Welcome to my laboratory.
We’re here today because I want to discuss what I consider to be the most wondrous and serious thing that philosophers have talked about for centuries.
We call it the mind/body problem.
Throughout the history of most of western mankind, most of us have believed that human beings, mankind, men (being both woman and men) are made up of basically two parts: there’s a physical part of us and a non-physical part of us. Now, the physical part of us is made up of our physical body with all of its parts, including a brain [pulls brain out of the bucket], a physical brain. This brain is a substance; it has properties, it has size and shape and color…yuck. A little bit to it and it’s the…It does physical activities inside of our head. Neurons fire off, synapses are exploding inside our head, all sorts of physical things are happening inside of us. And that’s the physical brain.
But along with the physical brain, we also believe there’s an immaterial part of us, a part of us that we sometimes call our soul, our personhood. Philosophers often referred to it as our mind. Now, very important here at the beginning that you remember an important distinction When I speak of mind here, I’m not talking about this thing [holds up brain], the brain, okay? The brain is a physical substance inside your head. We can pop off your skull, we could look, we could all see it, we can touch it, we can test it, and we can do all sorts of physical things to it.
Your mind, and when I speak of that at this point, is not your brain. And your mind is where your thoughts are, or ideas are. It has mental properties, not physical properties, like ideas. And it does have mental activities, like reasoning and wishing and desiring, dreaming, and all sorts of things like that. That happens inside your mind. Now this idea that you have two parts to you, a brain, a body, and a mind, is called by philosophers Substance Dualism, or sometimes Mind Body Dualism. It’s an old idea. It’s been around for a long, long time. And we Christians, for example, believe that it’s our mind that survives us after death, that our brain and body goes into the ground, but our mind goes to be with the Lord. It’s an old idea that we’ve always had here, but this old idea, as common as it is, has a very difficult problem with it, a very serious problem with it. We call it the mind/body problem.
And the problem basically is this: How can these two essentially different things relates together? Now, by saying essentially different, we mean in essence they are different. One is made of matter (physical stuff) and one is not made of matter and physical stuff. And how can these two things relate together?
Now what do I mean by relate? Well what I really mean is that they causally relate together. There is a cause of relationship. It seems that my mind causes my body to do things. This can be unintentionally or intentionally. For example unintentionally, if you’ve ever gone to the movies and you’ve seen something scary on the screen, what happens? Well, maybe you jump, maybe you throw your hands up, and maybe you let out a little scream, okay? Those kind of things occur to you. You have a physical reaction to basically a mental event of seeing something. Or somebody is describing something, like maybe an accident that occurred, to you. And they’re describing all the details to it, and it becomes kind of gross and you get kind of sick to your stomach just even hearing about it. You’re having a physical reaction to a mental idea. That’s unintentionally.
What about intentional? Well intentionally, we cause our bodies to do all sorts of things. For example, take singing [starts to sing]: “Great is thy faith-ful-ness oh God my father. There is no shadow of turning with thee. Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not. As thou has been as forever willst be, great is thy faith-ful-ness, great is thy faith-ful-ness. Morning by morning, new mercies I see, all I have needed thy hand has provided. Great is thy faith-ful-ness Lord unto thee.” Now take the example of the song that I just sang. When you think about singing, a lot of physical things are going on. I have to inhale air, so my diaphragm has to drop down. And then it has to push that air out at a specific pressure, so that the air goes through my vocal cords at just the right amount of speed to cause them to vibrate at just the pitch I want them to vibrate to. Many people don’t realize it, when you sing lower pitches, the back of your vocal cords vibrate. When you sing higher pitches, the upper, the front part of your vocal cords vibrate. When it comes into my mouth, I have to shake my mouth a certain way in order to get the tone I want, to be able to sing what I want to do there. Then my lips, my tongue and my teeth all have to work together to form the constants and the vowels, so the words can come out the way I want them to do.
Now, did I think about any of that? No. Not at all. A matter of fact, I just thought about a song and I just sang the song I wanted to sing. My body almost did that automatically, but a whole bunch of physical things occurred there on the basis of a mental event and idea. I just want to sing a song. How did that happen? That is a real mystery. Not only does my mind seem to affect my body, but it seems to also go the other way around. My body seems to have an effect on my mind. If I take certain drugs, alcohol for example, we become inebriated. That actually affects our mental life, our thoughts and our ideas. If you’ve ever seen somebody who’s been drunk or inebriated, their whole personality changes. Maybe they become happy and giddy, maybe they become sad and depressed, or something like that. Their mind is actually affected by the chemical reaction that is occurring in their brain.
How does that occur? That’s the mystery, that’s where it is, okay? There is a cause of relationship and it’s hard to figure the cause of relationship. Now in order to truly understand this mystery, we need to understand nature of causality a little bit here, okay? What do we mean when something causes something to occur? Well, every causal event has basically three factors involved in it. I’m going to illustrate it by using this cup [picks up cup], okay? If I want this cup to fall over, if I want it to fall over, there’s three things that have to be involved. First of all, there is something that we call contiguity. Contiguity simply means contact. I come into contact with a cup [*cup falls over*]. By coming into contact, causes it to fall over. That’s our first element. The second element is what we call priority. Priority simply means the event of falling over occurs after contact occurs. So I contact the cup, and then it falls over. Certainly, if the cup fell over before I came into contact with it, we wouldn’t say contacting is was caused it to happen. There’s a third thing, a certain part of it called the necessary connection. The necessary connection is simply saying it’s contacting the cup that actually causes it to fall over. I can have the first two parts come into contact with the cup. The cup falls over after it comes into contact with it. But maybe an earthquake occurred that actually causes the cup to fall over, not by contacting it. It’s by contacting it that causes it to fall over the way that it does.
Well in the mind/body problem, the relationship between the mind and the body, there seems to be one element of these that’s missing? Which one do you think it is? Contiguity. Contact. See my mind is non-physical it doesn’t have the ability to physically contact something and cause my body to do anything. But that’s exactly what happens when dualism claims that my mind is causing my body to do something. For example, I get an idea, like, I want to raise my hand. Well, raising my hand is a series of physical things to go on, and neural impulses go through my brain, travel down to my arm, causing certain muscles constrict, and causing my hand to go up. But what started that physical chain was a mental idea. ‘I want to raise my hand,’ a mental idea, can’t come into contact with anything that’s physical. That’s the mind/body problem. That’s the problem: How can this actually occur?
Well a number of solutions have been suggested to this problem, and you’re going to see these later on as PowerPoint presentation that you’ll watch this week that will talk about some of the solutions. Basically though, we can take the solutions and put them into three basic categories. Some solutions want to make— maintain substance dualism, that we have these two different things called mind and body, and simply try to come up with some way of explaining of how the mind can cause the body to do things, and how the body can cause the mind to do things in some way or another. How can we explain what looks like a causal relationship there?
Other views want to get rid of the other by reducing it. The most common of these is materialism, which is a very common view today. Materialism wants to take the mind and simply reduce it to brain. All that exists is the brain. Neural events inside the brain cause our bodies to do things. When I have an idea or a thought, that’s nothing more, according to the materialists, than just simply a neural event that’s occurring inside of my mind. And it tries to reduce it to that. And that’s called materialism.
Another view that also tries to reduce everything the opposite way is called idealism. Idealism tries to say that they aren’t no physical things, that all that exists are all ideas. That’s a very strange view proposed by Bishop George Barkley.
Finally, a third option is to try to find some sort of middle ground between these two, and that’s a view called emergentism, sometimes referred to as epiphenomenalism. That basically wants to say that all we do have is a physical brain, but the functioning of the physical brain causes mental things to occur. They emerge out of that functioning of that brain. Sometimes referred to as emergentism, or the mental event supervened on the physical events inside my brain, supervenience is that idea there.
Those are just some of the possible theories. To be honest with you, there is no definitive answer to this question. There are many different answers that are suggested and many arguments that are given for them. And I personally favor a dualist view myself. Other philosophers favor other views here. You’ll read about a lot of this in your reading here. Right now, just remember that this is the big mystery. To me, it’s one of the most exciting mysteries in philosophy. Is it the brain? Is it the mind? How do they relate to each other? That’s the question.