Smart + Science

JJ Smart’s paper “Sensations and Brain Processes” argues that there are no philosophical arguments to be a dualist. Smart brings up the idea that sensations are essentially also brain processes. Smart argues that if the sensation is just a report of something, it can be said that the “something” is actually a brain process. Basically, Smart says that all mental states are nothing except states in the brain itself. Smith backs up his argument by putting forth 8 objections that readers could possibly find from his argument, and provides fitting counterpoints for each. For instance, objection #2 claims that it is at best only a contingent fact that a sensation is a brain process. This objection is then replied to, as Smart goes on to say that it is possible that our scientific sensations are wrong and therefore, when we report on our sensations we are not reporting brain processes. So essentially, this objection demonstrates that when we report a sensation we do not mean the same thing as a report on a brain process.
It is these objections and their respective counterpoints that lead me to believe that Smart’s theory is rather sound and logical in terms of science. Since Smart has done such a thorough job addressing any inconsistencies that one may see within his argument, I feel as if I agree with what he is saying, and I do not see any other science-related objections to his argument that he had left unanswered.
I personally think that Smart’s argument is valid in terms of science. This is so because if you think about it, any and every sensation you experience is, in fact, a brain process. Take into account the five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Every one of these senses has to go through the brain’s network in order to be “perceived” and actually felt. Let’s take the sense of hearing, for instance. When a sound is emitted, the waves enter the ear canal and cause vibrations of the eardrum. This, in turn, moves the ossicles in the middle ear. Then, the last bone in the sequence pushes on the membrane’s window and causes the cochlea’s fluid to move, thus triggering a response in the auditory nerve. This response then travels via the auditory nerve to regions in the brainstem and areas in the auditory cortex so that the sounds can be processed and the meanings of the words can be interpreted. This entire process demonstrates the involvement of the brain in the realm of sensations, thus supporting Smart’s argument by showing that sensations are, scientifically, brain processes.

Moving on from this, I’d also like to point out something that I found interesting in Smart’s paper, and was wondering if anyone else found it quite interesting as well. Smart mentions the theory of Occam’s razor, which states that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be chosen. That being said, Smart claims that a solid reason for resisting dualism is because of Occam’s razor. He tells us that dualism could actually be the case, but assuming that it is not makes everything less complex. He claims, “it seems that even the behavior of man himself will one day be explicable in mechanistic terms.”  However, doesn’t this seem to contradict Occam’s razor? The very theory states that the hypothesis with the least assumptions should be chosen, but here Smart is picking and discarding a hypothesis based on his choice to assume that dualism is not the case, just to make things more simple. To me, this was both interesting and confusing, as it seemed to be a minor glitch in Smart’s paper.

In conclusion, I’d like to end by leaving the class with a few questions. Firstly, even though I don’t see any scientific inconsistencies with Smart’s argument, can anyone else think of a way to contradict anything he says using the basis of science? And secondly, does anyone else agree/see problems with the supposed glitch I found in the argument regarding Occam’s razor?

3 thoughts on “Smart + Science

  1. I see what you are saying about the “supposed glitch” regarding Occam’s razor, but at the same time, I am not sure if it is a glitch so much as Smart acknowledging that his statement about human behavior has many assumptions and then should not be chosen because it does not have the least amount of assumptions. Additionally, I do not see any inconsistencies with Smarts argument, but I think human behavior can, in fact, be explained by science and in mechanistic terms, so I am wondering why he brings this point up as if it is not possible at all.

  2. I agree with how you feel that Smart’s argument is valid, because the sensations you experience are brain processes. However there are sensations that can be considered mental states. For example, if you are under the influence and your experiences, what you experience with your senses are not veridical, then they are considered illusory. What do you think of this?

  3. I think Anjali brings up an interesting situation that can work both ways. If a person is under the influence of drugs and believes that are experiencing one thing, but in the veridical sense are not, would that be considered a mental state even though it is solely derived from a chemical brain state? On the other hand, suppose someone is under the influence of drugs that suppress pain and that person gets into a physical accident that they don’t actually feel as a mental state of pain. Where is the line drawn between mental states and brain states? After reading Smart, I was still unclear on where the distinctions in these situations would lie?

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