Mind Body Problem Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 11 September 2016

Mind Body Problem

Why is the mind/body problem within Philosophy of Mind and Consciousness studies indeed a problem? Well the mind body problem is a metaphysical issue about the relationship between what is mental and what is physical. (“mind-body problem,” 2009). I believe that this issue is and will continue to be a problem until there is enough evidence to fully prove one theory or disprove all but one of these theories from being true. At this point in time I feel that the monistic approach of physicalism best sums up the mind body relationship as it states that everything supervenes on, or is necessitated by, the physical(Stoljar, 2009).

To put it in simpler terms relevant to the mind body problem the mind is a physical part of the body. I feel this way as it currently has the most supporting evidence. The other main view on the mind body problem is dualism and its theory of interactionism which holds that mind and body, though separate and distinct substances, causally interact. (“interactionism,” 2009). It isn’t the numerous theories that cause this mind body problem to be such a problem though it’s the evidence supporting these theories that makes this a highly debated topic as depending on your viewpoint the evidence could support multiple theories at once.

This makes deciding what can be classed as evidence for and against different theory’s very difficult. The term materialism, sometimes called central-state materialism, asserts that states of the mind are identical to states of the human brain(“materialism,” 2009). Scientific testing has shown that when people are asked to picture doing certain tasks mentally that specific areas of the brain are stimulated. They tested this on numerous people and found that in all of the subjects the mental stimulation caused certain areas of the brain to become active.

Two years ago Adrian Owen published an article in Science in which he used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to examine the brain function of a young woman in an apparent vegetative state. During the study she was asked to either imagine herself playing tennis or to imagine herself walking through her house. These two distinct thoughts created distinct patterns of activation on the fMRI The terms ‘physicalism’ and ‘materialism’ are interchangeable. But the two terms have very different histories(Egnor, 2006). t is this such research that points in the direction of solving this mind body problem and emerging with one clear truth as to how the mind and body coexist.

The term ‘materialism’ is very old, but the word ‘physicalism’ was introduced into philosophy only in the 1930s by Otto Neurath (1931) and Rudolf Carnap (1932)(Stoljar, 2009). People argue that this new termanology has helped to more clearly define the concept as materalism refered to matter which is still a relativly indefinable substance whereas physicalism refers to the physical which is a very clearly defined substance.

The idea of physicalism is that everything exists in the physical sense even feelings and thoughts have a physical root according to this theory. So when the previously mentioned study using a fMRI to scan the brain as people are thinking gives evidence of thoughts occurring as similar brain states among a large group of people including people in a “vegatative state” gives hope that this proplem could be resolved quicker than previously expected.

Dualism proposes this idea of interactionism in which the mind and body are separate yet they causally interact was first proposed by Rene Descartes who could not satisfactorily explain how the interaction takes place, apart from the speculation that it occurs in the pineal gland(“interactionism,” 2009). This of couse was later proven to be false as the true function of the pineal gland was discovered but the theory still remains that the mind and body are separate.

One of the examples given for this theory is that if you where to touch a flame your body would tell your mind that it was in pain then your mind would tell your body to move your hand and therefore your mind and body are causally linked. But in real life if you put your hand in to a flame accidentally your body wouldn’t wait for your mind to register what had happened an then tell you to remove your hand that’s why humans have developed reflexes which happen at a spinal level the signal never reaches the brain or mind to be acted upon.

This does serve to help both arguments though as a dualist would arue that this proves that the body and mind are separate but a monist would argue that the mind although physical encompasses a small part of the brain and isnt involved in every decision that you make for example breathing and your heart beat which proves that this example of dualism at work is flawed and suppports both arguments. This is why without hard evidence there will always be a mind body problem.

The identity theory of mind holds that states and processes of the mind are identical to states and processes of the brain. “Identity Theory,” 2009). The montreal procedure developed by Dr. Wilder Penfield in the 1940’s in which the patient was given a local anaesthetic so they would remain conscious during the operation. Penfield then removed the skull cap to expose the brain tissue. As he probed the brain, the patient could describe his feelings. This technique also allowed Dr. Penfield to create maps of the sensory and motor sections of the brain, showing their connections to the various limbs and organs of the body.

This technique is quoted extensivly to back up monistic theories that the mind and brain are one due to the ability of Dr. Penfield to accuratly map areas of the brain to specific regions such as speech, sensory and sight(“Dr. Wilder Penfield,” 2006). But a dualist would argue that although the states and process are identical and that different regions are responsible for different areas of the body it does not prove by any stretch of the term that the brain and mind are one.

It mearly states that they are doing the same thing at the same time which could just as easily be an argument for parallelism. This I believe is one of the reasons why this mind body problem will always be a problem, as there are so many inter-linking theories that without difinitive proof of one theory being true there will always be a problem. As you can se from this paper there are many different theories and all have some form of evidence to back up their claim of being the correct theory.

But at the same time the evidence given for one theory in most cases can also be used as evidence for another theory all depending on how you look at it. Which I one of the reasons that the mind body problem is a problem. As evidence is given to support one claim but if you shift your viewpoint that same piece of factual evidence then becomes evidence for a different theory. Now the evidence dosent change but the viewpoint does and this is what causes one of the problems. The other issue is the ammount of theories there are and that new theories are constantly being made.

Take the case of physicalism for example physicalism is a relative new theory based on an old theory yet they are basically the same. So you can see that this stream new theories are being produced and the ability of multiple different theories to share evidence to back up their claim all depending on what view point you have on a topic is what I think makes the mind body problem such a problem. This problem will continue to be debated until someone can prove without a shadow of a doubt that their theory is true which will take a while.

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  • University/College: University of Chicago

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  • Date: 11 September 2016

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