Intelligent Design

Why I think the interaction problem is real

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Regular readers of my posts will be aware that I reject materialism. One of the strongest arguments for materialism, however, is that its alternative, dualism, is untenable. The main problem confronting dualism is the “interaction problem”: how can an immaterial mind, which is completely lacking in physical properties, exert any causal influence on the material world? The idea seems to make no sense at all.

In today’s post, I’m going to examine one argument which attempts to dissolve the interaction problem, and explain why I think the argument does not succeed. (I’ll propose a tentative solution in my next post.) According to the solution put forward by Professor Edward Feser, a well-known philosopher of mind, the interaction problem only arises if you think (as Descartes is supposed to have done) that mind and body are two things, and that the former interacts with the latter in a purely mechanical fashion – as if the mind were like a “spiritual billiard ball” that could somehow set “physical billiard balls” (i.e. neurons in the brain) in motion. (Descartes’ actual views are the subject of some debate, but the picture I’ve outlined here is commonly referred to as Cartesian dualism.) Professor Feser objects strongly to the mechanical conception of causality that has dominated philosophy for the last 300 years, because it completely ignores the directedness (or finality) of causal processes, as well as the forms of causal agents, which make them the kinds of entities they are.

While I share Feser’s view that Cartesian dualism is flawed, I disagree with his claim that Aristotle’s hylemorphic dualism (which views the soul as the form of the body and not as a separate entity) automatically dissolves the interaction problem. I shall argue that while minds do not interact with brains, people can and do interact with their brains in a non-physical manner. (Just to be clear, I’m talking about efficient-causal interaction here: I’m claiming that I can cause the neurons in my brain to move, simply by deciding to raise my arm.) If people couldn’t interact with their brains, then their choices would not be able to change the course of events occurring in the outside world, and determinism would be true. Hylemorphic dualism doesn’t tell us how people interact with their brains, so I would regard it as an incomplete solution to the so-called “mind-body problem.” In my next post, I’ll attempt to provide an account of how we can interact with our brains.

Feser is not alone in his view that hylemorphic dualism solves the interaction problem. In their Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience (Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2003), M.R. Bennett and P.M.S. Hacker write:

…[T]he question of how the mind can interact with the body is emphatically not a question that can arise for Aristotle. Within the framework of Aristotelian thought, as we have seen (1.1), the very question is as senseless as the question, “How can the shape of the table interact with the wood of the table?” Aristotle manifestly did not leave this as a problem within his philosophy. (p. 46)

But the analogy of the mind with the shape of a table is flawed. Aristotle himself regarded the mind as capable of performing operations such as thinking, and he seems to have viewed the intellect as an immaterial faculty, although his views on personal immortality remain the subject of considerable debate (De Anima Book III, Parts 4, 5 & 6). The shape of a table, by contrast, has no operations of its own, which are independent of the matter of the table. So with the greatest respect to Bennett and Hacker, Aristotle’s philosophy of mind has its own

Professor Feser argues that the interaction problem disappears when we treat the soul as the form of the body and not as a separate thing. That is, my soul is what makes my body a human body, and not the body of a chimp or some other organism, or a pile of dust. Feser contends that whenever I act, my actions have a final cause (the end I’m trying to achieve), a formal cause (the pattern or structure of the action itself), a material cause (the matter in my body that actually carries out the action) and an efficient cause (whatever it is that makes my body move when I act). Feser contends that when I perform a bodily action such as writing a blog, the movement of neurons in my brain and arm and the attendant flexing of muscles constitute the material cause of my action, and also the efficient cause, presumably because these neurons are the parts of my body whose movements cause my hands to move when I press the keys on my computer. My thoughts and intentions, on the other hand, comprise the formal cause and the final cause of my action: my thoughts give the blog post the “form” or structure that it has as an essay, while my intentions define my purpose for writing the post. In Feser’s own words:

As I move my fingers across the keyboard, then, what is occurring is not the transfer of energy (or whatever) from some Cartesian immaterial substance to a material one (my brain), which sets up a series of neural events that are from that point on “on their own” as it were, with no further action required of the soul. There is just one substance, namely me, though a substance the understanding of which requires taking note of each of its formal-, material-, final- and efficient-causal aspects. To be sure, my action counts as writing a blog post rather than (say) undergoing a muscular spasm in part because of the specific pattern of neural events, muscular contractions, and so forth underlying it. But only in part. Yet that does not mean that there is an entirely separate set of events occurring in a separate substance that somehow influences, from outside as it were, the goings on in the body. Rather, the neuromuscular processes are by themselves only the material-cum-efficient causal aspect of a single event of which my thoughts and intentions are the formal-cum-final causal aspect.

Problem solved? I think not. What’s wrong with this rosy picture? The problem, as I see it, is that it fails to address the question: what is the efficient cause of the movement of neurons in my brain, when I am writing a blog? What makes these neurons move? What pushes them? An obvious answer would be “the soul,” but Professor Feser expressly rules this out:

The soul doesn’t “interact” with the body considered as an independently existing object, but rather constitutes the matter of the human body as a human body in the first place, as its formal (as opposed to efficient) cause.

There are two comments that I would like to make here. The first is that Feser’s remarks address only a crude Cartesian form of dualism, according to which the soul is the efficient cause of movement in the body (which is ontologically distinct from it). However, they overlook the possibility that the soul, which is the form of the body, is also able to act independently of the body’s matter, and cause certain parts of the body (e.g. neurons in the brain) to move. Here, the soul would be acting as an efficient cause as well as a formal cause.

Second, Feser’s solution to the interaction problem ignores the question of whether the cause of the movement of neurons in my brain is a deterministic cause or not. For instance, if outside stimuli impinging on my body cause the neurons in my brain to move, then it seems there is no room for human freedom, as the action of these stimuli can be described in a deterministic fashion on a molecular level. Throwing in a bit of indeterminism at the subatomic level doesn’t seem to help matters, either; it just creates an element of randomness, which is not the same thing as freedom.

It seems to me, then, that in order to restore human freedom, we have to affirm at least two things: we have to say that people can influence their brains, and we have to say that top-down (macro–>micro) causation is real and fundamental. For if causation is always bottom-up (micro–>macro) and never top-down, or alternatively, if top-down causation is real, but only happens because it has already been determined by some preceding occurrence of bottom-up causation, then our actions are simply the product of our body chemistry – in which case they are not free, as they are determined by external circumstances which lie beyond our control. But if top-down causation is real and fundamental, then events occurring at a holistic level – including a person’s choices – can determine events at a microscopic level, such as their neuro-muscular movements.

The position we have now reached, then, is that if we want to defend human freedom, we have to believe that human acts (i.e. actions which are properly ascribed to persons and not to their body parts) can and do influence lower-level actions, which occur at various locations in the human body, such as activities taking place in human cells when they process incoming signals. We also have to say that the operation of cells is not always deterministic, or even generally deterministic with occasional random disturbances, but that fundamental, higher-level actions can shape the behavior of cells.

What might these higher-level actions be? It might seem tempting to say that higher-level bodily actions can bring about lower-level bodily actions. That’s fine, so far as it goes. However, if we are to have genuine freedom, then these higher-level bodily actions must be just as ontologically fundamental as the lower-level bodily actions that they determine. For if these higher-level actions are determined by lower-level bodily actions occurring at a previous time, then we are back at square one again: we are once more the prisoners of our body chemistry, and bottom-up causation rules.

Could a bodily action, even a higher-level one, be free? I would argue that it cannot, for several reasons. I’ll mention just two; Professor Feser has provided many more (see here, here, here, here and here). First, free choices presuppose a capacity for abstract thinking; but a process taking place at a particular point (or set of points) in my body is (by definition) not abstract but concrete; hence a bodily action is incapable of embodying an abstract concept. Second, free choices and the thoughts that accompany them have an inherent meaning, but bodily processes such as neuronal firings are not inherently meaningful; hence a bodily action is incapable of embodying a free choice. I have discussed these arguments elsewhere, so I won’t elaborate on them here.

The position we have now reached is that if we are to defend human freedom, we have to make a third affirmation; we have to affirm that some human actions (thoughts and choices) are non-bodily actions, and that by performing these actions, human beings are capable of influencing events occurring in the cells of their bodies. And since motor movements begin in the brain, we seem to be committed to the proposition that human beings can, by thinking and choosing, influence events in their brains.

This may sound odd. After all, not everyone knows that they even have a brain: many children don’t, and I imagine many people in times past didn’t know, either. How, it might be asked, can I possibly influence my brain simply by deciding to raise my arm, if I am not thinking about my brain as such, or if I don’t even know I have a brain?

The answer, I believe, is that we just have to take it as a basic fact of human nature that whenever I perform the non-bodily action of deciding to move my right arm, region “X” of the motor homunculus in my brain (i.e. the area in my brain which governs right arm movements) is activated, and whenever I decide to move my right leg instead, region “Y” of the motor homunculus in my brain (which governs right leg movements) is activated. “How convenient!” you might say. And it is. Indeed, it’s more than convenient – it’s absolutely extraordinary. If we were not made that way, voluntary action would be impossible. Since the soul is the form of the body only, I cannot will other objects to move; telekinesis is impossible. I can only move my body parts.

So my solution to the interaction problem is simply to say that God has made human beings with certain built-in psycho-physical correspondences between their (immaterial) mental acts of choosing to move different body parts, and the resulting movements of the various regions of the brain which govern these different body parts.

I am of course well aware that the foregoing account of the mechanics of voluntary movement is grossly oversimplified, as it overlooks such things as feedback, forward modeling, fine motor-tuning and proprioception. Many of these features are found even in insects, which are responsive to stimuli and capable of associative learning, but lack sentience. Now if people can voluntarily fine-tune their actions, then of course they need to be aware at a conscious level of what’s happening to their bodies when they move. However, I don’t think that we need to postulate any extra psycho-physical correspondences on that account. At the very most, we might need further correspondences between people’s mental acts of choosing and other parts of their nervous system, besides the motor homunculus in the brain.

So far I have only talked about how I move my body, through my acts of will. What about God? How does He manage to move bodies, if He is a pure spirit? What needs to be kept in mind here is that God keeps bodies in being and is the Author of their very natures. So it is simply inconceivable that they could fail to respond to His will. However, I would like to draw attention to one little-noticed consequence of the fact that God can move bodies at will: it entails that all physical things have non-physical properties. (I owe this insight to Professor David Oderberg.) Each and every physical object has the property that whenever God wills that it should perform some action, it will perform that action. Insofar as this property of the object is a property that refers to an incorporeal Being (God), it is a non-physical property.

I haven’t addressed the scientific question of how freedom is possible in this post, or how I can influence my body without breaking any laws of Nature. That will be the subject of a future post.

42 Replies to “Why I think the interaction problem is real

  1. 1
    tragic mishap says:

    How does God do miracles?

  2. 2
    tragic mishap says:

    Ah ok. Well I’ll look forward to your next post, but I usually think exactly the opposite of what you appear to be suggesting.

    Physical things have non-physical properties. I usually think that spiritual things exist in a world outside the boundaries of physical laws, and can therefore do things, such as interaction, outside of those laws.

  3. 3
    Jason Rennie says:

    Just an initial thought. I will probably come back with more once I have time to read the whole post and digest it, but I don’t really like the whole phrase “interaction problem”.

    It it perfectly reasonable to ask questions about how a non physical mind can interact with the physical world, but I am not sure it rises to the level of a “problem”. More of a question to investigate.

    If there is good reason to think substance dualism is true (and without an apriori commitment to some sort of physicalism I think it is clearly the inference to the best explanation) then interaction isn’t a “problem”. Clearly it is able to happen because it does happen.

    It is a worthy matter of investigation but I dont think it is actually a problem for substance dualism that the mechanism is not well understood, just like it was no problem for Mendel that the mechanism of inheritance was not understood at the time he did his work.

    Jason

  4. 4
    Elizabeth Liddle says:

    Nice article, vjtorley!

    I agree with a lot. Actually most of it, until I reach your “solution”

    So my solution to the interaction problem is simply to say that God has made human beings with certain built-in psycho-physical correspondences between their (immaterial) mental acts of choosing to move different body parts, and the resulting movements of the various regions of the brain which govern these different body parts.

    Ouch! That’s not a solution! You are just back with dualism! But I think you had one almost in your grasp earlier in your post!

    Where I absolutly agree with you is that minds don’t interact with brains, people do. Exactly!

    People – I , you, she – are the agents that do stuff in the world, not brains, or even minds. We don’t say “I mind threw the cat off her knee and went to pour another glass of wine” I say “I did”.

    So that locates the problem nicely – what is this thing that I call “I”?

    Well, that’s a much more tractable question than the mind-body problem. We might call it the I-body problem. And what I call “I” is something a little bit like the things I call “you” and “him” and “her” except that I seem to have a great deal of privileged information about this “I” person that you don’t have much access to, and, similarly, you, I can infer, have a great deal of privileged information to the person you call “I”, that I don’t have access to.

    Not only that, but this “I” agent seems to be able to move my own limbs very readily, whereas I can only unreliably move yours, perhaps by asking you to, or by moving my own, grabbing yours, and physically moving it.

    What’s more, this “I” person – this agent I refer to as “I” is able both to react to external stimuli, and to modify her (my!) responses in the light of her (my!) own goals. So that’s another attribute of “I” – I have “goals” – I am not merely the plaything of external stimuli. Just as you can refuse to move your limb when I ask you to, I can refuse to move mine.

    In other words, both “you” and “I” are free – our actions (the ones we call “our own” are at least partially independent of external stimuli.

    So how free are we? Well, I seem to be able to refuse to move my leg when you tell me to move it, but what if you bang my knee with a patella hammer? This thing I call “I” seems to be unable to do anything about that. So “I’s” agency (aka “my”) seems limited even with regard to certain bodily actions which seem to be contingent on external stimuli outside “my” control. Moroever, other bodily actions (falling asleep in boring afternoon meetings for example) seem also beyond “my” control, so certain “internally” generated actions seem to be outside “I’s” (aka “my”) domain of control.

    So we are getting near to a clear description of this thing called “I”: it is fairly free to choose actions independently of external input, with some exceptions; it is also fairly free to choose actions independently of certain internal input, again, with some exceptions. So it has considerable, but not infinite, autonomy. It also has privileged access to certain information – I can see things from my desk that you cannot see from yours, and vice versa. It can also “bring to mind” things that you cannot “bring to mind” (this is where mind fits in, you see!) that you cannot, or only partially, or from a different (both literal and metaphorical) Point of View. It can also consider, when making a decision, all kinds of internallly generated goals, as well as externally imposed goals, and balance them against each other.

    So yes, I agree – minds do not interact with brains, but people – “I” being one of them – most certainly do! And “I” seem to have a fair degree (number of degrees!) of freedom!

    Specifically, freedom from certain internal and external constraints that nonetheless constrain some of my actions.

    I, in other words, am the decision-maker responsible for my actions; or, to turn it round: the agent responsible for the actions for which I am prepared to take responsibility is the thing I call “I”.

    And, to paraphrase Dennett (again!) – the more responsibility I accept for my actions, the larger I make myself – the act of taking moral responsibility is, literally, a “self-forming act”. And, conversely, if we minimise our responsibility, if we blame our genes, our brains, our upbringing, our life for our actions, then, while we let ourselves off the hook, we also define ourselves out of existence.

    Karma 🙂

    Anyway, nice OP. One of my favorite subjects!

    (I did my PhD in a motor control lab!)

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    A few empirical notes that may be of interest:

    It is interesting to note that a extremely high level of epigenetic information ‘suddenly’ disappears at the moment of death:

    The Unbearable Wholeness of Beings – Steve Talbott
    Excerpt: Virtually the same collection of molecules exists in the canine cells during the moments immediately before and after death. But after the fateful transition no one will any longer think of genes as being regulated, nor will anyone refer to normal or proper chromosome functioning. No molecules will be said to guide other molecules to specific targets, and no molecules will be carrying signals, which is just as well because there will be no structures recognizing signals. Code, information, and communication, in their biological sense, will have disappeared from the scientist’s vocabulary.
    http://www.thenewatlantis.com/.....-of-beings

    There is very strong reason to believe that this extremely high level of epigenetic information, which ‘suddenly’ disappears at the moment of death, is ‘non-local’ quantum information:

    Quantum no-hiding theorem experimentally confirmed for first time – March 2011
    Excerpt: In the classical world, information can be copied and deleted at will. In the quantum world, however, the conservation of quantum information means that information cannot be created nor destroyed.
    http://www.physorg.com/news/20.....tally.html

    Quantum Information/Entanglement In DNA & Protein Folding – short video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5936605/

    =================

    further notes:

    It is also interesting to note that quantum mechanics is also found to be necessary for Smelling, Hearing, and Vision;

    Quantum explanation for how we smell gets new support – March 2011
    Excerpt: According to Turin’s theory, the additional criteria are the vibrational frequencies of odorant molecules. A molecule’s vibrational frequency can cause electrons in the nasal receptors to tunnel between two energy states if the vibrational frequency matches the energy difference of the two states. Tunneling is a quantum mechanical phenomenon, since the electrons do not have enough energy to move between the two states by classical means.
    http://www.physorg.com/news/20.....ation.html

    Quantum Noise and the Threshold of Hearing
    Excerpt: We argue that the sensitivity of the ear reaches a limit imposed by the uncertainty principle. This is possible only if the receptor cell holds the detector elements in a special nonequilibrium state which has the same noise characteristics as a ground (T=0 K) state. To accomplish this “active cooling” the molecular dynamics of the system must maintain quantum mechanical coherence over the time scale of the measurement.
    http://prl.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v54/i7/p725_1

    QUANTUM COHERENCE AND THE RETINA – April 2011
    http://www.ghuth.com/2011/04/2.....he-retina/

    Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper (1997) conducted a study of 31 blind people, many of who reported vision during their Near Death Experiences (NDEs). 21 of these people had had an NDE while the remaining 10 had had an out-of-body experience (OBE), but no NDE. It was found that in the NDE sample, about half had been blind from birth. (of note: This ‘anomaly’ is also found for deaf people who can hear sound during their Near Death Experiences(NDEs).)
    http://findarticles.com/p/arti....._65076875/

    Quantum Coherence and Consciousness – Scientific Proof of ‘Mind’ – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/6266865/

    Particular quote of note from preceding video;

    “Wolf Singer Director of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research (Frankfurt) has found evidence of simultaneous oscillations in separate areas of the cortex, accurately synchronized in phase as well as frequency. He suggests that the oscillations are synchronized from some common source, but the actual source has never been located.”
    James J. Hurtak, Ph.D. – Ph.D. on non-local consciousness

    In The Wonder Of Being Human: Our Brain and Our Mind, Eccles and Robinson discussed the research of three groups of scientists (Robert Porter and Cobie Brinkman, Nils Lassen and Per Roland, and Hans Kornhuber and Luder Deeke), all of whom produced startling and undeniable evidence that a “mental intention” preceded an actual neuronal firing – thereby establishing that the mind is not the same thing as the brain, but is a separate entity altogether.
    http://books.google.com/books?.....8;lpg=PT28

    “As I remarked earlier, this may present an “insuperable” difficulty for some scientists of materialists bent, but the fact remains, and is demonstrated by research, that non-material mind acts on material brain.” Eccles

    “Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder.”
    Heinrich Heine – in the year 1834

    ============

    Myosin Coherence
    Excerpt: Quantum physics and molecular biology are two disciplines that have evolved relatively independently. However, recently a wealth of evidence has demonstrated the importance of quantum mechanics for biological systems and thus a new field of quantum biology is emerging. Living systems have mastered the making and breaking of chemical bonds, which are quantum mechanical phenomena. Absorbance of frequency specific radiation (e.g. photosynthesis and vision), conversion of chemical energy into mechanical motion (e.g. ATP cleavage) and single electron transfers through biological polymers (e.g. DNA or proteins) are all quantum mechanical effects.

    etc.. etc..

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    This also may be on interest:

    This following experiment is really interesting:

    Scientific Evidence That Mind Effects Matter – Random Number Generators – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4198007

    I once asked a evolutionist, after showing him the preceding experiment, “Since you ultimately believe that the ‘god of random chance’ produced everything we see around us, what in the world is my mind doing pushing your god around?”

    Here is another article that is far more nuanced in the discerning of ‘transcendent mind’ from material brain, than the ‘brute’ empirical evidence I’ve listed:

    The Mind and Materialist Superstition – Six “conditions of mind” that are irreconcilable with materialism:
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....super.html

  7. 7
    MedsRex says:

    Great

  8. 8
    MedsRex says:

    Great post! These are the kinds of posts that keep me coming back to UD. Fundamental questions get investigated and ideas proposed without an umbilical attachment to pure materialism. Look forward to the next.

  9. 9
    ScottAndrews says:

    However, I would like to draw attention to one little-noticed consequence of the fact that God can move bodies at will: it entails that all physical things have non-physical properties. (I owe this insight to Professor David Oderberg.) Each and every physical object has the property that whenever God wills that it should perform some action, it will perform that action.

    This sounds a bit like an attempt to explain something unknown about God through philosophy. We don’t know whether he operates on physical matter through some non-physical attribute. The scriptures describe Him as doing things by means of His spirit. Perhaps He has a manner of projecting Himself to interact with matter in a physical way.
    I don’t mean to speculate – that’s exactly my point, that we can’t make such statements with any degree of certainty.

    As for dualism – curiously Wikipedia refers to Genesis 2:7, describing when Adam became a soul. It’s hard to see why they would do so, because the Hebrew word for ‘soul’ is also used to refer to animals and even dead bodies. Many translations cover over this by translating nephesh as ‘being’ when it refers to Adam but as ‘creature’ when it refers to an animal. They shouldn’t do that because it deliberately obscures the repeated use of the same word, replacing the meaning of the verses with what the translators would like it to be and hiding the original meaning.
    No one who wrote those original verses or read them in the first 1000 years after they were written ever thought of the soul as something different from themselves. They used the expression “my soul” much as we would say “I” or “myself,” such as “My soul is hungry.”
    The scriptures don’t need an infusion of Greek philosophy to be complete. In fact they urge caution toward such influences.

  10. 10
    bornagain77 says:

    This may be of ‘technical’ interest:

    Quantum coherence in ion channels: resonances, transport and verification – 2010
    Excerpt: Ion channels are protein complexes that regulate the flow of particular ions across the cell membrane and are essential for a large range of cellular functions [19]. Besides their role in neuronal communications, in which voltage-gated channels and ligand-gated channels are involved in the generation of action potentials and mediating synaptic release, more generally ion channels play a key role in processes that rely on fast responses on the bio-molecular scale. Examples include muscle contraction, epithelial transport and T-cell activation [19, 20],,, A closer look at the involved dimensions and energetics of the process reveals that the underlying mechanism for ion transmission and selectivity might not be entirely classical.
    http://www.vaziria.com/pdf/Qua.....annels.pdf

  11. 11
    mike1962 says:

    “how can an immaterial mind, which is completely lacking in physical properties, exert any causal influence on the material world? The idea seems to make no sense at all.”

    Dualism is false because the spacetime universe is merely a computed “virtual reality” construct in the same domain where consciousness exists. Consciousness doesn’t interact with particles in spacetime. It interacts with the thing that is *generating* the particles (as computed entities), to which our science can never probe.

    Unlike the Matrix movie, the more fundamental reality is not merely an image of the virtual reality. The fundamental reality is impossible to describe or detect directly. The fundamental reality implements all spacetime objects and consciousness is on that level.

    Consciousness is the Real Thing. Space-time and its objects are the artifacts. The interaction of consciousness and spacetime objects are at the level of spacetime implementation, not “within” spacetime.

  12. 12
    Matteo says:

    So far I have only talked about how I move my body, through my acts of will. What about God? How does He manage to move bodies, if He is a pure spirit? What needs to be kept in mind here is that God keeps bodies in being and is the Author of their very natures. So it is simply inconceivable that they could fail to respond to His will. However, I would like to draw attention to one little-noticed consequence of the fact that God can move bodies at will: it entails that all physical things have non-physical properties. (I owe this insight to Professor David Oderberg.) Each and every physical object has the property that whenever God wills that it should perform some action, it will perform that action. Insofar as this property of the object is a property that refers to an incorporeal Being (God), it is a non-physical property.

    Indeed.

    In the final analysis, spirit is the only thing that ultimately moves matter. Particles-in-general “following the laws of physics” is no less a matter-spirit interaction than the (dreaded-by-materialists) “ghost in the machine”.

    No laws of physics are violated when the mind causes matter to move in the nervous system, because the exact same ultimate laws are being followed during the operation of inanimate matter: namely matter following the will of spirit, either God’s or the free-will-possessing creature’s. Matter is, and has always been at the disposal of mind, in one way or another. The “interaction problem” only arises if one assumes that matter is primary.

  13. 13
    mike1962 says:

    “So far I have only talked about how I move my body, through my acts of will. What about God? How does He manage to move bodies, if He is a pure spirit?”

    Our consciousness is of like nature as God’s. His consciousness is not generated by a space-time brain and neither is ours. (Ours brains are interfaces to space-time and determine our experience. We, that is, our consciousness, do not directly interact with our brains, we interact with the thing that generates our brains.) He doesn’t directly interact with space-time objects, he interacts with the thing that *implements* space-time objects, the Space-time Virtual Machine.

    Space-time objects have no reality at all exist for “machine states” in the Space-time Virtual Machine. How else do you think a photon can “travel all the paths” and “choose” the Path of Least Action, even when the path of the photon is changed after the photon has been set “in flight?” There’s a whole mechanism of computed activity beneath what brains can perceive within space-time.

  14. 14
    gpuccio says:

    Elizabeth:

    I am particularly pleased with your post here, and even if my views could be a little different from yours on some final aspects, I certainly consider all that you say in that post essentially true.

    I weould like to clarify a little my personal view on these points, which I have many times expressed here.

    Consciousness is the real, whole mystery of reality. Consciousness, not self-consciousness. For consciousness I mean the existence of conscious representations in a perceiving I.

    That I, I often call the “transcendental I”, because it cannot be defined or explained in terms of any material, or even purely rational, theories.

    Consciousness and the existence of a unifying I that refers to itself all its representations are indeed a fact, and not a theory. Consciousness and the existence of subjective expereinces is known “directly” by each of us (our personal consciousness). It is then “inferred” in others, on the basis of our personal experience and of the formal similarities between us and other (a fundamental inference by analogy, but a very strong one). All our successive knowledge is built on that fundamental perception and inference, therefore consciousness should be at the top of any map of reality we build.

    The transcendental I has apparently two kinds of basic activities, which can simply be described from our personal experience (and from others’experience). It receives inputs and transforms them into conscious representations (sensations, thoughts, etc.). And it generates outputs (free seeds of action).

    Regarding the mind, I don’t believe that that concept is welll defined and clear. I would say that we often call “mind” those formal representations in the I that probably have not a purely material status. Applying this definition (purposefully vague) I would say that the I interacts with the mind, and the mind interacts with matter. Matter and mind are formal, although with different properties, and they share at least some deterministic m echanisms. The I is transcendental: it apparently represents forms, but is not formal. It perceives parts, but is essentially simple.

    Two fundamental experiences of the conscious I can easily be described, but can never be defined in non conscious terms. They are meaning and purpose. Meaning is the basic expression of the I’s cognitive aspect (it refers to the experience of true and false); while purpose is the basic expression of the I’s feeling aspect (it refers to the experienc of good and bad). both aspects are intertwined in conscious representations (there is no cognition which generates no feeling, and no feeling which is not applied to some cognition).

    Another important point, strictly derived from ID theory, is a cosncious I is absolutely necessary for functionally specified complex information to be generated. Indeed, a conscious “intelligent” I is necessary for that.

    I believe that the experience of cognition and feeling, of meaning and purpose, is the secret behind FSCI. In no other way the magterail outputs bearing the property of FSCI can cone into existence, is meaning and purpose, cosnciously experienced by some conscious agent, are not directly or indirectly behind their creation.

    Which is, in few words, the essential point of ID.

  15. 15
    Ilion says:

    VJTorley:Regular readers of my posts will be aware that I reject materialism. One of the strongest arguments for materialism, however, is that its alternative, dualism, is untenable [difficult to reconcile with our lived-physicalism]. The main problem confronting dualism is the “interaction problem”: how can an immaterial mind, which is completely lacking in physical properties, exert any causal influence on the material world? The idea seems to make no sense at all.

    On the one hand, we have materialism, a world-view which we find very easy to understand — and from which logically follows all sorts of propositions/conclusions that we *know* to be false and/or self-contradictory. Among the biggies are that we *cannot* think, or reason, or know truth.

    On the other hand, we have anti-materialism, a world-view of which we find some aspects difficult to reconcile with our natural habit of viewing everything solely in terms of physical entities

    On the other-other hand, we have no other options.

    So, the choice is between a world-view that we can tame — but which is a known engine for generating false claims — and one that we cannot tame — but which generates no false claims.

    Yeah, I can see the dilemma in choosing one or the other.

  16. 16
    tragic mishap says:

    EL:

    I, in other words, am the decision-maker responsible for my actions; or, to turn it round: the agent responsible for the actions for which I am prepared to take responsibility is the thing I call “I”.

    I totally agree. Who “I” am is above and antecedent to my mind. It is the decision maker, where free will exists. Now where could this “I” exist? I wonder.

  17. 17
    vjtorley says:

    Meds Rex,

    Thanks for your comments. Glad you enjoyed reading this post. I’ll try to keep the posts rolling out. There should be quite a few more, this month.

  18. 18
    vjtorley says:

    bornagain77,

    Thanks very much for the links. I have the greatest respect for Dr. Michael Egnor, and his article “The Mind and Materialist Superstition” was crisp and to the point. I’ll have a look at the quantum links too. Thanks again.

  19. 19
    vjtorley says:

    mike1962

    Very interesting posts. Do you have a link where you describe your theory of reality at greater length? I’d be interested in reading it. I’m especially curious about the Space-time Virtual Machine. It sounds like your account of mind and matter is functionally equivalent to Malebranche’s occasionalism. Am I right?

  20. 20
    vjtorley says:

    Matteo,

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote:

    “The ‘interaction problem’ only arises if one assumes that matter is primary.”

    Ilion,

    I liked the contrast you drew at the end between a world-view we can tame – but which generates false claims – and a world-view we cannot tame – but which generates no false claims. That’s a very good way of putting it. Thanks.

    Elizabeth,

    I was very interested to see that you agree that I can interact with my brain. I guess the difference between us is that I would also hold that I can interact with my brain in a non-physical, non-deterministic manner.

    You made a good point when you wrote that talking responsibility for nothing means defining yourself out of existence. A “noble materialist” may attempt to fight this temptation by taking responsibility for his/her actions, even though he/she believes all human actions to be determined. But every time a materialist tries to break a bad habit, and fails, he/she has to confront what materialism says about this failure: “I was destined to fail. I might have thought that I was going to succeed in kicking the habit, but it was never going to happen.” That’s pretty demoralizing. A libertarian would never say that to him/herself.

    What was your Ph.D. topic, by the way?

  21. 21
    Elizabeth Liddle says:

    My PhD topic was temporal and spatial attention deficits in dyslexia.

    My domain of interest is in how we make “forward models”, why acquisition of those skills may be compromised in some people, and why this may be relevant to certain disorders.

    I’m particularly interest in brain networks and how they interact.

    Re determinism – my own view is that it is irrelevant! What matters (as I see it) is whether I can weigh up appropriate factors in making a decision. Where “I” denotes something that incorporates the decision making apparatus in my brain!

  22. 22
    gpuccio says:

    Elizabeth:

    Re determinism – my own view is that it is irrelevant! What matters (as I see it) is whether I can weigh up appropriate factors in making a decision. Where “I” denotes something that incorporates the decision making apparatus in my brain!

    Please, explain:

    a) If you “weigh up” factors, what is happening? A conscious I represents factors and chooses, or an authomatic algorithm gives a determined result, given the input of factors?

    b) What does “making a decision mean”? Again, if a computing algorithm in your brain gives a determined output, I can’t see any difference between that and a simple patellar reflex. The fact that you call “decision making apparatus” some particular network or nueons in the brain does not make it a decision making apparatus. It remains a network of neurons, essentially non different from the patellar reflex.

    3) If your “I” “incorporates the decision making apparatus” (whatever it is), what else makes up “the I”?

    Just to know what you really think.

  23. 23
    mike1962 says:

    vjtorley: Do you have a link where you describe your theory of reality at greater length?

    http://www.bottomlayer.com/bot.....ment4.html

    It sounds like your account of mind and matter is functionally equivalent to Malebranche’s occasionalism. Am I right?

    From what I can tell, it isn’t, since our consciousness has the ability in a limited way to “change matter” in a small way, via our consciousness association with brains. Also, God’s consciousness is not necessarily involved in every state transition within the virtual machine universe. The virtual machine runs the universe using a set of programmed algorithms (laws). God can intervene (miracles) just as you could intervene in a running computer program that you wrote. You and I are only allowed to intervene in the states of certain subatomic particles associated with our respective brains.

  24. 24
    Mung says:

    God can intervene (miracles) just as you could intervene in a running computer program that you wrote.

    CTRL+ALT+DEL?

    How does a computer programmer interact with a running version of a program he wrote?

    MACHINE+SOFTWARE

  25. 25
    Elizabeth Liddle says:

    gpuccio:

    Elizabeth:

    Re determinism – my own view is that it is irrelevant! What matters (as I see it) is whether I can weigh up appropriate factors in making a decision. Where “I” denotes something that incorporates the decision making apparatus in my brain!

    Please, explain:

    a) If you “weigh up” factors, what is happening? A conscious I represents factors and chooses, or an authomatic algorithm gives a determined result, given the input of factors?

    Excellent question! Well, there has been an important shift of thinking about this over the past couple or so decades, specifically from a “spotlight” model of attention (attention is relevant!) as suggested by William James, in which there is a wielder of a spotlight that brings various things, both external and internally generated, to “attention”. For example we can “notice” something in front of us – shine the “spotlight” on it, or we can “call to mind” some incident, or some task that we have to do, or some person closes to us, or whatever. It makes intuitive sense, but leaves open the huge question: who/what is the wielder of the spotlight?

    In other words, it’s an essentially dualist way of looking at the mind and brain, and although it’s often sort of disguised by terms like “bottom up” and “top down” attentional control, the man behind the curtain is pretty obvious! And, with the advent of neuroimaging, doesn’t seem to be reflected in what we know of the brain. There is no clear hierarchy with a frontal lobe “command centre” as was once expected, dominating what goes on elsewhere. The brain behaves much more like a distributed network – specifically a “small world network”, and functions much more like Wikipedia than Britannica, if you see what I mean.

    And so the increasingly prevailing way of looking at it is using the “salience” model of attention – that there is a kind of Darwinian competition that goes on in the brain for ascendency, with matching patterns tending to mutually reinforce each other, and non-matching patterns tending to mutually inhibit each other. Sometimes it’s called a “horse race” but I find that misleading – it’s more like a Sumo wrestling match where two competing patterns can be precisely balanced, each mutually inhibiting the other and reinforcing itself, with not much apparently going on until one gets a little ahead, reducing the inhibitory effect of the other, but increasing its inhibitory effect ON the other, and loser tumbles out of the ring.

    And the mutually reinforcing patterns include what we perceive as “considerations” contingent outcomes – essentially, the brain “simulates” the outcome of various possible actions and feeds them back as input, so if the outcome is favorable, that pattern will get a boost.

    And I’d say that “I” is not one particular pattern, but the entire repertoire, derived over a lifetime of decision making, goal-achieving, principle-deriving, lessons learned, simulations of other people’s mental states etc, all looped round and assigned to an specific entity, like other entities, but occupying THIS space, namely ME.

    A hideously condensed account, but that was quite a question! And I’m just giving my own working model, of course.

    b) What does “making a decision mean”? Again, if a computing algorithm in your brain gives a determined output, I can’t see any difference between that and a simple patellar reflex. The fact that you call “decision making apparatus” some particular network or nueons in the brain does not make it a decision making apparatus. It remains a network of neurons, essentially non different from the patellar reflex.

    I think it’s very different, because it is at a hugely higher level. To use a silly analogy: it would be like saying that a mountain is essentially no different from a molehill. Size matters! Not only does size matters, but, I would say (not original-ly) that what really matters is “freedom from immediacy”. We call a reflex a reflex because there are no degrees of freedom. You hit your patella and your leg flips. It doesn’t matter what else is happening, how inconvenient it is, whether you will kick someone and hurt them, try to resist doing it, your leg will still flip. In contrast, the brain has literally (I would say) an astronomical number of degrees of freedom. There is, I would argue, essentially no limit to the number of thoughts you could think – the number of options you could weigh up before coming to a decision or even the number of options you could decide to ignore before coming to a decision. And that, IMO, is why we call it “free will” – all those degrees of freedom! Whereas your patella has none.

    3) If your “I” “incorporates the decision making apparatus” (whatever it is), what else makes up “the I”?

    Just to know what you really think.

    Well, it’s not just the apparatus, it’s the database, as it were (although the two are highly interlinked). We are not merely decision makers but repositories of information that inform those decisions, as well as what I sometimes think of as “ass grooves” (Simpsons reference!) Every time we do anything, or think anything, our brain changes – that thing becomes either more (mostly) or less likely to be done again. Take habits – the more often you remember to brush your teeth, the less likely you are to forget to do so. The more often you smile, the more likely you are to do so! The more often you are generous, the more likely you are to do so. So what we are is,very literally, of our own making. We are not passive passengers on a decision-making machine – we are not only the decision-making machine itself but the authors of the machine – the entity that makes the machine what it is. With a little help from our friends, of course 🙂

    Disclaimer: these views are my own, and subject to error 🙂

  26. 26
    mike1962 says:

    mung: How does a computer programmer interact with a running version of a program he wrote?

    Via external interface(s) after the hardware is build in the first place.

  27. 27
    gpuccio says:

    Elizabeth:

    Thank you for clarifying your views. I wholly disagree, but that’s not important after all. I especially disagree in your characterization of the “I”.

    You views are essentially those of strong AI theory, a theory that I dislike even more than neo darwinism. But, as I have said, I do respect you.

    Just to have an idea of my personal point of view, you could just look at my posts 11 and 20 in VJT’s recent thread “How is libertarian free will possible?”

    Just not to repeat myself.

  28. 28
    Mung says:

    Via external interface(s) after the hardware is build in the first place.

    How to recognize and interact with the interface has to be built in from the beginning, as does whatever the interface can do.

  29. 29
    mike1962 says:

    Mung: How to recognize and interact with the interface has to be built in from the beginning, as does whatever the interface can do.

    Yes. The interface is part of the “hardware [that] is built in the first place.”

  30. 30
    Mung says:

    How does God do miracles?

    How is anything God does not a miracle?

  31. 31
    Ilion says:

    gpuccio @ 27You views [concerning what “I” is] are essentially those of strong AI theory, …

    Or, to put it in more blunt terms, LE denies that there even is an “I”.

    Or, to put it yet another way, while EL claims (and may even have convinced herself) that she rejects the eliminative materialism, with respect to the ‘self’, of such persons as Paul and Patricia Churchland, in actual fact, she’s totally on-board that train, along with all her luggage.

  32. 32
    gpuccio says:

    Ilion:

    she’s totally on-board that train, along with all her luggage.

    I agree with you. Still, you will probably agree that she is in good faith, only a little bit confused. And I would say it is not really her fault.

    Strong AI and neodarwinism have been so blatantly converted into shared religions, with utter disregard of all the laws of scientific thought and of scientific pluralism, that it is no surprise that such a widespread conformism in (bad) thought has become the rule in most intelligent and sincere people, unless they are lucky enough to have been openmindedly “exposed” to more constructive patterns of scientific thinking, like ID 🙂

  33. 33
    Ilion says:

    Still, you will probably agree that she is in good faith, only a little bit confused.

    I would?

  34. 34
    Elizabeth Liddle says:

    I do find the tradition here of discussing fellow posters in the third person somewhat disconcerting! I’m not objecting – it’s actually quite interesting.

    But as I’m here in the first person (i.e. in my role as “I”), I’ll comment.

    First of all, thank you, gpuccio, for your graciousness, third person notwithstanding 🙂

    But let me correct you.

    My views are entirely my fault. The reason I can say that is that, far from “eliminating” myself, I most emphatically regard myself as a free agent, and not the puppet of other people’s views. So to say that I deny there is an I, as Ilion claims, is simply wrong. Far from denying there is an I, I, Lizzie, accepts full moral responsibility for my, Lizzie’s own actions.

    Now, you might well want to say: But Lizzie, you do not deny that there is an “I”, because you have said that you take full responsibility for your actions – how then can you reconcile this with an eliminative view?

    That would at least be a reasonable question.

    Or even: Lizzie is nuts: she fully accepts the reality of her own “I”, but can’t see that that renders her eliminatist view untenable.

    Which would at least be a reasonable conclusion.

    But to say I deny the existence of the “I” when I have explicitly said that I don’t, and demonstrated that I don’t seems, well, weird.

    At best.

    *growl*

    Yes, gpuccio, while I dislike labels for complicated concepts, my position would include “strong AI” where that means that whether something is conscious of anything or not can be determined from its behaviour. Note however my use of the phrase “conscious of anything”. I think that one of the obstacles in the way of understanding consciousness is to regard it as a stand-alone phenonmenon. I don’t think it makes sense to talk about “consciousness” without reference to what the conscious thing might be conscious of.

    And one thing that some kinds of conscious things are conscious of is themselves as agents. Those things (people, for instance) refer to themselves-as-agents with the word “I”.

    Far from not existing, the referent for the word “I” most assuredly exists.

    So the question becomes, not “what is consciousness?” but “what does it entail to be conscious of something?” which is a much more tractable question. Nor does answering it entail the “elimination” of the something!

    I’ll take a look at your posts on the other thread, thanks for the references.

  35. 35
    gpuccio says:

    Elizabeth:

    Well, I will motivate more explicitly to you directly my assertions to Ilion.

    I do believe that strong AI (and neodarwinism) have been taken for granted (without reason) by the scientific community fpr so long, and so acritically, that it is really difficult for the individual, now, to see their obvious inconsistencies. You may believe that you are not “the puppet of other people’s views”. You are certyainly right. I certainly don’t see you as a puppet. But I do believe that you, like anyone else, are strongly influenced by the cultural context you live in. As I do believe also that such a cultural context is deeply ideologically biased, and has been for decades, it’s perfectly natural for me to think (and observe) that you have a tendency to conform to that bias.

    For instance, you say:

    “Yes, gpuccio, while I dislike labels for complicated concepts, my position would include “strong AI” where that means that whether something is conscious of anything or not can be determined from its behaviour.”

    Now, that’s a very strange affirmation, or at least an ambiguous one. What do you mean (and, I could say, what does strong AI theory means)?

    a) That there are ways to try to understand if a system is conscious or not. That is just obvious. Detecting something is always a possibility. It is easy to infer that a human is conscious, and a stone is not. It is not a certain truth, but a reasonable inference.

    b) That whatever exhibits a behaviour similar to that of a conscious being can be considered conscious. That is obviously false, and is a gross extremization of the Turing test. A computer can be programmed, to a certain degree. to imitate a conscious behaviour. Does that make it conscious? there is no reason at all to assume that.

    The fact is, consciousness is a word that describes a specific experience, the presence of subjective representations. We know that for certain for ourselves, and infer (reasonably) the same reality for other’s consciousness. But to infer the same experience for a machine that we have programmed to behave automatically in a way similar to ours is really without any foundation.

    Let’s go to the “I”. You say in one of your posts:

    “And I’d say that “I” is not one particular pattern, but the entire repertoire, derived over a lifetime of decision making, goal-achieving, principle-deriving, lessons learned, simulations of other people’s mental states etc, all looped round and assigned to an specific entity, like other entities, but occupying THIS space, namely ME.”

    Here there is the same bias: you are definign the I not for what it is in our experience (a subject), but as the sum total of its objective traits, which at best could be a definition of “mind”, but not of “I”. I agree with you that the sum total of our past experiences, outer and inner ones, is perceived by the I and influences its perceptions and behaviours. But that’s exactly because the I perceives those things, represents them, and has a margin of free choice about how to respond to the. And that margin is not due to “degress of freedom”, as you suggest. The degrees of freedom in a random system are not freedom at all! As well stressed by others here in another thread, a random system is still a necessity system, probability is only a way we can better describe it. A complex system based on necessity, whatever its “degrees of freedom” (which exist only in our probabilistic description of it) has no freedom at all. Its “evolution” is completely determined by necessity laws. Its future states are completely determined. It is not different, in essence, from the patellar reflex.

    Even if we should take into account the quntum level, and consider quantum randomness as essential randomness (which is anywaycontroversial), even than the non determinism implied by quantum fluctuations would in no way mean “freedom”, but just complete dependence on probability laws.

    Not so with a conscious model of free will, where between the representation of previous states (the cognitive moment) and the output of a (inner or outer) response (the action moment) there is a range of possible different reactions, which configures free will. That context, that we experience daili in ourselves and infer in others, is strictly dependent on the “conscious representation” part.

    So, consciousness does matter. You say:

    “So the question becomes, not “what is consciousness?” but “what does it entail to be conscious of something?” which is a much more tractable question.”

    What is consciousnes, I agree, is the wrong question. And yet it is exactly the question so dear to stron AI fans, so ready to define it as loop, feedback, or other nonsense.

    And yet the answer is simple: consciousness is just a word that descirbes a fact: our conscious experience, the existence of subjective representations.

    So, it’s useless to ask what it is: we alredy know, Consciousness is a fact. The correct question is: shall we put that fundamental fact in our map of reality, or just stick to a false map, where that fundamental fact is “explained away” as the result of some objective structure of unconscious entities, without any reason to believe that?

    You ask “what does it entail to be conscious of something?”. As universal experience. to be conscious of something one has to have a perceiving I, must be a subject. That’s the meaning of the word.

    Now, would you justify in some way the strange notion that including one (or thousands, or millions) of loops in a softwrae makes it conscious? Makes a perceiving I, a subjective consciousness, appear, where there was none, say, one loop before? What are the logical, philosophical or empirical premises for such a ridiculous conclusion?

  36. 36
    Ilion says:

    ELI do find the tradition here of discussing fellow posters in the third person somewhat disconcerting! I’m not objecting – it’s actually quite interesting.

    How else is it to be done, but in the third person? And, on what ground could you possibly object (I mean, even aside from the question of you “I-ness”)? Objective morality?

    ELBut as I’m here in the first person (i.e. in my role as “I”), I’ll comment.

    You don’t exist; you’ve said so, yourself.

    ————–
    There is another way of using the third person, which is quite rude, being a passive-aggressive form of insult, in that seeks to objectify the person so referred. I call it “talking at”; it’s done like this –

    ELI do find the tradition here of discussing fellow posters in the third person somewhat disconcerting! I’m not objecting – it’s actually quite interesting.

    I wonder what EL means by this statement? It’s almost as though she delegates to herself the right to dictate others’ traditions.

  37. 37
    Elizabeth Liddle says:

    Ilion, if you insist on ascribing to me views I not only do not hold, but have explicitly told you I do not hold, there really is no point in conversing with you.

    No, I do not delegate [sic] to myself the right to dictate others’ traditions, nor have I said so. I merely find the tradition odd. But interestingly so. It’s like being a fly on the wall on the kind of conversation from which the subject (the fly) is normally excluded.

    Nor do I believe I do not exist.

    Nor do you.

    So why say so?

  38. 38
    Elizabeth Liddle says:

    gpuccio – I’ve responded to one of your posts on the libertarian thread – I’ll leave you to read that one before I respond to the one above, as I think it is relevant!

    But thank you for this one too.

  39. 39
    Ilion says:

    Ilíon: You don’t exist; you’ve said so, yourself.
    EL:Ilion, if you insist on ascribing to me views I not only do not hold, but have explicitly told you I do not hold, …

    Nor do I believe I do not exist.

    Nor do you.
    So why say so?

    You’re having difficulty with following logic as expressed via the English language, aren’t you? Or, maybe you’re just one of those persons who believes/asserts that she may say whatever she wishes to say, regardless of the meaning of what she says, and even when it contradicts itself or whatever else she has said, so long as it is “conversation”

    EL:No, I do not delegate [sic] to myself …

    … and, apparently, the usages and/or spelling of the English language.

    EL:… there really is no point in conversing with you.

    It has been obvious, from the start, that you have nothing to say. And that you will say it, at great length.

    I don’t give a damn about “conversation;” I care about reasoning properly and finding what truths we may.

  40. 40
    Ilion says:

    … that you have nothing to say.

    A better phrasing would be “… that you haven’t much to say.”

  41. 41
    Mung says:

    And I reject “I-body” dualism for the same reason as I reject particle-wave dualism.

    – Elizabeth Liddle

    Why do you reject wave-particle dualism?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave-particle_duality

  42. 42
    Smash Boy says:

    The interaction problem is due to the fact that both substances must share properties in order to interact, given the hard problem of consciousness and the impossibility of Substance Dualism, the best and only solution is to adopt Dual Aspect Objective Idealism.

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