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Is the Physical Causally Closed?

Introductory Papers



Generative Dualism

It is generally taken as a strong indication against dualism that the physical world appears to be causally closed. This is taken from the fact that the total of energy and total momentum appear to be accurately conserved whenever they have been measured in modern physics. These conservation laws do not seem to allow any room for minds to make any difference to evolution of the physical world. We should first note, with Meixner (2005), that there is little or no experimental evidence just where it is needed, namely within living bodies and especially within brains, so the universal application of conservation laws is an assumption of the physical scienceSs, not a result as it is commonly presented. Various general philosophical arguments for causal closure have been presented, but they all depend on some assumption that is almost identical to the result to be proved.

Suppose that physicists found that conservation laws in a object were not conserved in some instances. How would they react? First, they would note that the laws apply only to isolated systems, so they would examine whether the object really was isolated or not, and whether they should look for something further (like a hidden planet) that was producing the effects. Secondly, they could generalise the conservation laws so the new law was satisfied but not the old one. It used to be thought, for example, that total mass and total energy were separately conserved, but, after many subatomic experiments showing the annihilation and creation of massive particles, those separate laws were quietly dropped in favour of a general law of conservation of mass-energy in combination. Note that this example is directly related to having a virtual as well as a ‘actual’ degree in physics. A further ‘pregeometric’ degree would force a further generalisation of the conservation laws. At present, energy and momentum conservation are typically ‘derived’ from the invariance of the underlying Lagrangian under small time and spatial translations respectively. If spacetime were curved, or was being dynamically generated in some way, this invariance would not hold, but physicists would soon come up with a ‘generalised mass-energy’ measure that was still conserved. If, therefore, the non-conservation of energy and/or momentum were found in certain biological or psychological processes, science as we know it would not collapse. Either the influence from other kinds of beings would be ascertained, or a further generalisation of the conservation laws would be sought. The only novelty in the proposals here, is that these ‘other kinds of beings’ would not be ‘physical’ in the traditional way. I remark that the generalised conservation laws (beyond the pregeometric degree) to take into account these new substances will still be recognisably rational.

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