In J.J.C Smart’s “Sensations and Brain Processes”, he explores the relationship between the mind and body, specifically delving into the shortcomings of the theory of Dualism. As we learned last week by reading Churchland, Dualism distinguishes the mind from the body, categorizing consciousness as unable to be investigated by empirical science. Within this school of thought are a variety of sub-theories such Substance Dualism, Popular Dualism, and Property Dualism. Smart however, asserts that “there are no philosophical arguments which compel us to be dualists” (Smart 143). In other words, Smart fails to see the logical reasoning behind Dualism, and instead proposes his Identity Theory of the Mind. Under this school of thought, while there is a slight distinction between mental states and brain processes, there are no non-physical properties. Although the physical properties may be vague or difficult to comprehend, they are still all physical properties.
In his attack on Churchland’s notion of Dualism, Smart states: “[the idea] that everything should be explicable in terms of physics except the occurrence of sensations seems to me to be frankly unbelievable” (Smart 142). Smart does not see why sensations should be granted such scientific leniency. His Identity Theory of Mind highlights the failure of Dualists to explain why sensations are not subjected to the same logical scientific expectations.
However, Smart does spend considerable time grappling with the notion of sensations. He uses the example of pain to ultimately highlight the nuances between a mental state and a brain process. An ache is a “report of a brain process”, but it is not the same as the sensation of feeling pain (Smart 144). Thus, his thesis does not state that a sensation can be directly translated into a brain process, but does explain that the two are inextricably correlated. Sensations and mental states can exist, just as by-products of specific brain processes.
When I initially reach Churchland, I found myself siding with the Dualists. Specifically, I identified with the notion of Popular Dualism, which envisions the mind as a “ghost in a machine”. Yet, this week when I read Smart’s attack on Dualism my opinions began to shift. Churchland’s account of Dualism was initially compelling enough to allow me to overlook information and experiences I have obtained in Psychology and Neuroscience classes. I realized I had been swept up in the rhetoric of Churchland’s Dualism and had forgotten the scientific basis behind Smart’s objection’s to Dualism. Every day, more and more current research reveals biological connections behind mental processes that we as a society have always struggled to pinpoint with empiricism. Thus, I find myself siding with Smart. However, as I was reading these two pieces I began to ponder the role of religion in this discussion. As a self-described unreligious individual, how is my perception of my mind/body/spirit connection potentially skewed from that of someone who has grown up religious? I would be interested to hear from peers with religious experiences to see if they believe their opinions on Dualism have been shaped by their religion.