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Help me understand dualism?

  1. Dec 3, 2003 #1

    I was wondering if anyone could help me with this. If our mind and our body can interact, and our mind is mental and our bodies are physical, then there should be some sort of integration. Yet this integration cannot touch at a mental level and a physical level, because this is what dualism states. Then, how does our body and mind interact according to dualism?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 3, 2003 #2


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    Lots of answers to this one. Here's one to try, epiphenomenalism. It means the mind is just a byproduct that the body, especially the brain makes, like the noise a machine makes when it's working. The classic objection to this is that the sound doen't affect the machine but the mind can affect the body. But that's pretty silly; the meachine noise was only a simplified model, you shouldn't push it too far.

    Combine epiphenomenalism with evolution, you get an epiphenomenon that happened to evolve, turned out to have survival advantages, and flourished. So that's what it could be. Just an accidental byproduct of cellular working that's been enhanced by evolution.
  4. Dec 3, 2003 #3
    thanks! thats a pretty good analogy. but how can the mind exist without the body? in your analogy, the body is an extension of the mind. but from our senses, it would seem that the mind is an extension of the body.
  5. Dec 4, 2003 #4
    seeker, your problem started when you differentiated "mental" from "physical". If mental events are not physical, then they cannot interact with the physical body (which they obviously do); therefore they must be physical. For an explanation of why non-physical things cannot interact with physical ones, see the ninth post down on the third page of this thread.
  6. Dec 4, 2003 #5


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    Or, for an ongoing explanation of how phsyical/non-physical interactions could in fact be a conceivable, coherent framework, check out this thread. :smile:
  7. Dec 4, 2003 #6
    thanks guys, both of those threads contain very relevant information. :)
  8. Dec 5, 2003 #7
    One explanation is an intelligence at the cellular level. Each cell carries it’s own intelligence. Just watch a cut heal without you having to instruct it.
    We think our mind is in our brain because that’s where the most cells are.

  9. Dec 6, 2003 #8
    This cannot be correct.

    First off, if cells were conscious of pain, then there would be no need of a nervous system that relayed such information (of being cut) to the spinal cord and brain.

    Secondly, if a cell was conscious, then why would anything have every developed a brain, when any collection of cells would suffice?

    Lastly, if pain was felt by a cell, then why does the cell (along its neighboring cells) not respond before any electrical stimulus reaches the spinal cord?
  10. Dec 6, 2003 #9
    Cells do act without control coming from the brain. Let's just think back to before we had a brain. When we were just a single cell. Every cell new exactly what to do and when to do it. Even after we had developed a brain we still have systems of cells that do not require instruction from our brain.

    Interesting don't you think.

  11. Dec 7, 2003 #10
    Yes, that is pretty amazing! :wink:

    The intelligence factor is definitely encoded within the cell. At which point it becomes a matter of where the cell "takes up residence" and specializes in.

    And it's a good indication that consciousness even occurs at the cellular level.
  12. Dec 8, 2003 #11
    Actually, a cell never knew "what to do" or "when to do it", until a CNS evolved. Think about it, a plant doesn't know what to do or when to do it, and it's a whole collection of cells. No, a cell may have interacted with its surroundings, but it never knew it was doing this.
  13. Dec 8, 2003 #12
    And yet who's to say that human society isn't altogether different than a collection of cells? And here, while we may be speaking of something occurring on a higher level, we're basically speaking of something which is fundamenatlly the same.
  14. Dec 8, 2003 #13
    Great points Mentat. Do you know if the nerve cells of the brain are radically different than the nerve cells in the body?

  15. Dec 9, 2003 #14
    Some arguments on dualism.

    Dualism can be explained by assuming that God keeps the physical and the experiential perpetually in sync, as I believe Liebnitz proposed. I don't buy this. However dualism is definitely a problematic position.

    Epiphenominalism (supervenience) is sometime used to get around the problem, but it doesn't work. Ryle and others suggest that consciousness is no more than the steam from a train whistle, on the basis that the steam has no effect on the train. The problem with this view is that it's complete nonsense. Of course the steam has an effect on the train. There is no known scientific case of an epiphenomenon having no effect on the structure from which it arises, so claiming that consciousness is an exception is a pretty thin argument.

    Also it has been well argued on logical grounds (Dupree) that 'supervenience' (an epiphenomenon 'supervenes' on what it is epiphenomenal on) must be symmetrical (will find ref. if required). If causation works one way it must work the other way as well. Epiphenominalism is therefore not a very plausible idea.

    I think that few current thinkers go for 'substance dualism'. Most prefer 'property dualism', one substance but two aspects.

    Substance dualism only makes sense if mind and matter reduce to one substance, as Buddhism asserts. Property dualism has nothing to say about the ontology of mind and matter.

    Some property dualists assert that mind and matter are both material. This is counterintuitive at best and outright insanity at worst. Still, if someone chooses to believe that exerientia are physical objects it's hard to argue with them. It's like arguing with people who believe they're Napoleon, logic doesn't seem to apply.

    As for the idea that consciousness has evolved it contradicts science. As currently defined science must assume that consciousness has no function. In this case consciousness bestows no advantage on an organism and cannot be selected for.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2003
  16. Dec 9, 2003 #15
    That's rather a "straw-man" argument, don't you think? I mean, yes, if all of us humans produce some higher consciousness through our own minute processes, then your conclusion makes sense, but it is an added assumption that we produce such a gestalt, right?
  17. Dec 9, 2003 #16
    No, I don't think there's much difference in structure between interneurons (in the neocortex of the brain) and motor or sensory neurons (which are also in the rest of the body).
  18. Dec 9, 2003 #17
    Just to be clear, this "God" idea couldn't work either since the "god" of this concept would have to be neither physical nor non-physical.

    Well, when you think about it, this is no dualism at all. In fact, Materialists would assume that mind and matter are of one substance too: matter! :smile:

    Well, of course I'm not saying that those supposed phenomenological entities are physical, I'm saying that they don't exist at all, and that the process of "mind" and "thought" can be explained completely in terms of matter.

    This part is just wrong, as there are many books (including Consciousness Explained) which explain why consciousness would evolve.

    First off, the australopithecines (sp?) and subsequent primitive Homo species could have used superior intellects to outwit larger predators and to remain socially inact.

    There is also the matter of coordinating attack, but this too is part of being a social animal, and being social does indeed have evolutionary advantages to it.
  19. Dec 9, 2003 #18
    Materialists are generally property dualists, since most people find that it is logically difficult to say that 'love' is material. But I agree that they are not dualists as to substance.

    So a feeling of 'anger' is a physical object and any associated phenomenolgy doesn't exist? Hmm.

    The most innapropriate and arrogant book title ever. Dennett had a good try but hardly anyone agrees with him. His view doesn't stand up to analysis.

    I don't remember him talking about consciousness evolving. However if consciousness is non-causal then it didn't evolve, end of story. You can argue that the brain-states underlying some states of consciousness evolved, but unless consciousness is causal and freewill exists then consciousness has never had anything to do with evolution. It's impossible in principle that it did.

    Your view escapes this problem by the only possible route, by saying that consciousness is physical. But if it is physical how do explain the 'explanatory gap', and why are neuroscientists looking for its correlates, rather than the thing itself?

    (Btw - I'm not trying to be confrontational, just up front. :smile:)

    Yes, but this is physical computation. Whether these entities were conscious of that computation or not could have made no difference to their behaviour in your view.

    I can see that there is some logic to the idea that consciousness is physically caused. But to say it is physical seems very illogical, since how can matter self-reference? Maybe I haven't understood the argument for it, but I have tried.
  20. Dec 10, 2003 #19
    Indeed. Anger is a release of certain hormones, coupled with the firing of a few interneurons...nothing non-physical required.

    It's not a physical object, but it is a physical process.

    Interestingly enough, though, while you're right that very few people say they agree with him, every Materialist theory of consciousness (usually written by neurologists or cognitive scientists) can be shown to be another way of saying exactly what Dennett said (even if unintentionally).

    A couple of examples are the selectionist theories of William Calvin and Gerald Edelman.

    And I appreciate this. However, some neuroscientists do indeed believe that "gap" can be crossed (this usually being stated in terms of a discovery that the "gap" didn't really exist in the first place).

    The examples I mentioned above, along with Joseph LeDoux (in his book, Synaptic Self) are just a few.

    Indeed, but now you are referring to self-consciousness. Minor consciousness can evolve into self-consciousness, but not because it is beneficial to the species, simply because it is not deterimental...and it has helped us ascend to the "top of the food chain" in more recent times (the past 6,000 or so years).

    Hebbian cell-assemblies firing in synchronous self-stimulation, thus relating one "thought" to another by the adding of new synchronicities in a "darwinian machine" we call the neocortex? That's William Calvin's take. Consciousness would not be matter, but a process that matter does.
  21. Dec 10, 2003 #20
    Hmm. I have a feeling we aren't ever going to agree about this. Still...

    So why do neoruscientists, when they search for the neural correlates of anger, bother to ask their subjects whether they feel angry or not? It can't be because feeling angry is not the same thing as a bunch of neurons. It reminds me of the old behaviourist joke of two cognitive scientists of the Watson/Skinner school meeting. "You're very well today, how am I?"

    'Every' is much too strong, and few of these theories are as well thought out as Dennett's. But you're partly right. In fact Velmans (I think it was) practically accused him of stealing 'hetero-phenomenology' from a paper of his (can't remember what Velmans called it). The fact is, however, that very few people think that Dennett explained consciousness. My personal view is that Dennett is very clever and writes well, but he is patronising, dishonest in his thinking, and has a view derived from temperament rather than logic. That goes for 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea' as well. Thank God he isn't here to sue me.

    True, many of them believe that (wouldn't you if you were a neuroscientist?). But the issue is open.

    Excuse the long quote but it seems relevant. From a recent conference report:

    “It would seem reasonable to expect any conprehensive account of consciousness to accommodate two of its most fundamental attributes: that we have a self-centred sense of experience and that this sense is somehow linked to the conditioning of our physiology. Yet those conversant with post-Cartesian philosophy will know that time and again significant doubts have been raised about any apparently obvious link between mind and body. So of all of the questions implicated the scientific study of consciousness perhaps the most pressing is to what extent, if at all, does our mental life correlate with bio chemical activity at the neuronal level? Until this is resolved we will be unable to reconcile the data gathered from phenomenological analysis of introspective experience with tha derived from neuroscientific analysis of brain behaviour. The infamous gap will persist.”
    Robert Peperell ‘Between phenomenology and neuroscience’ A report of the ‘Towards a Science of Consciousness’ Conference, Prague, July 2003) From JCS Vol 10 No 11, 2004 p 85

    It includes notes on a presentation given by neurophysiologist
    Karl Pribram,

    ‘One can no more hope to find consciousness by digging into the brain than one can find gravity by digging into the earth’s centre’. His solution to the mind/brain problem is, much like Thompson, to reject the assumption of an inherent division and instead to regard the brain as but part of a larger web of causations impinging upon each instantiation of consciousness, including social systems and culture. We concluded by invoking a spiritual dimension to the quest for human understanding; not the kind of spiritualism one suspects Honderich had in mind, but rather a kind of ‘pervading consciousness’ which partakes of patterns that seem to be an intrinsic part of nature and human experience, including ‘quantum mechanics, organic chemistry, history, interpersonal interactions, or religious beliefs’ – all touched on to some extent in this wide-ranging presentation.”

    Robert Peperell ibid.

    Is 'minor' consciousness the same as the now debunked 'proto-consciousness?

    This having it both ways. If consciousness is no more than non-detrimental then how did it help us ascend the food chain?

    Sounds impressive but boils down to 'consciousness is brain' and doesn't address the difficult questions.

    I wonder if our disagreement is down to you discussing 'phenomenal consciousness' and me discussing 'what it is like to be'? What do you think?
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2003
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