physical emotional responses, and then this in turn causes the experience of emotion in the moment? However, if this was true then how can we argue that there is mental causation of emotions? 
Again we are at a loss here to even try and begin how to describe a chain of cause and effect. Any chain will be convoluted and we have to appeal to a complex array of different causes and effects!

The problem simply stated, is how do we distinguish between mental and physical causation in any chain of cause and effect? We can try and do this but our Cartesian picture starts to look quite absurd and over complicated. Whilst Occam's razor could hack this to pieces, for all we know this is really going on. 
The point though, is that we are uncertain if this is the case.
What we need to do now is bring in some other elements into the mix to investigate the coherence of this further. It may seem these objections are not insurmountable but when we start to investigate the consequences further, then the Cartesian picture simply falls apart, as it becomes increasingly counter intuitive to maintain in light of our other assumptions about the world.


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