Thursday, August 29, 2013

Images and Correspondences of God in Quantum Physics

Let us find what connections we can see between God and Quantum Nature. If we find some relation or correspondence between them, that should help us to understand both a little better.

We know there must be some connection, since the God is Life Itself, and hence the source of all the power and activity that we have. All spiritual, mental and physical things must depend on God for their sustained existence and capacities for action. That dependence is what theism asserts.

Let us now focus on the beginning and the end of the chain of being: God as the source and the physical world as the final effect. Let us omit the middle stages for now.

God, we should know from our religious background, is all of
  1. a God of Love, 
  2. a God of Wisdom, and 
  3. a God of outreaching activity.  
The love of a being is its substance, so Love is the substance of God. There should be no surprise there.

Wisdom is concerns all true thoughts. Now thoughts are about the forms of things. To think of something is to consider by abstraction its structure and properties, and not to interact with it directly. God's wisdom is the source of all true thoughts, so we can think of divine wisdom as the complete set of true forms. But forms of what? Forms of some substance, of course. So, with God, wisdom is the form of divine love. 

Outreaching activity is the proceeding divine that created, sustains and enlivens the world. It is therefore somethings specific for each part of the world, and it enables us to make our own actions.

Quantum reality, we should know from our physics education or from our reading, concerns collections of things that have the following features:
  1. some energy, comprised of kinetic and potential energy,
  2. a wave function that spreads out with some form, following Shroedinger's equation, and 
  3. some specific outcomes that result from measurements produced with some probability.
The energy of a quantum particle is represented mathematically by an operator called the Hamiltonian operator H(t) for that particle. The Hamiltonian usually has two terms: the kinetic energy term and the potential energy term. We assume (for simplicity now) that these are given.

The Shroedinger equation, namely
describes how the wave function  varies with time and space. Wave functions are mathematical objects, and are therefore forms. Forms of something, necessarily (since the physical world cannot be made just out of abstract forms), but forms of what?

The outcomes that result from measurements depend on probabilities calculated by the square-modulus of the wave function ||2.    Wave functions therefore describe (by means of their square modulus) the propensities for specific outcomes.  The substance of whatever the wavefunctions describe is therefore that propensity. (Here the introduction to this kind of inference.) 

The measurements in quantum mechanics are not yet properly described in quantum mechanics.  That is why there are so many interpretations of quantum physics. Their common thread (in all except the many-worlds interpretation) is that measurement is some kind of selection between distinct outcomes. Measurement, then is the final act of the quantum world in the transition from a partially-determined future to a fully-determined past. I wrote a whole book about this process. 

Comparing God and Quantum Reality, we see some similarities:
  1. Love is like the energy of a particle.
  2. Wisdom is like the form of the propensity of the particle.
  3. Measurements are the outreaching activity that are the final effects.
I am certainly not saying these are identities. Love is not energy, but like energy. Wisdom is not a spatiotemporal form, but like a form. The divine outreaching acts are not measurements, but are like measurements. All these 'likes' are because the divine elements and the physical elements function in similar ways. These functional similarities are called correspondences by Swedenborg, who has described them in more detail than I have found elsewhere. According to him, they arise because all things of creation, not just humans, are kinds of images of God.

You may have considered the deep conflict in quantum mechanics to be between 'waves' and 'particles'. Lee Woofenden recently, then, tried to find the divine correspondences of waves and particles. 

However, 'particles' never appeared in by description above.  Let me quote from my book:
One feature of the present account of substance is that [quantum] objects need not be located in small fixed volumes of space as, for example, the corpuscles or particles of classical physics would be. The propensity fields that have been defined do not need to have any special ‘center’ distinguishable from all the other places in the field. They may have no center at all that could be regarded as the ‘true substance’ whereby the surrounding field could be regarded as just the ‘sphere of influence’ of the central substance.
It is commonly believed by many physicists, that high energy scattering experiments allow us to conclude that fundamental particles like electrons, quarks, etc. are point particles, like real objects of zero size. However, this inference is incorrect. What the experiments show is that there is no lower limit to the size that the wave packet of an electron (for example) may be compressed. They never show that there is actually a point particle, as this would contradict the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle by requiring infinite energy to be used in producing it. Some other objects (e.g. atoms or nuclei) do have a lower limit of compression, and this is interpreted as arising from a composite internal structure. No matter how small we then compress the wave packet for an atom’s centre of mass motion, the atom as a whole cannot be made arbitrarily small. At all times, both fundamental particles and composite objects have some varying finite size that depends on time and circumstances and may be legitimately said to occupy the volume of this size in space. Whether they also fill that volume depends on the probabilities of interaction with instruments, which may be small or large and so are a matter of degree in a similar manner to the way that air ‘fills’ a room according to its pressure. 
A substance-field of propensities may have a variable spatial size. Sometimes it behaves more like a spread-out wave, and when at other times it interacts, it behaves like a localized particle. (Starting Science From God, pp. 47-48)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Science and Theism discussion group starting September in Livermore, CA

Starting from Sept 8 at the First Presbyterian Church in central Livermore, CA, I will be leading a 'reading and discussion group' on Sunday evenings. This will focus on the ideas in my recent book Starting Science From God.

For more details, and to register, go to the FPCL registration page.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

How to Start Theistic Science?

Let’s think now about how we would go about forming a scientific theory that had theism and God in it. How would you do that? Material science starts from the assumption that there isn’t a God, so what can we do? The obvious thing is to start from the assumption or postulate that there is a God! If some people are allowed to start by assuming that there is no God, then we can build another building next door which is based on the assumption that there is a God. We can follow that that as an alternative, in a contrast to the naturalistic way.

And then we have to spell out the basic ideas of theism. We have to spell it out without ambiguity, and in a non-metaphorical way. We have to form ideas that can be understood as literally true. When people look at Genesis, they say in Genesis, the first chapter is true, but not literally true. Ok. But what is Genesis 1 referring to? That is the question! And if are to understand what is going on, then we should have an idea about what Genesis 1 is actually referring to. And [another] consequence of this is that no paradoxes are allowed. Some philosophers are very keen on paradoxes, and here is an example of a visual paradox.

A box which is paradoxical in three dimensions.

We cannot have that in three dimensions! By paradox I mean two things which contradict each other. For example, some philosophies and some religions say that ‘we are God’ but ‘we are distinct from God’ at the same time. That is what I mean by a paradox: when two things are held which appear to contradict each other, or do contradict each other, if they are held at the same time. That means that we want to avoid all paradoxes, because it is well known (from the logical point of view) that if you have two things which contradict each other at the same time, then you can prove anything. This is a general feature of an inconsistent system. It is useless. So we want to keep rational consistency. So, therefore, we emphasize a lot the rational consistency of the ideas that we are trying to present.

Avoiding Reductionism

Furthermore, [we have] a general question. Actually it is a matter of taste, but this is the way that I have decided to proceed. Instead of saying that ‘minds are nothing but brains’, or that ‘souls are nothing but minds’, or that ‘God is nothing but an idea in our mind’, or the cosmos, or everything that there is, I want to avoid these reductionist or ‘nothing but’ explanations. We need to have a proper account of how there could be, for example, minds, and how they are related to brains, how they are connected, but not equal to each other. They are distinct. They are causally connected: one can affect the other, and the other can affect the one. [This must be possible] without demolishing [one or the other. For if we] do not actually have minds, we don't think, we don't have ideas, we don't have feelings. It is a serious problem to deny that there are minds!

Lastly, to make theistic science, we want to make predictions, and compare with experiments. We say that if these predictions are confirmed, then this is evidence in support of theistic science. That is the general principle of doing science. We will see, as are doing this, whether you agree that the starting point is confirmed. We will discuss later how you can ‘prove’ things.

Objections to Theistic Science

Now if I present these ideas to a scientific group, there are some standard responses they make. There are some scientific objections to theism. The first one is that, if God were allowed as an explanation in science, then ‘anything goes’. They say that, no matter what happens, one can say ‘God did it’.
The explanation of ‘God did it’ could be used for any event whatsoever. God, they think of as some person with a free will outside reality, who is not bound by any of the natural laws. They think that this is so overwhelmingly different that it would interfere with everything that they do. If that were to happen then you could not form any rules or patterns, or regular or irregular activities. Comprehensible or incomprehensible things could equally well be explained by God. If God was making miracles happen all the time, then this wouldn’t make sense: you couldn't do science like this.

We want start by replying to this objection, that God is not some arbitrary and capricious old man who can do what he likes. It is clear that when you get a better understanding of religion, there is a certain constancy and reliability about God which not everyone agrees with, but you get a better understanding in my opinion. In fact, as the religions and the churches get a better understanding of God, he does not look like this: 

That means that, if we want to allow for a scientific theism, we want to say that the previous reasons for opposing theism in science arise from misunderstandings about the nature of God. That is why we have to make it clear what the foundation of our theism is, and explain it in a simple rational way: without contradiction and without paradox. [This is] to avoid these particular misunderstandings. I believe that, with the help of Swedenborg, we will see later that there are some basic ideas which can be used in this way.

See for example and my rebuttal of Robert Pennock.

We know that there are considerable regularities in the world, and we should be able to explain the source and nature and reasons for these regularities. As an example of this, we can say that the source of regularities might be the constancy and eternality of the love and wisdom of God. So that is a beginning of an explanation within theistic science of why there are regularities. But we then have to explain lots more about how the love and wisdom of God operate, and what are the regularities that result.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Theism has Empirical Effects

I say that theism has empirical effects. It makes predictions about what happens in the world, and these happenings can be observed. The opposing view to that is what is called the Non-overlapping Magisteria view, or NOMA. Stephen J Gould, the evolutionary scientist, produced this name. And this quite common. Another way of putting it is that ‘Science tells us how things happen, and Faith or Religion tells us why’. It is a common way that many people use to divide science from religion, and it has some advantages. It protects science from religion, so if you want a theism or a religion or an idea about God that does not feel threatened by science, then one way of removing that threat is to say that they are not connected with each other. 

But this view, this Non-overlapping Magisteria view, has some serious defects. Because, for example, if we are to know God, then God must be able to influence us, now. And if God is to be involved with the world, as most religions say that God is involved with the world, then it must make a difference. And you can argue that God cannot make a difference, if the world has evolved completely has it has without any [causal connection with God]. Why do you need God [in that case], if you have a complete explanation without God. And so, if we are to have some understanding  or knowledge or even perception of God, then there must be some influence. And furthermore, religion and theism do talk about what is, and not just why things are. For instance, they talk about human nature. We discuss whether we have souls or minds. These things are disputed by science, so that if theism makes predictions about this, then we might be able to understand these things better. We might get a better understanding of psychology, or spiritual psychology, for example. And then, in religious history, revelations have occurred. People have said that God spoke to them, and they told us what [was] said. A dramatic example of that is the incarnation. Someone appears and claims that they are God, or that they and God are one. This is obviously a serious influence of God on the world if that was true.

What I am saying is that there are overlaps between theism and the natural world. And if we are to understand these overlaps properly, we have to think carefully about what religion is on one side, and what science is on the other. And we have to think of them in such a way that they can be combined, without collapsing into one. Because there are some differences as well as connections.

Extracted from Starting Science from God. Part I: Connecting Science and Theism

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Derivative Dispositions and Multiple Generative Levels

The analysis of dispositions is used to consider cases where the effect of one disposition operating is the existence of another disposition. This may arise from rearrangements within aggregated structures of dispositional parts, or, it is argued, also as stages of derivative dispositions within a set of multiple generative levels. Inspection of examples in both classical and quantum physics suggests a general principle of `Conditional Forward Causation': that dispositions act 'forwards' in a way conditional on certain circumstances or occasions already existing at the `later' levels.

This is a previous article of mine, published in the book: M. Suárez (ed.), Probabilities, Causes, and Propensities in Physics, Synthese Library, Springer, 2011. [pdf]

1. Introduction

Recently, the much philosophical work has emphasized the importance of dispositions for realistic analyses of causal processes in both physics and psychology. This is partly because of the attractiveness of the thesis of dispositional essentialism, which holds that all existing things have irreducible causal powers, and such views are advocated by [many philosophers]. The thesis opposes the views of Ryle [1949] who sees dispositions as merely `inference tickets' or `promises', and Armstrong [1969] who sees them as derived from universal laws combined with nondispositional properties. Mumford [2005] articulates a common aspect of dispositional essentialism, to imagine how the concept of universal laws could be rather replaced by talk of specific objects and their dispositions.

It may well be that concepts of more sophisticated kinds of dispositions allow us to make headway in understanding the above complications within the framework of dispositional essentialism. I therefore continue the analysis of kinds of dispositions, to consider the possibility of derivative dispositions, and later consider whether these together may form a structure of multiple generative levels. This paper therefore consists of proposals for what those concepts might mean, and of analyses of examples in physics and psychology that appear to need such concepts for their understanding. We need to distinguish the cases whereby new dispositions come about from rearrangement of parts, from possible cases where they are `derived' or `generated' in some more original way.

2 Beyond simple dispositions

2.1 Changing dispositions

Most examples of dispositions in philosophical discussions are those, like fragility, solubility, radioactive instability, whose effects (if manifested) are events. If a glass exercises its fragility, it breaks. If salt shows its solubility, it dissolves, and the manifestation of radioactive instability would be a decay event detected say with a geiger counter. However, physicists want to know not merely that these eventsoccur, but also how the dispositions themselves may change after the manifestation event. In the cases here, the fragility of the parts or the stability of the nuclei may change as results of the manifestation events, and it is still part of physics to describe the new (changed) dispositions as accurately as possible. Such descriptions are part of dynamical accounts, as distinct from descriptive accounts events.

Sometimes, new dispositions may be ascribable after an event which could not be done so before an event. The fragments of a broken glass may be able to refract light in a way that the intact glass could not, for example. The dissolved salt may be to pass through a membrane, in contrast to the dispositions of the initial salt crystals. The fragments of nuclear decay may possibly decay by emitting electrons in a way the parent nucleus could not.

In general, it appears often that new dispositions may be truthfully ascribed as the result of the operation of a prior disposition. If the ascription of dispositions is attributed to the existence properties of some object, then it appears that, in the above examples, new dispositions come into existence as the manifestation of previous dispositions. Since now one disposition leads to another, some philosophical analysis is called for.

2.2 Rearrangement dispositions

The existence of some of these new dispositions may perhaps be successfully explained as the rearrangement of the internal structures of the objects under discussion, which are then presumably composite objects. The refraction by pieces of broken glass, in contrast to the original smooth glass, has obvious explanations in terms of the shapes of the new fragments. Salt's diffusion through a membrane, once dissolved, is presumably because of the greater mobility of salt ions in solution compared with the crystal form.
Science is largely successful in explaining such dynamical evolutions of empirical dispositions of natural objects. It bases the explanations in terms of changes in their structural shapes and arrangements of their parts, along with the fixed underlying dispositions or propensities of these parts. It is from the dispositions of these parts that, according the structure, all their observed dispositions and causal properties may be explained.

The existence of new dispositions by rearrangement of the parts of an object, I take to be non-controversial within existing philosophical frameworks. It appears that typical philosophical analyses need only slight modifications to take into account the way the derivative dispositions of an aggregate are explained in terms of recombinations of the dispositions of its parts.

2.3 Derivative dispositions

However, it also appears that not all dynamical changes of dispositions occur by rearrangements of parts, and these are what in this paper I want to call derivative dispositions. There are some cases, to be listed below, where new dispositions come into existence, without there being any visible parts whose rearrangement could explain the changes. The next section gives some examples of what appear to be such derivative dispositions, and this is followed by a more general analysis of how these might work.
If there turns out to be a sequence of derivative dispositions, then the combined structure may be said to be that of `multiple generative levels'. We will see some examples below.

3 Examples of derivative dispositions

3.1 Energy and Force

If we look at physics, and at what physics regards as part of its central understanding, one extremely important idea is energy. Physics talks about kinetic energy as energy to do with motion, and potential energy as to do with what would happen if the circumstances were right. More specifically, if we look at definitions of force and energy which are commonly used to introduce these concepts, we find definitions like
  • force: the tendency F to accelerate a mass m with acceleration F/m.
  • energy: the capacity E to do work, which is the action of a force F over a distance d,
  • potential energy field: the field potential V(x) to exert a force F = -dV/dx if a test particle is present.
As Cartwright [1989] points out, force is not identical to the product ma, because it is only the net forceat a point which is important. An individual force is only by itself a tendency which may or may not be manifested. It is a disposition, as is energy generically, as well as potential energy. Furthermore, we may see a pattern here:
  • potential energy field: the disposition to generate a force, and
  • force: the disposition to accelerate a mass, and
  • acceleration: the final result.
I take this to be an example of two successive derivative dispositions, where the effect of one disposition operating is the generation of another. An electrostatic field potential is a disposition, for example, the manifestation of which is not itself motion, but which is the presence now of a derivative disposition, namely a force. The manifestation of a force may or may not occur as motion, as it depends on what other forces are also operating on the mass. The production of a force by a field potential does not appear to be something that occurs by means of the rearrangements of microscopic parts, but appears to be more fundamental, and almost sui generis. It is clearly in need of philosophical inspection, as it appears that field potentialsforce and action form a set of multiple generative levels.

Admittedly, many physicists and philosophers often manifest here a tendency to say that only potential energy is `real', or conversely perhaps that `only forces are real', or even that `only motion is real', and that in each case the other physical quantities are only `calculational devices' for predicting whichever is declared to be real. Please for a while apply a contrary tendency to resist this conclusion, at least to the end of the paper. In §5 I will be explicitly evaluating such `reductionist strategies, along with the comparative roles of mathematical laws and dispositional properties within a possible dispositional essentialism.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Levels of Causation

Two recent presentations have started to describe levels of causation in nature. These are what I called multiple generative levels, as discussed in various articles I have previously listed.

The first is a video made by Brian David

This is based on a script we wrote together, entitled "Theistic Science: An open-minded look at the cause of reality":

The second is a blog post by George Gantz

He wrote "Causation – another highly disputed concept in physics".  After discussion of previously-suggested possible ways to describe top-down causation, he finds them unsatisfactory, and in the last three paragraphs describes the ideas I am advocating.
Causation in this sense is similar to top-down causation, but puts the disposition (a higher level structure) as the primary cause and the circumstances and form of the underlying system as secondary. In the language of dispositional essentialism, there is a generative process of causation flowing from dispositions and a selective process resulting from the underlying circumstances of the object or system. In many cases, the result of the top-level disposition is to create or change dispositions at the next level, in a cascade of causation operating across multiple levels.
Thompson provides a series of examples of causation flowing though multiple generative levels in physics and psychology and reviews the work of a number of other experts in these fields. “Summarizing the quantum mechanical case, we see that here again, the principle causes act forwards down a set of multiple generative levels whose range of actions at any time is selected from all those presently possible, as constrained by past events.” P.67 When applied to psychology, the model places the role of intention (disposition) as central to the process of causation. Thompson also applies the model to the question of the highest generative level – the dispositions of God.
While this new model of causation working top-down in generative levels may seem more complex that the reductionist model we started with, it does a far better job at explaining the way the world works. It resolves all the criticisms of reductionism.
(The page number refers my book "Starting Science From God" indicated on the right)

Both these presentations give suggestions for how God can be related to the universe in the way theism expects to happen. This is, in a rational manner we may yet understand, that God both sustains and enlivens all physical, mental and spiritual processes continually.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Final Causes in Theism

Jon Garvey today advocates Broadening the vision of theistic evolution:
So I suggest that not only the human race, but science itself, would be better served by taking final causation into account. 
This is almost what I am suggesting in theistic science here. We have to work out more clearly, however, what exactly we mean by final causes. Jon reminds us of the classical view that comes from Aristotle via Aquinas:
Final cause has, for the Thomistically-challenged, to do with God’s purpose for each of his creatures, and in classical theology this extended to the simplest of inanimate things. God made water to wet things, the sun to light the earth and so on, as well as imposing the form of, say, a fish, on matter in order to help populate the sea.
The problem is that this view of final causation and God's purpose can just as easily be part of deism as well as theism. Remember that in deism, God created the world for it to run by itself. God may sustain the world's existence as a whole, but is not involved in the details. In theism, by contrast, God not only creates the world, but sustains it in existence by even now enlivening each individual thing in the world (inanimate, animate, and/or human). Deism is 'hands off' or 'remote hands', whereas theism has God providing (directly or via others) the very life and loves of every creature, all the time.

In theism, final causes are not so much the plans that God may have originally had for the use of object and creatures, but are the present consequences of the loves and enlivening powers and dispositions that sustain those beings. Past and future things cannot be causes, even final causes:
  1. Past ideas cannot be themselves causes. 
  2. Only powers that are present can be causes.
  3. Future events can never be causes.
That is, only if God is presently enlivening and causing water to wet things, can 'wetting things' be the final cause of water. Only if the sun is now being sustained by God's love to produce light, can we say that 'producing light' is the final causes of the sun. Only if fish are even now being actively sustained from the love of God, can we take the final causes of fish to be that of populating the ocean.  

God may have done things in the past that contribute to God's plan for water, the sun, or fish. But, in theism at least, those cannot be the final causes of present fish unless that plan is informing the present love that generates and sustains the fish.

What is past is now dead. Its only function is to constrain the next stages of the development of the world.  What is future does not yet exist.  Future events in a plan, even in God's plan, can never themselves be present causes: only the love (or some disposition) that has that plan in mind.

Then, we can agree with Jon Garvey, when he continues:
Who is going to do that if not theistic scientists, and theistic scientists who actually believe in final causation and let it influence their approach to their work? And what groups today are committed to such an approach? I fear it is not the likes of BioLogos, by reason of their naturalistic approach to both science and theology, nor ID or YEC folk, because of their specific sociological agendas.
But somewhere, there may exist successors to the nineteenth century characters I named in my essay – who would no doubt appear to most people, by their philosophical and theological approach, to be throwbacks to the mediaeval age. They’d be more concerned to understand nature in its relationship to God’s will than to manipulate it to our own. They’d even follow the “unscientific” quest to determine some of that will in individual cases. But by that token, they might even be of more long-term practical use to the world than science has actually been thus far.
Let's do it.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Richard Swinburne's new book "Mind, Morality and Free Will"

A review by Graham Veale from

Mind, Morality and Free Will

Richard Swinburne
Oxford University Press, 2013
  1. Mental and Physical Properties
  2. Causal Closure and Science
  3. The Soul and the Self
  4. Mind, Morality and Meaning
Theologians and scientists seem blissfully unaware that that the soul is alive and well in contemporary philosophy. JP Moreland, Dean Zimmerman, William Hasker, Charles Taliaferro, Stuart Goetz, Robin Collins and Alvin Plantinga have all produced novel and rigorous arguments in defence of dualism – that you are an immaterial self and not identical to your body. This must be gratifying for Richard Swinburne, who swam against the tide of philosophical fashion in 1986 withThe Evolution of the Soul. Mind, Brain and Free Will updates his arguments for dualism. The book is refreshingly clear, rigorously argued and a joy to read.
 Swinburne argues that physical events and conscious events – beliefs, desires, thoughts, purposes and sensations – are not identical. To put that another way, the terms we use to pick out physical events, and the terms we use to pick out mental events, never refer to the same thing. We need to think a little about words and concepts here – after all, we cannot say much about the world without them! Anyone who knows what terms like “red” or “pain” mean knows how to use them. They know exactly what it is to have a sensation of red or a pain. They know when and how to apply the terms, and can make simple inferences using them . (For example we can infer “it is a sensation” and “it is unpleasant” from “it is a pain.”)
 To describe the world as accurately as possible we terms like “red” and “pain” because they get beyond superficial appearances. Swinburne calls these “informative (rigid) designators”. A rigid designator always designates the same object in every conceivable circumstance (for example, “David Cameron” refers to the person who is currently Prime Minister, and would have done so if he was not Prime Minister. “Prime Minister” does not rigidly designate the same person, because different people occupy that post at different times.) If a competent language user knows what is involved in the application of a rigid designator – if they know the set of necessary and sufficient conditions for a thing to be that thing – then that designator is an “informative rigid designator.”
Some terms, however, do not get at the essence of what they designate; we don’t fully understand what is involved in their application. Early explorers could see a mountain from Tibet which they identified by its shape and called “Everest”. At the same time, other explorers in Nepal could see a mountain with a different shape which they called “Gaurisanker”. However, it soon became apparent that the two mountains were identical – it was the same mountain viewed from different perspectives. “Gaurisanker” and “Everest” actually referred to the same rocky matter. Of course, this did not surprise early geographers – after all, they were only referring to superficial appearances, and not what underlay those appearances.
 Two properties, or events or substances, will be identical if their informative rigid designators are logically equivalent (if each entails the other). So, for example, if a shape is trilateral it is also triangular. Being a rectilinear closed figure with three sides entails having three, and only three, angles. Obviously, there are certain things that simply could not be identical. For example, explorers could never discover that the Nile and Everest referred to the same geographical objects.  It is also clear that mental properties and physical properties are not identical. “Reflecting light at such and such a wavelength” does not entail “red” or “blue” – that is, it does not logically entail how that reflected light will appear to observers.

Mental and Physical Properties 
Suppose I put my hand too close to a flame and receive a burn. I feel pain, referring to a particular unpleasant sensation. Such a feeling is uniform and simple, and it impresses itself directly on my consciousness. Observers could infer that I was in pain from my behaviour. However, I don’t need to infer that I am in pain by observing my behaviour or brain states; I feel it directly. As Swinburne puts it, I have privileged access to mental events like pain. It is this mental property that I refer to when I say I feel “pain”. I am picking out an experience, describing the property as it appears “on the surface.” I am not picking out a physical event which causes that experience.  
 The criteria for being a “pain” and for being its underlying brain state are different. We know what the term “pain” refers to without any knowledge of the underlying brain state. “Pain” refers to a specific, simple sensation. The physical events associated with pain are anything but simple. If I describe the complex sequence of neurological events that accompanies that pain, and the specific function that the pain plays in moving my body away from harm, and even the set of physical events that the pain “represents”, I leave something important out: that simple, specific sensation that makes pain what it is.
 We can informatively designate the feelings of pain and heat without knowing anything about physics or biology. We can also informatively designate behaviour and brain states without knowing anything about the accompanying sensations (we do not know “what it is like” for rodents to feel fear or for sea snails to feel pain). It follows that mental states and physical states are not identical. It also seems that mental states do not necessitate particular physical states. There seems to be no reason to believe that a being with a different neuro-physiology or neuro-anatomy – like an artificially intelligent robot, or a silicon-based life form – could not feel sensations like pain.
Some properties of physical objects are entailed by their underlying physical structure. In these cases we can see how the properties of the whole follow from the properties of the parts. So if we had sufficient knowledge of its chemical structure and the underlying physics, we could predict that frozen water would float on liquid water. But nothing about a brain’s underlying physical properties seems to entail a particular conscious experience. In fact, the underlying physical structure of our bodies does not entail that we should feel anything at all. There is absolutely nothing about the interaction of physical parts that would allow us to predict the emergence or character of a conscious experience.
Very roughly, mental properties would supervene of physical properties if for any mental property like joy, if a person has joy, there is a physical property (like a brain state), such that the person with joy has that physical property, and whoever else has that physical property has joy. But it is surely conceivable that a person might lack the experience of joy even though they have the same brain state as others who experience joy; it is even conceivable non-physical beings exist and experience joy! We can’t rule such things out a priori; they are not logically impossible! So, if a mental property does not logically entail a particular physical property, and if there is nothing about a physical property that entails a particular mental property, mental states do not supervene on physical states.
 The point is that Mind simply cannot be located in the natural world. Some have argued that consciousness emerges from our brains, like photosynthesis emerges from the plant’s interaction with its environment or digestion emerges from the intestines and stomach. The problem is that these are physically complex events: and once you understand various biological structures in the human body you understand digestion. But conscious experience cannot be broken down into compositional, spatial parts. And, as we have said, nothing about the anatomy of the brain would allow us to predict the emergence of conscious states. So the mind is not identical with a physical process.
 Nor can physicalists retreat to “functionalism” to account for consciousness. “Functionalists” identify pure mental properties with events that have functions in a person’s life or behavior and which tend to have certain kinds of causes and effects. Swinburne gives a (highly simplified) illustration of a functionalist analysis of pain. To a functionalist, “the property of having a pain is the property which events have if they tend to be caused by bodily damage …and tend to cause crying-out or wincing and a desire for bodily damage to cease. And the property to have a desire to do A is the property which events tend to have if they are caused in certain standard ways and tend to produce and intention to do A.”
 Swinburne notes what the functionalist account leaves out – what pain actually feels like. We can only discover the events that tend to cause pain, or that tend to be caused by pain, if we have some prior understanding of what pain is! We must have privileged access to a pure mental event before we can discover and understand the more complex circumstances in which it occurs. Only then can we can give a definition of the causes of mental events like pain.

 Causal Closure and Science
Swinburne also argues that mental events cause physical events. That is, our beliefs, purposes and sensations can act on the brain to cause us to take action. It would be odd if conscious events were caused by the brain but conscious events could not cause brain events. Yet some theorists are keen to assert this because they assume that the physical  universe is a “closed causal system”. They argue that science assumes physical events can only have physical causes. Some appeal to the “principle of the conservation of energy” to argue that (1) any causal interaction involves an exchange of energy and (2) the rate of change of total energy in a closed region of space is equal to the total rate of energy flowing through the spatial boundary of that region. In other words, energy only changes in one region if there is a change in a neighbouring region.
 However, Swinburne argues that since the revolution of Quantum Mechanics, the physical principles of classical mechanics (like the principle of the conservation of energy) only hold as statistical generalizations. Small amounts of energy can be gained or lost in short periods of time. Furthermore the EPR correlation, where measurements carried out using one detector can simultaneously affect the results of measurements carried out using a distant detector, suggests that causal influences can take place without any energy-momentum exchange. Physics is not a good refuge for those who believe the universe is a closed causal system. But perhaps they could argue that scientists must assume causal closure in their experiments. As Stuart Goetz explains: 
“For example, in his pioneering work on the brain Wilder Penfield produced movements in the limbs of patients by stimulating their cortical motor areas with an electrode. As Penfield observed the neural impulses that resulted from stimulation by the electrode, he had to assume during his experiments that the areas of the brains of his patients on whom he was doing his scientific work were causally closed to other causal influences. Without this methodological assumption, he could not conclude both that it was the electrode (as opposed, say, to something ‘behind the scene’ such as an empirically undetectable human soul, either that of the patient or someone else, or God) that causally affected the capacities of the neurons to conduct electrical impulses, and that it was the causal impulses of those neurons that causally affected the same capacities of other neurons further down the causal chains to produce the movements of the limbs.”[i]
 However, it does not follow that causal closure applies to the entire universe all the time.  In fact, Swinburne points out that a scientist would face insuperable obstacles in establishing Causal Closure through experimentation. An experiment could be designed to show when certain conscious events occur relative to certain sequences of brain events. If Causal Closure is true, whether or not some conscious event occurs at the beginning of a sequence of brain events will not affect whether or not the sequence is completed. So, once the series of brain events that leads (say) to a subject tapping a button begins, the lack of conscious awareness of a decision to tap a button at the beginning of that sequence will make no difference over whether or not a subject taps a button.[ii]
 If this prediction were confirmed for a large random sample of subjects, Causal Closure would be confirmed. However, how can the scientist find out if the prediction has been confirmed? Discovering the brain events is one thing; but how does one detect a mental event if it is not identical to a physical event? In this case, the scientist must rely on the testimony of the subjects. The subjects must report when they became conscious of a decision to press the button. If their testimony is to be considered reliable we must assume that the subjects believe that the event occurred at a certain time and intend to tell the truth.
 These mental events (the belief and the intention to tell the truth) must cause the brain, and thereby the body, to give the report. But if Causal Closure is true no mental event causes the brain to do anything! Causal closure can only be confirmed by testimony that we must believe is false if Causal Closure is true! Every inference from behaviour to a mental event assumes that the mental can cause the physical.
So, as Swinburne points out, scientists must often assume that the physical realm is not closed. For example, if I report a memory or emotion to a psychologist, they must assume that my experience is a necessary part of the cause of my report. If the psychologist assumes causal closure, and given that mental events are not identical to physical events, they must assume that my report has been caused by physical processes in my brain, and that my experience played no role in my report.
 Given that brain states and mental states are not identical, the testimony of subjects would be undermined if scientists assumed that mental properties did not have any causal power. So anyone recording the testimony of a conscious rational subject must assume that the physical world is not causally closed. In fact, because science is a communal project, and because researchers must collaborate to make progress, scientists must assume that the testimony of other scientists has been caused by mental events like beliefs and the intention to report those beliefs accurately. If mental events have no role in causing the testimony of others the rationality of the scientific enterprise is undermined.
 So it seems clear that mental properties and physical properties are not identical, and that mental events cause physical events.

 The Soul and the Self 
 Swinburne is, quite rightly, unimpressed with attempts to escape a dualism of mental and physical properties which argue that we merely access one event by two different “modes of presentation”. For example, some suggest that red can be presented as a visible colour and a reflected wavelength. But these “modes” would be real characteristics, like properties. So what advantage do we gain by adding “modes of presentation” to our ontology?
 Swinburne also argues for “substance dualism” – the unfashionable view that human beings are immaterial souls or minds.  The basis for substance dualism is surprisingly clear. Sometimes conscious events overlap. Consider the experience of being burned by a flame. If it is possible to experience heat, light and pain simultaneously, one subject must experience all three sensations. Furthermore, this one subject must persist through time. I can feel a pain that lasts for one second, and hear a noise that commences 0.5 seconds after I first felt the pain. This noise might continue for ten seconds, but overlap with an experience of a taste that endures for the last five seconds of the noise. Swinburne argues that “[w]hen two conscious events overlap, they are events of the same substance; the overlap entails this.”
 David Hume famously claimed that we have no idea of the self because, when we introspect, we do not have an impression of the self. All we find are perceptions and sensations. Hume claims “I never find myself at any time without a perception”. Hume was correct. We never experience “ourselves” unless we are experiencing some conscious event or other. But that does not imply that all I can experience is disconnected conscious events! What I am aware of are numerous conscious events experienced in a common subject – me! I experience and think about everything from one point of view – my own.
  To suggest that I cease to exist when I am not experiencing a mental event implies that different substances cease to exist and come into being every time I lose and gain consciousness. It is simpler to believe that one subject endures through such changes. Indeed, we seem to have a vast number of non-conscious beliefs and desires which are connected to each other in rational ways. We do not express all our knowledge in conscious thoughts when we make inferences. Yet most of our inferences depend on numerous background beliefs about the world. We also, as many psychologists confirm, have many non-conscious desires which cause us to act.
  We can “look in” on these beliefs – bring them to conscious awareness – and this “privileged access” marks them as mental properties. So, provided we allow that thinking includes these non-conscious beliefs and desires, a mind, or soul just is thinking. This is what endures throughout our existence. It is logically possible that we could have had different bodies or mental events, so this simple self is essentially who and what we are. This self can operate properly only by interacting with a brain –so, in one sense, that is where we are located. Yet we are not aware of the self operating on the brain; we are aware of it interacting with the body. So it seems more natural to think of ourselves as located in a body. This is the part of the world which we are most aware of and which we can, in part, control.
Swinburne argues that “it is an unavoidable datum of experience” that we are immaterial selves who exercise causal influence on our bodies. He also argues that there is a fundamental epistemic Principle of Credulity foundational to all inquiry. In the absence of counter-evidence, we should believe that things probably are the way they seem to be. We seem to be immaterial selves that causally interact with material bodies. Our theories about reality should be tested by experience. We should not begin with our theories and reject experiences that do not fit – unlike contemporary physicalists.
 The Principle of Credulity simply states that we should believe that things are as they seem unless we have good evidence that they are not. If we can find no good reason to doubt that things are as they seem then we should accept it is probably so. Swinburne is not suggesting that we naively accept that the world is as it appears. A rational person critically examines the world; she does not assume that the world always is as it appears, so she is open to evidence that things are not as they seem. In so doing, she moves from appearances to the truth. However, every inquiry has to start with some set of data, and has to assume some point of view.
 If we cannot start our quest for truth by assuming that most of our ordinary beliefs – about the immediate past, our physical surroundings, the testimony of our neighbours  – are probably true, we cannot start at all. Moreover, we cannot choose our beliefs at will, and we cannot force ourselves to believe that our most basic beliefs are false. With the principle of credulity, Swinburne is joining a philosophical tradition that goes back to Aristotle. Furthermore, science builds on this tradition. Scientists test theories by observation and measurement, and science is a communal project, each scientist relying on the findings of other researchers. The scientific enterprise collapses into a skeptical morass if we cannot believe what we observe and if we cannot trust what others tell us.

 Mind, Morality and Meaning
 In The Existence of God Swinburne argued that the existence of consciousness provides evidence for God’s existence. It seems to me that the discussion in Mind, Brain and Free Will certainly gives reason to prefer Theism to Physicalism. If physicalism is true, physics should have the potential to give us a complete description of reality. (The laws of genetics and natural selection will follow from the fundamental laws of physics and the initial state of our universe.) Physics describes a universe with ultimate and irreducible properties of things, like charge, mass, charge, motion and spin, which are governed by mathematical laws. 
 But conscious states like “awareness” and “aboutness” are not the kinds of state that are described by physics. They arrive too late in the history of the universe to be fundamental; furthermore, it is impossible to see how they could be described mathematically. It is difficult enough to describe a specific feeling of “misery”, or “ecstasy” in poetry or painting. While the associated brain state can be measured in mathematical terms, the phenomenal feeling cannot. Physicalism cannot account for conscious states, whereas Theism, with its commitment to a personal creator, has no difficulty in explaining conscious experience.
 As I read his thoughts on moral responsibility, I wondered if Swinburne’s apologetic could be strengthened by arguing  that certain moral objective truths are only explicable if theism is true. In Mind, Brain and Free Will he maintains that we do not need theism to explain objective moral facts because it is a logically necessary truth that moral properties supervene on non-moral properties. So “our concept of the moral is such that there is no world W in which a is wrong and world W* exactly the same as W except that in W* a is (overall) good. It follows that there are metaphysically necessary truths of the form ‘If an action has the non-moral properties A, B, and C, it is morally good”.
 However, wouldn’t God’s existence be a fact on which many important moral truths would supervene? Consider the moral value of the individual human. If God created humans in his image, and has a purpose for each human, then it is entailed that every individual human being has immense objective value. Humans lack the same value in an atheistic universe – where each human life is ephemeral and the human race is the contingent outcome of a meaningless, impersonal process. It is true that feelings of sympathy and compassion will have some utility. Perhaps evolution would hardwire such feelings into humans. But this could merely be the illusion of objective moral value.   
 Furthermore, Swinburne’s discussion of “informative rigid designators” could be extended to illuminate the relationship between “God” and “the Good”.  It is entirely possible that the terms “God” and “the Good” refer to the same object; that when we talk about what is ultimately Good we are referring to God’s nature. God shares many of the properties that we would associate with the ultimate Good. He is perfect, free from defect, and this is the state that every rational being would value and desire. Evil is irrational and destructive; God, as the rational creator, is evil’s polar opposite. Being God would entail being the source of all goodness. A world without God would be a world without objective moral value.
Other things would be good insofar as they resembled God or what God would value.  So it would make no more sense to ask “is something good because it is desired by God, or is it desired by God because it is good?” than to ask “is a shape triangular because it has three sides, or does it have three sides because it is triangular?” To be “desired by the  perfectly rational source of all being” simply illuminates what it means to be “good.” Both phrases pick out the same property. So much for the Euthyphro Problem.
Still, Swinburne has provided a remarkably convincing case for the existence of the soul and the inadequacy of scientism and physicalism. He does not rely on thought experiments, but rather on a rigorous and enlightening discussion of metaphysics and language. His discussion of free-will and agent causation should challenge theological and scientific determinists – a subject that I might return to on another occasion. For now, let me commend the most helpful and convincing book that I have read on the philosophy of mind.

[ii] The famous Libet experiment is discussed in some detail in the text. However, a good summary of the relevant science can be found

Friday, April 5, 2013

An 8-week Online Course

Starting Science From God
An 8-week SHS Outreach Online Course
April 22—June 14, 2013
Tuition — Free
Course enrollment limited to 15 students
Dr. Ian Thompson,
Nuclear Physicist and Swedenborgian Author
 Many of us sense there is something real beyond the scope of naturalistic science. But what? Must mental and religious lives always remain a mystery and never become part of scientific knowledge? Can theism ever be connected with science? This course will explain a new rational approach to combining science and theism, using ideas from Emanuel Swedenborg. It presents theism as a scientific theory, explaining its basic postulates, consequences and predictions as simply as possible and without paradox. Dr Thompson will show how a following of core postulates of theism leads to novel and useful predictions about the psychology of minds and the physics of materials which should appear in the universe. Students will see if those predictions agree with the world as they observe it, both externally in nature and internally in our minds. In fact, they mesh surprisingly well with the structure of reality already revealed by modern quantum field theory and by theories of developmental stages in human minds. The result is a promising new rational theory encompassing theology, psychology and physics.
The content will be based on the book of the same name: 
Starting Science From God  by Ian J. Thompson,
published by Eagle Pearl Press, 2011. ISBN 0984822801.
Available from Amazon and by order from all booksellers,
and also as ebook for Kindle, Nook and iBooks

Buying Options
Registration will open shortly. Course will be available for CEU credit
For more information please email:
Sponsored by the Swedenborgian House of Studies at Pacific School of Religion —