19 Dec 2017

Cartesian Dualism, Mysterians and miracles

More links for the book group discussion on Cartesian Dualism. Sorry that so many links are to Wikipedia.

The Gap between physical and mental worlds

The big problem is “mind to body causation”: in order for one thing to cause another, they must come into contact as, for example in snooker, the cue ball strikes another ball; if mind and body are completely different, there is no intelligible explanation of voluntary bodily movement. The equal and opposite problem is “body to mind causation”.

Probably the most famous demolition of Cartesian Dualism in the 20th century was British philosopher Gilbert Ryle's book The Concept of Mind (1949). Ryle used the term "the ghost in the machine" to highlight the absurdity of dualist systems like Descartes' where mental activity carries on in parallel to physical action, but where their means of interaction are unknown or, at best, speculative.

In my view, the way the mind-body gap is bridged is by a miracle - as I tried to describe in a-miracle-for-richard-dawkins. The fact that it is a miracle is impossible for rational scientifically-minded thinkers to accept. The fact cannot be a fact (to them). Hence the outlandish theories like Monadology (below) and those that reject free will.

Descartes’ Response to the Mind-Body Problem

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy - and despite the obviousness of this problem -  Descartes himself never took this issue very seriously.

Leibniz's gap

The term 'Leibniz's gap' also refers to the gap between physical and mental worlds, especially the problem that thoughts cannot be observed or perceived solely by examining brain properties, events, and processes. Gottfried Leibniz's Monadology (1714) seems to deny the existence of space and seems to suggest that the universe consists of a vast number of monads (like mental atoms) that do not interact with each other. For more see Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  

Naturalistic dualism - David Chalmers

One possible answer as to how to bridge the gap comes from David Chalmers, an Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist best known for outlining the hard problem of consciousness, Chalmers argues for an "explanatory gap" from the objective to the subjective, and criticizes physical explanations of mental experience, making him a dualist. Chalmers characterizes his view as "naturalistic dualism": naturalistic because he believes mental states are caused by physical systems (such as brains); dualist because he believes mental states are ontologically distinct from and not reducible to physical systems.

Quantum consciousness - Roger Penrose 

Roger Penrose, the renowned Oxford physicist, has an audacious - and quite possibly crackpot - theory about the quantum origins of consciousness. He believes we must go beyond neuroscience and into the mysterious world of quantum mechanics to explain our rich mental life. No one quite knows what to make of this theory but conventional wisdom goes something like, the theory is almost certainly wrong, but since Penrose is so brilliant it’d be foolish to dismiss it out of hand.


Mysterianism is the view that the hard problem of consciousness cannot be resolved by humans. The unresolvable problem is how to explain the existence of qualia (individual instances of subjective, conscious experience). Mysterianism is a form of nonreductive physicalism.

According to Owen Flanagan in Science of the Mind (1991):
"The 'old mysterians' were dualists who thought that consciousness cannot be understood scientifically because it operates according to nonnatural principles and possesses nonnatural properties."
Again, that is what I tried to describe in a-miracle-for-richard-dawkins.

New Mysterians - worth looking up? 

  • Colin McGinn is the leading proponent of the new mysterian position among major philosophers 
  • Noam Chomsky, American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, and political commentator/activist
  • Steven Pinker, American psychologist; favoured mysterianism in How the Mind Works and later wrote: "The brain is a product of evolution, and just as animal brains have their limitations, we have ours. Our brains can't hold a hundred numbers in memory, can't visualize seven-dimensional space and perhaps can't intuitively grasp why neural information processing observed from the outside should give rise to subjective experience on the inside. This is where I place my bet, though I admit that the theory could be demolished when an unborn genius—a Darwin or Einstein of consciousness—comes up with a flabbergasting new idea that suddenly makes it all clear to us."
  • Roger Penrose, English physicist, mathematician and philosopher of science
  • Sam Harris, American neuroscientist, has endorsed mysterianism by stating that "This situation has been characterized as an “explanatory gap” and the “hard problem of consciousness,” and it is surely both. I am sympathetic with those who, like ... McGinn and ... Pinker, have judged the impasse to be total: Perhaps the emergence of consciousness is simply incomprehensible in human terms."
Opponents include Daniel Dennett, American philosopher (he has explicitly attacked McGinn's notion of mysterianism)

No comments:

Post a Comment