Tuesday, June 14, 2005

the mind-body debate
spills over to other blogs!

I'm not usually a big commenter on Dr. Vallicella's blog because I don't think I understand half of what's being talked about over there. Blame my lack of a Western philo background.

I am, however, intensely interested in the latest round of posting about the nature of mind, some of which is highly relevant to Buddhist studies. There are many Vallicellian posts about mind worth reading, but I'll point you to the posts on which I've appended lengthy comments:

Naturalistic vs. Theistic Ultimate Explanations. I wrote six comments to the above post. Yes, I'm a geek.

Dr. Vallicella dedicates his post on infinite regresses to me here. I comment.

Dr. Vallicella dedicates another post to me here, re: time and modality. Still not satisfied, I comment again.

Dr. Vallicella dedicates a record third post to me here. I haven't commented on it yet, but will have to soon, before I forget my objections.

Then, through email, I received notification by blogger Melchior Sternfels von Fuchshaim (visit his blog, Simplicius Redivivus) that he had written a post critiquing my position, here.

What follows is my reply to that post.

Thank you for your email. I'm not an expert in philosophy of mind. My own bias is toward scientific empiricism and I have a great respect for Occam's Razor*-- simplicity of explanation. To me, substance dualism requires an unwarranted assumption about a "ghost in the machine."

To date, science has not discovered a disembodied consciousness, which makes me lean toward the high likelihood that consciousness is not disembodied. Cut off a person's head-- are they still conscious? In what way? How do we know? Where is their consciousness, if no longer "in" their body? A substance dualist can provide no useful, verifiable answers, whereas a naturalist can say "cessation of physical function entails cessation of consciousness"-- which is likely true, given the millennia-long lack of reanimated corpse and ghost attacks.

Some will critique my view as "scientistic," but I disagree. I call it common sense: no substance dualist has yet produced worthy evidence in favor of their theory of consciousness. In the meantime, science continues to make inroads into the nature of mind and consciousness, and I suspect that philosophers, many of whom seem to refuse to communicate with scientists (my major complaint has been with cognitional theorist Bernard Lonergan), will eventually be left by the wayside as we learn more and more about the inseparability of mind from matter.

So: while I'd agree that science hasn't brought us the absolutely conclusive "last word" on the issue of substance dualism, science has done a superior job of providing an increasing amount of evidence for substance nondualism. As the functions of the brain are mapped out more and more reliably, we'll reach a point, I think, where we will indeed be able to plot what "subjectivity" looks like, and perhaps even manipulate that subjectivity in a third-person manner.

(E.g., Imagine someone who, from a distance or through a physical connection, can "tell" you what to think and experience-- or more benignly, someone who can use technology to project specific images or insights directly into your brain and/or body. Is programmed experience that hard to imagine? Science fiction has long envisioned it: the Matrix movies are a good recent example.)

Substance dualists still haven't properly responded to the original critique of substance dualism, either: in what way does mind relate to matter? If consciousness is not a property of the brain, then what is consciousness? Something overlaid onto the body? Something infused throughout the body? A function of a disembodied soul? What/who was the overlayer/infuser of consciousness? (Here, I suspect some philosophers will jump quickly to a theological explanation... for me, the jury's still out.)

I think the mind-matter problem arose simply because we humans, who love our manufactured dichotomies and dualisms, unjustifiably split mind and matter into two categories and created a straw man. Along with being scientifically biased, I'm also biased toward a nondualistic interpretation of reality. (This probably stems from Buddhist studies.)

Again, thank you for your email and I appreciate the blog post you wrote. It's not an issue that'll be resolved anytime soon, but it's an interesting topic to kick around.

*I'm aware that many will spell this "Ockham," not "Occam." Both spellings are in current use. The man in question, however, is William of Ockham.


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