Re: [xmca] Kevin's paper for discussion: causality

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Mon Jul 03 2006 - 18:01:28 PDT

Bill, this is a paragraph I wrote directed against the (nonsense) thesis
that consciousness is *caused* by the brain. It is only intended in that
context, but it goes to the notion of causality generally:

"I reject the contention that the brain "causes" consciousness. A working
brain is the essential pre-condition for consciousness, but how do we move
from possibility to realised possibility?

"If we consider a system from the point of view of how a given possibility
can be realised, we hypothetically insert ourselves into the system in
question, asking what intervention is needed to realise the relevant
possibility. "Cause" can be understood in a practical way only by this kind
of thought-experiment. To say that something is a cause is to point to how
a given possibility could be realised by a hypothetical intervention in a
system. To say that consciousness is *caused* by the brain is to say that
an intervention in the nervous system can bring consciousness into being.
As John Searle has pointed out, such interventions can be shown only to
*change* consciousness, but not to *bring it into being*.

"From the *phylogenetic* point of view, Merlin Donald and others before him
have shown convincingly that it was development of culture and behaviour,
which introduced consciousness into a pre-human hominid species, not the
other way around.

"The *ontogenetic* evidence is that under all but the most adverse
conditions, human infants with healthy brains will develop language and
consciousness. However, no answer has yet been given as to how
consciousness could be introduced into living tissue which was not already
capable of consciousness. Thus, the "cause" of consciousness has no
coherent meaning in the ontogenetic context."


At 12:12 AM 4/07/2006 +0000, you wrote:
>I've been re-reading Granott's paper on units of analysis in mca from a
>while back, and it would seem that one needs to think of what unit to use
>before proceeding. Jay Lemke writes about downward [qualitative]
>causation at what I think is a societal scale, as well as do Durkheim and
>Weber. Arguably for Leont'ev, Activity is the unit of causation. But so
>to reflect this back to Kevin's paper, how do we think of C&E at a
>community [CoP] level, and is this a large enough unit to begin to
>determine causation, or do we need more? Does the community have a
>history, in which what has happened before is an essential ingredient in
>what is happening now? How far back should one go in an historical
>analysis? Does the community border on others in any way so that
>interaction with others is significant, i.e. there are exchanges of
>practices? Perhaps Hutchin's micronesian navigators were/still_are an
>isolated community, so that causation is entirely internal to it?
>What especially does causation have to do with symmetry?
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