Dualism vs. Materialism

Churchland evaluates dualism in Matter and Consciousness. In evaluating dualism, he finds several key problems. Dualism is the theory that two things exist in the world: the mind and the physical world. This means that humans are made of two things, the mind and the body. Firstly, there are a lot of blanks and unknown answers when contemplating dualism. Mainly, it cannot be known how the mind and body are linked together to form a being. The dualist cannot tell us anything about the mind, other than that it exists and works in conjunction with the body in some way. The dualist argues the mind encompasses reason, emotion, and consciousness. However, machines, which certainly do not have minds, have already demonstrated reasoning, such as a calculator. Emotions have been linked with brain chemicals, which would be physical entities. And consciousness can be affected by physical things like “anesthetics… caffeine, and… something as simple as a sharp blow to the head” (20). Reason, emotion, and consciousness make perfect sense when linked with the physical brain, but not much sense when attributed to the unknown workings of the non-physical mind.

In Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes, Churchland argues for eliminative materialism. This claims that folk psychology has been incorrect all along, and that we need to start thinking with a new paradigm of what we believe to be common sense in order to figure out the world really works. In addition, it asserts that the only thing that exists in the world is the physical realm, and that the mind is not separate from the body. There is a video that summarizes this writing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAybGdBg-T4

Folk psychology cannot even explain some of the simplest phenomena. For example, memory, catching balls, and hitting moving targets with snowballs are all things that still are widely not understood. And “the nature and psychological functions of sleep, that curious state in which a third of one’s life is spent” (596) have many puzzles that have yet to be solved. This suggests that perhaps a new way of thinking is needed for people to understand the world around them.

I agree with Churchland’s view of materialism as opposed to dualism. In dualism, it can even sometimes be hard to distinguish between body and mind. In materialism, it is very straightforward, as everything is physical. In addition, it is indisputable that the brain affects one’s decisions, emotions, and conscious thought. This makes it so that everything can be attributed to the brain and neurotransmitters and other chemicals, rather than assigning them to a separate unknown state (the mind). In addition, evolution is based on physical processes, and it makes a lot more sense evolutionary for physicality to be the only entity. The video points out that “all life on earth evolved from purely physical materials by means of purely physical processes”, so it wouldn’t add up if there were also the non-physical mind. In addition, if the mind did exist, it would be very connected with the brain and its processes, and the two would be almost indistinguishable without regards. But if this is the case, there wouldn’t be much point to having a mind at all.

4 thoughts on “Dualism vs. Materialism

  1. You seem to be a harsh critic of folk psychology, stating that “folk psychology cannot even explain some of the simplest phenomena”. Although I agree with you that folk psychology certainly has its shortcomings, I think it is important to recognize that many scientific pursuits are influenced by folk psychology. Attempting to understand basic mental processes in simple terms and on our own volition, is certainly a drive to spark scientific investigation. Thus, I find it difficult to imagine our current state of scientific understanding to be possible with the attempts of folk psychology.

  2. I find it interesting that the youtube clip suggests that all life evolved by means of physical processes. In my opinion, that’s a fairly bold claim that has a handful of shortcomings. Several things come to mind (no pun intended) when I think about this claims.

    Morphological evolution of organisms doesn’t really speak to an increase in cognitive capacities, increases in altruism among animals or the creation of societies based upon cultural standards. These seem to me to be products of higher level thinking; desires of the mind, and not necessarily something that can be attributed solely to the physical world. To be clear, I feel all three of these things have greatly influenced human life as we know it today. If they all three played a significant role in our evolution as a species, I don’t think it’s really fair (or accurate) to say that all life has evolved only by means of physical processes.

  3. You’re post is very interesting. I agree that after reading Churchland, I began to agree more towards materialism rather than dualism, simply because it is easier to understand and explain. There are more proof to materialism than dualism, and I feel like that’s what swayed my thoughts.
    Furthermore regarding the Eliminative Materialism, I agree with Churchland also. Folk Psychology is used to explain the human mental states and behavior. However, I believe that folk psychology should be evaluated on its soundness, such as through research program regarding the mind and the brain. Also, interesting fact that I found while researching online is that over the span of 2000 years of Folk Psychology, there was no significant development in the theory, which may signify that the theory itself is very weak and cannot defend itself.

  4. Very good post. I really enjoyed the youtube clip. After reading churchland I also started to believe materialism over dualism. However I feel that your critique on dualism is somewhat harsh. Your statement that “folk psychology cannot even explain some of the simplest phenomena” seems to be going a bit far. I feel that one of the main reasons that people are willing to adopt fold psychology is that it is somewhat simple and works “well enough” for them.

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