Update: A few items from the archive added to the end.
Is there a clearer and stricter definition of ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ and what it means for something to be a mental state or a physical state?
Unfortunately, no. And there’s a reason too–it’s actually an extremely complicated topic, how the “physical” in “physicalism” should be defined (for those sleepless nights). Nonetheless, there is a sort of method to the madness here–at the end of the day, the theories are meant to illuminate basic and intuitive notions we already have. Those notions might need to be revised given a more rigorous analysis and empirical investigation, but they are the starting points. If we don’t already notice that some things have mind, or mental attributes, and others don’t, we won’t even be in this conversation at all. For our purposes, that more basic and intuitive understanding is thus all that we need to get the topic off the ground. It won’t stop there of course, if you are pursuing this more deeply.
Why do we assume human beings have the most form of consciousness with a mind and soul? What if animals or other beings themselves have already discovered the connection between mental and physical states?
could pain and emotions be expressed in non-physical forms as well? in that case, we can’t really measure them scientifically, hence cannot conclude that rocks or plants don’t feel or think
Is it very farfetched to argue that inanimate objects have minds and souls? Or is it an interesting philosophical argument?
Why assign minds to just the beings with brain and nervous system? What if aliens with more complex organs (more complex than the brain) called the BREIN said that we don’t have minds because we don’t have BREINS?
You are free to believe whatever you want to believe–if you believe that animals can do quantum physics, compose epic poems, or come up with complex theories about the nature of the mind, I can’t stop you. But what is supposed to follow from all this? Does it imply something about the nature of mind?
Just because something isn’t logically ruled out and is “possible” doesn’t mean that there’s reason to believe it–let alone a good reason. Modern science has done a lot to uncover the physical basis of our mental life. It doesn’t resolve the debate between Dualism, Physicalism, and Dual-Aspect Theory, but there’s a reason why most researchers work from the position that what happens in our brain has its basis in our brain and nervous system. (See also this.)
As you know by now, Nagel does argue that there is something about our conscious experience that isn’t captured by a Physicalist account of the mind. But not even he thought that the mind can just exist on its own without have a basis in the highly complex piece of equipment called the brain. (How complex? Very.) So now the question is this? –do we have reason to believe that things that don’t have the same neuro-physical complexity can think or feel? We can measure brain waves and register electrical impulses in the brain when someone thinks and feel. Do we really have reason to believe that a piece of rock–which has not such moving parts internally–is able to think and feel?
In principle, there could be even more ‘advanced’ life forms that have even more complex machinery in light of which ours would be paltry. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a difference between things with brains and nervous systems vs., those that have cells and metabolism but no such systems, vs. those that have neither.
(Update: See also the bit from the Archive added to the end.)
would Fungi have a mind?, their mycelium structure seems quite complex. And Slime molds already seem to behave like they have a mind of their own
Not the correct kind of equipment though. There are plenty of complex plant structures. But these aren’t that certain complex combination of stuff that makes up neurons and other related structures.
How do we know for certain that a nervous system is needed for something to have mind without assuming physicalism? Some might say that consciousness can exist without any physical form at all
First of all, you don’t need Physicalism, just a more modest Mind-Body Dependence theory–which still denies Dualism. Second of all, so how do we know that consciousness can exist without any physical form at all? What’s the body of evidence comparable to what modern science has found out. Or for that matter, what ancient people already knew:
Why do people still rely on gut feeling if they already have a perfectly functioning mind to evaluate life?
The point is that some of our “visceral reactions”–that discomfort in our gut we feel when we are frightened–have something to do with changes to our body when we are, e.g., frightened. The ancient Greeks noticed this and thought that our the intestines (σπλάγχνα) is the seat of our emotions–since that’s literally where we feel them! (This word appears as “bowels of mercy” in Colossians 3:12 KJV.). The ancient Chinese described a feeling of great extreme sadness in terms of one’s liver and intestines being chopped up into inch long bits.
In other words, the human race has known for a long time that our mental life is deeply connected with our bodies! (This doesn’t entail that Dualism is wrong, in case you are wondering.)
what about that one theory on how plants seem to grow better if they were spoken to nicely? apparently, there was an experiment too where they were looked at on a micro-biologogical level
There was a myth-busters episode about this (skip to 15:18).
If reincarnation is a thing, logically the total number of souls is fixed, then if that is the case, why do we have an increasing global population? Wouldnt that mean there is more to reincarnation? Maybe consciousness is created rather than transferred?
reincarnation seems like a more dualist concept but is there a way for a physicalist to explain and accept it?
Does a classical theist then automatically subscribe to dualism and not physicalism or the dual aspect theory?
As far as I can tell, typical believers in reincarnation and typical believers in Classical Theism are Dualists. But neither doctrine actually logically entails dualism. In the case of Classical Theism, as I mentioned it the Webinar, even if you grant that God is a purely immaterial, non-physical being, this doesn’t mean that our mind is a separate, non-physical substance. Many philosophers do think of Physicalism as a more totalizing doctrine that rules out the existence of a purely immaterial, non-physical being (like God). If that’s what’s in view, then, yes, Classical Theism is incompatible with both Physicalism and Dual Aspect Theory. But for the purposes of the class, we are just talking about Physicalism as a theory of the nature of the mind–minds like ours and other animals–that’s all.
Reincarnation is another interesting one. If by that, you mean “transmigration of the soul”, then, presumably, you do need some sort of Dualism for it to work (I mean, you need that soul to be a thing of its own that’s not physical). But reincarnation can also mean something more modest–the idea that one person physically dies but that person is reborn in a different body. This might surprise some of you but this idea need not entail Dualism. Even a Reductive Physicalist can accommodate it (not that many of them will bother, but I digress) given a suitable theory of personal identity, a theory laying down the conditions under which A and B are the same person. (I almost introduced personal identity as a new topic this semester actually, but decided against it in the end after bumping out Scientific Realism and adding in Well-being. Long story.)
Is soul/mind defined as what gives us feelings or is this only what Nagel defines it as. So a dualist could say the feeling of pain can be completely physically explained while still believing in a soul/mind to explain other stuff that have nothing to do with feelings e.g ghosts?
Yes–at least given the restricted definitions assumed for the purposes of the class. (Analogous to the God issue.)
Can our soul reside in the mental area of our brain?
If you are a Dualist, you owe us an account of “where” the soul/mind is… Incidentally, Descartes, one of the most famous (Early Modern) Dualists, had some peculiar thoughts about where the soul/mind is.
but even if imagined things may be logically impossible now, they have to stem from somewhere? it’s just a reality that cannot be realised yet?
Can you conceive of a logically impossible thing?
Wouldnt Mind-Body dualism be dependent on whether my eyesight is clear enough to show such an image?
When we say that it’s logically impossible, we mean that it’s impossibility is a matter of logic. Like the idea that something is both red all over and not red all over. Can we conceive of a logically impossible thing? I would say that we typically can’t while knowing that it is logically impossible. But in principle, there could be things that we can be thinking of, that are in fact logically impossible, but we don’t know that. The example in class of a complex mathematical equation–we know that the right hand side is an integer but we can’t tell if it’s odd, or even. From what we know, it could be either. So conceivably, it could be odd, and conceivably, it could be even. But as a matter of fact, it can only be one of those and the other one is a logical impossibility. (The tricky thing here is really what “conceivable” means, and whether any non-trivial sense can be given to it that will give us a way to access what’s metaphysically possible.)
Not sure where that last one came from but I suspect the student misunderstood “conceive”–that’s not “physically perceive, with me eyes”, but just “think”.
if our senses are purely physical how can we ever know if reality consists of a mental aspect? (like how we can’t know if colour exists without sense of sight)
But you do see that color when there is enough light, right? So now the question remains–your conscious experience of perceiving that color–can it be fully reduced to a physical process?
Can we then say that brain-dead patients do not have a mind/soul
If you are a Dualist, I think you are supposed to say that the soul/mind has moved on, and that’s how the patient is brain-dead ? If you subscribe at least to Mind-Body Dependence, then, you will say that since the mental does depend upon the physical, the mind has ceased to exist on account of the brain-deadness.
Can we say that some people don’t have minds because they don’t think? 🙂
Not in the sense relevant to the present discussion though–they can still feel, right?
but if the physical stuff controls the mental stuff how do you explain the placebo effect?
but your so-called belief influence your brain
I’ve already explained this in the class–basically, all three main positions will have their own version of what’s really happening when we have the placebo effect. Remember that if you are a committed Reductive Physicalist, then what’s really happening when you believe that the thing you are ingesting is medicine is itself a physical process.
But if physicalism is true, then how would one explain how thought itself is formed?
what about mental characteristics like perseverance? how are they configurations of physical stuff
Think of a normal chain of events that led you to believe in something. You saw something, you form the thought “so there’s eggs in the fridge after all”, etc. well, if you are a Reductive Physicalist, all parts of this chain of events are ultimately and fully reducible to physical processes. Perseverance is actually not clearly a mental thing at all–by the normal definition, it could just as well be a behavioral thing. If it’s mental perseverance that you have in mind, well, we are talking about a certain set of physical attributes that fully explains and identifies the mental phenomenon of wanting to continued on something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition, etc.
Don’t purely mental objects (ideas, concepts) exist that can be manipulated?
If you are Physicalist, to the extent that you are entertaining those “purely mental objects” in your mind, what’s really happening is that your brain is in a certain configuration state.
Is the dream machine only possible if physicalism is true
If technology allows us to make fully functioning brains, are we now playing god creating consciousness?
Ah… this is actually related to something that will come up in the final topic. The short answer is–surprise, surprise, “we don’t know that the answer is ‘yes'”. For a dream machine–or experience machine–to be possible, there must be a reliable way for us to induce a certain mental experience in someone. Now, presumably, if Reductive Physicalism is true and we know the exact physical states underlying each mental experience, then, we have important pieces on hand–assuming that it’s possible to get the subject into those physical states non-destructively. But is the existence of a reliable way to induce a certain mental experience in someone incompatible with either Dualism or Dual Aspect Theory? I don’t think we know the answers. In principle, Dualism may well be true of the mind and yet we have a reliable method…
If those functioning brains are conscious, sure… Next week, we’ll talk more about doing even more outrageous things.
does dualism explain thought-experiments of being able to “upload” your consciousness into a machine? black mirror-esque
See my answer to the reincarnation question above. A lot will depend on what you mean by this “upload” and what’s being uploaded. In principle, all three theories are at least logically compatible with uploading.
does reductionism have anything to do with determinism
That will depend on whether you think that the physical processes are deterministic or not. Separate issue–don’t confuse them.
Is it possible to not believe in reductionism in general? E.g. for the example of the light and H2O I can explain transparency in terms of molecular behaviour and photon behaviour, but I don’t conclude that the idea of
The entry seems incomplete but I think I know what the question is. And the answer is yes–you might believe that some things are fully reducible to physical characteristics without also believing that others are also reducible. The present topic is specific though–is all mental phenomena reducible to the physical? If the answer is “yes”, then that makes you a Reductive Physicalist.
Does that means A supervenes B is logically equivalent to A if and only if B?
What about identical twins where they are genetically and physically identical , but they have different hobbies and interests(mental attributes)?
No, it’s there’s a difference in the A domain only if there’s a difference in the B domain (a little more here).
Identical twins aren’t physically exactly alike–there are plenty of physical differences at the molecular level. Technically, even a “transporter error duplicate” might only be physically identical to the original at the point of duplication. After that, the two might well go on to take in different sensory input, ingest different food, breath different air, have different things happen to them, etc., all of which will result in physical differences. Remember that those differences need not be entirely perceivable.
How can DAT say that we are purely physical things, but then also say that mental life is not a physical process? I don’t really get that, could you explain it?
What is the difference between min-body dualism and dual aspect theory?
Could you elaborate on the difference between Mind-Body Dualism and Dual Aspect Theory?
Could you explain more about dual aspect theory?
The key here is to be able to distinguish between an entity and it’s characteristics or attributes. The Dualist says that there are two entities here–a body and a mind/soul. The Physicalist and the Dual-Aspect theorist say that, nope, there’s only one entity here–basically a physical thing. But both do agree that the physical thing has different attributes–e.g., tall, dark, handsome, discharging electricity over here, happy, etc. The Physicalist says that the last one (“happy”) really is reducible to another bunch of the physical attributes. The Dual-Aspect Theorist says, nope, that last one is not reducible. It’s a special attribute.
some people are ticklish in certain areas, whilst others are not, is that an example of different experiences of qualia?
Sure, why not. Presumably, the feeling of being tickled in one place as opposed to another might feel quite different–even for the same person.
if impacting something is what’s considered conscious, if there is no proof that we have ever impacted anything are we truly conscious?
Is the Glasgow coma scale really a good way to measure consciousness since we don’t seem to really have a good way of telling what exactly is consciousness?
No, I’m trying to use a specific instance of a conscious experience to make an illustration. Remember that we are talking not about “consciousness” in general, but conscious experiences, each of which has it’s own “what it feels like”, or qualia. Asking you to tickle yourself is just a convenient way to get you to focus on a specific conscious experience, that’s all. The coma scale is fine and all, but always remember that we aren’t talking about the general state of being conscious, but conscience experience.
If we have consciousness, we have free will. If we have free will, we have choices and do whatever we choose to. But why is this world so suspiciously deterministic?
No–you have free will if you are able to choose otherwise than how you chose. Assuming that the choosing is conscious, all you can conclude is that if you have free will, you have consciousness. Not the other way round. Time to revise both W07 and also the necessary vs. sufficient condition thing. Remember how even Galen Strawson agrees that we all feel that we are free?
does consciousness = conscience?
No. Though presumably, you have a conscience only if you have consciousness.
Does that mean in order to have consciousness you must be a moral patient since u need to be able to feel pain?
No. The probable idea is the other way round–if you think that being capable of pain is a necessary condition for being a moral patient, then you are saying that consciousness–at least the ability to consciously feel pain–is a necessary condition for being a moral patient.
Would someone who lacks certain receptors as someone who has less of a mind (like those who are blind or deaf) because they cannot see or hear?
In principle yes–but you need to take this advisedly as I’m suspecting that some of you are thinking of “having a mind” as if it’s some kind of normative status. If you need certain equipment (a.k.a., eyes and the whole visual system) in order to have certain percepts, then, someone who lacks that equipment won’t be able to have those percepts. But this doesn’t mean the entity has less of a mind where it matters, e.g., in rationality and moral sensibility, etc.
Can consciousness be a process that develops overtime? I’m thinking that maybe babies do not have the level of consciousness at the same way we existential-crisis prone uni students have….
It’s believable. Though it seems more probable to me that what’s grown is not consciousness per se but stock and complexity of thought and memory. But otherwise, yeah, that kinda make sense.
How does consciousness come to exist? How does (or could) consciousness arise from nonconscious things?
That’s part of the debate isn’t it. If Reductive Physicalism is true, we have the answer…
Does the topic of consciousness have a metaphysical element to it? We are discussing the existence of souls etc
It’s a metaphysics topic insofar as we are talking about the nature of things, here, the mind. It’s not “metaphysical” in the sense of “relating to the transcendent or to a reality beyond what is perceptible to the senses”.
thinking of chocolate reminds me of tortured puppies, can our memories be explained as a type of qualia?
I think it’s entirely possible that sometimes, there is something it is like to remember a thing–in those cases, the recalling of that memory comes with qualia. We can also remember the past experience of qualia–like the taste of the chocolate at Fred’s yesterday. But not all memory concerns or comes with qualia though.
If I dream of tasting chocolate, does it count as a conscious experience?
are we conscious when we’re dreaming? are vegetative patients conscious
I’m actually ok with that (see this too). Again, remember that we are talking about conscious experience, not general awareness.
I think it can go either way.
Hi Prof, is Nagel is begging the question? It seems like in his premises he’s assuming that the objective facts (if replicated in someone else) will not lead to the same same “feeling”?
Isn’t (4) begging the question? It already presupposes something inaccessible from the physical world.
No, he’s not assuming that–remember the example where the scientist tastes the chocolate-eater’s brain and it tastes like chocolate? In principle, Nagel can accept that–given a form of Mind-Body Dependence–if you and I are in the same brain state, then we will have mostly the same qualitative sensation (let’s say). And it’s not that it’s “inaccessible from the physical world”–you and I (physical beings as we are) are experiencing that taste of chocolate. Nagel’s point is that you are experiencing that sensation from your first personal point of view, and I, from mine, that “first personal point of view” aspect of the experience is an essential part of the qualia, and this is something that’s not capturable in our physicalist description.
Whats the diff between Zhangzi’s argument with Mozi abt the fish and the Nagel argument?
The language of the original composition? It’s not Mozi, by the way, but Zhuangzi and his good friend Hui Shi. Note, however, that Zhuangzi isn’t claiming to be experiencing fish’s happiness from the fish’s point of view. He is just claiming that (he believes that) the fish is happy.
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From the Archive:
When we judge what has a mind and what doesn’t, we judge it in relation to our human attributes. Are we not anthropomorphizing?
If we base the conception of mind on sense experience, how can we ever know if rocks or plants possess these attributes… is what I think Zhuangzi would say. Again, anthropomorphising…
Yeah, Zhuangzi would probably say that.
Assuming that we–humans–have minds, it’s not a completely crazy way to proceed by seeing how like or unlike us the thing is, when figuring out whether something else has mind. That said, the procedure is better when we have good information about more fine grain conditions correlated with our having minds.
For instance, we might quickly find out that it’s not the gross fact that something is human that’s correlates with its having a mind but our having a certain sort of neurophysiology, i.e., possession of a certain type of brain and nervous system. So we look for things with analogous structures, and so on. We can even come to the conclusion that an organism which has some of these structures, but in a simpler form, probably has a less complex mind, etc. For creatures with neurophysiological structures that are in the same ballpark of complexity as those we have–higher mammals, for instance–we also have the additional data point that they often exhibit complex individual and social behavior.
This way of proceeding is especially germane if you hold to at least Mind-Body Dependence; on the other hand, all bets are off for the Dualist. But even for those who agree with Mind-Body Dependence, the procedure doesn’t allow us to completely rule out that something which doesn’t have these structures as not having mind–we are just saying that we are much more confident that those that do have these structures have mind. On the other hand, if a rock has mind, we don’t know how it does so given its physical structure, and the burden would be on those that think they have mind to make the case. This isn’t all that different from saying that if you know a certain sort of plants tend to grow on river banks, then when you look for those plants elsewhere, you look for ground that’s like river banks (wet, marshy, etc.). This doesn’t mean they don’t grow in the desert, but it’s less likely, given the information we already have.