Announcement Module

Skeptiko forums moved

The official forums of the Skeptiko podcast have moved to
As such, these forums are now closed for posting.
See more
See less

Four arguments for Dualism

Page Title Module
Move Remove Collapse
Conversation Detail Module
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Four arguments for Dualism

    Here below are four simplified explanations of arguments for Dualism that I've put in my own words. I see dualism defended a lot on this forum and it often seems like special pleading. Why should we take dualism seriously in the first place (psi phenomenon aside)? The single materialist argument that appears again and again in various guises could be called the "brain damage" argument. The materialist points out that conscious experience is affected if the brain is damaged in various ways. Therefore, they argue, consciousness is or is probably equivalent to brain function.

    My response to this argument could take a number of forms but the point is the same and has been said (or typed) time and time again: correlation does not imply causation. Every time I pluck a guitar string it affects my conscious experience. Can we infer from that that consciousness is produced by the sound from guitar strings? Or more specifically, can we infer that the sound produced by the guitar strings is equivalent to the guitar strings being plucked? On the basis of the arguments laid out below, the guitar could be thought of as the brain and the sound produced as consciousness. At most the materialist could argue that consciousness is dependent on the brain, just as the sound was dependent on the guitar strings being plucked. However, to continue with analogy, the guitar does not produce the only kind of music in existence, so why should we take it for granted that all conscious experience must be related to the brain like the guitar?

    1. The "No Center" argument: There is no center for the Self in the brain, rather there are a number of centers which correlate to specific aspects of subjective experience but no center which correlates with the experienced harmony of perception called Self awareness. We are all, of course, aware of our own existence and neuroscience cannot explain this fact. Some hardcore materialists have gone as far as saying that the Self doesn't exist because would be unscientific to say that it does.

    2. The "First Person" argument: All material objects can be analyzed from a third person perspective. Indeed, we know objects exists objectively because any conscious individual can perceive them. For example, the brain can be seen or touched or studied by anybody but subjective experience can be known to anyone but the observer. Therefore, consciousness is only known in the first person. To put it another way, no one can see or touch or in any way perceive an emotion with their outer perceptions. All objects can be perceived (at least indirectly) through the outer perceptions; therefore consciousness is not an object.

    Most materialists believe that consciousness is the result of the dynamics of the organized complexity of the human nervous system. All dynamic systems can be reduced to their basic components. Consciousness cannot be reduced to the basic components of the human nervous system (unless the materialist is willing to say the matter itself is conscious). Therefore, consciousness must be absolutely equivalent to the dynamics of brain function. The dynamics of the human nervous system are (to put it simply) equivalent to patterned neuronal firings. A patterned neuronal firing cannot be equivalent to consciousness because the quality of patterned neuronal firings is distinct from conscious experience; otherwise we could see or touch emotions or thoughts.

    3. The "Non-functional Consciousness" argument: The brain is an information processing device. A computer is an information processing device. Practically nobody is willing to believe that a computer, like the one you're looking at, is conscious in the sense of having subjective experience.
    Therefore, it is possible to imagine any information processing device is a non-conscious system. Therefore, on the basis of outward perception, it is possible to imagine that the brain is a non-conscious system. You may type like a conscious being but maybe that is just your programming? The fact that I can no more know a human being is conscious than I can a computer, suggests that consciousness cannot be explained by understanding the information device we call the brain. The fact that the brain deals with information differently than a computer tells absolutely nothing that would help a materialist explain consciousness.

    An information system could be considered to be any arbitrary set of objects related by an effect. For example, the planets of the solar system share in the effect of gravity caused by the mass of the sun. So, in a loose sense the solar system is an information system. No materialist would dare speculate that the solar system has some form of consciousness and yet there is nothing particularly special known about the brain that would put in a different category altogether from the solar system or any combination of loosely related objects imaginable.

    4. The "Colors and Numbers" argument: Colors do not exist in the external, objective world. It is true that colors are correlated with certain wavelengths or frequencies of light rays on a continuous spectrum almost completely invisible to the human eye but no realist would be willing to say that those wavelengths of light visible to the human eye are literally the colors of the rainbow. Consider colorblind people who see the same frequency of light (like say, green) in shades of color (like say, yellow) which are, by definition, different from the actual color perceived by people who are not colorblind. Therefore, the color experienced is arbitrary to the external wavelength of light.

    So, where do colors come from if not the external world? Colors cannot be the result of the brain filtering certain wavelengths of light, because the brain is composed of elements having nothing to do with perceived light waves. Colors, therefore, do not originate from the external world. It is likely to think then, that all conscious experience does not originate from the external world and is in a distinct category of its own.

    The same argument template can be applied to the existence of numbers. The number ten, for example, does not exist in nature but is rather a category imposed on nature by the human mind. How is it then, that nature can produce numbers in the human mind?

  • #2
    Originally posted by DysonSpheres View Post
    I see dualism defended a lot on this forum and it often seems like special pleading.
    We know there are conscious experiences since each person knows he himself/herself is conscious. If the external world exists independently of our conscious perceptions, then we have 2 different types of existent in the world -- namely consciousness and that which consciousness perceives to be external to itself i.e the physical world. Hence some type of dualism is correct even if the brain creates consciousness. How is this "special pleading"?

    Some hardcore materialists have gone as far as saying that the Self doesn't exist because would be unscientific to say that it does.
    The self cannot exist under any materialist metaphysic, not even epiphenomenalism. There is only the sense of self. But the sense doesn't correspond to any real self. if any materialist denies this then they don't know what they're talking about.

    I have no objections to anything else you've said.