It’s All in the Mind
What is a mind? How is it related to a body? Descartes answer was substance dualism. A person consists of an immaterial substance (mind/soul) attached to a material substance (a body). But this thesis fails a crucial test. An immaterial substance cannot move a body; therefore a mind cannot move a body. I shall assume that to have a mind one must first have a brain. This is a materialist perspective. Some weaknesses in this perspective will be described. I shall argue that minds do not necessarily exist as entities, that we nevertheless are aware of our own mental events and that we are aware that other people have similar events.
The mind cannot exist like a body or a collection of cells in a body. If it did somebody would have found it or at least given a rough description of its location. Also, things do not exist just because we can name them. We speak of unicorns but this does not make them exist. Just because we refer to something as a mind does not make it exist. Nevertheless, we are each aware of internal experiences in the most intimate way. Doubts and fears, the blue sky, the scent of flowers, all have an immediacy that is undeniable.
Now if mental events and brain events (i.e., physical events) are one and the same thing, then research into the mental events would be reduced to research into the brain. Even if mental events are taken to be properties of brain events then ultimately we are forced back to look to the physical for the explanation of the mental. This will get us nowhere for two reasons.
Firstly, a close inspection of a brain is doomed to be carried out at the third person perspective. If I could look at the bits of my own brain involved in any mental act I would register the firings taking place and say,”Ah that’s the redness of red!” I would still be unable to convey to anyone else the exact nature of this experience – how it feels for me. Secondly, if someone else were plugged in to my brain so that they registered all I saw and thought, then they would register all the mental acts as theirs. They would say, ‘That sky was blue.’ If pressed about the feeling of blueness as compared to their own feelings they would be forced to admit that this was their own feeling of blue.
Suppose two people were connected by an apparatus which allowed one person (A) to monitor the other’s (B’s) mental events – thoughts, feelings, sensory experiences and so on. Further suppose that the apparatus is graduated so that A can gradually increase the input of B’s thinking and experience into her own brain. Assuming that A was in a resting quietly in a cocoon, at what point does A become fully aware of the distinctive feel of B’s mental events? The question misses the point because A’s experiences can only ever be her own and no one else’s.
Let us imagine that by some advances in miniaturisation and virtual reality techniques we take a tour of someone’s brain. The guide points out a series of neurone...