The Mind-Body Problem (Resolved)

Since the 17th century, the march of science has swept all before it. The route mapped out by Copernicus, Newton, Darwin and Einstein is dotted with numerous significant milestones along the way giving hope that, in time, even the remotest regions of the universe and the innermost secrets of the atom will be exposed by science…

Or will they? There is at least one mystery that has so far resisted the best efforts of scientists and philosophers alike: the human mind. This mind/body problem is arguably the thorniest of all philosophical issues.

We are all immediately conscious of our consciousness. We have thoughts, feelings, desires that are subjective and private to us. In stark contrast, science is triumphantly objective. So how can something as strange as consciousness conceivably exist in the physical world that is being exposed by science?

As in epistemology, the philosophy of knowledge, so in the philosophy of mind, the Frenchmen René Descartes made an impact in the 17th century that has reverberated through Western philosophy till this present day. Descartes’ refuge in the certainty of his own self naturally lead him to give an exalted status to mind in relation to everything in the world outside it. In metaphysical terms he conceived mind as an entirely distinct entity as mental substance whose essential nature is thinking. Everything else is matter or material substance whose defining characteristic is spatial extension a.i. filling physical space. Thus he envisioned two distinct realms; one of immaterial minds with mental properties such as thinking and feeling. Another of material bodies with physical properties such as mass and shape.

Problems for dualism
A desire to drink causes my arm to lift the glass. A drawing pin in my foot causes me pain. Mind and body interact. Mental effects bring about physical ones and vice versa. But the need for such interaction immediately casts doubt on the Cartesian picture. It is a basic scientific principle that a physical effect requires a physical cause. But by making mind and matter essentially different, Descartes appears to have made interaction possible. Descartes himself recognized the problem, and realized it would take God’s intervention to enable the necessary causal relationship. But he did little else to resolve the issue.

Descartes younger contemporary and follower, Nicolas Malebranche, accepted the duality and took it upon himself to tackle the problem. His surprising resolution was to claim that interaction did not in fact occur at all. Instead, on every occasion when a conjunction of mental and physical interaction was required, God acted to make it happen. So creating the appearance of cause and effect. The awkwardness of this doctrine, known as occasionalism, got little support and serves mostly to highlight the seriousness of the problem it was intended to fix.

Idealism & physicalism
The obvious response to the difficulties facing the substance-dualism of Descartes, is to adopt a monistic approach to claim that there is only one kind of stuff in the world, either mental or physical. A few – most notably George Berkeley – have taken the idealist path claiming that reality consists of nothing but minds and their ideas. But the great majority – certainly amongst modern day philosophers have opted for some form of physicalist explanation. Driven on by the undeniable successes by science in other areas, the physicalist insists that the mind too must be brought within the purview of science and since the subject matter of science is exclusively physical, the mind must also be physical. The task then becomes to explain how mind – subjective and private – fits into a purely physical account of the world; objective and publically accessible.

Physicalism has taken a number of different forms. What they have in common is that they are all reductive. They claim to show that mental phenomena can be analyzed, fully and exhaustively, in purely physical terms. Advances in neuroscience have left little doubt that mental states are intimately related to states of the brain. The simplest cause for the physicalist is thus to claim that mental phenomena are actually identical to physical events and phenomena in the brain. The most radical versions of such identity theories are eliminative. They propose that – as out scientific knowledge advances – folk psychology, our ordinary ways of thinking and expressing our mental life in terms of believes, desires, intensions and so on, will disappear. They will be replaced by accurate descriptions and concepts drawn principally from neuroscience.

Physicalist solutions to the mind-body problem brush aside many of the difficulties of dualism at a stroke. Predictably, critics of physicalism complain that its proposers have brushed aside too much. That its successes have been achieved at the heaviest cost: a failing to capture the essence of conscious experience, its subjective nature.

Source: 50 philosophy ideas you really need to know, Ben Dupré

Fast forward to present day 2017. Quite a few scientists have become frustrated with the failure of science to give an explanation for mind though the general public is not aware of this failure. Also, there is a growing body of evidence for consciousness existing separate from the physical brain and being continually present in the cosmos. This correlates precisely with cutting-edge physics, which posits that things in our time and space are not intrinsically real, but are manifestations of a hidden dimension where they exist in the forms of superstrings, information fields, and energy matrices.

I am personally convinced that the mind-body problem has already been resolved, and the exception amongst Western philosophers – George Berkeley – got it right. It will take a long time before the general paradigm is shifted though. This is a ‘the world is not flat’ type of turnaround that takes time for the science community and general population to digest.

Read also: What Schrödinger’s Cat Tells Us About Reality


What are you really?

Boy, did Theo had problems with that car he bought at Honest Joe’s. It started off with little things. A doorlock needed replacing. And some fiddly bits in the rear suspension fell off. The usual. Then bigger stuff started to go wrong. First the clutch, then the gearbox… Finally the whole transmission. The tale of Theo’s car, or more usually the Ship of Theseus, is one of the many puzzles used by philosophers to test intuitions about the identity of things or persons over time. It seems our intuitions in these areas are often strong but conflicting. The story of Theseus’ Ship was told by the English philosopher Thomas Hobbs who then elaborated further. To pick up on Theo’s version: Honest Joe’s didn’t live up to his name. Most of the bits he replaced in Theo’s car were working fine. And he mended any that weren’t. He had saved the old parts and was fitting them together. After two years, he had assembled an exact copy of Theo’s car. He thought it was a copy, but maybe it was Theo’s car.

Which is the original? The car Theo has, now entirely build of new parts, or Joe’s version build entirely of the original parts?

The identity of the car over time is not nearly as neat and tidy as we might wish. It isn’t just a problem with cars and ships, people change enormously over a lifetime. Physically and psychologically, there may be very little in common between a two year old toddler and a 90 year old who has taken his place 88 years later. So are they the same person? It they are, what makes them so? This is the problem of personal identity which has kept philosophers busy for hundreds of years. So what just are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a person to be the same person at one time and a later time?

Animals and brain transplants
The common sense view is probably that personal identity is a matter of biology. I am now who I was in the past because I am the same living organism, the same human animal. I am linked to a particular body which is a single and continuous organic entity. But imagine for a moment a brain transplant. An operation we can envision to be in reach of future technology. In which your brain is transferred into my body. Our intuition is surely that you then have a new body. Not that my body has a new brain. This consideration has lead some philosophers to retreat from body to brain. To claim identity is linked not to the whole body, but to the brain.

Micaela Lattanzio’s project ‘Fragmenta’. Found here….

This move fits our intuition regarding the brain transplant case, but still does not quite do the job. Our concern is what we suppose emanates from the brain, not with the physical organ itself. While we may be uncertain how brain activity gives rise to consciousness or mental activity, few doubt the brain actually underlies that activity. In considering what makes me me, it is the software of experiences, memories, beliefs, et cetera, that concerns me, not the particular lump of grey matter. My sense of being me would be not much shaken if the total sum of those experiences were copied onto a synthetic brain. Or indeed of someone else’s brain could be reconfigured to hold my memories, beliefs, et cetera. I am my mind. I go where my mind goes. Based on this view, my identity is not linked to my physical body, including my brain, at all.

Psychological continuity
Taking the psychological approach to the question of personal identity, rather than a biological or physical one, let’s suppose that each part of my psychological history is joined to earlier parts by strands of enduring memories, beliefs, et cetera. Not all, and perhaps none, of these need extend from start to finish. Provided there is a single overlapping web of these elements. Then it remains my history. I remain me. The idea of psychological continuity as the main criterion of personal identity comes from John Locke. It is the dominant theory among contemporary philosophers, but is not without problems of its own.

Imagine for instance, a Star Trek style teleportation system. Supposed this records your physical composition down to the last atom and then transfers this data to some remote location. Let’s say from London, earth, to Moonbase 1. There your body is exactly replicated from new matter at the precise moment your body in London is annihilated. All is well, as long as your psychological self is also exactly copied. But now suppose the transporter failed to carry out the annihilation in London. Now there are two of you: one on earth and one on Moonbase 1. According to the continuity account, because the psychological continuity is preserved in both cases, they are both you. In this case we have little hesitation to saying that you are the individual in London while the one on the moon is a copy. But if this intuition is right, we seem to be forced back from the psychological to the biological animal account. It appears to matter that you are the old meat in London rather than the new meat on the moon.

Getting yourself straight
Such mixed intuition may come from asking the wrong questions or applying the wrong concepts in answering them. David Hume drew attention to the elusiveness of the self claiming that however hard you look in on yourself, you can only ever detect individual thoughts, memories, experiences. While it is natural to imagine a substantial self, that is the subject of these thoughts, he argues this is wrong. The self is no more than the point of view that makes sense of our thoughts and experiences. This idea of the self as a substantial thing, which we take to be our essence, causes confusion if we imagine our self undergoing brain transplants or being annihilated and reconstituted somewhere else. We assume our personal survival in such thought experiments somehow depends on finding a place for this self. But if we stop thinking in terms of this substantial self, things become clearer. Suppose for instance that the teleporter functions correctly in annihilating your body in London, but producing two copies on the moon. Asking who is you is now simply asking the wrong question. The outcome is that there are now two human beings, each starting off with exactly the same stream of thoughts, memories and experiences. They will now go their own way and their psychological histories from now on will diverge. You, essentially the fond of thoughts, experiences, et cetera, have survived into two new individuals, an interesting form of personal survival, but achieved at the cost of your personal identity.

Source: 50 philosophy ideas you really need to know (Ben Dupré)

Ontsnappen uit de tredmolen

De tredmolen: we zitten er allemaal in, want we hebben allemaal geld nodig voor ons levensonderhoud. Sommige beroepen bieden een exit. Als je stukadoor wordt, is je enige escape een passieve: het winnen van de loterij of ontvangen van een erfenis. Schrijvers, muzikanten, acteurs en kunstenaars verdienen gemiddeld minder dan een tandarts, maar maken meer kans op een positieve Zwarte Zwaan: een uitzonderlijke, onverwachte gebeurtenis met grote impact.

Wij zien alleen de succesverhalen; schrijvers die een bestseller schrijven zoals Joris Luyendijk met ‘Dit kan niet waar zijn’. Acteurs/actrices zoals Michiel Huisman en Carice van Houten die in ‘Game of Thrones’ mogen spelen. Dit zijn de ideaalbeelden, maar daartegenover staan duizenden schrijvers en acteurs die niet kunnen rondkomen van hun werk en moeten bijklussen als ober of telemarketeer.

Ikzelf ben ook op jacht naar de Zwarte Zwaan met mijn Hollywood-script ‘Masters of the Underworld’. Als dat lukt kan ik mijn baantje als finance redacteur opzeggen en mijn tijd besteden zoals ik wil: met een volgend script schrijven of met een beetje filosoferen in een huisje in een afgelegen bos ergens. Die keuzevrijheid heb ik dan, want met voldoende fuck-you-money koop je die vrijheid en hoef je niet langer mee te rennen in de tredmolen.

Nasim Nicholas Taleb – auteur van ‘De Zwarte Zwaan’ is zelf aan de tredmolen ontsnapt. Hij werkte als quant op Wall Street, maar zijn boekenserie over toeval scoorde uitstekend. In ‘De Zwarte Zwaan’ geeft hij tips over het jacht maken op Zwarte Zwanen, zoals de volgende:

Hoe benut je positieve Zwarte Zwanen?
Grijp iedere kans, en alles wat lijkt op een kans. Kansen zijn zeldzaam, veel zeldzamer dan je denkt. Ik wil je nogmaals wijzen op de eerste noodzakelijke stap voor positieve Zwarte Zwanen: je dient je open te stellen voor de mogelijkheid dat je er een treft. Veel mensen hebben niet door dat ze geluk hebben wanneer ze geluk hebben. Als een grote uitgever, kunsthandelaar, filmbons, denker of bankier je voorstelt een afspraak te maken, annuleer dan alles wat je hebt gepland: misschien dient zich nooit meer zo’n kans aan. Het verbaast me soms hogelijk hoe weinig mensen beseffen dat dit soort kansen niet voor het oprapen ligt. Verzamel zo veel mogelijk gratis niet-loterijloten (met een onbegrensd rendement) en dank ze niet af wanneer ze beginnen te renderen. Werk hard en steek je energie niet in geestdodende arbeid, maar in het najagen van zulke mogelijkheden en maximaliseren van de kans dat je er een te beurt valt. Het is daarbij raadzaam in een grote stad te wonen, want dat vergroot je kans op serendiptieve ontmoetingen. Als je je vestigt in een plattelandsgebied omdat je daar ‘in het internettijdperk’ goede verbindingen hebt, ontneem je jezelf dergelijke bronnen van positieve onzekerheid.

Ik woon dan wel op het platteland, oké, maar ik sta wel open voor kansen: gratis niet-loterijloten met een onbegrensd rendement. Die vegetarische Zwarte Zwaan ga ik buitmaken als het geluk mij toelacht. Met talent heeft een succesverhaal volgens toevalexpert Taleb heel weinig te maken.

Big data en de waarheid

Aan het toenemende vertrouwen op data voor al onze beslissingen kleeft een risico. Namelijk dat we denken dat de wereld begrijpelijk en voorspelbaar is. Dat is de wereld niet, zeker niet bij zaken waar menselijk gedrag een rol speelt. Bij de verkiezing is de VS keek men naar het verleden. ‘Zo ging het toch altijd?’ Maar de wereld verandert continu, dus zaten de forecasters er compleet naast.

In een incident van iets kleinere magnitude ervoer ik afgelopen zomer in Frankrijk hoe data kan leiden tot verkeerde conclusies. Ik moest Loesje en Rosa naar het vliegveld navigeren en vertrouwde daarbij op het feilloze Google Maps. Toen we door allerlei kleine en verlaten dorpjes werden gestuurd, schijnbaar verder weg van het vliegveld, kreeg Loesje een vreemd gevoel. ‘Zou dit wel kloppen?’ Tuurlijk, riep ik. Google kan het niet verkeerd hebben. De rit eindigde op een doodlopend landweggetje. En deze versperring was niet dagen daarvoor opgeworpen:


Na lang in een deuk te hebben gelegen, gaf ik natuurlijk ruiterlijk toe dat mijn blinde vertrouwen in dit op data-gebaseerde product onterecht was geweest. Data is prima om beslissingen te ondersteunen, maar we moeten nooit stoppen met kritisch nadenken. Wat de big-data-aanprijzers (werkzaam voor softwareleveranciers) ons ook willen doen geloven, onze subliem afgestemde intuïtie blijft het beste kompas wat er bestaat. Of die nu van God/het universum afkomstig is of gewoon door onze ervaringen gecreëerd wordt. Kortom: trust your gut and not just the data.