THE MIND-BODY PROBLEM

Matter Exists, Mental Does Not

Nash Popovic profile image

Written by Dr. Nash Popovic

This view is known as reductive materialism or materialistic monism. It is based on the belief that the mind can either be identified or reduced to the brain (or body) activity. For a true materialist the ‘mind’ is nothing more than a way of describing certain electrical impulses and chemical processes in the brain and the rest of the body. Thoughts or emotions are mere folk terminology: consequently, the laws of nature govern these processes, and freedom of choice is just an illusion.

Support for materialism does not amount to much. Some of its proponents admit that they are motivated by such considerations as Occam’s razor or a general belief that everything is reducible to one kind of entity. The reason why this perspective seems plausible to many is that brain injuries or certain chemicals can alter mind states. However, although this proves that the brain affects the mind, it is not evidence that the mind is the brain. To make a comparison, if a car breaks down or runs out of petrol, the driver is forced to stop her journey. This is not a proof, though, that the driver does not exist, or that she is identical to or a product of mechanical processes in the car’s engine. Yet, materialistic interpretations make a similar leap of faith in an attempt to explain the mind solely by brain processes. It is more or less left to philosophers to argue this point as there is no scientific evidence that the mind can be reduced to the brain – only that they correlate. Hanfling (1980, p.52) illustrates that correlation and identification are not the same:

…connection is not enough. To say that rain is connected with a fall of the barometer is very different from saying that rain is a fall of the barometer; and the same is true of sensations and brain-processes – even assuming that they could be correlated in the same sort of way. To go from correlation to identification requires a further step. Is this further step also a matter of science?

Materialism still has an appeal because it offers an easy solution to the problem that bedevils dualism: how states of the mind (expectations, volitions, feelings) can initiate physical movements. If the mind is identified with the brain, this issue becomes trivial: the one part of essentially the same system affects another in a way

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