How Velmans' conscious experiences affected our brains

Journal of Consciousness Studies 9 (11):58-62 (2002)
Velmans’ paper raises three problems concerning mental causation: (1) How can consciousness affect the physical, given that the physical world appears causally closed? 10 (2) How can one be in conscious control of processes of which one is not consciously aware? (3) Conscious experiences appear to come too late to causally affect the processes to which they most obviously relate. In an appendix Velmans gives his reasons for refusing to resolve these problems through adopting the position (which he labels ‘physicalism’) that ‘consciousness is nothing more than a state of the brain’. The rest of the paper, then, is an attempt to solve these problems without embracing a reductionist physicalism. Velmans’ solution to the first problem is ‘ontological monism combined with epistemological dualism’: First-person and third-person accounts are two different ways of knowing the same facts. This kind of reply is not new; it is, for example, a twist on the position expressed in Davidson (1970). True, there are substantial differences: For one, Davidson reconciles the tension between descriptions of events in mentalistic and physicalist language, not between firstand third-person descriptions of states; for another, Davidson actually provides an argument for his position, although to do so he assumes that there are no psycho-physical (or indeed, psycho-psycho) laws, something which I suspect Velmans would be reluctant to do. Nevertheless, they have in common the idea that the causal efficacy of the mental is not at odds with the causal closure of physics, since a mind-involving causal story is just another way of talking about the same facts that a purely physical causal story talks about. This ‘dual-aspect’ approach is a popular tactic for resolving the mind--body problem, but it has some well-known problems, and it is unfortunate Velmans doesn’t reply to these standard objections. For example, a frequently discussed issue in connection with theories of mental causation is the problem of overdetermination (see, e.g., Unger, 1977; Peacocke, 1979).
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