Mind/Body Problem Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 19 February 2017

Mind/Body Problem

The mind/body problem is the problem of specifying the relationship between the mind and body. Before further explanation of this issue, it is important to fully understand each term as it is being used throughout this paper. The mind, as I will call it, is representational of the consciousness of an individual. This is to say that the part of a person which determines will and choice, the experiences and sensations are collectively referred to as mind. The body, at times more specifically, the brain, denotes the physical aspects of a person. This is inclusive of the physical mass, neurons responsiveness to stimuli, and physical location.

Now, with a more complete understanding of mind and body, one is able to return to the issue of the relationship concerning the two. One way to view this subject is to think of it as defining the relationship of mental states and brain (neural) states. While philosophers have not reached a definitive explanation to this issue, the years have provided ample time for a few prominent theories to develop. It may be thought that science could provide an answer to our problem, though this is not the case. While science may give us insight to different functions of brain states that correlate to mental processes, it does not definitely prove how they are related or why.

This can be explained through the point of view perception. Science can give a clear understanding of how the brain functions; it can paint a rich picture of the inputs and outputs. Science may also have the ability to explain what feelings and emotions are. For example, it may be able to explain biting into a summer peach and describe the taste. However, science cannot experience the way a summer peach tastes to me, as an individual. It cannot feel the way I do whenever I think about my mother. This is the difference in the third person perspective (the only one that science is truly able to offer) and the first person perspective of the individual actually experiencing the situation.

While it seems as though there is a causal relationship between the mind and body, meaning that the mind affects the body and the body has an effect on the mind, the question still remains as to how this interaction functions and why. It is at this point that philosophers provide different solutions to these questions. The dualist perspective offers that the mind and body are two completely distinct ontological entities, whether in composition, function, or interaction.

Conversely, the physicalist argues that the mind and body are both explainable in physical terms because there is nothing more to this world than the physical aspects. This is to say that the mind is of the same stuff as the body because in fact, they are the same. The mind is simply a process of the physical brain. Frank Jackson utilizes a mind experiment in his writing, What Mary Didn’t Know to challenge this thought of physicalism. Jackson asks his readers to imagine a woman named Mary who is confined to a black and white room. She is taught through a black and white screen everything that there is to know about the physical nature of the world. According to physicalism, she knows all there is to know. However, one day Mary is taken outside of the black and white room. At this time, she will learn what it is like to see and experience the color red.

According to Jackson, Mary learns something new; something above and beyond all of her physical knowledge of the world. If this is the case, that would result in the fact that there are some things in the world that are not physical things. Jackson’s argument may be structured in a way that clearly defines his point. Mary knows everything physical there is to know about other people. Mary does not know everything there is to know about other people. It follows that there are truths about other people that escape the physicalist’s story. Utilizing the knowledge argument, Jackson asserts that because Mary learned what experiencing the color red is like, that she learned something new and gained knowledge about something outside the physicalist’s argument.

This, in Jackson’s perspective, discredits physicalism because if while in the black and white room Mary knows every physical fact, then she must know everything. However, by gaining a new experience and learning something outside of the room, then there are things that cannot be explained physically. Jackson argues that learning on a black and white screen isn’t enough to learn about mental life. It is not enough to learn about the qualia of experiences. These qualia refer to the individual qualitative feelings of an experience. For example, what tasting a ripe summer peach is actually like to experience.

Therefore there must be something more to the story. Taking a different view, Colin McGinn offers his perspective on the mind/body problem in his writing, Can we Solve the Mind—Body Problem? McGinn suggests that no, we cannot solve the mind/body problem and therein lies our solution- that we should not be worried about this issue because we will never be able to solve it. McGinn maps out several reasons to support his conclusion. He begins by explaining why previous attempts of explanation have failed to clarify the mind/body problem. McGinn states that previous arguments use one of two tactics. The first is to resort to the use of supernatural means. McGinn says that this is just as “extreme as the problem”, meaning that proving this premise is just as difficult as the conclusion it is designed to support.

Furthermore, he says that other arguments employ the use of explaining mental states through physical properties of the brain. This proves problematic as well. McGinn offers a different avenue, it is what he calls, cognitive closure. He believes that there is a natural explanation for the way in which the mind and body interact with each other but that we, as humans, are closed to its explanation. He proposes his argument in this way: Human minds are similar to biological bodies in which that they have different levels of capacity and cognitive capability. Even though a mind may not possess the cognitive ability to understand a concept, this would not imply that the concept is untrue. He uses the example of the light spectrum. While humans can only view a small portion of the light spectrum, it does not discount the other levels.

The same principle may be applied here. Furthermore, an idea may be completely cognitively closed if there is no possibility of any mind being able to understand it. However, the same standard of its truth value remains. McGinn argues that the mind/body problem is an issue that is completely cognitively closed to humans. Therefore, no matter what advancements in science or technology that may occur, it will still never be enough to understand the mind/body problem.

This should give humans some peace of mind. McGinn says that there should be not need to worry about solving an issue that can never be solved. Keeping McGinn’s paradigm of thought in mind, once again consider Jackson’s article, What Mary didn’t know. While Jackson seems to offer a strong argument, McGinn may object to it on the basis of his first premise. If the human mind is cognitively closed to certain levels of knowledge, then it is impossible for Mary to learn everything there is to know in her black and white room.

In fact, it does not matter where Mary receives her learning, she will never gain complete knowledge. Her limit would reach the level of knowledge in which her brain is cognitively open to her. While it is true that Mary would have the knowledge of everything that humans could possibly understand; she still is not all-knowing. By denying Jackson’s first premise, it renders his argument invalid.

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  • University/College: University of Chicago

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