In last week’s podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed Concordia University philosopher Angus Menuge on the difficult mind–body problem: What, exactly, is the connection between wanting a drink of milk and carrying out the actions that produce one? Wants are immaterial but they connect with material things. How? In an earlier post, we looked at Dr. Menuge’s account of how various philosophers have approached this problem.
Dr. Marks then asked him, What is your take? Where do you fall in these different models?
This portion begins at 22:31 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow.
Angus Menuge (pictured): I think there is some truth to substance dualism, although I don’t myself entirely like the Cartesian approach. I think that Augustine (354—430 C.E.) was right, that we can think of the soul or the mind as being present in space, it’s just we have to think in terms of different ways things can be present. After all, when God is… we speak of Him as being omnipresent, we don’t think that that is by way of being a physical object or by excluding other physical objects. He can be present wherever physical objects are. And Augustine’s view is that the soul is present in the body, wherever sensation is, so it isn’t somehow this bizarre entity that Descartes seemed to describe that had no real location.
Here are some ways of looking at the mind–brain relationship, taken from The Spiritual Brain, 2007, pp. 106–107:
Epiphenomenalism: Mind does not move matter. – neurologist C.J. Herrick. The mind exists, like a rainbow shimmering over the falls. Yes, it’s there, but it doesn’t affect anything. You know it’s there because some experiences are unique to yourself, for example, whatever you personally associate with peanut butter. Merely a product of brain–body processes, the mind sometimes facilitates for itself the illusion that it affects those processes, much as if the rainbow thought it affected the falls in some way.
Eliminative materialism: The mind–matter problem is resolved by denying that mental processes exist. Consciousness” and “mind” (intentions, desires, beliefs, etc.) are pre-scientific concepts that belong to unsophisticated ideas of how the brain works, sometimes called “folk psychology.” They can be reduced to whatever the neurons happen to be doing (neural events). “Consciousness” and “mind” as concepts will be eliminated by the progress of science, along with such ideas as “free will” and the “self”. Current key exponents of this view include philosophers Paul and Patricia Churchland and Daniel Dennett.
Psychophysical identity theory Mental states are identical with brain states. – philosopher David Armstrong. We apprehend our own consciousness and mental processes in the first person, that is, in a subjective and experiential manner. Brain events, however, are measured in the third person, that is, from the outside in an objective manner. Brain events and mental processes are completely parallel, like the two sides of the same medal. This view is defended by neuroscientist Jean-Pierre Changeux. The underlying assumption is that the brain states create the mind states, not the other way around.
Mentalism The whole world of inner experience (the world of the humanities) long rejected by 20th century scientific materialism… becomes recognized and included within the domain of science. – neuroscientist Roger Sperry (1913–1994). Mental processes and consciousness arise from brain activity (emergent), but they actually exist and make a difference (dynamic). Mental events (thoughts and feelings) can make things happen in the brain. Therefore, they are neither identical with nor reducible to neural events. But conscious experience cannot exist apart from the physical brain. Nobel Prize winner Roger Sperry was the main proponent of this view.
Substance dualism I think therefore I am. – philosopher Rene Descartes. Sometimes called Cartesian dualism after the French philosopher and mathematician Descartes (1596–1650), this position argues that there are two fundamental kinds of entirely separate substances: mind and matter.
Dualistic interactionism Since materialist solutions fail to account for our experienced uniqueness, we are constrained to attribute the uniqueness of the psyche or soul to a supernatural spiritual creation. – neuroscientist John Eccles. Consciousness and other aspects of the mind, which can influence neural events, can occur independently of the brain, generally through aspects of quantum mechanics. This view is associated with neuroscientists John Eccles (1903–1997) and Wilder Penfield, as well as philosopher Karl Popper.
Angus Menuge: My own view, and here I’m influenced by my background in computers, is that I see evidence all the time that there is transmission of information between two realms…
A simple everyday example is reading and writing. When I read, my eyes interact with physical marks on a page. Yet as a result, I have thoughts. Then I can store memories. And it seems that these engrams in my brain, they’re physical as well. And likewise, as I’m thinking about an essay, I have ideas in my mind; they’re translated into things that I can write down.
So we need to think of the human being as an integrated system. And that integrated system has, within it, an automatic translation function. And what that means is that we can go from, for example, an abstract volition, where you notice that when you want to raise your arm, you don’t have to have taken a PhD in physiology and know what’s really going on, right?
You have an incredibly abstract specification. Raise my arm. And every time you do it, it’s probably different. And yet the motor program, or probably a suite of motor programs, takes over.
So what happens? I think what happens is that your volition is translated into a physical instruction that then implements that volition. Likewise, going the other way, when you stub your toe and signals are sent back to the brain, there is an automatic translation that gives you a subjective feeling of pain, which we say is in the toe.
It’s kind of interesting. It points to where the damage is, which is what you need to know, but it doesn’t tell you all about the specific neurological events that have gone on. And you wouldn’t want to know that anyway, because what really guides your actions are very general things.
It would be a very poorly designed system if, every time we wanted to raise our arm, we’d have to know how to adjust each and every molecule in our arm or what specific pattern of nerve signals we would have to send. Well, then we’d be unable to act. And likewise, if what matters is that I don’t stub my toe again, all I’ve got to remember is, don’t push your toe like that rather than worrying about how I did it this time. Because the odds are, I’d never do the same physical movement again.
Robert J. Marks (pictured): Yeah. Some of us are slow learners, I guess.
Next: Will computers change — or eliminate — the mind-body problem?
Here are the earlier parts of the series:
Part 1: How do we know we are not just physical bodies? The mind–body problem is one of the most difficult issues in modern philosophy. Philosopher Angus Menuge cites the immateriality and indivisibility of the mind and discusses the evidence from near-death experiences.
Part 2: If the mind and body are so different, how can they interact? A look at different models of the mind–body problem. Angus Menuge asks, Why should wanting a drink of milk produce physical changes like opening the fridge? It’s a harder question than many think.
Part 3: How have various thinkers tried to solve the mind–body problem? Philosopher Angus Menuge explains why traditional physicalism (the mind is just what the brain does) doesn’t really work. Some philosophers today claim that the mind is simply what the brain does; a newer group thinks the mind emerges from the brain but is not simply the brain.
- 01:12 | Introducing Dr. Angus Menuge, professor and chair of Concordia University’s philosophy department
- 04:06 | What is the mind-body problem?
- 06:37 | Near-death experiences
- 10:05 | The history of the mind-body problem
- 15:24 | Popular mind-body problem models discussed today
- 18:14 | Epiphenomenal thoughts
- 22:31 | Dr. Menuge’s take on the mind-body problem
- 29:04 | Will artificial intelligence ever be able to duplicate the functions of a human?
- Dr. Angus Menuge at Concordia University
- The Inherence of Human Dignity, vol. 1: Foundations of Human Dignity edited by Dr. Angus Menuge
- The Inherence of Human Dignity, vol. 2: Law and Religious Liberty, edited by Dr. Angus Menuge
- Religious Liberty and the Law, edited by Dr. Angus Menuge
- The Blackwell Companion to Substance Dualism, co-edited by Dr. Angus Menuge
- Rene Descartes, French philosopher and mathematician
- Aristotle, Greek philosopher
- Thomas Aquinas, 13th century philosopher and Catholic priest
- Thomas Hobbes, 17th century English philosopher
- Jaegwon Kim, Korean-American philosopher
- Richard Swinburne, professor of philosophy at Oxford University
- The Illusion of Conscious Will by Daniel Wegner