All posts by Lauren Hutwelker

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.


We were certainly uncertain, at least I’m pretty sure I am.

After reading Descartes meditations, it seems clear: we can think, therefore there must be an ‘I.’ In other words, if we are doing anything, thinking, doubting, hoping, the fact is we are. We exist. What I did think was interesting in his argument in the beginning was when he said that we must doubt something that even has a small chance of being untrue. He mentions that his senses sometimes deceive him, as in dreaming. While extreme, this concept is essential.

On a slight tangent, with modern day technology and research we can corroborate this, but even in every day life. Elizabeth Loftus wrote in the 1980s about false memories.

This means that while we think we remember something, it did not in fact happen. So if our senses are really that unreliable where we think we have gone somewhere or done something that actually has never happened, then who is to say we aren’t brains in a vat being manipulated by bored scientists?

Descartes also mentions that there are some things that, whether dreaming or awake, are always true such as two plus three equals five and a square has four sides, a triangle has three, etc. However, if we truly are brains in a vat, isn’t it entirely possible that these truth elements could be altered? Couldn’t someone make us think that 2 + 2 = 5, just as we now think that 2 + 2 = 4?

Next, Descartes differentiates between the soul and the body. The body, he argues, is the structure of bodily parts (arms, hands, etc.) while the soul is where sense-perception and thinking occurs. While I don’t doubt that there must be some sort of location where thinking and perceiving occurs, I can doubt that I have a body. Again, we could just be brains in a vat where someone makes me think that I have a body that moves.

Thomas Hobbes responded to this separation of thought and body with, how can the body be separate from thinking as you need thinking to move the body? He says that “the mind is nothing more than the movements of various parts of an organic body.” These things Descartes describes as two separate entities, and yet, they cannot exist alone without ceasing in existence. This brings up for me a question of what it means to exist or be alive, but seems to be a totally different problem. Are we really living if we are brains in a vat? Aren’t we just a sort of zombie if someone is telling us what to think?

Moore wrestles with similar issues of what we can actually be certain. He says that there is no way to know for certain that he is not dreaming when he thinks that he, for example, is standing up. But he then argues that the sensory memories of the recent past “may be sufficient to enable [him] that [he] is not dreaming.”

He goes further to say that it is logical to argue that he may be dreaming right now and that he is dreaming would not be self-contradictory; but saying that he can’t be having both all sensory experiences and memories that he has, and be dreaming, is illogical and self-contradictory.

I believe that you could be dreaming and have sensory experiences and memory. Just as we can remember actual events, we can remember what has happened in a dream and sometimes the two blur. So couldn’t our memories of a “sensory experience” be just of a dream?

After reading this, I begin questioning whether I am actually a body and not a brain in a vat or living in a computer simulation, because as far as I can tell, there isn’t a way tell. Descartes and Moore reiterate one common conclusion for me: I am, but I also am certainly uncertain.