The Mind-Body Problem
  • davidmihjn December 2011
    The human mind is structured like the scientific method. At the lowest level are observations, which requires paying attention. At the level of inquiry, human beings try to understand why things happen and the relationship between things. This requires intelligence. At the level of reflective judgment, humans marshal the evidence (or perform controlled experiments) and decide whether a hypothesis or insight is true. This requires being rational. The next level is deciding what to do with one’s body. This requires being responsible.

    When animals have nothing to do, they go to sleep. Humans will ask questions about observing, understanding, knowing, and doing itself. These questions constitute the mind-body problem. The following quote is from a textbook used by 65% of biology majors in the U.S. The author has a blind spot about the mind-body problem because he only understands two theories or solutions: materialism and dualism. There is hardly any evidence for either of these bright ideas. The solution judged to be true by rational people, the one backed by the evidence, is that there is no solution. It is a mystery. This is the quote:

    "And certain properties of the human brain distinguish our species from all other animals. The human brain is, after all, the only known collection of matter that tries to understand itself. To most biologists, the brain and the mind are one and the same; understand how the brain is organized and how it works, and we’ll understand such mindful functions as abstract thought and feelings. Some philosophers are less comfortable with this mechanistic view of mind, finding Descartes’ concept of a mind-body duality more attractive. ( Neil Campbell, Biology, 4th edition, p. 776 )"
  • SimonSimon December 2011
    David Chalmers quite helpfully cuts the mind-brain question into two problems:

    1) The "easy problem" that can be studied by science such as fMRI, psychology etc. and relates to how the firing of neurones leads to different behaviour. Pretty much every scientific article on the brain, neurology or psychology addresses this problem.

    2) The "hard problem" - of how consciousness/subjectivity relates to the brain. This is far trickier because it is not clear that science can even touch the question. As Thomas Nagel so helpfully pointed out - if the scientific method aims to be objective and thus remove all subjectivity, how can science be used to study subjectivity itself?

    Of course this is not saying that there ISN'T an answer to the hard problem, just that the answer is probably going to come from philosophy rather than neuroscience or psychology. Personally I quite like Daniel Dennett's take on things outlined in "Consciousness Explained". Although I obviously do not like his militant atheism, he is quite good on the mind-brain problem.
  • davidmihjn December 2011
    Daniel Dennet is just as unintelligent about the mind-body problem as Niel Campbell:

    "In its scientific or philosophical sense,
    it [materialism] refers to a theory that aspires to explain all the phenomena
    without recourse to anything immaterial—like a Cartesian soul, or
    “ectoplasm”—or God. The standard negation of materialistic in the scientific
    sense is dualistic, which maintains that there are two entirely different kinds
    of substance, matter and…whatever minds are supposedly made of." (Daniel Dennet, Breaking
    the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomena
    , p.

    He grasps only two solutions: materialism and dualism. There is another solution, as I explained in my post: It is a mystery. The evidence supporting this hypothesis is the following:

    1) Just because a human being asks a question doesn't mean there is an answer.

    2) All the other answers (materialism, dualism, idealism) have very little evidence supporting them.

    3) There are a number of ways to express the mysteriousness of the mind-body problem: a) Humans are indefinabilities that become conscious of their own existence. b) Humans are embodied spirits. c) Humans are finite beings. People like Dennet, Dawkins, Niel Campbell, and other liberals and atheists are incapable of discussing the mind-body intelligently.

  • SimonSimon December 2011
    Hi David,

    I'd be a bit careful with your language especially regarding ad hominem attacks as all it does is take away from your own argument. It's quite difficult to take seriously someone who writes off most of the greatest thinkers of our time as "unintelligent"!

    I don't think you are alone in claiming that there isn't an answer for the mind/body problem. However I am interested in how you formulate your argument as I am suspicious you might in actual fact be a "closet dualist" (NB this is a critique that is not without precedence - for instance Dennett makes the same accusation against pretty much all other materialists!).

    Let's evaluate your argument:

    1) Just because a human being asks a question doesn't mean there is an answer.

    Absolutely agree with you!

    2) All the other answers (materialism, dualism, idealism) have very little evidence supporting them.

    I think we need to discuss kinds of evidence to find support for this statement. For instance most dualists will insist that this is the "intuitive" way of thinking about the problem - which is a type of evidence. Similarly many materialists will insist that there is no scientific evidence for any spiritual/mind type substance which again is a kind of evidence.

    3) There are a number of ways to express the mysteriousness of the mind-body problem: a) Humans are indefinabilities that become conscious of their own existence. b) Humans are embodied spirits. c) Humans are finite beings.

    I think your points a) and b) sound like classic substance dualism whilst both b) and c) seem compatible with both dualism and materialism. As such, although I can agree with your premise 1), and even see how premise 2) could add to an argument, I think premise 3 returns to familiar old territory that contradicts your claim of a paradox.

    BTW we are having a few problems with the WYSIWYG text editor when it comes to pasting in text to the forum as it messes up the html code. I've fixed your earlier posts but if you could try and type things straight into the box it would be much more helpful!

  • davidmihjn December 2011
    Dear Simon,

    With scientific questions it is reasonable to suppose there will eventually be an answer. We can always make more observations, make more hypotheses, and perform more controlled experiments. However, with questions about thinking itself there is no track record of success. We don't know about doing, knowing, understanding, and observing from seeing and hearing. We know about these things because we can make ourselves the subject of our own knowledge. The word for this is transcendence.

    Dennett and Campbell state that there are two possible solutions to the mind-body problem: materialism and dualism. Their concept of dualism is that "there are two different kinds of substances" (Dennett) and "Cartesian dualism" (Campbell). They don't mention the solution that there is no solution: It is paradoxical solution because it means we know something because we don't know it.

    Why don't Dennett and Campbell mention the solution I was given in my metaphysics course at a Catholic college: The mind-body problem is a mystery. This is what I was taught. Why don't they give all three theories and discuss the evidence supporting each theory?

  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith December 2011
    An alternative is to say that a human is an essential unity, which has physical properties, sensations, thoughts, etc. It is reductionistic to seek to explain what a human is by positing the existence of a purely physical "human body" and a non-physical "human mind". See Roy Closer's "The myth of religious neutrality", chapter 9, e.g., p. 167:

    But we never experience anything which is an exclusively physical body or an exclusively nonphysical mind. Those are entity hypotheses invented to explain human nature. And they are invented under the control of a perspectival overview of reality which is either proposed as a theory or simply presupposed. The perspective which regulates the mind-body duality is one that sees two particular aspects as those upon which all the other aspects of a person depend: usually the physical and the logical. From this overview, it is easy to accept that there are wholly physical things (bodies) and wholly nonphysical things (minds). The remaining aspects can then be seen as generated by the interaction of minds and bodies.

    And p.180, proposing an alternative approach:

    Each human is thus seen as an essential unity, no matter how many diverse kinds of functions an individual may display in the various aspects of creation.
  • SimonSimon December 2011
    Hi Anthony - so are you thinking along the lines of emergentism/ dual-aspect monism/ property dualism or are you being more radical in your monism?

    David - I think people are keen to keep exploring this problem rather than throw their hands in the air and just state it is a mystery. Indeed in the past many issues that have been viewed as mysteries turn out to be quite solvable once people have worked out the best way to frame the questions. At least by stating a materialist paradigm many researchers of both the scientific and the philosophical have a research question or methodology to explore. The answer may well in the end turn out to be a paradox, however it is a long way from being "unintelligent" to explore a paradigm that has been fruitful in so many other areas.

    For instance, one of the reasons why I find a materialist approach quite compelling is through the evidence that morality can be directly related to physical brain structure. For instance many personality disorders can be linked to neuro-transmiter/receptor abnormalities. There are also some stunning examples of brain tumours having enormous affects on people's behaviour. Likewise a person's past experience is the biggest indicator for how they formulate their morality, which suggests a role for memory which we know is encoded in brain structure. I agree that this does not quite get us to an answer for the hard problem, however the materialist approach is at least providing useful and interesting new information and hypothesis for testing.

  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith December 2011
    Simon - I'm not too clued up on the different models, but as far as I can tell, I'm not thinking of emergentism, nor of property dualism (both of which seem to say that the "real" stuff is physical). Conceivably I'm thinking of dual-aspect monism (depending on what that means), but I suspect it might be something more radical.
  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith December 2011
    Simon again - I think you'd enjoy Clouser's book. See here for my summary of chapter 9 (on psychology), and here for my summary of the book.
  • davidmihjn December 2011
    Simon says, "I think people are keen to keep exploring this problem ..rather than just state it is a mystery." The judgement of myself, Anthony Smith, and Clouser (if I am not mistaken about the last two) is just this: it is a mystery. This insight comes from grasping the difference between the questions: 1) What is the relationship between the sun and the earth? 2) What is the relationship between myself and my body?

    However, neither Anthony nor Simon answered my question about why Dennett and Campbell say there are only two explanations for the mind-body problem (materialism and dualism). I said that they have a blind spot (lack of intelligence) about the mind-body problem. Simon said that this was an ad hominem attack on Campbell and Dennett. If they are not being stupid, are they lying or ignorant?
  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith December 2011
    David - I think Clouser does much more than just state that it is a mystery.
  • SimonSimon December 2011
    David - I don't know how familiar you are with the academic environment however referring to people as "unintelligent" or alternatively "stupid... lying or ignorant" is just not the way things are done. If anything it suggests that you are not coming from a position of rational knowledge-based argument and therefore might not be worth the time for me/us to debate. Furthermore, as this is a Christian forum, we do try to respect others as people even if we do not respect their views. It would be nice if you could contribute rather than take away from this positive atmosphere.

    Back to the argument, my suspicion is that you are in fact a dualist as evidenced by comments like:

    This insight comes from grasping the difference between the questions: 1) What is the relationship between the sun and the earth? 2) What is the relationship between myself and my body?

    I can see the difference between two physical objects and a conscious vs physical entity, however I hardly see how this contributes any more than just restating the hard problem in a somewhat dualistic way. What you need to do is find some sort of argument or thought experiment that transcends the usual positions -something that you have not exactly managed to date. Either you can say "there is no answer" and then walk away or you can provide a valid critique of the alternatives that is not based on ad hominem attacks. So far you have not really added anything of substance to the discussion.

    Anthony - I've added that book to my Amazon wish list (which is about as close as I can get to reading it at the moment!).

  • davidmihjn December 2011
    I took a quick look at Anthony's link and saw he thinks the idea humans have souls is dualistic. Anthony doesn't agree that humans have souls because  he thinks this is inconsistent with the idea that humans are unified, single beings.  My guess is that Stephen Jay Gould also considers the human soul to be a dualistic concept. Simon also thinks that I am a dualist. This is the quote from Gould:

    "Catholics could believe whatever science determined about the evolution of the human body, so long as they accepted that, at some time of his choosing, God had infused the soul into such a creature. I also knew that I had no problem with this statement for whatever my private beliefs about souls, science cannot touch such a subject and therefore cannot be threatened by any theological position on such a legitimately and intrinsically religious issue." (Natural History, March 1997, 13th paragraph)

    The insight that there is no solution to the mind-body problem can be expressed by saying humans are embodied spirits or indefinabilites that become conscious of their own existence. We can comprehend humans because we know everything that happens to us and everything that we do. But we can't explicate free will, conscious knowledge, mental beings, etc.

    This leads to the method of inquiry called metaphysics. Body and soul are the metaphysical concepts of matter and form applied to humans. The soul (form) is the principle that makes humans equal to one another, and the body (matter) is the principle that makes humans different from one another. Humans are not unique because they are a member of a category of being. In metaphysics, unity is a property of all being. To be is to be one.

    In other words, Gould, Simon, Dennett etc think that the human soul is just an idea. The Catholic Church considers the mind-body problem to be a mystery and that the human soul is spiritual. According to Catholics, angels don't have souls because every angel is unique.
  • SimonSimon December 2011
    So you are a classic Cartesian dualist possibly with a twist of "but the substance of the soul is mysterious"!

    Incidentally I'm not a big fan of Gould's NOMA theory because I think it creates an unnecessary dichotomy that is not representative of how we actually experience things.

    I am, however, more intrigued with where Anthony is coming from. I know from a previous thread that he doesn't like seeing any form of separation between spirituality, the physical, the theological, but then he also doesn't like the idea that "matter is everything". I'm guessing I'll have to read Clouser to find out more?
  • davidmihjn December 2011
    What Simon is saying, In other words, is that there is nothing wrong with the quotations from Campbell, Dennett, and Gould in my post. Simon, et. al., are right to say there are only two possibilities: materialism and dualism. Catholic metaphysics and theology, with its belief in the spirituality of the human soul, is just a variation of the dualism of Descartes.

    I'm very interested in what Anthony thinks about those quotes because he understands the mind-body problem even though he is not familiar with metaphysics. He understands that a human being is a single unified being. I'm hoping that he will agree with me that Campbell et. al. either have a blind spot or are being deliberately disingenous.

  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith December 2011
    David - not sure I understand much about the mind-body problem, to be honest! (By the way - I sometimes find it hard to know whether you are summarising what someone else says, or saying something yourself. E.g., "Simon, et al., are right to say there are only two possibilities: materialism and dualism" - is that what you think yourself?)

    Simon - Clouser's book is basically (as far as I know!) an exposition of the non-reductionist philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977). (I recall Richard Gunton writing his name down for you at ELF a couple of years ago!) Basic idea: reality has around 15 "aspects" to it, none of which are reducible to any of the others. Each aspect is a kind of properties-and-laws (e.g., physical, quantitative, economic, ethical, social, logical). The aspects are all part of God's creation, and all depend on him for their existence. A Christian philosophy will seek to respect this, and not fall into the trap of most other streams of theory-making, which are reductionist, in that they attempt to collapse most of the aspects onto one or two aspects (e.g., seeing everything as basically physical, or seeing reality as being a dualism of physical and logical).

    You'll have to read Clouser for more! Or there are recordings of him explaining it, such as here: http://wysocs.org.uk/downloads/WY228-Clouser.mp3
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