The Smart Explanation to Sensations

Smart referred to the physicalist perspective in the Mind Body problem. He argues that sensations are simply brain processes, which is an interesting idea, knowing what we now know about the brain and its high-functioning capabilities. However, he leaves a few questions with an answer that it will be explained later.

He believes that it does not seem logical that sensations and states of consciousness should not be explained by brain processes, just as other physic-chemical mechanisms are. He brings up an interesting idea that the same things cannot be “correlated” – two different ideas can be correlated, like evidence to find a murderer. But sensations and states of consciousness, he argues, can be explained through brain processes.

However, his explanation is interesting. He explains sensations by saying that we have not figured out the laws of sensations yet, but we’ll get there, that it will be explained. This is a poor argument alone. This would be like saying I believe that there is a god just because in my current knowledge, it would not make sense any other way. But even Smart recognizes this lack of any evidence and recognizes that it is simply his faith.

But then he proceeds to deny any further objections because even he knows that faith isn’t enough. He argues that are no sensations, just behavioral facts about a mechanism. The statements of “feelings,” such as “I love you,” are merely “the exercise of the disposition of loving someone.” (How romantic.) His brain makes him think a certain way, which is thus expressed in statements.

Which brings up an important notion of truth for me. This means that every statement I make, must be true because that is the way I feel. For example, if I say I feel hungry, then this must be true. Even Smart says that if someone says they see something (and is of the normal state of mind), then he is making a genuine report.

This is brought up again in Objection 6. “Sensations are private, brain processes are public.” If I were to say this sincerely, then I am not wrong. On the other hand, brain processes can be wrong. Smart answers this by saying that there needs to be an improvement to the theory and until then, the only criteria for someone feeling something are that he said so. But it seems intuitive that if it exists, we should be able to define it with criteria that demonstrate its truth-value. But how would you measure the truth-value of something that only that person knows and senses? Then, if the brain processes are all physical, why can’t we measure that? Could it be something is non-physical like Descartes suggested?

Objection 1 seems like a shortsighted argument. Objection 1 states that an uneducated person can talk about feelings but does not understand/ know anything about brain processes. Just because I don’t understand everything about something, does not mean I can’t understand part of it. Just as I know that when someone holds a spring out to its fullest length and is about to let go, I know that the spring will fly back. I do not necessarily need to know the physics behind the spring energy into kinetic. Smart replies to this similarly saying that someone can see lightening and experience it, but not know about the electrical charge that it makes.

Overall, Smart’s argument is compelling, even if there are some holes and remaining questions he leaves unanswered and makes me question, in this technological and science-explaining world we live in, if Dualism is just outdated.


6 thoughts on “The Smart Explanation to Sensations

  1. I think it’s very interesting that Smart brought up the capabilities of an “illiterate peasant” (146). How such a person can rightly see some something and the effects that it will have without truly understanding the “why” factor. He brings up Aristotle as one other example. Aristotle is a renowned philosopher and scientist that went on to make incredible contributions to the world. However, he wrongly thought the brain was merely an organ for cooling. It brings up an interesting discussion about the extent a person’s knowledge much be at in order to actually leave their print. It turns out, through much of our history, there are many people that have been incredible leaders, innovators and thinkers in one sense but completely mistaken in others. But this does not make their contributions less potent, it just shows (in accordance with Smart) that we can believe certain things without having the proper background to support them.

  2. I did the readings for this previous week, and I also agree with your critique of objection 1. When I first read it, I too felt that it was very shortsighted and a very weak argument. I fail to grasp how that objection is one of the most popular used by scientists due to it’s weakness. Regardless, Smart does a very good job with his reply to objection 1, and this very reply was one of the main hooks that lured me into supporting his viewpoint of the argument on the topic of sensations as brain process.

  3. In regards to the conclusion that Smart’s argument seems compelling, I agree with you as well. While reading his piece, I saw how science seems to back up his theory and therefore didn’t see any inconsistencies that blatantly stuck out. However, after reading your post, I realized that objection #1 does, in fact, seem a bit unstable. Just because someone does not know the science-related process behind something, doesn’t necessarily mean that they cannot understand at least some of it. Parallel to the lightening example you mentioned that Smart provides, when I see someone light a match to candle, I know that the candle will light into a flame. I do not know the exact scientific process behind how fire is transferred from one object to another, but I do know the basics of what happens in such situations, proving that just because I don’t know the science behind fire, doesn’t mean I’m totally unaware of how a candle works.

  4. I would like to respond to your question posed at the end of your post, “makes me question, in this technological and science-explaining world we live in, if Dualism is just outdated” (Hutwelker Post). Technology and the sciences have grown at a remarkable rate over the past half century allowing us much more knowledge than we’ve ever had. This includes the field of neuroscience which, through technological growth, has basically rendered Smart’s Identity Theory null and void. This would seemingly make the Dualism argument stronger given that one of its competitors is now weaker, but I will argue the opposite. Because of the rapid advance in technological prowess in the recent decades, the functionalist argument for the Mind Body Problem has been strengthened a lot. Functionalism according to Churchland is all about the “Causal relations” and the “States” (Churchland 36) of the Mind and the Body. Basically the mind can be thought of as a state machine where there is an input, a state undergoes a shift, and an output is produced. Through recent technological developments, individuals have attempted to emulate this ‘state machine’ idea in animatronic objects (which have been very successful). This success again stems from the advent in technology. Because of the increasing success in regards to this state machine argument being implemented in robotic objects, it follows that the functionalist argument has been strengthened over the course of the repeated successful strings of testing. Because functionalism has done so well recently, this means that the dualism argument will grow weaker as the functionalism argument grows stronger. I would also like to say that the rapid growth of the functionalist argument outweighs the decline of the Identity Theorist’s argument. In conclusion, the Dualist argument is becoming more outdated because of the positive effect the expansion of technology has had on the functionalist argument.

  5. I too agree with the comments on objection 1. Objection explains that a common person can know absolutely nothing about neurophysiology yet still talk about sensations. Because of this fact, the things we talk about when we refer to our sensations are not brain processes. The popularity of this objection among scientist also surprised me due to its weakness as Lauren pointed out. However, Smarts response to objection 1 and his lightning example is very strong and supports his argument that sensations and states of consciousness should be described by brain processes.

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