Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Dualism vs materialism

  1. Jul 28, 2005 #1
    What if everything is physical, only we don't know what it is?
    The common perception of "physical" is usually the 3 spatial dimensions, and the time dimension, but, what if we need to define physical as something else?
    Consciousness exists, some say it doesn't, but for the moment lets say it does.
    We have a blob of energy called the universe, and in it we have 3 spatial dimensions.
    What if consciousness is a function we don't know about yet?

    What if we say that there are functions in the world, an object is created with particles, and then it gets a function, or vice versa, a function is needed in the universe, and then the appropriate form and function is created.
    Regardless, these forms and functions exist.
    If we say that consciousness is just another function of the physical world, and then go a little deeper and say that it is purely physical, our mind becomes physical. Not 3 dimensions physical, but a part of the universes logic.

    Also remember that im not talking about the physical processes in the brain, but the actual subjective experience.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 29, 2005 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    It's unclear what you mean to communicate with that last clause. What is 'it'?

    The word 'physical' must encompass more than just space and time. For instance, an electron is not a spatial or temporal dimension, but it is physical.

    What do you mean by 'function'?
  4. Jul 31, 2005 #3
    Sorry for being so vague.
    "It's unclear what you mean to communicate with that last clause. What is 'it'?"

    With "it", I can mean a lot of things.
    For one if the universe is a closed system, or everything that exists(can be either or none), then the questions I make will apply.
    However if the universe is an open system, and not everything that exists, then the questions still apply.

    "What do you mean by 'function'?"
    A function is basically when atoms make up an object, and that object gets a function in the universe.
    Now my contention is that consciousness, as it were, is a collection of the following: the brains memory, the bodies sensory inputs, the observed physical universe.
    (A body with no sensory inputs may still be conscious, but it would be living in a dream world, so I'm not sure just how conscious it would be..)
    Let's say this system is deterministic, but that at the higher levels, emergent patterns come forth.

    For example, a car engine consists of a lot of parts, you can look at an engine from all sorts of angles.
    One angle is the quantum world, if I were a conscious electron, I would not see an engine, I would not even know that I was in an engine.
    So in that regard, from a quantum perspective, the universe is just chaos.
    Another angle is the humanistic view, a car engine.
    It makes cars able to move.
    The point is, the car is an emergent property, where the particles in the engine must follow the path of the engine as a whole (aka the physical motion path).
    The engines particles have a unity, they make up something more than the sum of their parts..

    So, what if we can apply the same to consciousness?
    What if consciousness is an emergent property of the physical brain, where thoguhts, somehow, can move the particles that make up the brain?
    This is a thesis at best, so I'm not trying to convey it as truth or anything like that, it's only an idea..

    It just seems to me we have a lot of emergent properties all over the place, so why can't consciousness be one?
    I am assuming that everything in the universe is physical, or to some extent, everything is a part of the system that is the universe.
  5. Jul 31, 2005 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    The idea that consciousness emerges from the physical properties of the normally functioning human brain is a natural and enticing one. This position has certainly been explored and defended by various philosophers, and also seems to be the default position of contemporary cognitive science.

    However, there are also arguments that consciousness is not strictly emergent on physical properties. For a nice review of some of these arguments and the general reasoning behind them, see David Chalmers' papers Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness and Consciousness and its Place in Nature.
  6. Jul 31, 2005 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Also, I should point out that the title of this thread is a little misleading. Rejecting materialism/physicalism about consciousness does not entail the acceptance of dualism. There are alternative non-physicalist perspectives to dualism, such as epiphenomenalism and monism.
  7. Aug 1, 2005 #6
    What do you believe in hypnagogue?
    Or have you settled with "i don't know."?
  8. Aug 1, 2005 #7


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    My own view on this is that physicalism is indeed insufficient to account for subjective experience, even in principle. I think the best argument against physicalism is the argument from absence of analysis, which basically argues that the kinds of facts available to physicalism (structural and functional facts) cannot entail some kinds of facts about subjective experience (the qualitative/phenomenal facts).

    If physicalism is not an option, I think Gregg Rosenberg's Theory of Natural Individuals is the best alternative that has thus far been expounded. (There is a discussion of Rosenberg's ideas in the "A Place for Consciousness" subforum of the Metaphysics & Epistemology forum.) Rosenberg's framework is not dualist or epiphenomenalist, but rather is a kind of neutral monism. If you've read Chalmers' "Consciousness and its Place in Nature" yet, Rosenberg's ideas are closest to the position Chalmers calls "Type-F monism."
  9. Aug 4, 2005 #8
    Then I'm going to have to agree with that view.
    I just had a conversation with my brother and my dad, a long one.
    And they asked me "but how can you explain the experience of the color yellow in mathematical terms?"

    I told them earlier that everything is physical, and they brought this.
    But, instead of discussing that, I have another proposition for a discussion.
    I won't make a new thread since it is in the same vein as this..

    Basically people who believe in the metaphysical say that many or even all of the first person problems cannot be explained empirically.
    They say for example that you cannot explain how it feels to be happy(the first person experience of happiness) with a third person analysis.
    Nolw my question is, they say the problem is you cannot explain these phenomena in third person(aka science), but in doing so they are saying that everything has to be physical, and they are trying to find a scientific explanation for a first person event.

    If they stood by their viewpoint, which is that first person experiences cannot be explained by science, then there would be no problem anymore.
    Why? Because we already have the answer to how anger feels with first person analysis.
    We have psychology.
    Anyone get my point?
  10. Aug 4, 2005 #9


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Your point is purely a semantic one. Ice and water are both matter, but one is solid and the other liquid. Mind and body both exist, as you say, and normally we say that one is mental and one is physical. In some sense they are different, and in some sense, they are the same. You can extend the definition of "physical" to include both things in the same category, or you can restrict the definition such that they are both real, but of different categories or ontologies. However, how you choose to define "physical" does not change the actual similarities and differences between the things, so it doesn't really solve the problem (if there is one) of dualism vs. materialism. The real debate is about what the real similarties and differences are between mind and body, and how they relate to and interact with one another, not what we call the similarties and differences nor what we call their relations and interactions.

    That said, there is no value in butchering a language. If the word "matter" is used to apply to solids, liquids, or gases, and if the mind is none of these things, there's no sense in calling the mind material, i.e. there's no sense changing the definition of "material."
  11. Feb 24, 2007 #10
    Matter is a very broad description of physical reality, not just solid, liquid and gas.
    The brain is made of neurons which are interconnected, and neurons are cells made of molecules. So all processes in the brain are material.
    And all thought is based on those material processes.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: Dualism vs materialism
  1. Dualism? (Replies: 70)

  2. Dualism Undisprobable. (Replies: 0)

  3. Materialist vs. Dualisms (Replies: 65)