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What separability tells us about consciousness

PostPosted: December 30th, 2018, 9:31 am
by Dave_C
A few years ago, I attempted to publish the attached paper with several journals. After being turned down and getting little feedback, I decided to rewrite the paper which I’ve been doing ever since. I’m posting here to get some preliminary feedback prior to pushing on any further, but I do plan to make updates as necessary and try to get feedback from a number of those whose work I’ve quoted. Here's a link to the paper: ... RY8l-PgVud

When reviewing the paper, I’d be very grateful for any feedback you might have along the lines of:
1) Is the paper understandable? Why/why not? What do you understand well? What don’t you understand well?
2) Is the overall layout and way it is presented helpful? Does the work flow well from one section to another and from one concept to another?
3) If you’re familiar with any of the references, do they make sense to be introduced where they are? Do you know of other references that might be pertinent?
4) Are the sections long enough to explain each concept or too short? Remember, the audience for this is primarily those who have an academic background in philosophy of mind so it may seem difficult to slog through at times.
5) Do you follow the predictions made at the end? This was added recently and is rather short, but the paper is already too long for some journals and I’ve seen much smaller sections in some of the referenced articles that focus on predictions.

I’d also be interested in any assistance or suggestions getting this published. Some thoughts for a next step include:
1) Post on
2) Post on I’m unfamiliar with this site though and see it doesn’t really cater to philosophy.
3) Other avenues?
I think my primary issue to this point is a lack of qualifications. I only hold a bachelor’s in engineering.

It’s a rather long paper at 12,000 words, though this includes the bibliography. I’m not in a rush to move on at this point so feel free to take your time. I don’t expect feedback on this the same way as we get feedback on other posts.

Best regards,

In the field of engineering and many of the sciences that use classical physics for analysis, computational schemes use the concept of finite volumes because they break down a physical system into smaller parts that allow the governing equations and the phenomena sought to become calculable. These methods follow a common reductive philosophy based on the separability of classical mechanics. This paper reviews and further refines this concept so it can be used to examine the computational theory of mind. What we discover is that classical physics fails to allow for counterfactual dependencies. To maintain these dependencies would require a modification to classical physics to include a special signal which is unmeasurable and has no physical influence. To avoid these special signals it is argued, one must identify a nonseparable physical substrate on which consciousness can supervene, and it is here we find a substrate for phenomenal consciousness and a potential way forward.

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Keywords: phenomenal consciousness, philosophy of mind, counterfactual dependencies, downward causation, emergence, compartment model, computationalism, neuron, classical mechanics physics, separability, non-reductive physicalism, panpsychism, symbol grounding problem

Re: What separability tells us about consciousness

PostPosted: December 30th, 2018, 11:46 am
by davidm
I just skimmed the opening to get a feel for what this is like, and immediately this popped out at me: “This statement, once understood, is exceptionally inciteful…”

Inciteful of what? Rage?

The word, of course, is insightful.

Also, as a veteran reader at and the Phil Sci archive, I think 12,000 words is pretty long compared with most works. You’d probably benefit from editing the work down.

A longtime New York Times editor, I am looking for freelance editing/writing work (all writers need editors). I also have a very good grasp of the literature of the philosophy of consciousness and the mind, including, of course, Chalmers’ Hard Problem.

Re: What separability tells us about consciousness

PostPosted: December 30th, 2018, 1:05 pm
by TheVat
I will read it, this being a topic of interest to me in my brushes with AI (and threads here, of course) and cognitive sciences.

I suspect many typos like "inciteful" are more prevalent now with voice-to-text software and also slow-learning auto-correct.

It's great to hear from you, Dave C. By an odd coincidence, there are multiple citations of David Chalmers in your bibliography.

Re: What separability tells us about consciousness

PostPosted: December 30th, 2018, 4:53 pm
by Dave_C
Hi davidm. The Phil Sci Archives looks like a possible lead on where to post but I don't know if it really fits their format/site. Some sites are for professionals only and you need credentials to get in, which seems true for publishing in most journals.

Regarding length, I've shortened it about 1500 words since the first go around, and that was difficult. I'm sure it could be shortened quite a bit but sometimes the author is the least able to see where to cut. I'd be very interested in any recommendations you can make.

Hi Vat, Any comments or criticisms would be appreciated, I'm always open to suggestions.

Re: What separability tells us about consciousness

PostPosted: January 6th, 2019, 1:21 pm
by PaulN
I have done work in this field as it relates to Turing-ready AI, and have read some of your bibliography already. JM Bishop's paper, Dancing with Pixies, is a good way to ease into this topic. I will have a look at your paper, as I'm interested in holisms and downward causation. For me, acceptance of Bell's nonlocality is a path to accepting a nonseparable physical substrate and some form of functionalism. It seems possible to me that rudimentary mental states could supervene even on very simple inorganic transitions, like the warming of a pebble by the sun or electron transfers in a rain cloud.

Re: What separability tells us about consciousness

PostPosted: January 6th, 2019, 7:24 pm
by Dave_C
Hi Paul. Yes, Bishop does not support the requirement for counterfactuals. He, along with Hillary Putnam, Tim Maudlin, Block and many others, see a serious issue with the requirement put forth by Chalmers and others that for p-consciousness to emerge from those computational interactions, the computation must not only "mirror the causal structure of the physical system" but the causal structure must also provide for these "non-entered computational states". This is actually a very serious issue with computationalism and any kind of AI which purports to produce phenomenal consciousness and the primary one I provide an argument against. Strong emergence and downward causation are never predicted by any classical mechanical theory and I discuss this along with weak emergence. Thanks in advance for any comments you can provide.

Re: What separability tells us about consciousness

PostPosted: January 7th, 2019, 1:52 pm
by TheVat
You're spending a lot of time on control volumes, as I suspected you might, given your previous contributions here at SCF. If I survive that section, it will probably clarify understanding of the locality v nonlocality issues in computationalism. Though, TBH, I wonder how much of that lesson is needed to underscore the disjunction between classical mechanics and strong emergence. I will keep plugging away (and want to look at some of the bibliography material, too).

It does seem clear that you can't trap a holistic phenomenon with a reductive net. If the human brain is too "hot, noisy, and wet" for any sort of quantum superpositions to be harnessed, that will leave the problem of what sort of creature a strong emergence is.

Re: What separability tells us about consciousness

PostPosted: January 7th, 2019, 7:32 pm
by Dave_C
Hi Vat. Thanks for the comments, they are very helpful. I agree, the section on CV’s should be a page. I’ve actually cut it down considerably since the first draft, I know it’s an issue. Problem is, I don’t know how I can reduce it further. Computationalism today is a ‘non-reductive’ concept despite the fact it’s completely reductive. Neuron interactions are obviously separable, but the concept of non-reductionism is utterly ingrained in the literature. As Jaegwaon Kim puts it,
Expressions like “reduction,” reductionism,” reductionist theory,” and “reductionist explanation” have become pejoratives not only in philosophy, on both sides of the Atlantic, but also in the general intellectual culture of today. They have become common epithets thrown at one’s critical targets to tarnish them with intellectual naivete and backwardness. To call someone “a reductionist,” in high-culture press if not in serious philosophy, goes beyond mere criticism or expression of doctrinal disagreement; it is to put a person down, to heap scorn on him and his work. … If you want to be politically correct in philosophical matters, you would not dare come anywhere near reductionism, nor a reductionist. …

Kim is correct. We don’t have any kind of reductive theory of mind despite the fact we have neuroscientists like Markram working on separable, reductive models of the brain based on the control volume concept. If we want to model the brain, or parts thereof, we use CV’s(ie: compartments). If we want to theorize about p-consciousness, we ditch the concept and start babbling about non-reductionism, strong emergence and downward causation, highly nonlinear dynamical systems, and other alternative facts. How do you challenge the status quo when something as simple as the separability of classical physics is not just ignored, it's rewritten? I don’t mean that as a rhetorical question. If you have any ideas, take a step back and consider the larger picture. How does one get past the very deep layer of nonsense bandied about in the literature?

Regarding the “hot, noisy, and wet” problem, the paper actually started out years ago as an attempt to refute computationalism. This is what it developed into. I think the suggestion that DNA may have the capacity for quantum coherence is going to be a contentious, but the conclusion seems to follow from the evidence. I don’t think DNA is necessarily the only potential substrate but it would resolve the symbol grounding problem, problems around counterfactual sensitivity and has ‘other features’ going for it. Finally, if DNA is the substrate, there are some obvious predictions that are testable in principal if not in practice just yet.

Re: What separability tells us about consciousness

PostPosted: January 11th, 2019, 1:34 pm
by PaulN
I'm to the point in the paper where you start identifying the problems with a special signal. It seems to me that you could much shorten your exposition on control volumes and the jet example, and go more directly to weak emergence, strong emergence, downward causation, and so on. I think readers don't need much to get up to speed on the separability concept and may not need a long section that is more in the domain of engineering than of philosophy of mind. It is useful, but I think less is more here. I could also see some value to an early and succinct definition of counterfactuals, e.g. "The basic idea of counterfactual theories of causation is that the meaning of causal claims can be explained in terms of counterfactual conditionals of the form “If A had not occurred, C would not have occurred”.

(more comment to come, as I get into the second half of your paper...)

Re: What separability tells us about consciousness

PostPosted: January 11th, 2019, 8:25 pm
by Dave_C
PaulN, Thanks very much for your comments. Much appreciated. Looks like I have another vote now for cutting back the length of that section. I guess I’ll have to find a way… suggestions are welcome.

I like your idea of adding a definition regarding counterfactuals as it’s used in slightly different ways by different philosophers, so I think what needs emphasis regards the perceived need for non-entered computational states that both Chalmers and especially Bishop argue about. Tim Maudlin also has a very nice paper about this.

I’ve been looking around for the perfect reference that shows why computationalism requires counterfactual dependencies but haven’t really found one that is more succinct than those I’ve already quoted. I’ve tried to make the case to show why counterfactual dependencies are so critical to computationalism. I’d be interested in knowing if it works for you… As you (and TheVat) read the paper, consider how well does it present the need for CD’s given computationalism? I guess I’ve gone down the path of showing how dissociated CV’s should produce all the same phenomena as associated ones (this assumes the CV’s go through the same physical states of course).

Below is a comment from Chalmers I thought very helpful.
“… prima facie when you move from a standard computational set-up to your recordings, you lose counterfactual sensitivity, which many hold is crucial to mentality. so the failure of the latter to support consciousness doesn't immediately entail the failure of the former. there's discussion of issues of that sort in my paper "does a rock implement every FSA?", on my website.”

PS: Did you send me an email just a few days ago?

Re: What separability tells us about consciousness

PostPosted: February 2nd, 2019, 10:46 pm
by Dave_C
I received some feedback from one of the individuals I reference in the paper but was a bit surprised by the response. The concern seems to be first, that the conception of the paper should be around “locality” rather than separability. About the concept of separability he said, “Separability does not seem to me to reflect the modern view very well and in fact not even the Newtonian view. As far as I can see you are using separability to imply the sort of locality Descartes proposed. He said that space was a property of matter, rather than the other way around, and that the universe was made up of an infinite number of tiny volumes, each a ‘corpuscle’ of extended matter and all dynamics was ‘mechanical’ in the sense of being explained by interactions between these volumes.
But within thirty years of Descartes’s death this had been shown not to work by Hooke and others.”

A second issue seems to be around how well this concept of breaking things into parts represents reality. I DO think this is going to be a significant issue. I don’t think people, especially in biology and some other sciences, are as familiar with methods used to analytically model phenomena using numerical analysis on computers. More importantly, this whole idea of referencing analytical methods seems to go against the intuitions of some people. And that’s one of the reasons the section on CV’s is so long, to provide background and an argument in support of this kind of philosophical view of nature. I tend to think it’s not worked, and I wonder what a better approach might be. I’d be interested in hearing whether you feel the approach is reasonable, accurate, or just plain wrong. And why…

One way perhaps of rewriting that section is to focus more on what I’m calling “physical control volumes”. Imagine a physical volume of space, inside of which we observe a phenomenon and that phenomenon does not take advantage of any of the special features of quantum mechanics. Consider fluid flow for example, light reflecting through a telescope, the propagation of a signal through an axon or dendritic tree or between neurons, or the electrical signals through a computer. These types of phenomena I would argue, can be found to be made up of interacting volumes of physical space which interact locally across arbitrary selected surfaces. Once you select some arbitrary surface and identify these local interactions, you can determine what is happening inside the volume of space you've created. What happens (I would argue) is only a function of these local interactions. I'd also argue that since what happens is only a function of these local interactions, then if that volume of space is in some other location and in another system, it still behaves the same way. I think that understanding is fundamental to classical mechanics and how things work when quantum mechanics is not influencing something at this level. Any thoughts?

Re: What separability tells us about consciousness

PostPosted: February 3rd, 2019, 2:51 am
by hyksos

Re: What separability tells us about consciousness

PostPosted: February 4th, 2019, 10:10 pm
by hyksos
I have some initial critique but I don't have a lot of time tonight to get into detail.

Criticisms regarding structure :
Avoid using numbers on section headers, unless your paper will contain a Table of Contents.

Whenever you quote someone verbatim, and the quote goes on for more than a few sentences, then always indent the quote and stick it in a box with a grey background, then put the name of the speaker at the end. At the least, indent the quote and put the entire section in italics. Do not prepend the quote with "As X said," unless him saying it has some kind of meaningful connection to the surrounding text. Inline quotations should only appear sparsely, or appear as mocking gestures such as hypothetical questions.

Do not continually introduce other people's material.

"Harnad points out that..."

"Harnad (1990) recognizes that..."

Instead, just flatly state would Harnad wrote as a fact, then place a citation number at the end of the sentence like this {4}. This is totally legal.

The computationalist paradigm violates the separability of classical physics and thus presents several logical dilemmas that can’t be resolved.

This is actually your ABSTRACT. But this does not appear in the paper for several paragraphs into the first section.

Criticisms of writing style.

Getting ahead of yourself. I have this problem and it was pointed out to me in a public speaking course. YOu never , ever want to tell your audience where you intend to go in the next section. You need to stop referring to material that will appear but has not appeared. This is jarring in writing, and even worse in public speaking.

The first step in understanding this regards why phenomenal consciousness can’t emerge from classical scale causal actions.

Don't announce the step. Just go right into it.

The focus of this paper has been to define the separability principal in terms of control volumes.

Sentences like this that tell the reader the focus should appear nowhere. Obviously, they have to appear in the ABSTRACT. But after that, you never need to make these meta-lingual references to what the focus is, or what you are going to do.

So in an ideal world, I would have you remove this word "paradigm" completely from your paper. The only reason you should ever have to mention a paradigm is when you are writing a paper that is discussing how popular some idea is in a group of participants (academics, philosophers at my department, many physicists in Europe, etc). Try to find the actual name of theory of mind you are going to talk about, or the theory of neuroscience, and stop referring to "the reigning paradigm." Your paper is challenging a number of theories of mind on logical grounds, and so the popularity of the idea amongst academics has no bearing. For all you care, Eliminative materialism could be adopted by as many as three people, and your arguments still hold. The popularity of these theories has no bearing on your point.

Another place where you would use the word "paradigm" is when you are writing about the history of some movement. (The sonata form was a paradigm that dominated the early Classical Era.) But you are clearly not writing a history of these ideas, so no, don't use the word.

Let me show an example of this

The computationalist paradigm violates the separability of classical physics and thus presents several logical dilemmas that can’t be resolved.

Earlier I said this should appear in your ABSTRACT. In my humble opinion you paper might open,

The Computational Theory of Mind violates the separability of Classical Physics, and in doing so creates logical dilemmas that cannot be resolved.

This could the very opening sentence of your ABSTRACT. It grabs the reader and tells them exactly what is going to happen.

Neologisms must be avoided until at which point not using them makes communication more confusing. Many concepts in the paper already have official phrases associated with them. Once you start talking about for example, Reductionist Neuroscience, then do not switch to "the prevailing consensus" to refer to the same thing later on in the paper.

I really liked your "extreme panpsychism" and then later "radical panpsychism". You used a neologism correctly there and it made your point very clear. A++ writing there.

Critique of the content :

1. I have a tad bit of uncomfortableness regarding a mushy distinction between Classical Separability and Reductionism in this paper. In some sections its almost like one is sitting in substitute for the other.

2. If phenomenal conscious states are "unmeasurable" and further "have no physical causes" then I imagine this scenario : I have a phenomenal experience and then tomorrow I report on it by talking about it. Something must have excited the motor neurons in my tongue when I was speaking about having that experience a day later. Going up the causal chain, something above the nerves must have responded physically to changes within my brain, and so on. (My tongue is obviously a physical object, and is the air coming from my lungs is physical, ) Thus the claim that phenomenal conscious experience is both unmeasurable and without physical causes is patently false. As I read the paper going along, I was waiting and waiting for this logical dilemma -- but it never quite materialized.

Re: What separability tells us about consciousness

PostPosted: February 5th, 2019, 9:57 pm
by Dave_C
Hi hyksos. Thanks for the very helpful comments, I really appreciate it. Yours is the kind of response I was hoping to see. I'll have to get back to you shortly with a detailed response.

Re: What separability tells us about consciousness

PostPosted: February 7th, 2019, 10:03 pm
by Dave_C
Hi Hyksos. Thanks again for the suggestions. I appreciate all the time you took to provide a very helpful post.

Regarding formatting issues, I have no experience putting papers together for journals and I wonder if journals have specific rules they like to see. From reading various papers, it seems to me there are quite a number of different styles of formatting. Stapp’s paper, “Why Classical Mechanics Cannot Naturally Accommodate Consciousness but Quantum Mechanics Can” actually has extensively numbered sections. The paper by Sevush is similarly enumerated though not as much (maybe the same as mine) while other papers show varying degrees. That along with things like footnotes (I have none while papers generally have many) and appendixes at the ends of papers (again, mine has no appendix) makes it seem as if either the individuals themselves are the ones who decided on that particular format OR perhaps it was the journal who requested a specific format. I’ve always wondered how that worked and assumed it was the latter (journals wanted reformatting of papers to meet their criteria). Do you know?

A second question along those lines, Google Scholar shows various formats for references and I simply picked one that looked like what I’d seen in some other papers, but I wonder if there’s any standard in philosophical papers regarding the format of the bibliography, do you know? Have you published much in peer reviewed journals?

Thanks also for the very specific references to the abstract. I like your suggestion for the opening statement.

Regarding telling an audience where you intend to go, I’ve heard different opinions on that. One is to tell people what you are going to say, then tell them, then tell them what you said. I’ve heard the opposite from others, that the experts don’t need nor like to be told the same thing numerous times. I guess it’s a balance – but discussions around consciousness are typically made to experts in diverse fields; fields they are not expert in nor have any knowledge of. For example, I suspect very few biologists and neuroscientists understand Harnad’s symbol grounding problem or Chalmer’s counterfactual sensitivity issue. Alternatively, there may be neuroscientists engaged in developing and/or using numerical analysis so they feel comfortable with chopping things into volumes (ie: compartments as they're called in neuroscience) and talking about individual interactions between them while both philosophers and others may never use those tools and have no idea why that should be important. The individual I referenced above for example has an extensive biology background but no background in numerical methods so he believes the whole conception is misguided.

Thanks for the suggestion regarding the word “paradigm”. I’ll certainly take that into consideration. Very helpful.

Thanks also for pointing out what works for you. That helps almost as much as what doesn’t as I will potentially delete what works if I don’t know.

Regarding reductionism, I see I used that word only twice in the entire paper, once referring to intertheoretic reductionism, the second time to refer to the reduction of a system (or what I’m calling a “control mechanism”) into its constituent parts (what I’m calling “control volumes”). Thanks for pointing that out, and I agree these are 2 slightly different conceptions of reductionism. I think saying “intertheoretic reductionism” should be clear enough. The adjective “intertheoretic” clarifies it. I wonder if there’s a better description, adjective or name for the kind of reductionism that considers the reduction of a system into parts? I think it needs to be stressed that this reduction of a system into parts is not my idea, and it seems to rub the other person I talked of earlier the wrong way as well. But breaking something into parts like this is so commonplace today (and that entire philosophy of why that’s a correct conception of how nature works is so commonplace) that I wonder how anyone in the sciences can avoid it; and yet it seems many people simply aren’t familiar and are even opposed to the concept altogether. I think this is THE problem that this paper faces to be honest.

Finally, regarding the causal efficacy of phenomenal consciousness, please quote the section in the paper you’re referring to as I agree with you and I don’t know how you got confused about that. I like your response. The logical dilemma you point out is one that’s fairly well discussed in the literature, though I don’t touch on it directly as it’s yet another tangent to the primary thrust of this paper. If I wrote a book I would add an entire chapter on the problems with epiphenomenalism!

Best regards,