Smart and Occam’s Razor

Smart’s argument can be summed up as the idea that there are no philosophical arguments for mind-body dualism. In other words, Smart believes that the brain (with its mind-consciousness function), and the body, are not separate entities, and therefore, brain processes cannot be spoken about separately from physical sensations. I believe that although there is a possibility that Smart is correct, modern science has basically disproved his theories.

For one, Smart says that he wishes to resist dualism due to Occam’s razor- the theory that when testing a bunch of hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. However, at this time of modern science, Smart’s claims rely on many more assumptions than the claim that brain processes do, in fact, result in physical sensations. There has been much research done that suggests that certain parts of the brain result in certain sensations. Pet scans reveal that when one experiences pain, there is a universal part of the brain that is activated. Therefore the scans prove that a stimulus activates a brain function that in turn does produce a physical sensation. Notice, the sensations and brain processes are being discussed separately and causally in the case of PET scans. Smart’s second objection is that sensation, being a brain processe, is only a fact depending on whether scientific knowledge is true and, therefore, when we report our sensations, we are not reporting brain processes. If PET scans have shown that sensations are linked to brain processes every time they have been tested, then saying that our scientific knowledge could be wrong makes an assumption of its own kind; it makes the assumption that our proof of brain processes and sensation cannot be considered knowledge, and therefore makes an assumption on what knowledge is. Let’s say for a second that there is a chance that modern science is wrong. Then when someone reports a sensation, they aren’t not reporting brain processes, they are just not definitely reporting brain processes. The assumption that he can say that our modern scientific knowledge can be wrong makes a greater assumption than the repeatedly tested claim that brain processes and sensation are linked.

Objection number 5 that brain processes may be fast or slow, but seeing yellow cannot be relies on an assumption as well. Using Smart’s own theory that our scientific knowledge may be false, how can Smart make any claims about brain processes? If our knowledge can be false, then it is possible that brain processes can only be fast, which completely dismantles the objection. The same claim can be made for part of objection number 6:  sensations are individualistic, while brain processes are universal. To make the claim that he rejects dualism due to Occam’s razor, and then make the claim that everyone has the same brain processes but different sensations, is utter hypocrisy. Once again, he uses the assumptions that our scientific knowledge is correct while saying that it might not be. Also how does he know that sensations are privatized? He doesn’t – it’s an assumption.

Smart’s theories may have had more merits when there was less scientific knowledge. But given modern science, his claims become virtually impossible. Saying also, that he refuses dualism due to the fact it requires assumptions, and then makes many assumptions himself, make his theories hypocritical and invalid.

1 thought on “Smart and Occam’s Razor

  1. I think it’s interesting that Smart believes that, “sensations are individualistic, while brain processes are universal.” What I think is most interesting is the tolerance of the pain or sensation. What I wonder is, the case of a person who does not receive a sensation from a particular stimulation (i.e. someone who cannot feel pain.) The person is not feeling a sensation but is the person still having the brain process? And if he or she is, how would anyone ever know and does it matter?

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