Circumnavigating the causal pairing problem with hylomorphism and the integrated information theory of consciousness

Abstract

The causal pairing problem allegedly renders nonphysical minds causally impotent. This article demonstrates how a dualist view I call neo-Thomistic hylomorphism can circumnavigate the causal pairing problem. After explicating the problem and hylomorphism, I provide an account of causal pairing that appeals to a foundational tenet of hylomorphism. Subsequently, I suggest that a prominent view of consciousness in theoretical neuroscience—the integrated information theory—can learn from hylomorphism and likewise account for causal pairing.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Italics original.

  2. 2.

    For further discussion of the exclusion problem, supervenience, and closure, see Sect. 4.

  3. 3.

    Another problem not discussed here is the lack of psychophysical laws related to Donald Davidson’s anomalous monism (see Davidson 2001a, b; Glüer 2011, Ch. 6; Owen 2018b, Ch. 3).

  4. 4.

    Lowe (2000) argues for an emergent dualist position that’s allegedly consistent with causal closure.

  5. 5.

    See also Owen (2018b, Ch. 3).

  6. 6.

    Bailey et al. (2011, p. 350, footnote 3) likewise interpret Kim.

  7. 7.

    For responses that do not appeal to hylomorphism, see Audi (2011), Bailey et al. (2011), and Rodrigues (2014).

  8. 8.

    When citing Aquinas, I use the following acronyms to reference his works: (ST) Summa Theologiae, (SCG) Summa Contra Gentiles, and (QDA) Questions on the Soul.

  9. 9.

    Regarding ‘en-forming’ and ‘material substance’ see Sect. 2.4.

  10. 10.

    Compare to Moreland’s (2015, p. 201) description of the body as a mode and Lowe’s (2009, p. 68) description of non-Cartesian substance dualism.

  11. 11.

    For relevant commentary on this issue in other works, see Feser (2009, pp. 162–163), Pasnau (2002b, p. xvii), Madden (2013, Ch. 8), and Stump (2003, pp. 212–216). See also Aquinas (ST 1a 75.2sc) and Pasnau’s (2002a, p. 225) commentary.

  12. 12.

    Some would say it is causal because while it is not efficient causation it is formal causation. Aristotle claimed in Physics “…things are called causes in many ways…” (195a 4). Hence his four causes. However, today there’s a “…modern general conceptual commitment that only efficient causes are causes” (Marmodoro 2014, p. 221). Assuming such a commitment, an en-forming relation is not causal since it is not a relation of efficient causation.

  13. 13.

    The claim is that the en-forming relation is a grounding relation, not that all grounding is relational.

  14. 14.

    Some argue grounding is a type of causation (see, e.g. Wilson 2017). If so, my account of causal pairing below appeals to a more fundamental type of causation to pair cause and effect in cases of a less fundamental type of causation. One might call the former metaphysical causation and the latter efficient mental causation.

  15. 15.

    In Sect. 3.1 it’s claimed that a person’s body necessitates their soul en-forming it since the particular soul grounds the existence of the body it is the form of. This is a claim about the en-forming relation applied in this work to causal pairing, not all possible grounding relations. The necessity is also in the opposite direction of the debated necessity discussed in this section; the body necessitates the soul that grounds its existence as its substantial form.

  16. 16.

    Moreland (2018, p. 113) briefly suggests this type of account without developing it; however Moreland’s view of the form-matter relationship differs from mine (see Owen 2018a, section 5).

  17. 17.

    The Cartesian might alternatively claim the causal pairing relation is fundamental, needing no explanation.

  18. 18.

    This is only a statement about the en-forming relation, which is a grounding relation, that leaves open the possibility that other types of grounding relations do not include such necessity (see Sect. 2.4).

  19. 19.

    My summary is informed by Tononi et al. (2016, pp. 450–452), Tononi (2017a, pp. 243–248), and Tononi and Koch (2015, pp. 6–7).

  20. 20.

    Italics original.

  21. 21.

    While I don’t like IIT’s chances with the exclusion problem, a (non-Thomistic) version of hylomorphism which Jaworski (2016) advocates might provide help. However, I doubt his approach to mental causation ultimately maintains causal closure (cf. Jaworski 2016, pp. 280–281).

  22. 22.

    A charitable reading might take this as hyperbole used to grab the reader’s attention. Perhaps support for this interpretation is found in Koch’s (2012, p. 20) autobiographical recollection that he often slept soundly and the fact that one can only sleep if one exists. Moreover, IIT is strictly speaking a theory about consciousness, not human ontology. Thus when proponents of IIT share their opinions about human ontology, or the afterlife, such opinions are not necessarily essential to IIT. Not everything scientists say is a part of science or their scientific theories.

  23. 23.

    I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer for bringing this concern to my attention.

  24. 24.

    Aquinas thought the human soul persists after bodily death (see ST 1a 75.2c; 75.3c; 75.6c). Yet, one need not necessarily agree in order to embrace the neo-Thomistic hylomorphism outlined in Sect. 1, a view about human ontology, not the afterlife.

  25. 25.

    While it’s not necessary to deal with the pairing problem, one could potentially modify IIT and combine it with neo-Thomistic hylomorphism. Here the Mind–Body Powers model of neural correlates of consciousness (or NCC) informed by Aquinas’s human ontology and Aristotelian causation could help (Owen 2018a). The model explains NCC by appealing to mental powers of the soul co-manifested with interdependent bodily partner-powers manifested in the nervous system. IIT theorists could say consciousness is a mental power on the Mind–Body Powers model, while the causal processes in the PSC manifests the bodily partner-power. The model, together with the neo-Thomistic human ontology informing it, provides a way for IIT theorists to avoid the view mentioned above about a person going in and out of existence as they vacillate between being conscious and unconscious. The identity and continuity of the person would remain as it’s grounded in the soul, which is the bearer of the power to be conscious whether or not it’s manifested.

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Acknowledgements

I want to thank the Tiny Blue Dot Foundation for generously funding my research as the Elizabeth R. Koch Research Fellow for Tiny Blue Dot Consciousness Studies. I also want to thank my fellowship advisor, Christof Koch, as well as Anna Marmodoro, Henry Taylor, Nikk Effingham, Jussi Suikkanen, Aryn Owen, and anonymous reviewers for this journal for helpful feedback on ancestors of this article. I am also indebted to Mihretu Guta for many insightful conversations.

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Owen, M. Circumnavigating the causal pairing problem with hylomorphism and the integrated information theory of consciousness. Synthese (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-019-02403-6

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Keywords

  • Mental causation
  • Causal pairing problem
  • Hylomorphism
  • Integrated information theory