Saturday, June 23, 2007

Tidy Physics?

Recent comments on a recent post by Peter were (inevitably) inappropriate, so I thought I'd better post something here, regarding the causal closure of the physical world. That closure seems to be widely presumed (e.g. by Searle, and Chalmers, and those I've read less recently), presumably because of (what is said to be) overwhelming evidence (although some physicists disagree), but I'm wondering why? I doubt that it is simply a matter of a lot of evidence: cf. how not so long ago there was apparently overwhelming evidence that space was Euclidean (e.g. the huge explanatory success of the extremely neat Newtonian physics of the day), so much so that Kant (and Poincare etc.) could reasonably say that it was a matter of logic, not empirical evidence (rather paradoxically); and of course, modern physics (and the associated philosophy) is hardly so tidy.
......What there was (we now know) was a lot of evidence that space was approximately Euclidean (as we already knew) and about where to look for the non-Euclidean stuff (for Einstein). Similarly a (substantial) dualist about mind and body (such as myself) might expect non-closure to show up only in the details of the mind-brain interaction (e.g. via an explanatory gap remaining even with a completely detailed theory of the brain, or via observations of exceptional neurones directly and therefore unlikely, or via theoretically related phenomena beyond the brain, and so forth). The "overwhelming evidence" cited in defence of closure seems to lie far from where that is likely to be.

2 comments:

Tanasije Gjorgoski said...

Hi Enigman,

I agree that causal closure of physical is problematic, and I do believe that it is in fact wrong assumption.
I don't buy into interactionism though, i.e. that there are separate self-subsistent physical and mental realms. In my thinking physical is merely an aspect of the world, the nature of that aspect being determined by the nature of our scientific approach to the world (among which the main role I think is that of the measurement).

Enigman said...

Sorry for the delay in replying, I've overlooked the fact that this post had been commented upon. I too doubt that there are such self-subsistent realms. I suppose that such are possible, but their interaction would seem really peculiar. But rather than throw away the (eventually convenient) possibility of a deep distinction between mind and matter too easily, I'm therefore thinking more about the idea of a Creator. But I want to be no less sympathetic to your position, if only because it will be genuine problems with one of our approaches that makes the other plausible. (Incidentally I'm replying now because today there was a new Stanford Encyclopedia entry, on The Unity of Science :)