A thesis submitted to the faculty of
San Francisco State University
In partial fulfillment of
the requirements for
the Degree

Master of Arts

Peter James Bartesch
San Francisco, California
August 2014

Copyright by
Peter James Bartesch


I certify that I have read A Case for Top-Down Meta-Intentional Causation by Peter James Bartesch, and that in my opinion this work meets the criteria for approving a thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree Masters of Arts: Philosophy at San Francisco State University.

Carlos Montemayor, Ph.D.
Associate Professor

Isabelle Peschard Ph.D.
Associate Professor

A Case for Top-Down Meta-Intentional Causation

Peter James Bartesch
San Francisco, California


In this paper I argue that long-term top-down causation of the phenomenal over the physical is possible. I argue that by having an intention to have specific conscious states or specific experiences in the future, one can exercise top-down causation. My theory is compatible with materialism because I accept that consciousness is constitutively dependent on one’s brain/body architecture instantiating consciousness. I accept that at all times your conscious state is instantiated, constituted and determined by your occurrent physical state. However, I argue that an intention, desire or goal must be experienced within phenomenal intentionality. I argue that one’s brain/body architecture creates one’s phenomenally intentional conscious states, but one must also have phenomenal intentional conscious states in order for their brain/body to react to one’s internal conscious states. For a theory of top-down causation this means that you must be able to first phenomenally experience your intention in order to cause the physical occurrences to occur (both in the world and inside your brain/body) that are necessary to instantiate an intended conscious state at a future time. This intention will have to be reified often over an extended period of time because the plasticity of the brain requires time for permanent physical changes in the brain to take place. By this account, one’s physical brain/body architecture determines one’s phenomenal intentional conscious states bottom-up, but phenomenal intentional conscious states play the role of the necessary experiences that create the top-down causation over one’s brain/body architecture. I believe that to talk about whether it is the releasing of chemicals in the brain that creates an experience of being happy, or if the experience of being happy creates the releasing of chemicals in the brain is a moot point. They are both necessary occurrences. The physical and the phenomenal determine how the body and mind will interact together with one’s environment, thus enabling top-down/bottom-up causal loops.

This paper focuses on developing a pragmatic theory on how to exercise degrees of top-down causal influence of one’s phenomenal consciousness over one’s physical brain/body architecture, i.e. their biology.  My thesis of meta-intentionality is the view that you can have an intention to instantiate certain phenomenal intentional states of consciousness, and that this intention can lead to alterations in one’s biological determinates of consciousness. To have an intention to carry out an action, or to have an intention to have an experience of a specific phenomenal intentional state, is to require neural correlates to instantiate those actions or experiences. According to my theory, consciousness is constituted by one’s occurrent biological state, yet this does not necessitate that consciousness does not have emergent features that are not reducible to physical correlates, or that consciousness cannot have top-down causation over one’s biology. I argue that even if phenomenal consciousness is determined by one’s biology, one necessarily needs to have the phenomenal intentional experience of having an intention for the biological correlates instantiating these phenomenal intentional states to occur. This implies that if you do not have an experience at a phenomenal intentional level of having an intention regarding future conscious experiences, then you cannot have top-down causation. I call this intention a meta-intention since 1) the intention will necessarily need to be experienced phenomenally, 2) must be sustained over an extend period of time since permanent changes in one’s brain/body architecture takes time, and 3) because these changes come from a “meta”, or top-down, manner.

In this paper I will demonstrate that in the literature of philosophy of mind there are terms and concepts that are suggestive of emergence and dualism between consciousness and the biological correlates that instantiate consciousness. In section 1 I will establish how a theory of meta-intentionality fits within a phenomenal Intentionalist research program. In section 2 and 3 I will utilize research from embodied cognition and neuroscience for insights into the channels top-down causation might take to occur. In section 4 I will draw parallels from research on Zen Buddhism and the brain to a theory of meta-intentionality. Lastly, in section 5, I will show how a theory of meta-intentionality can act as a response to nihilism and the problem of eternal return. I do not intent to offer a knock-down argument against materialism regarding consciousness, but instead aim to offer a theory that focuses on the pragmatic utility of taking the assumption that top-down causal influence is possible.