Sunday, February 02, 2014

substance dualism redux

I've long contended on this blog that substance dualists have nothing positive to offer to philosophy of mind. They make only one claim, which is essentially negative: mind is radically other than matter. In teen-speak: mind is so not matter. Beyond that, dualists are frustratingly coy about what their position entails. How is my mind linked to my physical body? What keeps my mind from floating out of my body and jumping into another one? How is it that psychotropic chemicals, which affect my brain, also affect my mind in predictable ways? Whence this tight linkage between physical events and mental ones? If mind is radically other than matter, how can I use this "theory" to construct an AI? (Oh, wait... I can't!)

Peter at Conscious Entities, a blog concerned only with questions in philosophy of mind, writes a post about a rare constructive attempt to formulate a theory that is an alternative to physicalism (which, rightly, dominates practical fields like neuroscience). The very first paragraph of his post confirms what I've been saying for years. To wit:

Harold Langsam’s new book is a bold attempt to put philosophy of mind back on track. For too long, he declares, we have been distracted by the challenge from reductive physicalism. Its dominance means that those who disagree have spent all their time making arguments against it, instead of developing and exploring their own theories of mind. The solution is that, to a [degree], we should ignore the physicalist case and simply go our own way. Of course, as he notes, setting out a rich and attractive non-reductionist theory will incidentally strengthen the case against physicalism. I can sympathise with all that, though I suspect the scarcity of non-reductive theorising also stems in part from its sheer difficulty; it’s much easier to find flaws in the reductionist agenda than to develop something positive of your own. (emphasis added)

See? Vindication.

Digression: Langsam is German for slowly.


1 comment:

Scott said...

What seals the deal for me are events of brain damage that dramatically affect personality, memories, etc. Fuck with the brain, and the dualist idea of a mind vanishes.
Dualism proponents seem very much like the creationism/intelligent design crowd. Nothing they can do but try to poke holes in the opposing theories that actually have something to back up their claims. The last recourse of a dying branch of thought?