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Author Topic: our host's stance on the mind - body problem...  (Read 1343 times)

Posts: 40

but you are the music while the music lasts...

« on: 02/12/08 @ 06:29 »

Having read through (and of course by no means mastered yet) the first few chapters of Maslin's introduction (the chapters on various approaches to the mind body problem), and seeing it as a book you recommend, which view/views do you support or are sympathetic too?  Which ones make you cringe?

Do you find yourself more aligned with physicalism or believe that the mental is irreducible?


Man, when I was young I shoved my ignorance in people's faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn.
Gareth Southwell
Full Member

Posts: 124

« Reply #1 on: 02/12/08 @ 16:50 »

Thanks for asking!

I don't often get asked what I personally believe,  Cry and I try to keep personal opinions out of any material I post (within reason). So, it's nice to get a chance to actually say what I think - thank you!

My personal sympathies lie with what you might call the irreductionists (I might have just made up that word). The main reason for this is that some reductionists (Dennett, Churchland) seem to want to get rid of the problem of consciousness altogether - to pretend as if it isn't there. However, to do that they need to show that what you think of as subjective experience (what it is like to be you) is some kind of illusion. To me, this is like putting the cart before the horse (De-cartes before the horse? Sorry). Mental subjectivity is our primary way of understanding the world, so to say it doesn't actually exist is like a cartoon character coming alive and rubbing out the illustrator! (Or something like that!)

This is NOT to say that the mental is something over and above the physical, but merely that we cannot adequately account for mental subjective experience in terms which leave no room for it (i.e. which don't take it seriously). In this sense, I agree with John Searle: mental subjectivity is as much an irreducible aspect of reality as physical matter. Ah! (so materialists would counter), so you believe in an immaterial substance or soul! Not necessarily. To say that the mental cannot be reduced to the physical is merely to say that our current understanding of what matter is does not allow for a complete understanding of consciousness.

As for so-called immaterial substance, I think there is a lot of confused talk about this. Originally, substance was merely something that could have properties; however, as science progressed, it came frequently to mean a 'thing' whose existence could be described physically. So, when we come to the idea of immaterial substance, we get certain materialists saying that this is a contradiction in terms (because a non-physical thing cannot have properties). But this is not necessarily how immaterial substance should be understood (as a sort of ghostly half-nothingness): perhaps we can simply think of mental substance as a non-physical aspect of reality. Therefore, it can be a substance in the original sense (it can have qualities, just as your experiences can have qualities that are non-physical). In a nutshell, the problem with the physical description of the world is that it is third person (from outside), and therefore, almost by definition, excludes the first person perspective. But it is only a description!

The above needs more work, I think - and is a bit of a tangent from your question!

Basically, I have sympathy with non-reductive explanations of mind, whilst also agreeing with most that the problem of consciousness is a long way from being solved. However, when it is solved, it will not be via a similar method to the one employed by some reductionists.

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