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Neurodynamics of Mind: The Arrow Illusion of Conscious Intentionality as Downward Causation

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An Erratum to this article was published on 20 April 2010

Abstract

In cognitive neuroscience, the reissue of the notion of emergence and downward causation has been used as an interlevel model of mind-brain interactions from different perspectives. Within this perspective, intentionality has been interpreted as global to local determination (downward causation) on the neurophysiological level. Consciousness would act as the large-scale, global activity of the system that governs or constrains local interactions of neurons. This argument seems to solve several difficulties with regard to descriptions of consciousness on a neurophysiological and mental level. Nevertheless, the inconsistencies of this argument are shown, and a contextual and pragmatic explanation of the downward causation of consciousness is given.

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Notes

  1. The origins of the notion of emergence date back to the Greeks (Goldstein 1999). Galen (129 A.C) refers to the emergent properties of the whole. The notion is present in La Metrie’s texts (1748, reedited in 1912), and the idea that there are new levels of existence, with their own characteristics, irreducible to the laws or regularities of their lower level, has already been developed by Comte (1798/1857). The vitalism of the 18th century used the notion of emergence to refer to an extra-physical and spiritual quality that interacted dualistically with matter and could not be reduced to it. John Stuart Mill (1843) is considered by some (Kim 1999) to be the creator of the emergentist movement. A little later, Lewes makes this statement about the chemical reactions: “although each effect is the resultant of its components, we cannot always trace the steps of the process...I propose to call the effect an emergent. It arises out of the combined agencies, but in a form which does not display the agents in action...Every resultant is either a sum or a difference of the co-operant forces...the emergent...cannot be reduced either to their sum or their difference’ (Lewes 1875, p. 368–369, cursive added). The term was refined by Morgan in 1923, and Pepper in 1926 established the relation of implication between emergence and levels of existence. Philosophers Hempel, Oppenheimer and Nagel historically criticized the notion of emergence because of its conceptual difficulties, confusions and neo-vitalistic tendencies. This influenced the disrepute of the notion of emergence until the present resurgence into the hands of new research programs.

  2. There is no univocal definition of emergence (Emmeche et al. 1997), but rather one that refers to different domains of phenomena, for example: levels of organization; self-organization ; changes in entropy; nonlinearity; deviation from predicted behavior ; as a concept of complexity ; syntactic and semantic emergence ; emergence by replication; emergence centered on the distinction of variables ; emergence as morphogenesis ; emergence as non aggregativity, among others. Dichotomic positions about whether emergence is dependent on the theoretical models with which the phenomena are observed also exist or whether it is a natural element, independent of all observation.

  3. This is a “soft” definition of supervenience. Other more radical conceptualizations exist (i.e. “strong” supervenience; Kim 2001) which do not assume differences between physical and mental properties, and which are a form of physicalism (Wilson 1975). One could say that the Democritean atomism is a case of strong supervenience, in which only the micro-world has a complete existence by itself (Kim 1998). The strong version of supervenience opposes nonreductionist emergentism (Humphreys 1997).

  4. The chemical reaction is: NaOH + HCl ➔ NaCl + H2O (Sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid produce sodium chloride and water).

  5. However, apparently its first explicit formulation can be dated back to the 20th century: “when some new kind of relatedness is supervenient..., the way in which physical events which are involved run their course is different in virtue of its presence. I shall say that this new manner in which lower events happen -this touch of novelty in evolutionary advance- depends on the new kind of relatedness which is expressed in that which Mr. Alexander speaks of as an emergent quality” (Morgan 1923, p.16. cursive in the original).

  6. The notion of efficient cause goes back to Aristotle, in the definition of its four causes [Physical II 3; Metaphysics I 3. Regarding its classification: Physics II 7, De Anima II 4, De gene An. I 1, Metaphysical XII 4]. Nevertheless, unlike the contemporary notion, it formed a unit with the formal and final causes; and often recognized the establishment of reciprocal relations between causes (Gomperz; 1909; reedited in 1999).

  7. A similar conclusion is defended by Kim (1999, p.13): “If a functional property E is instantiated on a given occasion in virtue of one of its realizers, Q, being instantiated, then the causal powers of this instance of E are identical with the causal powers of this instance of Q”.

  8. In addition, certain cognitive process are easily confused (i.e. meditation), as long as processes imply a transient mental organization, with the idea of an entity or structure (the mind).

  9. Kim affirms: “a physical property... it is a micro-based property whose constituents are physical properties and relations’” (2001, p 113). This definition states that A = set of A and its relations. Beyond the circularity of the definition, this does not just specify what something physical is exactly, but merely the fact that it is always composed of other physical properties, rendering the micro-dependency of the physical absurd: “any property that is formed as micro-based properties in terms of entities and properties in the physical domain is a physical property” (Kim 2001, p.114–115). This definition assumes then the decomposability of the physical into smaller physical entities. This metaphysics of particles is specified by Kim 1993: “there are persuasive reasons to believe that the world we live in is fundamentally a material world, a world made up of material particles and their aggregates, all of which behave in accordance with physical laws” (p.9).

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An erratum to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12124-010-9124-9

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Barutta, J., Gleichgerrcht, E., Cornejo, C. et al. Neurodynamics of Mind: The Arrow Illusion of Conscious Intentionality as Downward Causation. Integr. psych. behav. 44, 127–143 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12124-010-9117-8

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