Cognitive Science Colloquium - Peter Tse

Thu, Apr 26, 2018, 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Peretsman Scully Hall - Room 101

According to Kim’s (1993) exclusion argument (EA), mental causation is epiphenomenal, because particle-level physical-on-physical causation is sufficient to account for apparent causation at all higher levels. It would follow that there cannot be any free will or moral evaluation that made any difference to physical outcomes, because bottom-level descriptions, where there is no need for mental or moral descriptors, would be sufficient to account for the causal unfolding of events. I will argue that the EA suceeds under determinism, but fails if indeterminism is the case. If I am right, I must still build an account of how mental events are causal in the brain. To that end, without getting into biological details, I will take as my foundation a new understanding of the neural code that emphasizes rapid synaptic resetting over the traditional emphasis on neural spiking. Such a neural code is an instance of ‘criterial causation,’ which requires amending standard interventionist conceptions of causation such as those favored by Judea Pearl (2000) and John Woodward (2003). Causation conceived as reparameterization of criteria that must be met for an event to happen, offers several benefits over traditional conceptions of causation:  a physical mechanism that accomplishes downward informational causation, a middle path between   determinism and randomness, and a way for mind/brain events to turn out otherwise. It places an emphasis on imaginative deliberation and voluntary attentional manipulation as the core of volitional mental causation and sees a role for qualia as the ‘precompiled’ informational format that can be manipulated by voluntary attention, which gives qualia a causal role within a physicalist paradigm. Finally, criterial causation permits a brain to not only choose among options open to it now, but to cultivate and create new types of options for itself in the future that are not presently open to it. Only then can there be responsibility for having chosen to become a certain kind of person who chooses from among actions consistent with being that kind of person. In sum, causation via reparameterization of the informational criteria that must be met for the release of an action (say, of a neuron firing), affords top-down informational causation. Here causation is not a force, but rather a filter on what possibilia can become actualia. Informational parameterization of releasing conditions sculpts real outcomes out of the set of possibilities available at the bottom-most level. Only a member of the set of physical causal chains that are possible at the bottom-most level, which are also allowed informational causal chains, will make the transition from possible outcomes to an outcome that happens.