Re: Levels of explanation (was Re: Determinism)

Date: Tue Apr 17 2001 - 21:44:14 BST

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    Subject: Re: Levels of explanation (was Re: Determinism)
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    On 17 Apr 2001, at 12:49, Robin Faichney wrote:

    > On Sun, Apr 15, 2001 at 04:19:33PM -0500, wrote:
    > > > So you then support the idea of a Platonic Form of Causation >
    > floating out there in the celestial spheres?
    > On the contrary, there is no objective truth about causation, because
    > it's a concept that is useful -- essential, in fact -- in everyday
    > life, but dissolves upon close analysis. The dispute is about what is
    > the most useful way to use the concept, and I say that my way is more
    > useful than yours. But before you react to that, please read my
    > attempt to restate my views as clearly as possible, below.
    > > If you reject both
    > > bottom-up and top-down causation, you are left with Spinozan
    > > noninteractive parallelism, where it is just a happy coincidence
    > > that anything whatsoever fits with anything else.
    > Causal explanations work horizontally along "levels of explanation"
    > (the terminology is no coincidence). What links the levels is that an
    > entity or event on one level is composed of a number of lower level
    > entities or events. Molecules are composed of atoms. The molecular
    > and atomic levels are actually very close, only a few atoms being
    > required to make a molecule, but in many cases the gaps between levels
    > are quite vast, so the phenomena that occur on them are very different
    > and require quite different explanatory frameworks, which is why
    > different disciplines have evolved to deal with them -- physics,
    > chemistry and biology deal with successively higher levels (actually,
    > sets of levels) of explanation. If biological phenomena are analysed
    > in sufficient detail -- which is not always desirable because it means
    > losing sight of the bigger picture -- the explanatory framework of
    > chemistry becomes more useful. To shift between levels is something we
    > do for our own convenience. Phenomena on different levels are not
    > entirely separate, but different conceptualisations of the same
    > reality.
    However, as I also have said, although the demarcations between
    levels are fuzzy, and to a greater degree cognitively imposed by us
    upon the observed than derived from it, there is still some truth,
    reflected in utility, to having different theoretical expanatory
    constructs for these various degrees of complexity and eventual
    recursion; you yourself have said as much. The lower-level
    explanatory schemas simply are not capable of sufficing to explain
    what is happening in more complex and recursive milieus. You
    can study individual neurons, axons and synapses until the cows
    come home and lay down to die, and it will not help you to
    understand free will, self-conscious awareness, or the human
    bestowal of meaning upon a world of being, because such things
    do not exist at that level, but at the level at which all the neurons,
    synapses and axons are united as a material substrate for the
    precession of a dynamically recursive patterned gestalt
    configuration. The bare bones fact is that what IS happening is
    being initiated at the causal nexus level of human subjectivity, as
    the temporal succession of verbal decision ("I'll begin reading the
    text in seven minutes; at 4:30, doctor") and selective area/pathway
    stimulation (at 4:30, as registered by PET-scan) clearly
    > You said yourself:
    > > Levels are imposed upon objects; they reside in the constructing
    > > mind.
    > So how can you also claim that events on one level influence those on
    > another, when the former *is* the latter? Unless, of course, this is
    > diagonal causation, i.e. ordinary horizontal causation but with cause
    > and effect viewed at different levels, as in the case of the PET
    > scans.
    Because the decision to do X can be made before X is done and
    the corresponding PET-scan noted cerebral changes are measured
    for correlation with the subjective task, as I noted in the above
    example. It happens all the time; people (subjects) are instructed
    on what is desired of them, and give their assent to both the
    actions and a timetable for them, prior to the execution of the
    experimental program.
    > All I'm doing is drawing a clear distinction between causation on one
    > hand and translation between different explanatory frameworks on the
    > other. This is a classic application of conceptual analysis, a
    > technique that is absolutely central to modern western philosophy.
    What can be distinguished in theory is not always separable in
    practice. Can you actually experience either space or time in the
    absence of the other? A great western philosopher, Immanuel
    Kant, made the mistake of illegitimately absolutizing and
    bifurcating perceptual predominances, that is, the varying ways in
    which differing sensory modalities grasp the single spatiotemporal
    manifold, (the spatial aspect is favored in vision, the temporal
    aspect in audition, but both aspects are present in both) into space
    and time, when perceptual spatiotemporality is the rule, and in our
    most basic and primordial sense (taction), they are
    equi-represented. I would be the LAST person to assert that just
    because a great western mind, or a great eastern one, had a
    thought, that they must have been correct.
    > > I'm saying that
    > > causation is not universal, but it is a useful concept for
    > > explaining how it is that people can be asked to and assent to
    > > perform certain cognitive tasks and the appropriate cortical areas
    > > subsuming such functions routinely light up. The only difference
    > > between this and control over more distal areas of the body (of
    > > which the brain is a part), such as me thinking that I will type
    > > this sentence, and then doing so, is a difference of degree, not
    > > kind.
    > Of course it can be "useful" to consider the relationship between what
    > a person is thinking about and activity in specific neural areas as
    > causation (though that leaves open the question as to the direction of
    > the causation -- which I'd suggest is most directly addressed by
    > temporal considerations, cause preceding effect).
    This allows for both top-down and bottom-up, and I concur with it.
    > It is equally
    > useful to take it that my decision to start typing results in activity
    > in the relevant motor neurons. But *if* we want to further analyse
    > what happens in such cases (and you may not), we have to distinguish
    > between causation and conceptual framework translation. Do you
    > disagree with that?
    I do not think that lower-level schemas possess explanatory
    capacities for higher-level phenomena, when they are sufficiently
    separated by degrees of complexity and recursion. You are
    welcome to try to understand the forest by deconstructing a cell in
    a leaf if that's what you wanna do, but I doubt if you'll find out much
    about its ecosystem that way.
    > --
    > Robin Faichney
    > Let cause a better understanding of
    > causation! :-)
    > ===============================================================
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