Re: Levels of explanation (was Re: Determinism)

From: Robin Faichney (
Date: Sat Apr 21 2001 - 10:07:42 BST

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    Subject: Re: Levels of explanation (was Re: Determinism)
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    In-Reply-To: <3ADF1C37.13.4073EA@localhost>; from on Thu, Apr 19, 2001 at 05:11:19PM -0500
    From: Robin Faichney <>
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    On Thu, Apr 19, 2001 at 05:11:19PM -0500, wrote:
    > On 19 Apr 2001, at 10:02, Robin Faichney wrote:
    > > On Wed, Apr 18, 2001 at 02:44:59PM -0500, wrote:
    > > > > Translating between levels of explanation is much more difficult
    > > that > observing causal efficacy between them.
    > >
    > > If you don't translate the concepts, you can't be clear on which
    > > entities are interacting.
    > >
    > Some complex concepts simply cannot be translated into simpler
    > systems; if you think that they can, then supply me with a
    > molecular conception of self-consciousness.

    I already said that subjectivity is irreducible. Otherwise, all
    higher level entities are groups of lower level ones, we use different
    explanatory frameworks to deal with different levels, and we can
    generally translate between different frameworks -- though we obviously
    don't yet know everything.

    > > > > But my concept of diagonal causation perfectly explains the PET
    > > > > scan findings, with no need to charge recklessly across all the
    > > > > lanes of the explanatory highway, as you do. "My decision causes
    > > > > my neural activity, never mind exactly how, I'll just insist it's
    > > > > top-down causation, and if you don't accept that you're an
    > > > > irrational anti-scientist." Until you examine and find good
    > > > > grounds to reject diagonal causation, you *cannot* rationally
    > > > > claim that top-down causation is the only possible explanation for
    > > > > the PET scan findings.
    > > > >
    > > > Actually, here you misrepresent your frankenstein reverse bastard
    > > > creation ('diagonal' causation) which denies one of it's parents
    > > > (vertical); it is not able to deal with the spatiotemporal
    > > > succession of a cause already decided (and announced) before it is
    > > > implemented and its effect manifested.
    > >
    > > Why not? (Actually, that's exactly what it was developed to do.)
    > >
    > What you do is to say that at the same time that neural pathways
    > are being activated, that a person is choosing to engage in a
    > particular cognitive task, and that there is neither temporality nor
    > causality between them, as they are two explanatory levels of the
    > same phenomenon; however, when the decision to engage in a
    > particular cognitive task is made and announced prior to the
    > beginning of the neural pattern activation (as happens when
    > someone says that "in x minutes I will do Y"), so there is indeed
    > spatiotemporal differentialtion between them, your 'diagonal
    > causation' is useless as an explanatory device.

    YOU told me ME that diagonals have two components: vertical and
    horizontal. I said yes, and the two components of diagonal causation
    are conceptual framework translation (vertical) and ordinary causation
    (horizontal). Diagonal causation is ordinary horizontal causation with
    cause and effect viewed at different levels. Now, it seems, you've
    forgotten all that. Could it be you don't want to understand my view
    because you're scared it's right?

    > You are attempting to use "conceptual framework translation" as a
    > substitute for causation, which you cannot do when a decision on
    > an emergent level precedes neuronal activation on the level from
    > which it emerges. In such a case, it cannot be claimed that there
    > are simply two levels of explanation for a single event, as there are
    > plural and distinguishable events.

    Now it's obvious that's wrong, can you find any real flaw in diagonal
    causation as the explanation of the PET scan studies?
    > > Explanations of causation and of emergence are very different things.
    > > That you should confuse them, however, is perfectly consistent with
    > > your general confusion in this whole area.
    > >
    > No, the material substrate, in interrelation with its environment,
    > does indeed incubate the emergent self, which then may modify its
    > ground, both short-term (as seen in PET-Scans) and long-term (as
    > happens with extended learning). They, to a degree, cause each
    > other; there is BOTH top-down and bottom-up causation going on
    > within the substrate + emergence system.

    Every time I've asked you to explain in detail exactly how top-down
    causation works, you've fallen back into talking about emergence, or
    insisting that it MUST work, or accusing me of reductionism. Can you
    do any better this time?

    > > > > > 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.
    > > > >
    > > > > Can you quote one sentence of mine that would lead any reasonable
    > > > > person to think I have such a reductionist agenda?
    > > > >
    > > > 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
    > > > > -
    > >
    > > I think you need to work on your cut'n'paste skills, Joe! :-)
    > >
    > > But what matters is that you missed "which is not always desirable
    > > because it means losing sight of the bigger picture". Maybe if you'd
    > > spent 20 seconds making that quote easier to read, you'd have actually
    > > read it yourself instead of just glancing at it.
    > >
    > In the case of the dynamically recursive pattern configuration of the
    > emergent self as it relates to its material substrate brain, such a
    > reduction is not only not desireable; it is not possible.

    As I said, subjectivity is irreducible. But the point here was that
    you accused me of reductionism, and I refuted that accusation (again).
    The fact that, as I said, we lose something by going to lower levels,
    is all that's required to defeat reductionism, because according to it
    the whole truth is "down there".

    > > > And does this reductionistic agenda work with atoms and thoughts?
    > >
    > > How often do I need to say it before it will penetrate your skull?
    > >
    > Telling a falsehood, even if you personally believe in it, a thousand
    > times will not render it true. You extoll the supposed virtues of
    > attempting to explain complex emergent ohenomena by means of
    > an inventory of their disconnected constituents. Reduction is
    > reduction. Motor oil is motor oil.

    I have a real problem here, Joe. How do we distinguish between genuine
    confusion and intellectual dishonesty? Do you really believe that what
    I've repeated so often, to try to get through your skull, is that the
    reductionist agenda works with atoms and thoughts? I find it really,
    really difficult to believe you believe that, given what I've actually said,
    and how often I've said it. What I was referring to there, what I've
    said so often I'm getting sick of saying it, is that the reductionist
    agenda does NOT work with atoms and thoughts!

    The reason thoughts cannot be reduced to atoms (or what I consider to be
    the main one, anyway) is that subjectivity is irreducible. But that's
    not the only reason I'm not a reductionist. I consider emergent patterns
    to be as real as the lower level phenomena out of which they emerge.
    But putting aside subjectivity and ontology, to insist that there is
    something specially mysterious whereby complex systems in general cannot
    be explained in terms of lower levels is exactly what some people would
    call mysticism (though I personally have better uses for that word).
    You're a mystic with regard to complex systems, Joe, and there is
    absolutely no need stick your head in the sand that way, because to view
    subjectivity as irreducible is to perfectly preserve all that essential
    mind stuff, with no need for any confusion whatsoever.

    Robin Faichney
    Get your Meta-Information from
    (CAUTION: contains philosophy, may cause heads to spin)

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