Parallelism and Mind-Body Law-like Relations
January 27, 2010 — 0:03

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Christian Theology Concept of God Divine Providence  Comments: 12

I’m going a bit out on a limb and talking about stuff I haven’t read too much about. But if blogs are for learning and fun discussion, I guess I don’t need to be an expert! Also, this post is directed more toward people who are theists, substance dualists, and deniers of open theism.


Take Leibniz’s theory of pre-established harmony (also called ‘parallelism’), according to which the correlation between mental and physical states occurs by way of God’s predestination. Suppose I am pricked by a needle at t5. God also determined from the beginning of time that I would feel a pain at t5 (or very shortly after t5). When I will to move my arm at t8, God also determined from the beginning of time that my arm move at t8. There is no direct causal relationship between the physical event and the mental event. Through parallelism, Leibniz has a complete story of how the mental states and physical states are well correlated; there is a pre-established harmony between the two realms. (We can see why the denier of open theism might not like parallelism; according to open theism, there are some acts of the will that God did not know would happen, and so God could not have predetermined which physical event should occur in certain instances of free mental acts.)
Take another view according to which God sets up some fundamental laws at the beginning of time which determine some mental states to follow from certain physical states and vice versa. Whenever certain brain states enter events of type A, then the soul feels pain. Whenever they are in type B, then the soul feels pleasure. Whenever a soul enters into a state of willing X, then certain brain states enter a certain state. There is genuine causal interaction on this view. Since I can’t think of a better word, I’ll call this view ‘nomologism’.
I suspect that most theistic dualists would accept something like nomologism. (If not, then I’m curious what most theistic dualists would hold?)
But I wonder why nomologism is any better than parallelism, which is widely disregarded and even mocked? One downside of parallelism is the rejection of real causal relationships, but I’m not sure if that’s so bad. The theories are still empirically identical. For the theistic dualist who rejects open theism, I can’t see a compelling reason to hold to nomologism over parallelism.
For those who find intuitions about causal relationships to obviously set nomologism over parallelism, I wonder if there’s any reason to accept nomologism over parallelism in addition to intuitions about causal relationships.
In fact, nomologism [edit: I should have said ‘parallelism’ here; thanks Clayton] seems to be the simpler theory in that God need not set up laws at the beginning of the universe, which would require determining what happens in nearby possible worlds, but simply what will happen in the future, which would only require determining what will happen in the actual world.
Anyway, for those who are more well-versed in this subject than me, I look forward to learning from you!

Comments:
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    “In fact, nomologism seems to be the simpler theory in that God need not set up laws at the beginning of the universe, which would require determining what happens in nearby possible worlds, but simply what will happen in the future, which would only require determining what will happen in the actual world.”
    Did you mean to say “parallelism” in that sentence? If you did, here’s an answer to what might be a different question from the one that you’re asking:
    Claim: In fact, parallelism seems to be the simpler theory in that God need not set up laws at the beginning of the universe, which would require determining what happens in nearby possible worlds, but simply what will happen in the future, which would only require determining what will happen in the actual world.
    Response: The simplest way to determine what will happen here is to set up laws rather than engage in constant intervention and in the wake of establishing such laws, the grounds for counterfactuals and truths about nearby worlds are fixed. It is not as if in establishing a law, God has to arrange the higher-order properties here and there. So, I think the simplicity considerations point in favor of the nomological view.
    Question: Do people who accept parallelism tend to deny that God created laws in order to establish the parallel or as a consequence of establishing harmony? It seems that on some views of what laws are, there’s little ‘room’ for God to establish the parallels but not institute a law (assuming that we’re not dealing with a case of constant intervention).

    January 27, 2010 — 7:19
  • Mike Almeida

    Take another view according to which God sets up some fundamental laws at the beginning of time which determine some mental states to follow from certain physical states and vice versa.
    I actually can’t see the difference between parallelism and nomologism. On the former, God predetermines certain observable regularities. Aren’t those laws? Certainly for Leibniz, the regularities occur with something even stronger than causal necessity, so they seem at least laws. Let me put it another way: if parallelism is true, I wouldn’t conclude that there are no laws of nature.

    January 27, 2010 — 8:47
  • Surely causation matters. Much of the moral life is about causal interaction with others. (Actually, Leibniz does think there are causal interactions between monads, and he has a reductive story about these. But I think the story fails.)
    Another problem is with regard to freedom of the will. If there is no genuine causal interaction between you and me, why is it that your nature is such as to make you feel a pain right after I decide to poke you? Leibniz is a compatibilist, so for him there is no problem here: God chooses to actualize persons with well-coordinated natures, you with a nature that causes you to feel a pain at t1, and me with a nature in which I freely choose to poke you at t0. But if we’re libertarians, this is more problematic. It seems that then Molinism is called for, because without Molinism, it’s hard to see how God can choose coordinated persons–persons whose free choices correspond to one another’s causal interactions.
    So, Leibniz requires, I think, Molinism or compatibilism. But both Molinism and compatibilism seem to be false.

    January 27, 2010 — 9:41
  • Andrew Moon

    quick response to Clayton, yes, I did mean ‘parallelism’, and I just edited the original post.
    quick response to Alex, right, which is why the post is aimed primarily toward people who reject open theism. see the parenthetical remark at the end of my second paragraph.
    thanks for the comments everyone, I hope to respond at more length shortly.

    January 27, 2010 — 10:46
  • But rejecting open theism does not imply accepting Molinism or compatibilism. All the Church Fathers, for instance, reject open theism. Some may have been compatibilists, but probably not all, and Molinism wasn’t invented yet.

    January 27, 2010 — 13:26
  • Jeremy Pierce

    I don’t think parallelism requires compatibilism or Molinism. All it requires is foreknowledge of what people will do, not counterfactual knowledge of what they would do. If God knows what I will do (which is on the mental level given dualism), then God can arrange the causal laws in the material world (which do not cause me to do anything) to correspond with everything I and other freely-choosing beings.
    I’ve always thought the only strong argument against parallelism comes from non-theists. If you don’t already believe in God, it seems strangely coincidental for two causally-independent realms to correspond so exactly. If you already accept theism, I don’t think there’s a strong argument. But I do think there are some considerations. Maybe the strongest (which as I said I don’t think is very strong) is a Cartesian intuition that it seems deceptive for God to arrange things so that we would seem to have causal interaction with the physical world when we don’t. I don’t think this is very strong, though, because as Hume pointed out we don’t really observe causation. We just infer it, and maybe Hume is right that we shouldn’t. If it doesn’t occur, an externalist epistemology (which I would endorse) would say we have no justification in believing in it. Only if it does occur does our reliable belief-forming process allow our belief in causation to be knowledge. It’s not even remotely justified on a sufficiently-externalist epistemology if it’s not true.
    I do think there is one key difference between parallelism and nomologism. The metaphysics is indeed different, even if empirically (from an epistemologically-internalist perspective) we can’t tell the difference. The nomologism thinks things in each realm actually have causal efficacy toward things in the other realm. The laws make it such that one causes the other. The parallelist denies this. At least if Humeanism about causation is wrong (and it is), then mere regularities don’t make for causation. Causation is prior to constant conjunction and makes it happen. In non-causal cases of constant conjunction, it is God’s correlation of events that explains the constant conjunction. So the difference is at the metaphysical level, not at the epistemological level. A Humean about causation won’t see the difference, so maybe that’s why some here are suggesting that the two aren’t any different. But if causation is prior to the fact that events happen to be next to each other regularly, then there is a crucial difference.

    January 31, 2010 — 7:22
  • Andrew Moon

    Jeremy,
    Thanks for those thoughts in response to Alex.
    Mike,
    I think a big that the establishment of a law would also be the establishment of true counterfactuals, truths about what will happen in nearby worlds. On nomologism, God does set into place truths about what happens in nearby worlds; on parallelism, this is left open.
    Clayton,
    I think that nomologism does not entail parallelism in that nomologism is open w/r/t the question of open theism (and parallelism is not). I think that parallelism does nont entail nomologism for the reason that I just gave to Mike. (What I am saying isn’t contradicting anything you said.)
    “It seems that on some views of what laws are, there’s little ‘room’ for God to establish the parallels but not institute a law (assuming that we’re not dealing with a case of constant intervention).”
    Well, you do not need constant intervention if God has exhaustive foreknowledge (or middle knowledge or whatever) of what is going to happen. I think.
    I don’t know if any major figure alive today accepts parallelism.

    January 31, 2010 — 19:18
  • Mike Almeida

    I think .. . the establishment of a law would also be the establishment of true counterfactuals, truths about what will happen in nearby worlds. On nomologism, God does set into place truths about what happens in nearby worlds. . .
    Sure laws support counterfactuals, but that gives us no theory of what laws are. Take laws as regularities based on God’s consistent intervention–for all we know that’s exactly what they are–then those laws too would support counterfactuals. Take laws to be Humean regularities, those too support laws. Take laws to be established by God at the outset as parallel events. Those too support counterfactuals. The idea that laws support counterfactuals tells us nothing about the nature of laws. Actual laws might be any one of these–nobody knows–and actual laws support counterfactuals.

    February 1, 2010 — 7:23
  • Jeremy:
    I am not clear on how this will go. As I see the scenario, God first decides to create a certain bunch of people. He then foreknows what they will choose, and ensures laws and initial conditions consonant with their choices.
    But what they will choose is dependent on these laws. This is because of the phenomenon of thrownness: Our choices are, crucially, dependent on the circumstances they are made in. If I ask you to do A, you are apt to act differently than had I kept my mouth shut. But the connection between my asking you and your acting is dependent on laws of nature according to which when I ask you for something, you hear my request.

    February 1, 2010 — 9:32
  • Andrew Moon

    Mike,
    Ah, I see what you are saying. I’ll have to think about that.

    February 1, 2010 — 11:07
  • Andrew Moon

    Alex,
    hmm… it looks like something like molinism or compatibilism is required…

    February 4, 2010 — 14:23
  • Andrew Moon

    Ah, I found helpful discussion of this issue in Plantinga’s article “Materialism and Christian Belief” in Persons: Human and Divine (pp. 127-133). I see that proper progress on this issue would take a lot more careful formulation of the problem(s) than I have (or have time for). Welp, I think I learned something new in the process, anyway.

    February 6, 2010 — 17:21