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A Neurosurgeon and a Philosopher Debate Mind vs. Body

Philosopher Joshua Farris defends controversial Cartesian dualism. Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor critiques it but thinks it may account for near-death experiences

In “Why Cartesian Dualism,” neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviews theology professor Joshua Farris on dualism, the idea that the human being is both mind and body. That is, the mind is not simply a product of the brain, as many philosophers and scientists believe. What are the arguments for and what is the evidence for the reality of the mind? In this podcast, they talk about a specific type of dualism, Cartesian dualism — developed by French mathematician René Descartes (1596– 1650). https://mindmatters.ai/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/02/Mind-Matters-Episode-172-Joshua-Farris-Episode-1-rev1.mp3 A partial transcript and notes follow: Michael Egnor: The topic today is why Cartesian dualism? In this episode, we’ll discuss the merits of a theory of the mind–body relationship, in contrast to alternative viewpoints, such as materialism, hylomorphism,…

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How a Theory of the Soul Drives Abortion Activism

Descartes’ theory that the soul and the body are utterly distinct, while mostly rejected in philosophy, is still part of popular culture

Every now and then, it’s useful to look at the philosophical underpinnings of current thought and what implications they have for engineering ethics. In a recent post on the website of the journal First Things, professor of biblical and religious studies Carl Trueman noted that Cartesian dualism — a way of looking at the human person promulgated by René Descartes (1596-1650) — is enjoying a comeback in the popular mind, although modern philosophy has long since discarded it as an inadequate model. (This article by Karl D. Stephan originally appeared at Engineering Ethics Blog (October 11, 2021) under the title “Against Cartesian Dualism,” and is reprinted with permission.) If you know anything about Descartes, you will probably recall his most famous saying: “I think,…

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How Did Descartes Come To Make Such a Mess of Dualism?

Mathematician René Descartes strictly separated mind and matter in a way that left the mind very vulnerable

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor did a recent podcast with Arjuna Das at Theology Unleashed, “where Eastern theology meets Western skepticism.” In this segment, before getting into problems with René Descartes’ understanding of consciousness, they begin by talking about qualia, a topic considered “central to a proper understanding of the nature of consciousness.” For example, I run my fingers over sandpaper, smell a skunk, feel a sharp pain in my finger, seem to see bright purple, become extremely angry. In each of these cases, I am the subject of a mental state with a very distinctive subjective character. There is something it is like for me to undergo each state, some phenomenology that it has. Philosophers often use the term ‘qualia’ (singular…

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Bingecast: Michael Egnor on the Human Brain

In this Bingecast episode, Dr. Robert J. Marks and Dr. Michael Egnor explore the human brain and its relationship to the mind. Is the mind an emergent property of the brain? Is there neurological evidence for the soul? What have brain experiments taught us about free will and the human person? Can you still think in a coma? Show Notes…

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The Mind’s Reality Is Consistent with Neuroscience

A neglected “dualist” theory offers some insights

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor thinks that the explanation of the relationship of the mind to the brain that best fits today’s neuroscience is that certain powers, particularly the intellect and will, are not generated by matter but are immaterial. However, other properties of the mind, like perception, memory and imagination are physical, generated by brain matter.

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Michael Egnor: Is Your Brain the Same as Your Mind?

Is the mind an emergent property of the brain? Or is there something else going on? Robert J. Marks discusses the different theories of the mind — including materialism, panpsychism, and dualism — with Dr. Michael Egnor. Read More ›

Tales of the Mind: A Neurologist Encounters the House of Mirrors

Materialism is an intellectual trap, out of which neuroscience needs to climb

Yale University neurologist Steven Novella posted recently on the science of growing brain tissue in the lab. It’s interesting stuff, but then we come to the jumbled metaphysical musings that conclude his post: There is a layer of weirdness to the very idea of brain tissue in a vat, because I think we are naturally uncomfortable with the very notion that our consciousness is the result of a clump of tissue shuttling ions around. It breaks the illusion that our brains evolved to have, a very compelling and persistent illusion – namely that the reality we perceive is real, rather than a constructed representation. That internal representation has a strong relationship to physical reality, but the two are not the…

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Can Animals “Reason”? My Challenge to Jeffrey Shallit

He believes that animals can engage in abstract thinking. What abstractions do they reason about?

Dr. Jeffrey Shallit is an atheist mathematician who holds to the odd belief that animals, like humans, are capable of reason. It would seem that a highly intelligent man who makes his living by doing mathematics would understand that animals don’t, and can’t, do mathematics. But Dr. Shallit remains confused on this point, as he makes clear in his response to my recent post on that inability of animals to think abstractly or to reason (“An atheist argues against reason”). I observed that reason is defined traditionally in a very straightforward manner as the capacity for abstract thought. Shallit comments, Whenever Egnor talks about something being “accepted” or “simple and straightforward”, you can be pretty sure that the opposite is…

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Yes, your brain is a machine—if you choose to see it that way

As a Nobel Prize physicist pointed out, our method of study determines what we learn

Anil Seth, a Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex, gave a TED talk recently (linked below) in which he asserted that “the combined activity of many billions of neurons—each one a tiny biological machine—is generating our conscious experience…” So, is your brain really a biological “machine”? Or is that just an analogy, like saying that a restaurant kitchen is a “hive” of activity? If so, how good is the analogy? Why do we select the analogy of a “machine” rather than a different one? It’s an important question, as we will see, because the questions we ask of nature constrain the answers we obtain. A machine is an artifact. It is a human-built assembly of…