19. The problems involved in taking a materialist's position in solving the mind-body problem.
A materialist would say, baloney to idealism. Reality consists strictly of atoms defined in geometrical space. (This concept of materialism is Descartes'. Current materialism is much more sophisticated. Nevertheless, the same philosophical problems arise for it.) Minds, for materialists, are but ghosts or phantoms that somehow attach to bodies or are given rise to by bodily functions (epiphenomenalism). Epiphenomenalism is the thesis that minds are by-products of material events, by-products which have no reality of their own save being an accidental property of material events. (Red is an accidental property of an apple; the material of the apple is the substance, the color is "accidental" or non-necessary to the substance. The apple could just as well be yellow and still be an apple.) So, according to a materialist, no one believes that the world is constituted by mental entities (minds) or that minds have any kind of reality like matter. What kind of world would a world that consisted of minds be? How could you even have a world full of minds; WHERE would they be? Minds seem to come and go unpredictably; your mind will disappear on you tonight and you will not know exactly when it will come back with you in the morning. Further, how can minds communicate? The whole concept of idealism smacks of confusion. Materialism is the only reasonable metaphysical doctrine around; reality consists of quanta in motion. These quanta make up, among many things, our bodies. Somehow, what goes on in our bodies gives rise to our minds. How this happens is somewhat of a mystery, but it is evident that this is the case. Just try and ingest 7 beers into your body and see what happens to your mind. Not only does it change, but also it can disappear, whereas material components are ongoing. Reality consists of bodies, not minds. Who needs to worry about minds when there is the easily observed and lawful material world to deal with?
"OK, Mr. materialist," we may say, "but doesn't the idealist have a point; we know for certain that minds exist (at least one's own mind), but we cannot be certain that bodies exist. Given that minds have more direct evidence for their existence, how can you maintain that the world consists only of quanta or bodies in motion and that minds are merely ghosts or some accidental property of bodies? Besides, bodies obey chemical and physical laws that are determinate. Minds do not. But, if we are in reality only and entirely bodies in determinate motion, then we have no freedom. I don't want to give up my freedom just to embrace materialism. Further, it would seem that our bodies should have no minds, for nothing in the nature of matter seem to suggest that minds should pop up out of it. A materialistic world would consist of one full of zombies, not persons." (Zombies behave just like humans, save that they are not conscious or have free-will.) That's a knockdown punch. A materialist doesn't seem to be able to explain the appearance of minds at all, and one thing is for sure --there is at least one mind reading this stuff. We can be sure that our minds exist (at least, individually sure). Descartes is right. Our bodies are in considerable doubt. Further, materialism seems to leave out something very important to us, free-will. Without free-will, it looks impossible to have any concept of moral responsibility. Organic robots (zombies) are simply determined by antecedent causes to do what they are programmed to do. Materialism has some serious problems, indeed.
20. The problems involved in taking a dualist's position to solve the mind-body problem.
Descartes took critical note of these arguments, but he ended up saying that that both parties were more or less right. He solved the problem by claiming that both minds and bodies were real (DUALISM); they were separate substances, so separate that they had no common attribute. Each was a world to itself. There is no problem in trying to figure out whether or not minds are more real than bodies if you hold that they are both equally real.
Before we start to fiddle with Descartes' answer, let's take a look at the big problem his solution solves. Remember that the sciences were in trouble with the Church. It looked as though the sciences were going to explain away the world and the Church was going to fight that attempt tooth and nail. But, what if there were two worlds, one of bodies and the other of minds? Inasmuch as the Church is primarily interested with minds, freedom and morality, then its domain could be the world of minds. Why bother with the world of bodies which had no importance for freedom, sin or salvation? On the other hand, the sciences could have their world of bodies to examine with no hampering from the Church, as long as the scientists did not trespass into the world of minds, which of course, at that stage, they had no interest in doing. The solution proposed by Descartes, dualism, made everyone happy. The scientists could experiment on (and describe mathematically) the world of atoms and bodies while the Church could deal with minds (which have free-will) and morality (prescribing what actions we ought to do). Because the substances were entirely separate, it looked to be the case that what went on in one area of practice would have no bearing or effect on the other. Scientists and priests breathed a sigh of relief.
Sounds good, but there's a glitch. If minds and bodies are so separate in their natures that they have nothing in common, how can they interact? Consider the following. I want to type this sentence into my computer. My mind comes up with the words and then it tells my fingers to press the proper buttons, which they do. While I'm pressing the buttons, one of my fingers tells my mind that the W button is sticking a bit. My mind tells my eyes to look at the W, and lo and behold, there is part of my sandwich I had for lunch between the Q and W buttons. My mind tells my fingers to remove the debris, which they do, and all is well.
But how could all this happen? How can my mind get messages to my body and vice-versa? Where and what is the "interface" link? Given that minds and bodies are in absolutely separate realities, there can be no interaction. But, says Descartes, there IS interaction. The simple proof is the very thing that just happened with the bit of ham sandwich. Now, how interaction happens is somewhat of a mystery. Minds and bodies just somehow do interact even though they are constituted by separate substances. So, INTERACTIONISM seems to be the case; there are two realities which have nothing in common, but they do interact with one another. Minds can affect bodies and bodies can affect minds.
Well, wait a minute, ask yourself, "Could a ghost push me around?" Answer, not in the least bit. A ghost has no mass or bodily nature that could affect yours. No matter how terrifying the ghost's antics are, it couldn't move a hair on your body. On the other hand, could you push the ghost away? Nope. For the same reason. Your hands would go through it. As a matter of fact, all these movies in which ghosts appear are ridiculous. Ghosts are just that, immaterial. They don't have location, shape, color or mass. They could never be photographed or imaged any more than your mind could. Ghosts cannot be sensed anymore than you can sense someone's mind directly.
But, is your mind (your ghost) in your body, the machine? If so, how? And how do they interact? Descartes says that they just do interact; he is an interactionist. The materialist will usually say that minds are epiphenomena which are caused by the actions of the atoms of our bodies. Minds are by-products, as it were, of the causal activity of our bodies. The idealist will say that bodies are particular kinds of ideas. Each metaphysical position has its problems, but the root problem is this. If bodies and minds are so radically different in their characteristics that they have nothing in common, then there can be no interface between the two. Bodies can't give rise to minds; epiphenomenalism is impossible. Minds can't cause bodies to move or vice-versa; interactionism is impossible. A world of only minds is incomprehensible, for matter and science constitute too much of our daily lives; idealism is out. A world, which has as the only real constituents being matter, cannot account for the occurrence of mental events, for materialism cannot explain the existence of minds or free-will; materialism is out. Defined as they are, there cannot be any kind of interaction relation between the minds and bodies. Dualism would be fine, but no good explanation for interactionism seems to be forthcoming. Again, the problems associated with each position are troublesome. If one takes a materialist stance, that reality consists of bodies, then it looks as though minds and free-will get thrown out, for the world of bodies is strictly mechanical or determinate and there simply should not be non-material things like minds. If one takes the idealist position, then what sensible explanation can be made of bodies and their causal effect on minds? If a bottle of whiskey is but a peculiar idea in a mind, how is it that it has such a causal effect on that mind when "ingested"? Further, how is it that minds change; am I the same mind I was when I was a year old? Doesn't look like it. So, idealism has a serious problem with disappearing minds and personal identity. In a nutshell, minds and bodies are just very strange things. Some religious thinkers even compound things by throwing in a soul. What a mess. We could be composed of a mind, a body and a soul --all of which are radically different things and don't seem to fit together very well, if at all. At any rate, the mind-body problem is bugging a lot of people these days. Do a little research on the side and see what you can come up with.
But, going back to where we left off before our excursus on the mind-body problem, we can't let Descartes have his dualism and interactionism yet, for he has not shown us that bodies or other minds exist. We're still stuck in idealism and solipsism. We've got to get other people, our bodies and the rest of the world back. How to do it?
Descartes does some fast intellectual hustling. What he does is absolutely fascinating, and it will take us rather quickly into the next chapter. Let's take a look at some preliminaries Descartes wants us to know before he gives us his answer.
21. Maybe a review of the kinds of ideas our minds have will help us: adventitious, fictitious and innate ideas.
We know with certainty that we exist each moment that we think we exist; we know that we are at rock bottom thinking things that exist when we think about the thinking things. And, we also know that we have ideas. But, we don't know with any kind of certainty that these ideas (save one, the Cogito) tell us the truth. Before we go on, it may be well to look more closely at the kinds of ideas we have to see if the distinctions between them may be of help.
We have ideas that seem to come to us from the external world. That is, they seem to be caused be things external to us. These ideas, Descartes calls adventitious ideas. They constitute most of what we have determined to be sense data. They are the red tomato on the kitchen table, the green grass of the lawn outside the room, the coolness of a drink of fresh water, the jazz sound of Oingo-Boingo, the heat from a blazing fire, the stinging sweetness of a lemonade and so on. All of these are ideas that seem to come from an external world which somehow causes them. Moreover, they are ideas over which we do not have immediate control. No matter how hard we try, we cannot make the tomato turn blue, the lemonade to turn bitter, Oingo-Boingo to sound like Bach just by our thinking about it.
There are ideas, however, which we can manipulate, even create. These ideas Descartes call fictitious ideas. They are relatively easy to spot. Picture in your mind a unicorn. We know that that image is a fiction, for we can break it down into our combining pure whiteness with a horse and then adding a horn on the horse's head. Our minds have the ability to conjure up countless fictitious ideas just by taking some of the sense data we have and mixing them together. These fictitious ideas do not represent anything in reality, at least they have a much less chance than adventitious ideas, for fictions are the clear product of our mind's creating a complex idea out of parts of sense data, whereas adventitious ideas are ideas which we did not create, at least intentionally. Adventitious ideas come AS IS, whereas fictitious ideas are MADE TO ORDER.
There is one other kind of idea that we have. Recall the Cogito. It is an idea of self which idea guarantees its own truth; it cannot be thought to be false. Now this idea is clearly not adventitious; it has no sense data properties or comes from an external source. It is not an invention of the mind, for it was discovered, not created. It is, says Descartes, an innate idea. Let me give a rough analogy to help.
Suppose you stumble across an old trunk in your attic. You wonder what in the world is in it. You pop open the lock and lift up the top. Inside you find all kinds of photographs and post-cards. The post-cards are pictures of strange buildings, animals, places and thing from all over the world. They were obviously mailed to the owner of the trunk and stored away there. Some of the other material in the trunk are photographs, but peculiar in nature. They are images of the animals, places and things, but cut up and pasted together in strange ways to make up wild looking animals and scenarios. You dump all the photos and paste-togethers out of the trunk and look inside. There is a mirror attached to the bottom with a note that says, "You are looking at yourself; thank goodness you finally found yourself and stopped looking at all the pictures."
The post-cards are adventitious ideas. The cut-and-paste items are fictitious ideas. The image in the mirror is the innate idea of yourself. The mirror is the power of reason which allows you to find yourself among all the other miss-mash of ideas. The image in the mirror is there for you to discover if you uncover the mirror correctly and look into it. In fact, the mirror is made into the very fabric of the box. Notice that the only time that you see yourself is when you get rid of the other photos and cut-and-paste items and look squarely into it, into your own eyes. Whenever you look, there you are; the mirror has such clarity that no matter how you look, once in its reflective light, you see yourself clearly and distinctly.
The point of the analogy is that this idea of self is in the mind at the beginning just waiting to be discovered by reason (clearing away all the material that will not stand up to critical scrutiny). The idea is innate (made into or intrinsically involved with) the mind itself. And, it is an idea about which there is absolute certainty; it is self-evident. You cannot look into the mirror, see yourself and then doubt that you are seeing yourself. All the other ideas can be dumped out because they lack the absolute certainty for which Descartes and we are looking.
Now wouldn't it be nice, Descartes thought, if there were another idea built into the mind (or box) which had the same certainty of the Cogito, but which told us about an object external to the box.
A little backtracking is necessary here before we find out what other innate idea Descartes found. Remember that I mentioned that there were basically two kinds of views about the nature and source of knowledge. One view was that the source of knowledge was experience derived from sense data and the mind's operation on that sense data to produce a working knowledge of the world. Such a view we called empiricism. Descartes, we noted, was not an empiricist, for he held that whatever was knowledge could not be derived from the senses. Descartes was a rationalist; knowledge derives from the nature and powers of the mind itself. That is, whatever constitutes knowledge does not derive from or consist in experience, but comes from the mind's discovering and reasoning about ideas which are innate to it and which guarantee their own truth. The Cogito is a self-evident idea, innate to the mind, discovered by the use of reason and is self-certifying.
So, Descartes says, if we are going to beat idealistic solipsism and get back a world of people, places and things --not to mention our own bodies-- we must use the power of reason to discover an idea whose truth is self-evident, but which idea, unlike the Cogito, is of an object external to the mind. In a nutshell, we must discover an innate idea of an external object which idea is an absolutely certain representation of the external object; the idea is self-evident or self-certifying of the truth of an external object. The Cogito is a self-evident idea of ourselves --we know that we exist-- but we need a self-evident idea of at least one external object to guarantee that solipsism is false.
What do you think Descartes comes up with?
22. The idea of God will save everything from solipsism.
You guessed it. God. Descartes says that if we look around among our ideas, we will find the idea of God. We will find that we did not obtain the idea through the senses. Further, it is not a creation of the mind, for the idea is of an object which is greater or more perfect than the mind itself. Our minds simply aren't powerful enough to invent the idea of God. Since the idea of God is not a creation of our minds, but nevertheless exists innately in them, it could only be a conception of something external to them.
We will have to work quite hard using our intellects to find this idea, but once we reason clearly about it, we will see that God necessarily exists, that He created the world so that we could understand it, and, says Descartes, since He is all good, He would not deceive us about the nature of most of our experiences (of other persons, places things, the world in general), especially that of having a body. In other words, if we can establish the existence of God, we get back everything important we lost with solipsism and the method of doubt.
SECTION THREE: SUMMARY
Let me quickly review what we have covered.
Epistemology. The matter looks confusing. Descartes is right; what anyone knows are his/her own ideas; what any one of us knows first and foremost are his ideas, NOT the world. That is, as conscious beings or minds, we are directly aware of our ideas. If the movie-screen analogy is correct, then solipsism is a big problem. Pragmatically however, most of us just don't see it that way. We believe that there is an external world, which our ideas represent reasonably well through the senses. Further, we can have a scientific (cause-effect) knowledge of that external world. Unfortunately, the sticky wicket is that our ideas do not represent adequately the true natures of the external world which seems to be some sort of material or extended energy; we just simply cannot experience directly the quanta which make up the world. Descartes is flat-out right about that matter. So, our best epistemological bet is to be Kantians. Our bodies (if we have them) and minds are made up so similar in fashion that the input through the senses is processed to give similar ideas in our consciousness. That is to say, by analogy, however ideas of the world are produced in our minds, they, the ideas, are all more or less alike categorically because the systems which produce those ideas are alike. We have the same "output" (ideas) because we all run the same basic software/hardware.
Metaphysics. Who can deny that there is a material world or that we have bodies? I certainly wouldn't. But, who would deny that there are minds? Not me. Descartes has his point with dualism. Minds and bodies are so radically different that it seems hard to believe that they could interact or one could be the cause of another. Yet, no one with any common sense doubts that as a person he has both a mind and a body which interact; the mosquito bite on my foot causes the itch in my mind while the idea of how to relieve that pain causes my hand to scratch the bump. The hard part is putting the two together into a consistent system --remember, dualism insists that minds and bodies are so radically different that they have NOTHING in common. Dualism wants to let us have our cake and eat it too (through interactionism), but interactionism just seems to be flat impossible. Yet, who would blow against the strong wind of interactionism?
Most philosophers today are materialists. Their problem is to explain minds and ideas. From an overall perspective, most answers given by materialists boil down to minds with their ideas being peculiar epiphenomena of neural system networks in action. One might say that minds are "gestalts" of neural processes; the overall neural processes are what constitute the material foundations of minds --consciousness just appears on the scene as a double-effect. Minds just pop up when material components operate in certain manners, e.g., when neural activity goes on in brains. Minds are at best epiphenomena or very peculiar by-products of events of the material world. The materialist's problem is that there can be a material world just like ours without minds. Minds just aren't needed, so why do they exist and how do they exist if they are not material? Things would be great for materialists if there were no minds.
Idealists maintain that reality consists of mental entities. Matter, the material world, are just peculiar kinds of ideas. Most philosophers, as I have said, are materialists, and have the enormous problems of trying to reduce minds to material events and explaining just how ideas are epiphenomena (for example, how there are in a strictly material world things like colors, tastes, musical sound and so on). Moreover, materialists (we will see later in the chapter on freedom and determinism) have a terrible job trying to explain the existence of free-will (most write off free-will) and any kind of sense of moral responsibility. Idealism is not popular, but you certainly don't have to give up some very important things if you join that camp.
Dualists hold that there are two substances, matter and mind. They are entirely separate in their characteristic, but they somehow are related. Interactionists say that minds can affect matter and vice-versa -- a position that is so inconsistent that it borders on absurdity. Yet, the only other alternative for interactionism is parallelism. Parallelists say that minds and matter cannot interact, but are coordinated (by God) so that events in one correspond to events in the other. That conceptual scheme is even more strained than interactionism.
Strange hypotheses and problems, huh?
Methodology with respect to knowledge. There are rationalists and empiricists. Rationalists hold that knowledge (ideas which admit of certainty) is discovered through the use of reason. Sense data is downgraded. Empiricists hold that knowledge derives from the use of the powers of the mind on sense data. Knowledge is only probably true; beliefs are supported by confirmation with sense data. Rationalists are prone to using a coherence criterion of truth; a belief is true when it is self-evident (when no internal contradiction can be found and no contradiction with other beliefs can be found). Empiricists tend to use a correspondence theory of truth; a belief is true if it can be supported by confirmation through sense data (experience). Most philosophers today are critical realists. They maintain that we can have a working knowledge of the world gained through scientific experimentation and analysis of that data. The problem of critical realism is that it maintains that the world of reality is radically different from the sense data that we use to understand it. Well, it probably is.
Realists hold that there is a real world apart from us, one of which we can have some knowledge. Solipsists hold that there is no real world apart from oneself. I suspect most of us are realists. The problem is getting out of one's "theater" to prove that there is an external world. Believe it or not, proving that there is an external world and other minds are really tough problems.
But enough of this, let's now turn to the next chapter on religion to begin our intellectual journey to the innate idea of God to see if through that idea we can straighten things out.
Take me to the Table of contents