Sunday, October 10, 2010

Friedrich Paulsen on "Vague Dualism" and States of Consciousness

It is surprising how much old ground we keep covering in our comments here, as the basic arguments that have been presented were already nicely summarized over a century ago by philosopher Friedrich Paulsen, a philosopher I never heard of until coming across his name in a Google search of the phrase "naive realism." Paulsen (1846-1908) was a pupil of Fechner's and chair of philosophy at Berlin. In his textbook, Introduction to Philosophy (1895) reviewing arguments from materialism, he writes:

[T]hus scientific meteorology explains the thunder-storm by inserting this phenomenon into a larger group of homogeneous phenomena. In other words, it recognizes lightning as an electric spark, and then searches after the conditions of its origin, i.e., the processes which precede and accompany electrical expansion and discharge in the atmosphere.

Science has the same task to perform in relation to states of consciousness. It has to seek their uniform antecedent and concomitant phenomena in order thus to determine the lawful relation of these phenomena. The antecedent and concomitant phenomena, are, as experience shows, physiological processes in the brain and nervous system. Accordingly, it is the business of science to substitute for the pseudo-science " psychology " and its prescientific principles, " soul" and " psychic forces," the natural-scientific explanation. Scientific psychology is physiology.

This gives us the formal principle. As regards the matter itself we may go further and say: The so-called states of consciousness, proclaimed as peculiar and unparalleled states, are in reality nothing of the kind. Science can see in them only peculiarly modified movements; psychical states as such, regarded objectively, are nothing but physiological processes. (p. 62)

That constitutes a fairly concise and compact statement of what today we call the psychoneural identity theory, as well as that of the scientific program that follows from it (promissory materialism). Elsewhere Paulsen takes a swipe at dualism:

If we wish to refer the ontological view of popular thought to a class, we shall have to call it Vague Dualism. Bodies constitute the real reality, but alongside of them there exists a reality of the second order, bodily beings without real corporeality, that are both active in the bodies as efficient forces, and also exist for themselves as departed spirits.

The philosophical conception of reality is, as was mentioned before, characterized by the tendency to Monism. It is the fundamental impulse of philosophic thought to derive reality from one principle, to reduce the different forms of being to one original form. Two kinds of ontological monism result, according as we proceed from the facts of the external, visible world, or from those of the inner world; namely, Materialism, and Spiritualism. The former asserts : Bodies and movements constitute thn original form of reality: these also explain the facts of perception, thinking, and willing. Spiritualism or Idealism, on the other hand asserts: The facts of inner life as presented in self-consciousness are the first and only reality; thoughts cannot be conceived as products of matter, while matter may be conceived as the product of thought; the corporeal world is phenomenal. (p. 54f)

As his is a textbook in philosophy, it should remind us that what we have been discussing are primarily philosophical problems, not scientific ones. Since the publication of this book countless similar texts have covered the same material ad nauseam. What purpose is served by repeating the same positions over and over again? If we have something new to argue, that successfully refutes a philosophical position, we should make it clear what new element it is that we are contributing--and make certain that it is a new element, and not just a new version of an existing position that can be generally accepted (or not) or is prone to a general criticism (JMHO). I therefore recommend that each of us read the relevant several pages in Paulsen's book keeping that in mind:

Now what is most interesting is that Paulsen was evidently an adherent of panpsychism!


  1. What a fascinating book by Paulsen—a delight to read! He writes very well indeed, unlike most German philosophers. However, I do not agree that all this blog has done is repeat his XIXth Century material ad nauseum. Much of his book is about psycho-neural parallelism and pan-psychism (both of which he supported and neither of which has been mentioned in this blog). Interestingly his pan-psychicism extended to allowing plants a mental life. I wonder if Prince Charles (who has had to put up with a lot of chaff about his habit of talking to his plants) has read him? If not, he should. Paulsen makes a good case.
    Paulsen at one point has a few words to say about dualism, but that is only about the Cartesian variety. Furthermore, I do not agree that the matters discussed in this blog are wholly of a philosophical nature. I would say that we have discussed a suitable admixture of (new) science and philosophy. I do not think the subject of the geometry of visual space is a problem only about the meaning of the words ' geometry'. 'visual' and 'space' (although this aspect is certainly important). We are trying rather to discover facts about the world—and that is science.

  2. I was not referring to Paulsen's whole book, John, only the chapter on materialist arguments pertaining to the mind-brain problem.

    Clearly by reference to "bodily beings without real corporeality, that are both active in the bodies as efficient forces, and also exist for themselves as departed spirits," Paulsen is not referring to Cartesian dualism, but spiritualism as a form of susbstance dualism.

    Most of the science being adduced here has been intepreted in terms philosophical positions reviewed by Paulsen, as to the nature of (physical) causality, consciousness, mind, their relationship to the brain or the material (physical) world, and various alternatives to physical monism. I have tried in a less than rigorous way to challenge some of the fundamental premises or assumptions of those traditional positions. For example, it may be that what physicists regard as "the" physical world, with all its forces, is not purely physical at all, and that some of those forces are actually mental in nature, even though described as if part of a single unified physical system. I make this point once again with reference to the derivation of all our scientific observations: They ultimately come through our senses, and are perhaps colored by them as a result (no pun intended), and in ways which physicists have not even considered.

    In this regard Lothar Kleine-Horst has made a very interesting point in his online book "Empiristic Theory of Visual Gestalt Perception" that visual data do not dichotomize very well into veridical or illusionary, and because of that, are at odds with the "reality" espoused by physical science.
    His is a very interesting analysis/synthesis, and includes in his theory the fact that even ESP seems to involve the same "machinery" as ordinary vision.

  3. Yes, the connections between Cartesian Dualism and spiritualism are interesting. The ghosts of the latter are immaterial but extended entities whereas the Cartesian 'mind' is immaterial and unextended. However spiritualists also invoke (fake) material i.e. ectoplasm. Then there are theological entities like angels (immaterial and extended) and the Holy Ghost (immaterial and unextended?).
    I thought that Paulsen was particularly sound on the unconscious and on ethics and religion.
    I will look up Kleine-Horst on ESP.

  4. One thing that could be challenged is whether all forms of dualism share a common origin. If one gets the gist of Schroedinger's "Mystery of the Sensual Qualities," substance dualism is probably epistemological in origin, not ontological. It is the result of a division in the perceptual world made by science, disregarding an entire class of sensations that are not deemed useful for scientific purposes.

  5. I am not clear what these "entire class of sensations" are. Please enlarge!

  6. What I am referring to are all "qualities" such as colors, sounds, touch, taste, and smell. Science extracts from the exteroceptive sense sensations only quantitative information, such as size, shape, dimension, etc.--anything that can be measured. But the difference between a sight and sound cannot be measured, only experienced.