All posts by Julia Abovich

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:

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.

Can We Be Certain of an External World?

G. E. Moore tries to prove the existence of the external world. He acknowledges the argument that one cannot be certain that one is, for instance, standing: one can be merely dreaming that they are standing, being deceived by their senses. Since you can’t know that you’re not dreaming, you can’t know that you’re standing. It seems simple enough, but Moore refutes this. He argues that he knows that he is standing. Since he knows that he is standing, he can say that he knows that he is not dreaming. He says the problem is solved, as it makes just as much sense to say he knows he’s not dreaming because he knows he’s standing as it is to say he doesn’t know if he’s standing because he doesn’t know if he’s dreaming.

I disagree with Moore’s argument. Quite simply, how does he know he is standing? That is what he bases his proof on, yet he can’t prove how he knows it. Frankly, Moore’s argument seems like a feeble attempt at trying to prove that the external world exists when in reality he knows he can’t be sure. He justifies that he is not dreaming by claiming to know something, but he cannot justify his knowledge with anything but his senses. And senses are not always reliable.

Plato’s allegory of the cave proves that senses are not always reliable.

In the allegory, there are prisoners in a cave facing the wall. They are chained and cannot look behind them. Behind them is a fire, so that when they look at the wall, all they see are shadows. Say there is a small cat that is behind them. The cat would cast a very large shadow and perhaps it would seem to the prisoners that something very large was in front of them about to attack them. However, their sense of sight would be deceiving them. There is just a cat behind them, and nothing large and dark in front of them, as the shadow would suggest.

In the same way, our senses can deceive us by making us think we are standing, when we are in actuality hallucinating or dreaming that we are standing, for instance. Moore claiming that he is certain that he is standing does not invalidate any of these claims. It just raises more questions. Sure, it would be easy to assert that everything we experience is the truth, but without justification, we cannot assert this. Though it is a valid argument that works in theory, it does not work in practice. If we are being deceived by our senses, it is certainly an unsound one.

Though Moore proposes a valid argument encouraging certainty, I stand by Descartes, as I do not believe that Moore has anything he can use to back up his claim that he is certain that he is, for example, standing. If we cannot be certain, it remains that we should be uncertain about whether or not we are truly standing or living in this external world we experience. It is an “unsure until proven innocent” approach, as I do not think that we are necessarily being deceived, just that we should be uncertain about it. Though this limbo and unsure state of mind is not ideal, it is all we have to work with until a better argument is made against it.

Certainty by G.E. Moore