The Mind-Body Problem

Although there are several theories of dualism, they all encompass the central idea that nature of conscious intelligence dwells in something nonphysical. This nonphysical location of the nature of conscious intelligence will forever be beyond the reach of most sciences. Complex and arguably problematic, dualism has come to be one of the most dominant theories of mind amongst the public and most of the world for much of Western History. The question is, which theory of mind is correct? Do they explain how the mental state is related to the physical world and our behavior?

What distinguishes dualism apart from other theories of mind and the nature of conscious intelligence is that it defines each mind as a, “distinct nonphysical thing, an individual ‘packages’ of nonphysical substance, a thing whose identity is independent of any body to which it may be temporarily ‘attached’” (Churchland). On this account, one can argue that the substance dualists’ definition of mind theory is predominantly negative. However there are positive accounts that do prevail, the most highly acclaimed being that of the philosopher Rene Descartes. Descartes theorized that reality is made up of two kinds of substance, one that is extended in space and another that cannot be accounted for in terms of the mechanics of matter. This second substance and way of thinking known as Cartesian dualism proposed by Descartes has no special extension or position. Contrarily, it is centered on the activity of thinking. In other words, this non-spatial thinking substance separate from your material body has a systematic casual interaction with the body. These casual connections to your body are what make the body distinct to the individual. However, if the non spatial thinking substance has no connection to matter, how can it have any casual affect on the body which is grounded in matter substance? Such difficulties with Cartesian dualism caused the consideration of a less radical form of dualism, popular dualism. “This is the theory that a person is literally a ‘ghost in a machine’, where the machine is the human body, and the ghost is a spiritual substance” (Churchland). This theory does not run into the same problems as Cartesian dualism because the mind is in contact with the brain, this exchange of energy that defines this casual contact however has yet to be understood by scientists. This view of dualism is particularly favorable because it agrees with the laws of conservation of momentum, which are widely established, as well as leads to the question of whether or not the mind could survive the death of the body. Unfortunately, we do not have much evidence to support this idea.

An altogether different theory of the mind is property dualism which states that, “there is no substance to be dealt with here beyond the physical brain, the brain has a special set of properties possessed by no other kind of physical object” (Churhcland). In other words, it is the special set of properties that are non-physical that are distinguishable of conscious intelligence. Property dualism consists of epiphenomenalism, which states that mental phenomena are not a part of the physical phenomena of the brain. Furthermore, mental phenomenon is caused by physical activities in the bran but in return do not have any casual effects on the brain itself. Does this prove that there is a concurrence between volitions and actions? Due to the epiphenomenalist radical position on mental properties, a more widely accepted view of dualism known as integrationist property dualism was theorized which differs from property dualism in that mental properties do have casual effects on the brain and behavior. Contrary to property dualism, one’s behavior and choices can be attributed to one’s desires and volitions. Dualists argue that mental states and properties are irreducible and novel properties, meaning they are, “beyond prediction or explanation by physical science”(Churchland). One problematic issue with dualism is its basic stance on the irreducibility of mental properties. If we assume that mental properties are emergent, then shouldn’t a physical account of them be possible? Many dualists ten to favor one claim or the other, however some support a further view know as elemental-property dualism that compares mental properties to that of electromagnetic properties. If irreducibility is one of dualism’s most basic claims yet it presents us with numerous questions and issues, why should we accept it? Why would someone be a dualist?

Although complex and filled with questions of credibility, there are many arguments that support as well as refute the belief in dualism. First, most world religions in a way support dualism in that they believe in an immortal soul and contemplate the purpose of Man in the universe. Further supportive cases are the argument from introspection and the argument from irreducibility. A prominent refutation of Dualism however is known as the Problem of Other Minds. In order to believe that there are other minds than our own, we observe the behaviors of the other organisms. This is problematic however because we only know that mental states cause our own behaviors. “Hence, if dualism is true, we cannot know that other people have minds at all. But common sense tells us that others do have minds. Since common sense can be trust, dualism is false” (Calef). The problem of other minds can be used to support alternative mental state theories such as behaviorism or functionalism. This complicates our understanding of dualism even further because we are presented with many supporting as well as counter arguments to dualism and its theories on the nature of conscious intelligence. Due to its complexity and highly problematic nature, should we accept dualism as truth, or disregard it altogether and search for an alternative solution to the mind-body problem?

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2 thoughts on “The Mind-Body Problem

  1. Personally, I believe dualism should not be completely abandoned. If our society uses dualism as a stepping stone, we should be able to fix the inconsistencies and simplify the complexities associated with dualism. If we disregard dualism in its entirely, then we run the risk of replicating some of the same problems in the creation of alternative solutions to the mind-body problem.
    Also, I find it interesting that you bring up the relationship between religion and dualism. Could you elaborate on this point? For example, if dualism was conclusively rejected, do you think that would have an effect on religious views?

  2. Donald, I agree with your opinion on the radicalism of Cartesian Dualism. The radicalism of Cartesian Dualism drove away many people who might have considered Dualism as appropriate just because the mind is not in contact with the body. I fail to see how Cartesian Dualism took a long time to replace with a much less radical theory.

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