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The Mind-body problem is something which troubles philosophers of mind. One
way to put it: if mind and matter are the same kind of thing, why do we
think they're not? If they're different kinds of things, then how are they
different, can they interact, and, if so, how?
The following is a portion of Larrys Text that has been wikified; further
wikification is encouraged
The mind-body problem is the problem of determining the relationship between
the human body and its mind. Are our minds something different from our
physical bodies? Suppose we think that the mind is a substance of some sort
-- a mental substance. We might still ask: Is there some way to explain what
the mind, a mental substance, is, in terms of physical substance? Or will we
maintain that the mind is something totally different from physical bodies,
and that we cannot explain what the one is in terms of the other at all?
Suppose instead that we deny that the mind is some mysterious substance, and
we hold instead that there are only mental events and that "the mind"
designates no more than a series of mental events? We can still inquire
about the relation between mind and body in a different way, in terms of the
relation between mental events and physical events. We can ask: Are mental
events totally different from physical events, so that you can't explain
what mental events are in terms of physical events; or are mental events
somehow explainable as being the same as physical events? For example, when
John feels a pain, a mental event is occurring; now is that pain even
possibly the same as something that occurs in John's brain, such as the
firing of some special group of neurons? Now this question we will examine.
The mind-body problem can be introduced more fully with an example. Suppose
John decides to walk across the room, whereupon he does in fact walk across
the room. John's decision is a mental event and his walking across the room
is a physical event. On anyone's accounting, there is another physical event
involved, namely, something happens in John's brain, which tells John's legs
to start walking. This brain event is closely connected with John's
decision; the brain event happens at about the same time, or right after,
John decides to walk across the room. We might ask: How is it possible that
a decision, which is something mental, resulted in something in your brain,
which is something physical? If we say that the mental and the physical are
totally different sorts of things, then how can one have any causal impact
on the other? How can a mere mental event, a decision, actually cause
neurons in my brain to start firing? The very idea might seem absurd.
On one view (see philosophical view), a better description of the situation
is this: John's decision is itself a physical event. When John decides to
take my trip across the room, a group of neurons fire in his brain. He is
not aware of those neurons; but the firing of those neurons is itself just
the same as his decision. There isn't any more to the decision than that
physical event. So, on the view in question, there's no trouble thinking
about how a mental event can have a physical effect; mental events are
themselves physical. Ultimately, everything is physical.
To many people it sounds really strange to say that a mental process is no
more than a special kind of physical process. The mind, they say, is more
spiritual, ethereal, and so it simply is not the sort of thing that can be
physical. And they have other reasons as well for rejecting this reduction
of the mental to the physical.
So in fact what some philosophers have believed instead - but hardly anyone
anymore - is that the reduction goes the other way. We should explain what
bodies are in terms of mental goings-on; so the physical can be reduced to
the mental. When John walked across the room, really that was happening only
in John's mind and perhaps also in each of our minds individually at the
same time. There is, on this view, nothing more to John's walking across the
room than our having the thought, or the perception, that that happens. This
view would also solve the problem of how the mental can affect the physical.
Since physical events are themselves nothing more than a special kind of
mental event, then of course there is no trouble about how a decision, which
is obviously a mental event, can result in our bodies moving, which is also
a mental event, although less obviously so.
The three above-described views about the relationship between the mental
and the physical have names:
* Dualism is the view that mental events and physical events are totally
different kinds of events.
* Materialism, or physicalism, is the view that mental events are nothing
more than a special kind of physical event.
* Phenomenalism, or subjective idealism, is the view that physical events
are nothing more than a special kind of mental event.
The mind-body problem, to put it as generically and broadly as possible, is
this question: What is the basic relationship between the mental and the
physical? For the sake of simplicity, we can state the problem in terms of
mental and physical events. I could put it just as well in terms of
processes, or of consciousness. So the problem restated is: What is the
basic relationship between mental events and physical events?
There are, then, three basic choices: mental and physical events are totally
different, and cannot be reduced to each other (which is dualism); mental
events are to be reduced to physical events (which is materialism); and
physical events are to be reduced to mental events (which is phenomenalism).
To put it in terms of what exists "ultimately", we could say that according
to dualism, both mental and physical events exist ultimately; according to
materialism, only physical events exist ultimately; and according to
phenomenalism, only mental events exist ultimately. Materialism and
phenomenalism are both varieties of monism; of monism there is one further
variety, namely neutral monism.
This is already a lot of positions to consider, but it gets worse: within
each category there are further refinements to be made.