Re: Levels of explanation (was Re: Determinism)

From: Robin Faichney (
Date: Tue Apr 24 2001 - 13:50:11 BST

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    Subject: Re: Levels of explanation (was Re: Determinism)
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    In-Reply-To: <3AE36804.30316.B8C94F@localhost>; from on Sun, Apr 22, 2001 at 11:23:48PM -0500
    From: Robin Faichney <>
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    On Sun, Apr 22, 2001 at 11:23:48PM -0500, wrote:
    > On 21 Apr 2001, at 10:07, Robin Faichney wrote:
    > > 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.
    > >
    > The only ratinal rwason to view cause and effect at different levels
    > is if they manifest at different levels from each other; in other
    > words, if vertical causation is indeed occurring.

    "Levels of explanation" are strata along which coherent causal
    explanations are possible. Different levels have different concepts
    and different explanatory frameworks associated with them. A molecule,
    and the appropriate atoms in the correct arrangement, are the same
    thing, but an explanation of the part that molecule plays in, say,
    neurochemistry, will be quite different from one that speaks only of
    the atoms in that and other molecules, than an explanation that speaks
    explicitly of molecules and mentions atoms only where necessary.

    Given the ordinary concept of causation it is *necessarily* true that
    causation operates simultaneously *along* levels. If you deny that,
    try to explain your view in terms of atoms and molecules. We can look
    at cause and effect at different levels but have to bear in mind when
    we do so that conceptual framework translation is involved, and while
    atomic explanations are quite different from molecular ones, neurological
    explanations are *very* different from intentional ones.

    To say that a conscious decision caused neural activity can only be
    true if that neural activity was not itself the conscious decision,
    viewed at a lower level. And given that fact, what is the relationship
    between the conscious decision and the neural activity that *is* the
    same thing viewed at a lower level? Can you answer that?

    > > > 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?
    > >
    > But there ARE two distinguishable events; the verbal
    > announcement (on the intersubjective level) and the
    > spatiotemporally separated PET-scan record (on the
    > neurophysiological level). The flaw in so-called 'diagonal causation'
    > was enumerated in my explication preceding your 'it's obvious
    > that's wrong' with no support for such an assertion;

    The support preceded it, where I explained, yet again, that diagonal
    causation has both vertical and horizontal components, where the
    vertical component is conceptual framework translation, and the
    horizontal component is ordinary causation. How often do I have to
    repeat something before you'll take it in? The fact that ordinary
    causation is incorporated fully answers your criticism.

    > > > > 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?
    > >
    > Emergence is, on the case of human consciousness, a function of
    > the recursion which becomes possible when the
    > quantity/complexity quotuent of the neurons and synapses in a
    > brain surpasses the Godelian threshhold. In other words, infants
    > are little machines preprogrammed to surpass their instinctual
    > programming to a significant degree by means of reflection.
    > Through interaction with the environment (both physical and social),
    > pattern configurations (memories, and the knowledge abstracted
    > from them) are internalized which may be selectively and
    > voluntarily accessed in response to a perception by one who has
    > achieved conscious self-awareness, and this information is
    > compared/contrasted with the perception, along with one's
    > experiences regarding past responses to perceptions more or less
    > like the present one, with the differences and the similarities given
    > weight during their consideration. A course of action is freely
    > chosen which is informed by, but not dictated by, these previous
    > considerations, since every new perception is as unique as every
    > receiver is different from the person who received the perception
    > before; this decision is volitionally willed into effortful action, which
    > itself will change one's perceptual array in what one hopes and
    > calculates are the desired directions; desire being based upon
    > what one liked and disliked about previous experiences.

    This utilizes the concept of top-down causation without explaining it.
    To do that, you need a much, much simpler scenario. The tipping point
    is sufficiently simple, but it unfortunately fails to exhibit what you'd
    like it to. (But please let's exhibit a little lane discipline, and
    keep argument about that to the appropriately titled thread.)

    In fact, you cannot demonstrate top-down causation in any simple system,
    and can only assert it without explanation in the case of "mind over
    matter". This is due to your confusion about the relationship between
    subjective phenomena (such as making a decision) and objective ones (such
    as neurological activity), whereby you think that top-down causation is
    necessary to save subjective phenomena from being mere epiphenomena,
    and brand anyone who disagrees as reductionist/determinist. But you
    just haven't thought it through.

    > > > 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".
    > >
    > That's why you cannot appeal to the neurophysiological level to
    > completely inform you of personal intention and decision,

    Of course you can't. I never suggested you could.

    > much
    > less equate them and claim that the difference is in the view, not in
    > what is being viewed.

    You said yourself at one point that levels are "all in the mind", and
    then later that they matter, nevertheless. In fact, levels are neither
    simply objective nor simply subjective phenomena, and pretending they are
    (either) won't help.

    I never did anything remotely like "equate" neurophysiological and
    intentional levels. However, I do say that they're correlated, and
    distinguished by the conceptual frameworks, the type of explanations, that
    apply to them, and particularly by the subjectivity that is necessarily
    implied by "intentional".

    > > > > > 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 phenomena 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!
    > >
    > You seem to believe that it works for neurons/synapses and human
    > consciousness; atoms and thoughts are a difference of degree, not
    > of kind, from such an assertion.

    Please explain why you think I think "it works for neurons/synapses
    and human consciousness". Because I'm very clear that it does not.

    You don't seem to distinguish between my actual views, and what you
    believe are the logical consequences of the things I say. Even if you
    were right regarding those (and you're not) it would still be a mistake
    to expect me to view it that way. You think I should, to be consistent,
    be a reductionist/determinist, so you treat me as if I consciously and
    deliberately took that stance. That's really not very smart, Joe.
    You should think how it makes you look to the rest of us.

    > > 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.
    > >
    > But if human subjectivity is irreduceble, and you just asserted that
    > you believe that it is, then OF COURSE it is not explainable by
    > means of the material substrate from which it emerges, nor by
    > appeal to neurophysiological categories. It would seem that, since
    > you affirm and deny the selfsame assertion in a single paragraph,
    > that the confusion here is not mine.

    The affirmation ("subjectivity is irreducible") is there. The denial
    is entirely in your own mind. The irony is, you'd save *yourself*
    so much trouble if you'd just rein-in your prejudice and read what your
    opponent writes a little more carefully. Apparently you missed "putting
    aside subjectivity". Just in case it's still not obvious to you, I'll
    rephrase that sentence:

    To insist that there is something specially mysterious whereby complex
    systems in which there is no subjective element 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).

    In fact, some people will insist that to suggest that subjectivity is
    irreducible is mysticism. I say they are wrong. I am in agreement with
    you on that, and that point is surely one of the most important, if not
    *the* most important, of all. But because of some other differences, you
    have decided that I'm an enemy. It's really a great pity.

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

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