If I'm a monist about the mind and physicalism and/or causal determinism, when I change my mind about some topic, I can posit something causally linked to my mind as changing my opinion. Perhaps I read a new article and the representation I have of the world was caused to adapt.

What about for a dualist about the mind and causation? If I think the mind is not physically caused, when I change my mind about something, why did that happen? For one example if I think consciousness lives in some un-physically caused realm like Platonic univerals do, nothing "in the world" has any effect on them.

I'd be stuck saying things like "I changed my own mind, or my mind changes its own mind".

But I think no one would utter such sentences. And it seems very hard to argue a mind can change itself all the way from babbling to understanding general relativity.

  • I think it is common to confuse "causing" with "determining". Dualists can hold that there are causal influences in both directions between mind and matter, which affect outcomes, but do not determine them except in limit cases. Or they can hold that there is psychophysical parallelism, with happenings in the material realm simply reflecting happenings in the mental realm. The mental realm need not consist of a single mind "changing itself" either. There is mental stuff there, some of it organized into minds, some not, and some parts of it influence other parts, prompting them to change.
    – Conifold
    Sep 29, 2021 at 20:00
  • @Conifold Thanks. Where causal influences don't fully determine, what else besides causes could lead to something determinate though? Besides just parallel reflection. And what word would parallel dualists use for a mind changing from one view to another? Just a less loaded word like "change" instead of "cause"?
    – J Kusin
    Sep 29, 2021 at 20:40
  • It could be mental on mental causation, and it need not be anything at all. That is what people call causa sui, and mind is supposed to be particularly "spontaneous" and adept at being causa sui. Not that even matter cannot undergo underdetermined changes, as it does on standard interpretations of quantum mechanics. "Causation" is already unloaded there, we say that excited state of an atom causes it to emit photons even though it does not determine when or in what direction they are emitted. Nothing does.
    – Conifold
    Sep 29, 2021 at 22:46
  • @Conifold That's interesting to link the spontaneity/indeterminancy of this kind of dualistic mind and qm. I thought the indeterminancy of textbook qm was in some ways more novel (and thus harder to accept) of a concept till now. Thanks for your time
    – J Kusin
    Sep 29, 2021 at 22:50
  • 1
    There is a long tradition of linking physical indeterminism to minds going back to classical mechanics, with Maxwell and Boussinesq making such proposals, see History of the study of indeterminism in classical mechanics. With QM, "consciousness causes collapse" became a refrain.
    – Conifold
    Sep 29, 2021 at 22:56

2 Answers 2


Dualism uses a non-reductionist approach, where the mind is not some kind of thought machine where one thing leads to another. Instead, mind events in dualism are non-reducable to "smaller" mind events, which makes it impossible to describe mind events in the same way one would describe a car engine or a coffee machine.

So instead, seemingly nonsensical phrases like

"I changed my own mind, or my mind changes its own mind"

are common in dualist writing, and are a result of non-reducability not being a phenomenon that can be well-described.

This is frustrating for non-dualists, but to libertarians this is bliss, because all forms of reductionism destroy moral responsibility to them. As in: "Your honor, my client is innocent, the decision to kill was the result of a mental process over which my client had no control".

Libertarians do not seek to analyze the mind and reduce events like changing ones mind to smaller events and mechanisms. Libertarians seek to place the mind in a place where reduction is impossible and thus both freedom and moral responsibility in their sense can exist.

The challenge of dualism is not to add yet another of the hundreds of existing theories of where mind could be hiding if it's not physical. The challenge is to make one that is compelling enough to beat all the others.

  • We do know where mind is located. It's in the brain. It's actually a property of a living brain, its capacity to process knowledge. We also know that knowledge is not physical matter or energy. Knowledge is different, governed by different rules some of which may be subjective, different in each individual's mind. May 21, 2022 at 16:35
  • Comments are not for discussion. My answer is about dualist writings, not about what i know or believe. What you personally believe does not matter. This forum is not about you. Learn the rules.
    – tkruse
    May 21, 2022 at 23:13
  • This forum is not about your rules. Nothing in my comment is a belief. The mind is not hiding. We all have it and use it. May 22, 2022 at 2:52

I found this also hinges on if one accepts foundationalism and what one takes as foundational. It also relates to what role science plays.

For example, if we are foundationalists about sense data, we can’t “decide” which theories to believe when we look at an experiment. Sense data would be like a master key which alone can change our opinions. I think this is not what we want science to do, nor how we think about it. We do decide which ledes to follow in most cases.

If we can decide, then we’re either foundational about something else like norms or intentions, or just not foundational.

I’m not entirely sure which metaphysics and ontologies are foundational and to what they are foundational about, if they are. Physicalism doesn’t seem to be foundational about senses or minds in this way. But maybe there are specific versions that are.

Since we don’t regard science as forcing our minds about something, it would seem to suggest physicalism can’t find sense data foundational. Whatever that entails I’m not sure.

The stuff is loosely borrowed from Donald Davidson. https://youtu.be/ecqO4LMbYvk around 1:12:00.

  • Just keep in mind, that the mind is processing knowledge, not any physical matter or energy. The mind is just the physical brain's capacity to process immaterial knowledge. May 21, 2022 at 16:42

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