Playing Ball with Electrones: A New Puzzle for Pairing Physical and Mental Events

Two pairs of players through balls. Connecting who threw which is easy, you just follow its path through air. With mental events this is a bit more tricky, as was outlined by Jaegwon Kim. Here I argue that his solution for pairing just physical events is already problematic when considering the microscopic. As a consequence, the problem he constructs for pairing physical and mental events is a lot more head-ache inducing that we might have thought at first.

If I threw an orange to Kathryn, and Chakotay who is standing next to me at the same time threw an identical orange to B’elanna who is standing next to Kathryn, how could Kathryn tell whose orange she caught? Kim’s answer to that question would be that by examining the spacial relations between the four characters a causal chain of events from the trajectory and velocity of the orange upon throwing via its path to catching it can be formed. There will be one chain linking my orange to Kathryn and one chain linking Chakotay’s orange to B’elanna.

P1 This idea of spacial relations is a tool to create causal chains is Kim’s solution for the pairing problem of physical events.

Kim continues by asking whether this solution can also be used for mental events that interact with the physical. An example of that would be my soul wanting me to throw an orange causing the physical event of actualising that wish. Suppose Chakotay has the same wish and also physically acts on it. How can we form a similar solution to pair my mental and physical action and Chakotay to his?

Under the assumption that the mental is immaterial and not spatially located, Kim argues that no causal chain using spacial relations as tool can be formed to pair the actions of my soul to the corresponding actions of my body. The pairing problem ensues. To answer the original essay question: Kim’s solution for pairing physical events does not work for mental events as well.

Let me modify the example to make that problem more apparent: Suppose there are two physical bodies of me standing next to each other. Since they are same in every way, they also possess the same causal capabilities to act and react to stimuli. Suppose now my soul commands to raise an arm and one of the two bodies reacts. How can we pair these events? Kim argues that causal relations are insufficient since both bodies are identical and have the same causal powers, hence are causally indistinguishable. Thus he continues we ought to use spacial relations to solve the problem. Since souls however are not spatially located, the problem remains unsolved.

One may respond to this by saying that this scenario is unrealistic. This person with one soul paired to one of two hypothetically identical bodies would not be me. What I wish to discuss in this essay however is not whether Kim’s scenarios for mental and physical interactions are reasonable, but rather whether Kim’s solution for physical events is sufficient for the entirety of the physical.

There is a silent premise to Kim’s argument: The physical is governed by the laws of the macroscopic world. His idea of spacial relations that are used to form causal chains is applicable to physical events that occur on a scale which is atomic or greater. An orange behaves differently than a subatomic particle. I ask: If the afore mentioned example occurred on a microscopic or the quantum level, would Kim’s solution for physical events still hold?

The reason I ask this question is that Kim assumes that any pairing between the physical and mental must succumb to the principles he lays out in his solution for the physical. This in itself seems reasonable, after all, if a solution for any pairing problem is found that surely can be used as starting point to pair other events as well. However, Kim’s argument for abandoning substance dualism is based on the assumption that any pairing of events must essentially happen through spacial relation that form causal chains. He says that because his solution cannot be applied to mental events that interact with the physical, it seems unreasonable to assume that consistent and regulated interaction is possible at all.

What if however there were another physical realm in which his solution were also inapplicable. If such a realm existed, in order to be consistent Kim would have to argue that such a realm is also unreasonable. I believe such a realm exists on the microscopic level and since quantum mechanics is not per se unreasonable, Kim may have a problem. To solve it, I believe Kim ought to find a new solution for the pairing problem of physical events that is true for any physical interaction. If he succeeds, Kim has a complete solution for the physical and can legitimately attempt to abstract it to the mental. He may then state that there may be no way to reasonably explain the pairing between physical and mental events. If he does not however, the pairing problem may be a lot bigger than we thought. Not only would interaction between mental and physical be unexplainable, but also the pairing of physical events. This leads me to two more premises of my argument:

P2.A In any world that includes two separate realms that operate under different principles and provide different solutions to problems of causation, any solution that holds only for one realm and not the other cannot be said to be a solution for that entire world.

P2.B Our world includes at least two realms: The macroscopic and the microscopic or quantum realm.

Some interpretations of quantum mechanics include backward causation as a possibility. This concept describes effects that precede causes. This essay will not discuss physics, the problems associated with those interpretations nor how exactly real life examples could be incorporated in those, but will allow for the possibility of that being true. For the purpose of this essay I shall simply presume that

P3 It is possible for an effect to precede a cause.

The relationship between cause and effect can best be represented in logic by the use of the conditional. Modus ponens establishes the way to argumentatively go about that relationship with a simple causal chain of two events. A continuous causal chain like in the oranges example may hence be sequence of modus ponens

arguments in the form “A B, B C, C D, D E, A ⊢E” which is logically valid. The very idea of backward causation affirms the consequent and is invalid. A causal chain that includes both backward and

forward causation may look like “A B, C B, C D, E D, A ⊢E” which is invalid. I conclude that P4 If an effect can precede a cause, then no continuous causal chain including forward and backward causation can be formed.

In other words, the assumption of P3 leads to paradoxes that propositional logic cannot handle, yet it is only this kind of logic that Kim uses to pair events in his essay. One may object to this by saying that perhaps only a new kind of logic that can handle this sort of causation must be found, but I will not be the one who does. Interestingly, some criticism of dualism in psychology is based upon the observation that the physical sometimes does things before the mental catches up.

Another principles of quantum mechanics which I would also like to assume as true in my argument is the uncertainty principle as well as its logical consequence:

P5 It is impossible to know the exact momentum and position of a particle at the same time.

P6 If it is impossible to know the exact momentum and position of a particle at the same time, it is also impossible to accurately describe changes in spacial relations between particles at any given time.

If I were to throw a subatomic particle at Kathryn and Chakotay who is standing next to me at the same time threw an identical particle to B’elanna, then Kathryn could not use spacial relations as tool to find out whose particle is flying towards her. Either she knows where to look, or she knows where a particle is headed. However, only both in conjunction can help Kathryn determine whose particle she is going to catch.

From all that I conclude that C There is no basis for Kim’s pairing solution for physical events in the microscopic realm. C2 There is no solution for the pairing problem that holds for physical events in general.

The question what possible solution there could be to pair physical events in general shall be the topic of another essay. One problem with my conclusion now is that it again assumes that mental and physical interaction would have to succumb to a physical set of rules. Perhaps the mental is a third realm with its own rules and Davidson’s premise of the anomalism of the mental may have to be questioned again.


Blackburn, Simon: Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, entries on mental causation and anomalous monism, Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 2008 Davidson, Donald: Mental Events, published in: Lycan, William G & Prinz, Jesse J: Mind and Cognition: An Anthology, Blackwell, 3rd edition, 2008 Davis, Martin: Philosophy of Mind & Mental Causation, published in: Grayling, A C: Philosophy 1, Oxford University Press, 8th edition, 1995 Descartes, René; trans: Michael Moriarty: Meditations on First Philosophy – Sixth Meditation, Oxford University Press, 2008 Faye, Jan: Backward Causation, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, URL: [ causation-backwards/#4.1], modified 16.02.2010, accessed 20.10.2010 Gyekye, Kwama: The Relation of Ōkra (Soul) and Honam (body): An Akan Conception, published in: Eze, Emmanuel Chukwudi: African Philosophy: An Anthology, Blackwell, 1998

Kim, Jaegwon: Philosphy of Mind, Perseus Book Group, 2nd edition, 2006 Uffink, Jos: The Uncertainty Principle, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, URL: [http://] modified 03.07.2006, accessed 20.10.2010 Robb, David: Mental Causation, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, URL: [ mental-causation], modified 27.06.2007, accessed 20.10.2010 Swinburne, Richard: Personal Identity: The Dualist Theory, published in: Kim, Jaegwon & Sosa, Ernest: Metaphysics: An Anthology, Balckwell, 2008 Wharton, William R: The Importance of Causality in Quantum Mechanics, published in Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith, 07.2005 Kim’s Pairing (pdf)



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