A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Resolving The Mind-Body Issue, Part 1

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on April 22, 2008

In past posts I said that both epiphenomenalism and physicalism are weird. I also consider substance dualism equally weird. We are seeing too much correspondence between what goes in our conscious lives and what goes on in the brain for there to be place for assuming that there is two different substances. But one doesn’t even need to go too deep into science, I think. One should just check how alcohol affects our consciousness. It doesn’t affect just what I perceive, it changes ME in the most intimate way. Of course, this objection doesn’t render substance dualism impossible, but just weird. (In same way I wasn’t arguing against logical impossibility of the epiphenomenalism and physicalism in previous posts. I was just saying that given their commitments, they are weird). Now, there is also categorical phenomenalism, which says that what we are seeing in the world are the dispositions of the matter to act this or that way, but that “behind” those dispositions there is some ground, something which explains them. And categorical phenomenalism would say that consciousness is connected to this ground. However, as i posted in previous comments, this view doesn’t go far into solving the issues epiphenomenalism has. So, it is as weird to me for same reason as epiphenomenalism is.

So, throwing all those things as insensible proposals, I guess it is only fair that I express an alternative… You will probably see the alternative as weird, but I think this one is weird in different way, not because of its implausibility, but because it requires that we change significantly our suppositions about the things in the world. But, I think, lot of people do recognize the need for a significant change of the paradigm, in order for any plausible explanation of consciousness, so, in the light of that, I think that people are open to new approaches to the problem.

Let me start with little history of the problem, as I see it…

What has been done from the time of Descartes, and what continues to be done those days, and for sure will continue to be done in future is this… People through science are approaching measurable aspects of reality – those which can be quantified independently by other people, and then give different explanations of those aspects in terms of assumed entities. In doing this however, while painting the clean picture of the world, it became custom to push different things we are aware of as in the world, and which don’t easily fit into that picture, under the rug of “mental”. This is very clearly seen in terms of the Lockean distinction of primary and secondary qualities. The primary qualities, or those aspects of the world that which are also susceptible to the measurement are “allowed” in the picture of the world. Those would be some of the things we see like size, solidity, volume, shape, speed, and so on. But, what to do with the secondary qualities like color, taste, texture, sound and so on? We took the easy solution, we assumed this magical place called mind and pushed those into the mind – “We will deal with those later.”. So we got to a clear picture of the world, but on what price? The price is that we have robbed the world from all those “interesting properties”, and put them into the “ourselves”, into the mental.

But, now when we come to the time when we want to include the mind in the world, we are astonished by this metaphysical gap between the clear picture of world, and all this “leftovers” in our mind. A gap which was of our own making! And not just that, but removing those things from the world, and putting them in the mind, necessarily produces some distinction of how we see things and how they really are, and further introduces such entities as “phenomenal experience”. The result is both metaphysical and epistemic gap.

I guess the contours of the proposed change of paradigm that I’m talking about are becoming clear given what I said so far. The proposal is of returning the interesting properties into the world. Returning the colors, sounds and tastes, the acts of seeing, hearing and tasting, the beauty and the ugliness, the good and evil, the language and meaning, and all this other things back to the world.

Given that we removed all those things from the “magical place” called mind, what we get there, again in the world, are subjects which have abilities, abilities to see, hear, smell or in general become aware of all those things, but also which have abilities to consider, wish, plan, and act within that same world. And it is nice to be able to point that the words like “consciousness”, “mind” and “experience” are in non-philosophical speech used in non-Cartesian manner (so which shows that what people usually mean by those words is not inline with those other views on the mind/body issue). I discussed at larger length those issues in previous posts.

In the next post, I will discuss the issues related with returning all these things in the world, and how can they coexist with the clean picture given to us by physics. It is where this paradigm change goes further away from commonly accepted assumptions.

Stay tuned!

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5 Responses to “Resolving The Mind-Body Issue, Part 1”

  1. John Valley said

    Hi Tanasije. As you know, I’m pretty committed to substance polymorphism; i.e., just because you want everything to be “in the world” doesn’t mean everything has to be the same kind of thing. The series of discussions I’ve been giving on my blog, http://johnguru.wordpress.com/ discusses how there are so many things important to us that exist in the gaps between the particles of physics. Not just forces, not just mind, but also the things we seem to directly sense. It can’t all be physical matter, because you at least have to have relationships between things, eh? Form, shape, distance, composition…

    But I’m sure you see the sense of that.

  2. Hey John,

    For sure everything is not the same kind of thing. It is hard to deny that houses, fire, bachelors, tigers and governments are different kinds of things. But commitment to substance dualism is not commitment just to different kinds of things. Of course we can treat every kind as having separate substance or essence, but you need to tell why should we do so, and why shouldn’t we think that there is something common to all the things, especially in light of the explanatory power of sciences, who usually limit themselves to few basic principles, and explain lot of things.

    Also, I’m not sure that in discussing relationships between physical things you necessarily move away from physicalism. After all physics seems to me accepts such things as distances, shapes and composition in its ontology. If you think that such things as patterns, distances, composition and shapes can deal with the mind/body issue, you are in agreement with physicalists.

  3. […] of A Brood Comb, has two interesting posts that attempt to resolves the mind-body problem here and […]

  4. Tanasije,

    Heh, them’s fightin words. The day I’m in agreement with physicalists would have to be my funeral. No, what I’m saying is that physicalists are just plain wrong. They can’t base an intelligent view of the world on matter alone.

    Physics doesn’t really even try. That science is made up of a certain degree of mysticism. I say that because, after it has finished discussing atoms, and then discusses shape, form, space and time, and then finally brings the observer into it in a theory of quantum mechanics such that observing itself partly defines reality, well… physicists are clearly not physicalists.

    This is no more evident than in some of the video philosophy sessions you have such as the UCLA Closer to Truth panel discussions between Searle and Wolf. Wolf is much more metaphysical than Searle. And I think that’s funny.

  5. John,

    OK, physicalists might as well be wrong, but I guess I have problems seeing where your view distinguishes itself from physicalism.

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