Curt J. Ducasse

C. J. Ducasse

(1881-1969), French-born, highly respected Professor of Philosophy at Brown University. Awardee of the Carus Lectures prize (American Philosophical Association). Contributed to the "Journal Information for Philosophy and Phenomenological Research", "Causation", "Immortality" (Edited by Paul Edwards), "Philosophical Dimensions of Parapsychology" (edited by James M. O. Wheatley). Ex-student of Josiah Royce. Pursued a career in philosophy but retained a strong interest in logic - so much so that he took the initiative to create the Association for Symbolic Logic with its Journal of symbolic logic. Among his many important papers on survival are "How the Case of The Search for Bridey Murphy Stands Today" Journal of the ASPR 54: 3-22, and "What Would Constitute Conclusive Evidence of Survival After Death?" Journal of the SPR 41: 401-406. His books included "A Critical Examination of the Belief in Life After Death", "Paranormal Phenomena, Science and Life After Death" (Monograph), "A Philosophical Scrutiny of Religion", "Nature, Mind, And Death", "Truth, Knowledge and Causation", "Philosophy As a Science: Its Matter and Its Method" and "Philosophy of Art".

A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After Death - Part 3

Chapter 12: Mind and Body as Acting on Each Other

1. Interaction as conceived by Descartes | 2. Interaction and the heterogeneity of mind and body | 3. H. S. Jennings on interaction between mind and body | 4. What interactionism essentially contends | 5. Which human body is one's own | 6. Interaction and the conservation of energy

 - Curt J. Ducasse -

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          THE CONTENTION considered in the preceding chapter was that the processes constituting the living body's minimal, i.e., vegetative, life are autotelic objective expressions of blind cravings of mind or minds to organize matter. Such of these blind cravings as are present in the human mind might be termed its vegetative conations, as distinguished from its distinctively animal and human ones.

The hypophenomenalistic contention was of interest to us primarily because of the superiority, in the respects we noticed, of the alternative it provides to the contention that the life of living things is a purely physico-chemical process and that a mind and its various conations and states are mere epiphenomena of those processes in the living brain. We shall not, however, need to occupy ourselves further with hypophenomenalism since the question to which it is an answer is different from the question central for us in these pages.

The latter question has to do with the nature of the relation between two terms. One of them is a living human body - no matter whether its being "alive" be a physico-chemical epiphenomenon or be a hypophenomenon of some primitive conations. The other term of the relation is constituted by existence and exercise of the animal and especially of the typically human capacities or "dispositions" in a person's total mind conceived in the manner set forth in Chapter VI. Man's living material body is of course a necessary, even if not a sufficient, factor in the development of his mind from the rudimentary state in which it is at the birth of his body. But our problem is whether on the one hand a person's living body, and on the other the part of that person's mind consisting of the distinctively human capacities peculiar to him, are so related that, once those capacities have been acquired by him, they, or some of them. can continue to exist and to function after that body dies.

Interactionism, as conceived in these pages, answers that no impossibility - either theoretical or empirical - is involved in so supposing. Let us, however, first consider the classical account of mind-body interaction.

1. Interaction as conceived by Descartes

The contention that the human mind and the living human body can, and to some extent do, act each on the other is associated chiefly with the name of Descartes. His account of their interaction, however, is burdened with difficulties that are not inherent in interactionism but arise only out of some of the peculiarities of his formulation of it.

The most troublesome of these is that mind and body are conceived by Descartes as each a "substance" in the sense that, aside from the dependence of each on God, each is wholly self-sufficient. This entails that changes in the state of either cannot without inconsistency be supposed to cause changes in the state of the other. Descartes, in one of his letters, acknowledges this(1). Nevertheless he asserts that such causation does occur: "That the spirit, which is incorporeal, is able to move the body, no reasoning or comparison from other things can teach this to us. Nevertheless, we cannot doubt it, for experiments too certain and too evident make us clearly aware of it every day; and one must well notice that this is one of the things that are known of themselves [Une des choses qui sont connues par elles memes] and that we obscure them every time we would explain them by others."(2)

(1) Letter of June 28, 1643, to Elizabeth. Descartes' Correspondence, ed. Adam Milhaud, Vol. 5:324.
(2) Letter VI, Vol. 2:31.

Yet, as if to mitigate the illegitimacy which, on Descartes' conception of substance, attaches to interaction, he insists that it occurs only at one place. This is at the center of the brain, in the pineal gland, which he holds is the principal "seat" of the soul. The deflections of it by the "animal spirits," Descartes says. cause perceptions in the soul; and, conversely, the soul's volitions deflect the pineal gland and thereby the "animal spirits," whose course to the muscles causes the body's voluntary movements.

But to pack into the meaning of the word "substance" the provision that one substance cannot interact with another is - here as in the historical precedents-quite arbitrary; for no theoretical need exists to postulate any substance as so defined; nor is the term, as so defined, applicable to anything actually known to exist. As ordinarily used, the term denotes such things as water and salt, steel and wood, nitric acid and copper, which can and on occasion do interact. Indeed, all the dispositions (except internal ones) in terms of which the nature of any substance analyzes consist of capacities of the substance concerned to affect or to be affected by some other substance.

Thus, the paradox Descartes finds in the interaction which he anyway acknowledges occurs between body and mind, arises only out of his gratuitously degrading to the status of "modes" the things ordinarily called "substances" - which do interact - and, equally gratuitously, defining "substances" as incapable of interacting.

2. Interaction and the heterogeneity of mind and body

What causes Descartes to find paradoxical the interaction of mind and body and yet to find no difficulty in the interaction of substances such as steel and wood, etc., is that, in the latter cases, the two substances concerned. being both of them material, are ontologically homogeneous; whereas body and mind - being one of them res extensa and the other res cogitans - are ontologically heterogeneous.

But the supposed paradox of interaction between them evaporates as soon as one realizes that the causality relation is wholly indifferent to the ontological homogeneity or heterogeneity of the events figuring in it as cause and as effect. This indifference or neutrality holds no matter whether causality be defined, as later by Hume, as consisting in de facto regularity of sequence; or more defensibly, as in experimental procedure, in terms of a state of affairs within which only two changes occur - one, called "cause," occurring at a given moment, and the other, occurring immediately thereafter, called "effect." All that the causality relation presupposes as to the nature of its cause-term and its effect-term is that both be events, i.e., occurrences in time. Hence, as Hume eventually pointed out and as we have insisted, an event, of no matter what kind, can, without contradiction or incongruity, be conceived to cause an event of no matter what other kind. Only experience can tell us what in fact can or cannot cause what. That, as experiment testifies, volition to raise one's arm normally causes it to rise, and burning the skin normally causes pain, is not in the least paradoxical.

3. H. S. Jennings on interaction between mind and body

The interactionist views of the eminent biologist, H. S. Jennings, are free from the artificial difficulty present in those of Descartes, and are far clearer and more critical than those of most of the biologists who have expressed themselves on the subject of the relation between body and mind.

In an address, Some Implications of Emergent Evolution, which he delivered in 1926 as retiring chairman of the Zoological Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and later in a book, The Universe and Life(3), Jennings sharply distinguishes two conceptions of determinism. He calls them respectively "radically experimental determinism" and "mechanistic determinism." The latter is the one commonly entertained by scientists, and is to the effect that whatever occurs in the universe, whether novel or not, is theoretically explicable in terms of the properties and relations of the elementary constituents of matter; and hence that even radical novelties such as the advent of life in an until then lifeless world are the inherently predictable necessary or probable effects of certain collocations - that is, are predictable in principle even if not in fact by us at a given time for lack of the required empirical data. This - except for the substitution of probabilities for necessities at the subatomic level in consequence of the state of affairs recognized in Heisenberg's principle of indeterminacy - is essentially determinism as conceived in Laplace's famous statement we have quoted earlier, that "an intelligence knowing, at a given instant of time, all forces acting in nature, as well as the momentary positions of all things of which the universe consists, would be able to comprehend the motions of the largest bodies of the world and those of the smallest atoms in one single formula, provided it [i.e., that intelligence] were sufficiently powerful to subject all data to analysis; to it, nothing would be uncertain, both future and past would be present before its eyes."(4)

(3) Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, 1933. The address appeared in Science, Jan. 14, 1927, and was reprinted with corrections the same year by the Sociological Press, Minneapolis.
(4) Theorie Analytique des Probabilites, Paris, 3d. edition, 1820.

Obviously, however, such a physico-chemical determinism is in fact only a metaphysical creed; for it vastly outruns what theoretical physics and physical chemistry are actually able to predict. What has occurred is that something which in reality was but a program - namely to explain in physico-chemical terms whatever turns out to be capable of explanation in such terms - has unawares been transformed into the a priori creed that whatever does occur is ultimately capable of being explained in such terms. Doubtless, the enthusiasm resulting from the truly remarkable discoveries which have been made under that program is what has brought about the unconscious metamorphosing of the latter into a creed, i.e., into a belief piously held without adequate warrant both by scientists and by laymen awed by the vast achievements of science.

On the other hand, the determinism Jennings terms "radically experimental determinism" does not assume, as physicochemical determinism gratuitously does, that only physical or chemical events can really cause or explain anything. Rather, it holds, as did David Hume, that only experience can reveal to us what in fact can or cannot cause what; and holds further as does the present writer, that, ultimately, the only sort of experience that can reveal what can or cannot cause what is experience of the outcome of an experiment: "The only test as to whether one phenomenon affects another is experiment the test is: remove severally each preceding condition, and observe whether this alters the later phenomena. If it does, this is what we mean by saying that one condition affects another; that one determines another. Such experimental determinism is not concerned with likenesses or differences in kind, as between mental and physical, nor with the conceivability or inconceivability of causal relations between them; it is purely a matter of experiment."(5)

(5) Some Implications of Emergent Evolution, p. 9 of the reprint. Cf. the present writer's own analysis of Causality in his Causation and the Types of Necessity Univ. of Washington Press, Seattle, 1924, pp. 55-6, and in his later Nature, Mind, and Death Open Court Pub. Co. La Salle, 1951, Ch. 8, Sec. 3, where he insists that Causality is the relationship, which an experiment exhibits, between a state of affairs, an only change in it at a time T, and an immediately sequent only other change in it; and that causal laws are generalizations obtained by attention to the similarities that turn out to exist between two or more experiments each of which, in its own individual right, revealed a case of causation.

Jennings goes on to point out that "if we rely solely upon experiment, the production of mental diversities by preceding diversities in physical conditions is the commonest experience of mankind; a brick dropped on the foot yields other mental results than from a feather so dropped." But "experimental determinism also holds for the production of physical diversities by preceding mental diversities; for experimental determinism of the physical by the mental. One result follows when a certain mental state precedes; another when another mental state precedes ... No ground based on experimental analysis can be alleged for the assertion that the mental does not affect the physical; this is a purely a priori notion. According therefore to radical experimentalism, consciousness does make a difference to what happens ... the mental determines what happens as does any other determiner ... Among the determining factors for the happenings in nature are those that we call mental. Thought, purpose, ideals, conscience, do alter what happens."(6)

(6) Ibid. p. 10. Cf. The Universe and Life, pp. 33-48.

4. What interactionism essentially contends

The interactionism. that seems to the present writer to constitute the true account of the relation between the human mind and the living human body contends, as does Jennings, that each of the two acts at times on the other. Certain brain events, caused by environmental stimuli upon the external sense organs or by internal bodily conditions, cause certain mental events-notably, sensations of the various familiar kinds. On the other hand, mental events of various kinds (and no matter how themselves caused) cause certain brain events - those, namely, which themselves in turn cause or inhibit contractions of muscles or secretions of glands. But that mind and body thus interact does not entail that each cannot, or does not at times, function by itself, i.e., without acting on the other or being acted upon by it. Certainly, many of man's bodily activities-at the least the vegetative activities-can and do at times go on in the absence of conscious mental activity or without being affected by such as may be going on at the time. On the other hand, at times during which the mind is engaged in reflection, meditation, or reminiscence, and is thus in a state of what is properly called "abstraction" (from sensory stimulations and from voluntary bodily actions,) the thoughts, desires, images, and feelings that occur are directly determined by others of themselves together with the acquired dispositions or habits of the particular mind concerned.

5. Which human body is one's own

In connection with the interactionist thesis, it is of particular interest to raise a question which at first sight seems silly, but the answer to which turns out to be decisive in favor of interactionism. That question is, How do we know which one of the many human bodies we perceive is our own?

We might answer that it is the only human body whose nose we always see if it is illuminated when we see anything else; or that we call that human body our own, the back of whose head we never can see directly, etc. But this answer would not be ultimately adequate; for if a human body, the back of whose head we do see directly, were such that when and only when it is pricked with a pin or otherwise injured, we feel pain; such that when and only when we decide to open the door, it walks to the door and opens it; such that when and only when we feel shame, it blushes; and so on, invariably; then that body would be the one properly called our own! And the body, the back of whose head we never see directly - but whose injuries cause us no pain, and over whose movements our will has no direct control - would be for us the body of someone else, notwithstanding the peculiarity that we never manage to see the back of its head directly.

Thus when, in the question: What is the relation between a mind and its body? we substitute for "its body" what we have just found to be the meaning of that expression, then the question turns out to have implicitly contained its own answer, for it then reads: What is the relation between a mind and the only body with which its relation is that of direct interaction? That is, that the mind-body relation is the particular relation which interactionism describes is analytically true.

Let us, however, now examine a consideration that has been alleged to rule out the possibility of interaction between mind and body.

6. Interaction and the conservation of energy

It has often been contended that the principle of the conservation of energy precludes causation of a mental event by a material one, or of a material event by a mental one; for such causation would mean that, on such occasions, a certain quantity of energy respectively vanishes from, or is introduced into, the material world; and this would constitute a violation of that conservation principle.

Prof. C. D. Broad, however, has pointed out that no violation of the principle would be involved if, each time energy vanished from the material world at one point, an equal quantity of it automatically came into it at another point. Also that, even if all physico-physical causation involves transfer of energy, no evidence exists that such transfer occurs also in physico-psychical or psycho-physical causation(7).

(7) The Mind and its Place in Nature, Harcourt, Brace & Co. New York, 1929, pp. 103, ff.

To this it may be added that if by "energy" is meant something experimentally measurable, and not just a theoretical construct, then the fact is not that causation is ascertainable only by observing that energy has been transferred, but on the contrary that "transfer of energy" is ultimately definable only in terms of causation as experimentally ascertainable. That is, even if it should happen to be true that energy is transferred whenever causation occurs, nevertheless transfer of energy is not what we notice and mean when we observe and assert that a certain event C caused a certain other event E. For, obviously, correct judgments of causation have been made every day for thousands of years by millions of persons who not only did not base them on measurements of energy, but the immense majority of whom did not have the least conception of what physicists mean by "energy." Everyone of the verbs of causation in the common language - to kill, to cure, to break, to bend, to irritate, to remind, to crush, to displace, etc. - acquired its meaning out of common perceptual experiences, not out of laboratory measurements of energy. The Toms, Dicks, and Harrys who have witnessed the impact of a brick on a bottle and the immediately sequent collapse of the bottle judged that the striking brick broke the bottle, i.e., caused its collapse. And they so judged because the impact of the brick was prima facie the only change that occurred in the immediate environment of the bottle immediately before the latter's collapse.

Anyway, as Prof. M. T. Keeton has pointed out, the proposition that energy is conserved in the material world is not known, either a priori or empirically, to be true without exception. The "principle" of conservation of energy, or of mass-energy, is in fact only a postulate - a condition which the material world must satisfy if it is to be a wholly closed, isolated system. And, when interaction between mind and body is asserted to be impossible on the ground that it would violate the "principle" of the conservation of energy, the very point at issue is of course whether the material world is in fact a wholly closed, isolated system.(8)

(8) Some Ambiguities in the Theory of the Conservation of Energy, Philosophy of Science, Vol. 8, No. 3, July 1941.

Thus, the ground just considered, on which the interactionist conception has been attacked, quite fails to invalidate it. Nor does the fact that, up to the time of the brain's death the shaping of the mind has been due in part to interaction between mind and brain, entail that the conscious and subconscious mind - such as it has become by the time the body dies - cannot after this continue to exist and to carry on some at least of its processes.

Interactionism leaves the possibility of this open, but does not in itself supply evidence that such survival is a fact. Lamont however, argues at length in the book cited earlier against any dualistic conception of the nature of body and mind. Examination in some detail of the considerations alleged by him to rule out dualism must therefore be the subject of our next chapter.

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Contents | Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25 | Chapter 26

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