General Relativity, Mental Causation, and Energy Conservation

Erkenntnis 87 (4):1931-1973 (2022)
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The conservation of energy and momentum have been viewed as undermining Cartesian mental causation since the 1690s. Modern discussions of the topic tend to use mid-nineteenth century physics, neglecting both locality and Noether’s theorem and its converse. The relevance of General Relativity has rarely been considered. But a few authors have proposed that the non-localizability of gravitational energy and consequent lack of physically meaningful local conservation laws answers the conservation objection to mental causation: conservation already fails in GR, so there is nothing for minds to violate. This paper is motivated by two ideas. First, one might take seriously the fact that GR formally has an infinity of rigid symmetries of the action and hence, by Noether’s first theorem, an infinity of conserved energies-momenta. Second, Sean Carroll has asked how one should modify the Dirac–Maxwell–Einstein equations to describe mental causation. This paper uses the generalized Bianchi identities to show that General Relativity tends to exclude, not facilitate, such Cartesian mental causation. In the simplest case, Cartesian mental influence must be spatio-temporally constant, and hence 0. The difficulty may diminish for more complicated models. Its persuasiveness is also affected by larger world-view considerations. The new general relativistic objection provides some support for realism about gravitational energy-momentum in GR. Such realism also might help to answer an objection to theories of causation involving conserved quantities, because energies-momenta would be conserved even in GR.



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J. Brian Pitts
University of Lincoln

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