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Knowledge & Reality Essay - Is the Mind Different from the Body?

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Marissa Commarato

Knowledge & Reality Essay

Is the Mind different from the Body?

        Modern science has shown that what goes on in our bodies can be explained in physical terms.  But can our thoughts or perceptions also be explained physically? In this paper, I will argue that the mind is a non-physical entity, made up of our interpretation of what our body and brain experience.  I will demonstrate that the mind is different from the body through Descartes claim of dualism and Frank Jackson’s “Epiphenomenal Qualia”. I will also prove how J.C Smart’s, Mind-Brain Identity theory isn’t cogent.

        In Mediation IV, Descartes believes that, “the mind is not immediately affected by all the parts of the body, but only by the brain” (V, 101). Through his argument of conceivability, he establishes that the body is essentially an extended thinking thing, whereas the mind is non-extended thinking thing. Descartes argued that as long as it is thinking, the mind is always experienced as being a single, and complete, entity. He states that, “For when I consider the mind, that is, myself insofar as I am only a thinking thing, I cannot distinguish any parts within me; rather, I understand myself to manifestly one complete thing” (V, 101).  Descartes claims that the mind is indivisible and that bodies (physical) things are divisible. Therefore, concluding that the mind and bodies are separate/different things (Lecture).

        Moreover, the idea that our minds are a non-physical thing can also be supported by the dualistic theory of Descartes. Dualism is the view that there are two kinds of things in the world: physical entities and mental entities. The physical entities are things such as planets, mass, atoms, momentum and can be detected by means of senses. In contrast, mental entities consist of minds, thoughts, perceptions, imaginations and sensations. Furthermore, I agree with Descartes’s dualism view. When we see a person, we can see their body and the movements of their body. We hear the sounds their body makes. When we touch or are touched by a person, it’s their body that we touch or does the touching. We do not see the mind; we do not hear the mind; we do not feel the mind; and we cannot touch the mind.  Our bodies and brain are visible, but our minds are not. When a human dies, they do not leave their mind behind; yet the brain and other organs remain and are tangible in an autopsy despite no longer functioning.

        Furthermore, considering physical instruments cannot detect our mental entities, they do not have physical properties or a location in space. We cannot measure our thoughts through electrochemical or biomechanical interactions like how we can measure what goes on with our bodies. We simply cannot explain what goes on in our minds because they are non-physical entities. However, this is not to say that physicalism, the belief that all correct knowledge is only information about physical stuff, is true. Moreover, the existence of qualia proves physicalism to be false. Qualia are the way a mental state feels; what it is consciously like to feel pain, see a color, smell a rose, hear a sound, etc.  

        In addition, Frank Jackson’s article,  “Epiphenomenal Qualia,” proves we have knowledge of non-physical stuff.  One specific case, Mary’s Room, is a thought experiment meant to demonstrate the non-physical nature of mental states. The experiment is as follows: Mary is trapped in a room her whole life and cannot see color, she wears a helmet that only lets her see black and white. She has access to the completed science of color vision and learns it. Eventually, Mary is released from the room without the black and white helmet and encounters a rose. Jackson concluded that if physicalism is true, Mary ought to have gained total knowledge about color perception by examining the physical world. However, if she leaves the room and learns something new, like what the color red is like, then physicalism must be false (Lecture).

        The nature of qualia reveals the essential subjectivity of the mind. Through Jackson’s thought experiment of Mary’s Room we establish that qualia must be experienced before it is known. Similar to Mary’s room, for example, someone who is born deaf cannot imagine a sound, even if they have a complete understanding of how sound waves and the vibrations of air molecules work. We also conclude that not all information is physical information because we can know all the physical explanations there are to know, without knowing what qualia are like.

        Henceforth, there is no way to compare the qualia we experience with others, so we are unable to understand if others experience the same sensations we do. Even though the mind and the body are two different distinct things, they interact. Events in the body can cause events in the mind; for example, if you were to hit your head, the firing of a neuron in the brain can cause a sensation of pain in the mind. Nonetheless, events in the mind can cause events in the body; for example, the desire to eat can cause the firing of some neuron in the brain that causes the contraction of your arm muscle to pick up the sandwich to eat.

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