Dualism Strikes Back? Live Blogging!

09 August 2008

One of the controlling questions for today's show is whether a reasonably well-informed, scientifically minded person can still believe in dualism in the 21st Century? Or is dualism really just a relic of the philosophical past?

Certainly, there's almost no rational grounds for currently believing in old-fashioned Cartesian Dualism of the mind and body. According to that form of dualism, the mind and body were two metaphysically distinct substances -- with the body being extended in space and the mind being an immaterial somewhat, with no extension, no location.

Cartesian dualism is unsustainable for many, many reasons. It's bad enough that it makes a mystery of mind-body interaction. But it also makes a mystery of the mind itself. Descartes believed that the mind was an indivisible simple, that it could not be broken down into an organized collection of interacting parts. But the mind obviously has a vast diversity of its possible states. It can think a potential infinity of thoughts. It can perceive and feel. And it's perceptions and feelings come with a vast variety of intrinsic qualitative characters. How could such infinite diversity subsist in a simple indivisible thing, with no internal structure of organized parts?

Though Cartesian Substance dualism is dead. Other forms of dualism live on. Many philosophers of mind are property dualists. The property dualist grants that there is only one class of "stuff" in the world -- material stuff. But the property dualist insists that there are (at least) two kinds of properties that the one kind of stuff can have -- mental properties and physical properties. The property dualist insists that mental properties aren't identical with any physical properties.

But property dualism isn't nearly as radical as Cartesian substance dualism -- or at least it need not be. That's because property dualist often argue that although mental properties don't reduce to and are not identical with physical properties nonetheless they in some sense "depend" on physical properties. If you fix all the physical properties of a thing, some property dualist think, then you will have fixed all of its mental properties as well. The technical term for this kind of relation is 'supervenience.' If mental properties supervene on physical properties, that still gives us a form of dualism, but a pretty mild one.

What about stronger forms of dualism that deny that mental properties even supervene on physical properties? Does anybody believe in that any more? Could a rational, informed, scientifically minded person believe in such a thing?

THe perhaps surprising answer is yes. SOme very scientifically minded, very rational thinkers do believe in a form of dualism that denies that mental even supervenes on the physical. We'll hear from one such thinker briefly today, during the report from our Roving Philosophical Reporter. I won't tell you who that is just yet. You'll have tune in and hear for yourself.

But I will say that consciousness is the last refuge of the contemporary dualist. That's because conscious experiences seem to have properties that cannot be explained by our best current physical, biological, and psychological theories. In particular, our conscious experiences have intrinsic qualitative characters. These qualitative characters are essential features of those experiences. And there exists a pretty powerful argument to the effect that the intrinsic qualitative characters of our experiences couldn't possibly be (fully) explained by physics, biology, or psychology. I'm sure we'll go into that argument at some point on the air, so i won't repeat it here.

What I'd instead like you to do is join the discussion. Leave a comment on this blog entry about dualism. Share your thoughts with us and with the world. If it's a particularly apt or insightful comment, we'll try to get it in on the air.

 

Comments (15)


matthew's picture

matthew

Saturday, August 9, 2008 -- 5:00 PM

While specifically "Cartesian" substance dualism m

While specifically "Cartesian" substance dualism may be dead, Substance Dualism has contemporary defenders in Alvin Plantinga and Dean Zimmerman among others. While most of these philosophers who still defend Substance Dualism are self professed Christians, I'd hope that they are still considered rational, informed, and scientifically minded.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, August 9, 2008 -- 5:00 PM

Finding solutions to problem of free will is of im

Finding solutions to problem of free will is of immediate importance to all moral philosophers and philosophers of action. Free will is becoming more and more dubious as contemporary arguments for materialism and determinism seem to be incompatible with free will.
Here's the concepts in the simplest terms possible:
Materialism - the physical world is all that there is.
Determinism - every event is casually determined by prior events
Free will - humans (or rational agents) have control over their actions and decisions
Common problems:
- How is free will possible if every event is casually determined by prior events?
- If my will to move my hand is an entirely physical event, then isn't my will determined by physical mechanisms which I lack control over (i.e. the will is just the illusion of choice and, in actuality, is caused by a chain of physical occurrences)?
I don't have the time to go into the complexities and nuances of the debate between free will and determinism or materialism, but I will supply some links below to those interested in the problem of free will:
A good start (the bibliography lists some of the essential literature) - http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/
A blog run by UC Riverside - http://gfp.typepad.com/the_garden_of_forking_pat/
Another method is to type "free will" into JSTOR and prepare to read.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, August 9, 2008 -- 5:00 PM

One reason why so-called substance dualism is rela

One reason why so-called substance dualism is relatively popular amongst monotheists is that there is actually then an underlying substance monism (since Creation supervenes upon the substantially simple God). That is perhaps one reason for retaining the old name 'Cartesian dualism.' (Another reason is that we may be reminded of the Cartesian coordinates of analytical geometry - that great scientists have not been afraid of this hypothesis.) So I think that the claim that there are few rational grounds for subscribing to Cartesian dualism ought to need defending. What are those many, many reasons?
Note that the dualism is soul and brain, rather than mind and body. Even on Cartesian dualism, the form of the mind is determined in large part by the structure of the brain. Cartesian dualists are fans of science, but they also see a need for something like a soul, and can see no rational grounds for discounting that particular possibility. They do not make a mystery of mind; rather, mind is a mystery! And if we have souls, then souls are even more of a mystery (as is an elementary particle of course, which is simply assumed to have no internal structure for the purposes of a fundamental theory). As for the soul-brain interaction, that is less of a mystery since the work of Sir Karl Popper on the (realistic) propensity interpretation of quantum-mechanical probabilities.
All the alternative interpretations of such probabilities remain seriously flawed. And while the governing equations of the interaction remain a mystery, that is surely more of a reason to pursue research into it (e.g. via experiments on micro-PK) than to ignore it prematurely (on the grounds that Cartesian Substance dualism is dead). Cartesian dualism is often dismissed summarily on the grounds of physical closure, so note that such closure has not yet been demonstrated. It is not a matter of not observing ordinary objects levitating, but of being able to rule out any micro-PK effects upon the chemicals within thinking brains, and such experiments just have not been done.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, August 10, 2008 -- 5:00 PM

Footnote on scientific respectability: The Nobel-p

Footnote on scientific respectability: The Nobel-prize-winning neurophysiologist Sir John Eccles was a Cartesian dualist (see his 1994 book "How the Self Controls Its Brain").

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, August 10, 2008 -- 5:00 PM

E.J. Lowe advocates a view that he calls Non-Carte

E.J. Lowe advocates a view that he calls Non-Cartesian substance dualism (NCSD). Here's a much-too-brief description:

NCSD maintains that persons or selves are distinct from their organic physical bodies and any parts of those bodies. It regards persons as `substances' in their own right, but does not maintain that persons are necessarily separable from their bodies, in the sense of being capable of disembodied existence.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, August 10, 2008 -- 5:00 PM

As I understand the concept, dualism refers to abo

As I understand the concept, dualism refers to about 1/2 physics and the rest metaphysics. Also, it should apply to some degree to the higher mammals at least (a bit of a sobering thought).
In spite of many denials, quantum physics still wrestles with it vis a vis (non-"decoherence") wave-function "collapse" and "Wigner's friend" arguments (what is the "observer" that resolves strict quantum indeterminism). And with the death of Newtonian or Laplacian determinism, cause-effect at the basis of neurological functioning is surely likewise defunct.
One thing for certain: no one has the slightest clue about how to "scientifically explain" human (or animal??) consciousness and any claims whatsoever otherwise are made of thin air at this point of human knowledge of the universe.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, August 10, 2008 -- 5:00 PM

As I understand the concept, dualism refers to abo

As I understand the concept, dualism refers to about 1/2 physics and the rest metaphysics. Also, it should apply to some degree to the higher mammals at least (a bit of a sobering thought).
In spite of many denials, quantum physics still wrestles with it vis a vis (non-"decoherence") wave-function "collapse" and "Wigner's friend" arguments (what is the "observer" that resolves strict quantum indeterminism). And with the death of Newtonian or Laplacian determinism, cause-effect at the basis of neurological functioning is surely likewise defunct.
One thing for certain: no one has the slightest clue about how to "scientifically explain" human (or animal??) consciousness and any claims whatsoever otherwise are made of thin air at this point of human knowledge of the universe.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, August 10, 2008 -- 5:00 PM

"And there exists a pretty powerful argument to th

"And there exists a pretty powerful argument to the effect that the intrinsic qualitative characters of our experiences couldn't possibly be (fully) explained by physics, biology, or psychology."
The argument seems to be that because we can clearly and distinctly conceive of a duplicate of our world in respect of its "extrinsic" properties (call these "E-properties") that is phenomenally void, an explanation for consciousness will have to reside in so-called "intrinsic" properties (call these "I-properties").
The obvious problem with this argument is that we can just as clearly and distinctly conceive of a duplicate of our world in respect of both E- and I-properties that is phenomenally void! In other words, the argument only works by stipulating that its hypothesized-but-unspecified property class contains all and only those properties required to give rise to (and to explain) consciousness.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, August 19, 2008 -- 5:00 PM

Mr. Vallicella's offering may yet be proof that th

Mr. Vallicella's offering may yet be proof that there are things that can exist and yet have no substance.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, August 20, 2008 -- 5:00 PM

The post on Vallicella's blog is highly relevant b

The post on Vallicella's blog is highly relevant because, as he has shown, there is no clear verdict on the debate between dualism and materialism.
A disinterested approach is key to good philosophizing. Unfortunately, fashionable thinking often leads philosophers to dismiss claims without even providing a convincing argument as to why such claims should be dismissed.
Dogmatism has historically been the greatest impediment to philosophical progress, and I doubt that that will change. Logic was more or less unchallenged since Aristotle until Frege came along. A similar story follows from Plato's idealism. Likewise, in our day, the canonical doctrine seems to be that of scientific naturalism, which is likely due to Quine's influence. While it is possible that science will eventually explain mental phenomena, there is no conclusive evidence to support that possibility. Conclusions ought to be reached through arguments, not through appeals to prejudice.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, September 3, 2008 -- 5:00 PM

One musn't forget, in this context philosophers wh

One musn't forget, in this context philosophers who may fall into the none of the above category. My personal favorite for nomination is Galen Strawson, whose peculiar brand of panpsychicism avoids many of the traps of both old dualism and Dennett style modern monism.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, November 29, 2008 -- 4:00 PM

It seems very easy to get lost in the idea that im

It seems very easy to get lost in the idea that imagination makes the mind greater than the brain or at least immaterial. My problem is if the mind is separate and either bound by different laws or bound by none at all then why is it so much narrower in scope from the brain? Neurologists like Ramachandran seem to be making great strides in decoding things like synesthesia which tricks the senses and showing us all of the things our brain does without us being aware of it. I know from personal experience that I can cut myself and my body bleeds and I assume cellular activity changes and my heartrate as well but I can remain unaware of the pain from the cut until I notice the blood. This seems to me strong evidence, although i realize it may never be conclusive, that the mind and brain are not only one but that the mind is the lesser of the two.
Everyone has heard the hardware/software comparrison but I think it is even far simpler than that and the brain is the software, the body the hardware and consciousness merely a query that responds to commands as in a computer.
I think that from a psychologicl perspective there can be no greater analogy than that of the computer. Arguable our greatest and most human creation and certainly the closest in operation procedures to the human body. The computer has a brain, central nervous system, processors for the senses, and peripherals. It seems obvious to me that it is created in our own image and it reflects our operating system as true as anything can.
My one question would be that if consciousness is part of the physical brain, as an artist myself, would I truly be capable of originality or do I merely construct images based on things that I have experienced in my own life? Is the level of artisic creativity then the measure of how many different sources an artist uses to construct an image?

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, September 22, 2009 -- 5:00 PM

It is philosophically irresponsible to claim that

It is philosophically irresponsible to claim that there is almost no rational grounds for believing in Cartesian Dualism. There are many well-educated and quite sophisticated philosophers, like Richard Swinburne of Oxford and Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame who believe in a similar dualism to that of the Cartesian kind, just to name a few.
Also, to claim that Cartesian dualism makes a mystery of the mind-body problem is certainly no logico-cum-metaphysical argument against Cartesian dualism. It might well be a mystery of how the universe originated, but it is indeed not the case that it did not in fact originate. Just to claim that this is a mystery is not to say that the Big Bang did not happen. And the same goes for Cartesian dualism. Just to claim that it is a mystery of how these different entities interact, is not an argument against the thesis itself.

 
 
 

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