Methological Dualism, Conceptual Objectivity, Immaterialism, Legality

A new branch of an ongoing conversation.

One reader (who does not read very carefully, alas) writes in saying “I know that our host is advocating a Ghost in the Machine.”

Oddly enough, that is not what I am advocating, nor even remotely close to it. During this conversation, and all previous conversations I can recall on like topics, no materialist has been curious enough to discover what my position was, preferring instead to rely on telepathy to intuit what I thought, and then inform me what I thought whether or not I was aware of it — which is, ironically, in keeping with their metaphysics. The only drawback is telepathy is a bit of a hit-or-miss proposition.

As far as I can assess, my position is closer to Kant or Aristotle than it is to Descartes, but contains nuances differentiating me from them.

I would state my position in four conclusions: Methodological Dualism, Conceptual Objectivity, Immaterialism, Legality.

Methodological Dualism

Here,  in words mostly not my own, is one of my conclusions on the matter of materialism, panphysicalism, monism:

Various doctrines have been advanced to explain the relation between mind and body. They are mere surmises.

All that can be said with certainty is that there are relations between mental and physiological processes: With regard to the nature and operation of this connection we know little if anything.

We know, for example, that fatigue, alcohol, drugs can disorganize the thinking. We know that states of mind in some general way may influence the health and constitution of the body, such as worry aggravating ulcers.  We do not know the particular lobe of the brain or the grains of chemical needed to turn a Guelph into a Ghibelline, or even if such a thing as loyalty to the Holy Roman Emperor has any ultimate physical basis.

Concrete value judgments and definite human actions are not open to further analysis. We may fairly assume or believe that they are absolutely dependent upon and conditioned by their causes. But as long as we do not know how external facts–physical and physiological–produce in a human mind definite thoughts and volitions resulting in concrete acts, we have to face an insurmountable methodological dualism.

In the present state of our knowledge the fundamental statements of positivism, monism and panphysicalism are mere metaphysical postulates devoid of any scientific foundation and both meaningless and useless for scientific research.

Reason and experience show us two separate realms: the external world of physical, chemical, and physiological phenomena and the internal world of thought, feeling, valuation, and purposeful action. No bridge connects–as far as we can see today–these two spheres. Identical external events result sometimes in different human responses, and different external events produce sometimes the same human response. We do not know why.

In the face of this state of affairs we cannot help withholding judgment on the essential statements of monism and materialism. We may or may not believe that the natural sciences will succeed one day in explaining the production of definite ideas, judgments of value, and actions in the same way in which they explain the production of a chemical compound as the necessary and unavoidable outcome of a certain combination of elements. In the meantime we are bound to acquiesce in a methodological dualism.

Since human action cannot be traced back to its causes, it must be considered as an ultimate given and must be studied as such.

–This idea and these words I have taken with minor changes from chapter one of the magisterial HUMAN ACTION by Ludwig von Mises.

Conceptual Objectivity

Subjective we can call that which changes from observer to observer due to some influence or cause brought by the observer. Oddly enough, in modern physics, since the qualities of the observer make no difference to the collapse of the probability into a definite state, such observations can be correctly called objective. Preferring pie to cake or Ginger to Mary Ann is subjective.

A man testifying in a Court of Law that “Mary Ann is the most beautiful castaway on the island” — if that is indeed his opinion — cannot be justly accused of perjury. Likewise, a man testifying in a Court of Law that “In my personal opinion,Mary Ann is the most beautiful castaway on the island” cannot be justly accused of perjury.

By this definition, the fact that the square on the hypotenuse of a right triangle equals in area the sum of the areas of squares built on the two remaining sides is objective. It is not something the observer can change by an act of will, or which will change if the observer changes.

A man testifying in a Court of Law that “In my opinion, the square on the hypotenuse of a right triangle equals in area the sum of the areas of squares built on the two remaining sides” can indeed be accused of perjury. He has not told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth as he is avowed to do. It is false that this is a matter only of his opinion. If his “opinion” changed, the nature of triangles would not change.

Likewise for other matters of logic and mathematics and metaphysics.

There are certain matters of metaphysics that are inescapable categories. By inescapable we mean that even those who seek to refute these categories must employ them, because they underpin all possible thinking. The formal relations of logic form one category; cause and effect forms another; moral praiseworthiness and blameworthiness form a third; human action forms a fourth. And so on.

It can be shown with a simple syllogism that radical moral subjectivism, radical materialism, radical determinism, and any other philosophy that spurns metaphysics immediate involves itself in paradox, if not outright self-contradiction.

For example:

1. A statement that there is no truth, if true, is false.

2. Nor can anyone testify that he has perceived that all his perceptions are illusions.

3. Nor can anyone be aware that he has no awareness.

4. Nor can he identify the fact that there are no facts and that objects have no identities.

5. And if he says events arise from no causes and lead to no conclusions, he can neither give cause for saying so nor will this necessarily lead to any conclusion.

6. And if he denies that he has volition, then such a denial was issued unwillingly, and this testifies that he himself has no such belief.

7. A statement that there is no good or evil, no standards of honesty or dishonesty, if made honestly, is an admission of dishonesty.

And so on. Examples could be multiplied endlessly. The conclusion to be drawn here, however, is that certain concepts cannot be denied, since the act of denying confirms them: they are rightly called self-evident. They need no further warrant for their truth aside from the mere statement of them.

Self-evident truths are objective, since their truth does not change from observer to observer.

This implies that certain concepts are real, and their truth does not depend on the observer. Does this imply that the concepts live in their own spiritual plane or plateaus of pure ideas, as Plato said, and that the concepts would continue in their formal and logical relations before, during, and after the material cosmos existed?

I regard the question as unanswerable because it is not properly asked. It is the cosmic version of trying to find out if the light in the refrigerator is on once you have closed the the door: we human beings cannot rationally discuss the types of discussions which take place in the absence of we human beings. If there are angels, elves or martians or other rational created beings whose metaphysical categories and categories of perception differs from ours, we could have no communication or communion with them: a free willed entity whose actions cannot escape the category of cause and effect cannot actually have any communication with a determinist entity who does not act, and for whom cause and effect are an indifferent category.

Concepts have no extension and no duration, so it is futile to ask how long they last, hence futile to ask whether they will outlast the career of the human race on earth or not. It is almost a Dr. Seuss question, like asking whether twice two is four is true with a fox or in a box, in a house or with a mouse, in the dark or up a tree, in the rain or on a train. Twice two is four is true here and there, because it is true everywhere. This is not because the concept of twice two equaling four is some sort of oppressive invisible gas that fills all spacetime: rather, it is because the concept has no extension, occupies no space, and questions of location are meaningless or even absurd in reference to it.


Being an intensely skeptical person, I am led to wonder how any relationship can obtain between these concepts, including thought in my own awareness, if they have no relation to time or space, the world described by conceptual (non-empirical) statements and the world presented to us by our senses, the world described by empirical statements.

Without being willing to venture into unknown and unproven metaphysical speculation, I can only speak with assurance about my perceptions of the empirical world: in other word, my thoughts about it. Those thoughts are concepts. They are about the empirical world, and point to it, and refer to it, but they are not it.

This means that should it be proven, by Descartes or some other clever thinker, that the two worlds described by conceptual and material statements are incommensurate and mutually exclusive, the only conclusion an intensely skeptical thinker like myself can reach is that the empirical world is part of the conceptual world.

I know, by direct and immediate experience, that my sense impressions exist. I know from many specific experiences that I can make misjudgments about what my sense are telling me, since I can be deceived by dreams or optical illusions, or even thinking I recognize someone from behind who, when he turns his head, is not who I thought. This means that the objects presented to the senses are not their own witnesses: their mere presence does not necessarily imply anything about them.

The touchstone to tell the difference between conceptual statements and empirical statements is that all empirical statements, by design, can be reduced into statements of measurements of the fundamental quantities of physics: mass, length, duration, amount, current, temperature, brightness. Anything that cannot be measured in units of grams, meters, seconds, moles, amperes, degrees Kelvin, or candela is not an empirical statement. Hence, empirical statements only concern material and physical objects.

Conceptual statements concern qualities such as true or false, efficient or inefficient, right or wrong, fair or foul, logical or illogical. Conceptual statements include symbols, and a symbol is a concept that points at or reminds you or another concept or a physical object.

I can right the letters of the word RED in red ink or in black ink, but the color of the ink is not the same as a the color to which the word refers, because the ink of the letter is the physical properties of the letters, whereas the color to which the word refers is in the conceptual properties of the word. (The inability to distinguish symbols from the objects they represent is the fundamental psychosis besetting almost all modern philosophy.)

Since my senses can be true or false, either representing the world as it is, or, by some trick of the light, deceiving me, sense impressions at least have some conceptual properties.

Should it be proven, by Descartes or some other clever thinker, that the two worlds described by conceptual and material statements are incommensurate and mutually exclusive, since the empirical world is known through and only through the conceptual world (since sense impressions, perceptions, concepts, abstractions and the like are conceptual) it is therefore possible that immaterialism is true, that nothing has substance but concepts, but impossible that materialism is true, that nothing has substance but matter.

In short, my confidence in concepts is certain and eternal and inescapable. My confidence in the substance called matter is uncertain, temporal, and contingent.

The only reason why I am not a pure Bishop Berkley style immaterialist is that I do not think Descartes or any other clever thinker has actually made the case that the world described by empirical statements and the world described by conceptual statements are mutually exclusive. Indeed, the opposite seems to be the case. Empirical and conceptual seem to me to be not two worlds, but two means of describing one world; and theses two means of describing the world seem to be fundamentally entangled. You cannot have one without the other. Perception implies both an object perceived (empirical) and an perceiver who perceives (conceptual): observation cannot take place without an observer and an observed.

The empirical and conceptual properties of an object both exist in the object or in observing it, but the one cannot be deduced from the other. Example: In a Court of Law, when trying a murderer, the bullet recovered from the victim would have both material properties where only empirical statements would be pertinent, such as its mass and shape and the striations imparted from the barrel, and it would have legal, that is to say, conceptual properties, whereof empirical statements are not pertinent, such as “this is the murder instrument” or “this is admissible evidence, an exhibit logically related to the prosecution’s theory of the case.”Admissibility is not something that is described by mass, length, duration, amount, current, temperature, or candlepower. Admissibility has to do with logical and cause-effect relations to the event of the murder and the legal process of trying the murder.

You cannot deduce the mass of the bullet from its admissibility as evidence; You cannot deduce its admissibility as evidence from its mass. Yet clearly both properties depend on the bullet. If the bullet vanished away as softly and suddenly as a Baker beholding a Boojum, both its mass and its admissibility would cease to exist.

The defendant has both material properties about which empirical statements are pertinent: and conceptual properties about which no empirical statement is pertinent. If evidence suggests the bullet could only be fired by a man of a certain height, for example, the length from the defendant’s crown to his heel is pertinent.

In a murder trial, the jury must be convinced and beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant possessed the requisite state of mind, mens rea, which in this case is malice aforethought, for the elements of the crime to be met. No physical measurement of any physical properties of the brain can prove the defendant had the requisite state of mind (albeit physical evidence might tend to prove incapacity, as when the defense argues the defendant was too drunk at the time to the murder to form the requisite mental intent).

In other words, empirical descriptions concern empirical facts; conceptual descriptions concern concepts. The two are like ranks and files. A chessman on the board has both a rank position and a file position, a vertical and a horizontal. No change of the horizontal rank, howsoever great, changes the vertical file. No change of the vertical file, no matter even if pushed to the end of the board and beyond, changes the horizontal rank one iota. The two dimensions are incommensurable. Vertical data cannot be described nor depicted in terms of horizontal data; nor can the one be reduced to the other.

The empirical information about reality is like the horizontal; the conceptual information about reality is like the vertical. One cannot be reduced to the other. Both are necessary where pertinent.

This introduces my final conclusion.


Even supposing that the human race could one day discover the exact cause and effect relations between physical changes of brain particles and conceptual changes in the thoughts of the person whose brain it is, and even assuming we had the technology a Clockwork-Orange style to recondition or rewrite an individual’s judgments and conclusions about concepts by rewiring brain nerve-paths, the distinction between empirical and conceptual statements would still exist.

Just because you have a codebook that allows you to change meaningless ink marks on a page, or meaningless electron motions in the brain, into symbols and sentences that you, a person with a mind, can read and by reading compare to concepts, and, by conceptualization, understand, this does not make your understanding, or any statements based on the understanding, the same as the ink marks or the brain electron traces you have understood how to read.

If you threw the codebook away, or lost the ability to translate between brain-electron traces and the concepts and ideas the messages and brain-motions represent, you would still be in the same position, no better and no worse, concerning the thoughts and ideas represented by that message or thought by that brain. Twice two would still be four. Murder in the First Degree would still be the unlawful killing of a human being without excuse and with malice aforethought.

In other words, even if materialism were true, and every thought and symbol could be mapped onto the physical properties of brain electrons, the map would nevertheless be irrelevant,  a quaint metaphysical curio, and consulting this map would not tell us any information of any value.

This is admittedly an obscure point. Let me propose a thought experiment, or a Socratic myth.

In the future, with the help of the ‘Macrobes’ or Dark Eldil whose knowledge of physics surpasses our own, the National Institute of Controlled Experimentation, under the leadership of John ‘Frost’ Deryshire and Dick ‘Wither’ Dawkins has exactly mapped out and labeled the position of all brain electrons and produced a codebook to decode their meaning.

For example, an electron in braincell ZXCV1234 of .02 microvolts means “malice aforethought” whereas a charge of .00 in the same braincell means “no malice aforethought.”

Malice aforethought is an element of murder in the first degree because justice requires a less severe penalty for crimes of passion and for unintentional manslaughter. There is no physical difference of any kind in any way shape or form of these three types of unlawful killing: the only difference is the state of mind of the defendant.

The discovery of the physical location where malice aforethought is stored revolutionizes British jurisprudence! Now, instead of the cumbersome process of attempting by indirect evidence to deduce the state of mind of the witness by indirect evidence, the NICE doctors can strap the screaming defendant to the table in the medical ‘Clean Room’ of law and order, saw off the top of his skull, insert a probe to location ZXCV1234 and consult a voltmeter. 02 means “malice aforethought” and any other reading means not.

But, woe and alas, a robot named Talos or Tik-Tok or Helen O’Loy or Jay Score or r2d2 or Wall-E is put on trial for murder. The physical facts of the case are not in dispute, and the only question before the court is whether it was murder in the first degree, a crime of passion, or unintentional manslaughter.

The composition of the robot brain does not resemble human brains at all. They do not have a brain cell ZXCV1234. Instead they have a switch labeled ASDF0987, their “laawful-good/chaotic-evil” alignment switch, when in the first position connects to a charge of .09 which triggers the malice aforethought subroutine in their positronic brains.

So the jurisprudence of the future has two rules. 1. If a human being on trial then ZXCV1234 at .02 electron-microvolts equals “malice aforethought” 2. If a robot is on trial then ASDF0987 at .09 positron-microvolts equals “malice aforethought.”

So ZXCV1234 and ASDF0987 have no physical properties in common. No empirical statement made about one has any bearing on any empirical statement made about the other. They are merely signs or symbols pointing to or representing malice aforethought.

Now the various murderous robots and humans are brought into a courtroom, including some beings, either cyborgs like Steve Austin or Deathlok or human-shaped robots like Questor or R Daneel Olivaw or artificial beings like Friday or Pris, whose categorization is in doubt. The jury cannot decide if they are human or robotic or in what degree.

So why would not the jury simply determine the state of mind the old fashioned way, by looking at indirect evidence and making a judgment based on their understanding?

(The idea that the physical evidence is somehow more reliable or more admissible is both false and irrelevant.)

From a legal point of view, that is to say, from the point of view consistent with human justice, the presence or absence of the voltages in question in the cell location or circuit location in question is utterly indifferent to the case; it is irrelevant; it is meaningless.In case where the cellular or circuitry information is not available, or is misleading, it would be disregarded.

We don’t actually care about the ZXCV1234 or ASDF0987. These are in themselves meaningless numbers. These numbers only have meaning insofar as they point to or represent malice aforethought. We care about malice aforethought.

The only thing the jury cares about or should care about is whether or not the defendant had the requisite state of mind, malice aforethought, so satisfy the element of murder in the first degree.

Even if the NICE knew exactly where in the human brain malice aforethought lies, the knowledge is irrelevant to the legal determination of the case.

The difference between ZXCV1234 and ASDF0987 is like the difference between the word RED spelled in red ink and the same word in black ink, or written in Spanish or Esperanto RUĜA. Since the physical properties of the symbol differ from page to page, or the electronic properties of the symbol differ from brain to brain, whereas the conceptual properties of the thing symbolized remain the same, even if we knew the exact causal and categorical relations of symbol to symbolized, from a legal and practical point of view, all human beings and intelligent robots would continue to treat conceptual things conceptually and physical things empirically.

Like horizontal and vertical, even if somehow the locations could be mapped onto one another, the conceptual judgments and empirical facts would still be treated differently. The two are not the same.

Now, if this position here described is “the Ghost in the Machine” then you have accurately intuited my position. If not, then not.