Last week, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks talked with Walter Bradley, the distinguished engineer after whom our center is named, on a thought-provoking topic: “Is Your Body an Instrument of Your Mind?” How does the mind, full of immaterial thoughts, relate to the body, which carries out concrete, material actions?
04:36 | What is the mind/body problem?
Robert J. Marks: If you are a materialist, it seems to me that that puts you in a kind of a silo in terms of interpreting the mind-body problem. Well, first of all, could you explain what the mind-body problem is?
Walter Bradley: I think people are in two different camps as to whether we are monist or dualist. Some people [monists] believe we are simply a physical body; thoughts and so forth are nothing more than the product of mere physical processes and there’s no place for any presumption or even possibility of there being more than just a physical body. The dualist believes that there is a physical body but also believes that that body is inhabited by a non-material spirit that can act independent of the body, although the body is where it resides and it does many things through that.
05:45 | The body is like a piano
Walter Bradley: I like the use the analogy of my body as like a piano and I’m the pianist. Now, the piano cannot make music on its own; it can’t do anything. But the pianist can use the piano to make all kinds of music. And somebody who didn’t realize that there was a pianist might simply assume that the piano is somehow a beautiful instrument that plays all of this wonderful music when in reality it’s not ultimately responsible. It’s simply the means by which the pianist is able to express himself.
Note: The mind–body problem is bound up with the hard problem of consciousness. Philosophers have offered a number of materialist interpretations:
* Some philosophers argue that consciousness is a material thing.
* Some say everything is conscious to some extent but the level of consciousness varies.
* Some say that the whole universe is conscious.
* A popular position holds that consciousness is an evolved illusion of brain processes and does not necessarily cause anything in itself.
Dr. Bradley also spoke about how near-death experiences are creating a challenge for skeptics of the reality of the mind.
11:00 | Near-death experiences
Walter Bradley: What happens frequently today is that we have emergency rooms in every major hospital across the country and the world really, and when people die there, we need to define what we mean by “die.” I think the common definition in the emergency room is no brain wave, no heartbeat. So if somebody has no brain wave and no heartbeat, then they’re pronounced dead. Now, does that mean they’re permanently dead? Now they talk about doing resuscitation and the whole idea of resuscitation is using electric shocks and other techniques to try to get that heartbeat started up again. And then with the circulation of blood to have that brain begin to function again. The possibility is of having people experience this dualistic phenomenon of having a physical body that is dead but recognizing that they still have a consciousness. They still have the capacity to see, to observe, to experience much like they did when they were in their body but in a much more enriched way. At least, these are the tales that people tell.
Note: Later episodes of the Mind Matters News podcast will go into more detail on near death experiences.
Walter Bradley has focused a good deal of time and effort on helping ensure that the benefits of new technology are distributed equitably among the world’s peoples. Here is one project he has been a part of: Coconuts go high tech: Plastics from coconut waste offer economic benefit to poor farmers
In this video, he looks back on his effort to bring science discipline to thinking on the origin of life: His struggle to bring evidence-based thinking to “sci-fi” approaches to the origin of life research is the Center’s inspiration