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When Science Points Beyond the Physical

The idea that science has somehow shown the irrelevance of the mind to explaining behavior is seriously confused. 

Editor’s note: We are delighted to welcome the new book from Discovery Institute Press, Minding the Brain: Models of the Mind, Information, and Empirical Science, edited by Angus J. L. Menuge, Brian R. Krouse, and Robert J. Marks. Below is an excerpt from Chapter 2. Look for more information at MindingtheBrain.org.

By Angus Menuge

Any attempt to use science to discredit the existence of mental subjects is fatally flawed because the bedrock data for all science comes from observation, which presupposes the existence of conscious subjects. The idea that the findings of physical science are unproblematic but mental subjects are questionable ignores the fact that our only access to physical phenomena is via the minds of scientists. Thus, as Charles Taliaferro points out, one “cannot presume to have any clearer understanding of nonmental physical phenomena than [one] does of [the] concepts, reasons and reasoning, grasping entailment relations, reliance on experience and observations that go into the practice of the sciences.” Since concepts, reasons, grasping entailments, and experience all seem to be mental phenomena, and all are required by the practice of science that investigates physical phenomena, we are not within our rights to assume that we have more reliable access to physical phenomena than we do to the mind. 

Furthermore, scientific inquiry assumes that it is one and the same conscious subject that has a research question, and persists over the time necessary to answer that question. How can a scientist claim to discover the answer to his question, or to verify or falsify a prediction that he made, if he is not the very same person that asked the question or made the prediction? For example, consider François Englert and Peter Higgs, who predicted the existence of the Boson nearly fifty years before its existence was confirmed. When these scientists became Nobel Prize winners in 2013, everyone assumed that the very same persons receiving the prize made the prediction decades before. Yet due to the constant flux of matter in our physical bodies and brains over time, physicalist approaches to personal identity find it very difficult to justify this assumption. 

Implicitly Dualist Commitments

What is more, as Daniel Robinson argues, neuroscience in particular has implicitly dualist commitments, because the correlation of brain states with mental states would be a waste of time if we did not have independent evidence that these mental states existed. It would make no sense, for example, to investigate the neural correlates of pain if we did not have independent evidence of the existence of pain from the subjective experience of what it is like to be in pain. This evidence, though, is not scientific evidence: it depends on introspection (the self becomes aware of its own thoughts and experiences), which again assumes the existence of mental subjects. Further, Richard Swinburne has argued that scientific attempts to show that mental states are epiphenomenal are self-refuting, since they require that mental states reliably cause our reports of being in those states. The idea, therefore, that science has somehow shown the irrelevance of the mind to explaining behavior is seriously confused. 

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When Science Points Beyond the Physical