Interacting Minds in the Physical World

Dissertation, University of Lausanne (2022)
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Mental causation, idea that it is us – via our minds – who cause bodily actions is as commonsensical as it is indispensable for our understanding of ourselves as rational agents. Somewhat less uncontroversial, but nonetheless widespread (at least among ordinary people) is the idea that the mind is non-physical, following the intuition that what is physical can neither act nor think nor judge morally. Taken together, and cast into a metaphysical thesis, the two intuitions yield interactive dualism: the view that human persons and their minds are non-physical but can nonetheless interact with their bodies, most notably through their brains. This thesis has two main objectives: first, to defend interactive dualism against objections, and second, to show how it can blend in with a physical world in which laws of nature hold. The first part (chapter 1) consists in a brief motivation of interactive dualism as opposed to non-interactive dualism. I argue that non-interactive, epiphenomenalist dualism sacrifices so many crucial aspects of our human existence that interactive dualism is highly to be preferred to it, barring even stronger counterarguments against the latter. It is those putative counterarguments I address in parts II and III. Part II takes on the philosophical objections from the causal closure of the physical and from causal heterogeneity. The former takes the success of physics and physiology as basis for the doctrine of the causal closure of the physical (CCP). I argue against this that there is not only no convincing argument for CCP, but also that any science-based belief in CCP cannot be epistemically justified. As regards the causal heterogeneity objection, it is ‘weighed and found wanting’, because it relies on unwarranted assumptions about causation. In part III, I examine the objection from energy conservation. It roughly says that if interactive dualism were true, then energy would not be conserved, which physics taught us cannot be the case. My reply is that the underlying conception of energy (and momentum) conservation is wrong-headed and not the one that actual physicists use. Instead of being categorical and global, conservation laws are conditional and local, thereby making natural room for mental interaction. Some dualists, however, have sought to make interactive dualism conservation-friendly, notably by invoking quantum physics; I show that these attempts are unnecessary and create more problems than they solve. Finally, in chapter 9, I turn the tables on non-interactionists by investigating current neurophysiological literature on volitional actions, which, though not addressing the question directly, still encourages the interactive dualist picture more than a non-interactionist one. Part IV is about the interplay between interactive dualism and the laws of nature. The ultimate goal is, if possible, to come up with a theory of the laws of nature that explains the lawlike behavior of nature and at the same time makes room for interaction. I begin by pointing out that the laws of nature are or at least should be what physicalists worry about (chapter 10). I then proceed with a historical survey on the development of the notion of laws of nature (chapter 11) that sheds light on its theistic origin. This is followed by an inquiry into the question how a law of nature could possibly be broken (chapter 12) and a survey of the extant metaphysical theories of the laws of nature with special regard to their receptivity to interaction (chapter 13). Finally, in chapter 14 I develop a theory of the laws of nature both faithful to their divine origin and the possibility of mental interaction: dispositionalist divine decretalism, a synthesis of dispositionalism and Jeffrey Koperski’s divine decretalism.



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Alin C. Cucu
University of Lausanne

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