Saturday, February 01, 2014

conscience and your brain

Dr. Vallicella writes: is absurd to suggest, as the author does, that one can examine one's conscience by examining a part of one's brain. Examination of conscience is a spiritual practice whereby, at the end of the day perhaps, one reviews and morally evaluates the day's thoughts, words, and deeds. What is being examined here? Obviously not some bit of brain matter. And if one were to examine that hunk of meat, one would learn nothing as to the thoughts, words, and deeds of the person whose hunk of brain meat it is.

This is precisely the point on which Dr. V and I differ. I don't see why mental phenomena can't be encoded in the material brain, and I have no trouble with the position, held by any serious neuroscientist, that the mind is what the brain does. Show me a guy with no brain who still has a mind, and I'll concede that I'm wrong.

Dr. V's tactic, above, is to point to the brain and say, "See? The guy might be thinking about a horse, but I can't see any horse in his brain!"

I've responded to this argument before. See here and here.



Anonymous said...

I've lately seen arguments such as the one you refute as lazy ways to come up with a validation of spirituality. They're no longer of much interest to me. At the same time, I'm curious what the limits of materialism might be if for no other reason that I fear there may be no limits at all and stake some sense of self upon a spooky dimension to reality. But, now that I think of it, even if there is no spooky dimension, I'll probably keep doing the spooky things I do.

Kevin Kim said...


While I have little patience or respect for the substance-dualist position, I do think dualists have every right to poke holes in the physicalist perspective, to point out incompleteness or inconsistency.

Still, physicalism is, I think, a better approach to mind than is substance dualism mainly because its theories are more readily applicable to questions of artificial intelligence. Machines capable of increasingly complex behaviors are being built, and their AI rests on physicalist assumptions. Dualists have no positive description of what the mind is; all they have are critiques of physicalism. You can't construct an AI if you're convinced that mind is a nonphysical substance.

For the time being, I'd actually agree with substance dualists who contend that physicalism is limited in its explanatory power. Physicalism is currently so limited, but people in the physicalist school are steadily pushing against those limits. And in my opinion, they're gaining ground. Substance dualists, meanwhile, backed themselves into a rhetorical corner long ago.

Kevin Kim said...


I just found an old post that may or may not have addressed the issues you bring up in your comment.

VoilĂ .

Anonymous said...

Thanks! Would a Buddhist even care? Exactly!