Feser's Philosophy of Mind, #2

Feser ends chapter one by introducing the "mind-body" problem which is this: if the brain is purely physical, how can something that is composed of atoms think and be conscious of itself and its surroundings? Are mind and "matter" two fundamentally different kinds of things ("dualism") or are mind and matter different forms of the same thing? In chapter 2, Feser presents three arguments for dualism, and one argument against it. The three positive arguments are the "indivisibility," "obviousness," and "conceivability" arguments, while the "interaction" argument is the negative argument. I will not consider the interaction argument here.

The indivisibility argument goes like this. Matter is one form of substance which can be divided into parts. Atoms can be divided into protons, neutrons, and electrons; protons and neutrons can be divided into quarks; quarks and electrons are made up of strings (assuming string theory is true), with the string being the fundamental indivisible unit of matter. What remains after each division is of the same kind — it's matter all the way down — and since it doesn't divide into something else, it's one "substance". A mind, however, is not divisible. The "I" is one (considerations of schizophrenia not withstanding). Therefore, the "string" and the "mind" are two fundamentally different things.

A problem with this is that "matter" is not the only component to the physical universe. Along with strings (or higher level particles), there is space-time, motion, energy, charge, etc… To hold to dualism is to say that mind is not only not any of these things, but is also not some form of combination of these things. If mind is some form of combination of these things, then the "indivisibility" of the mind might only hold when the combination of these things are working in concert. Break the synchronization of the parts and the mind ceases to function correctly (or at all).

The obviousness argument holds that just as oranges and apples are obviously different, mind and matter are obviously different. That is, because we perceive them differently, they are fundamentally different. Oranges and apples have different shapes, textures, colors, and tastes. But the indivisibility argument shows that apples and oranges aren't fundamentally different. They are just different arrangements of the number and kinds of atoms, which are just different arrangements of electrons and quarks. The dualist's perceived difference between mind and brain, like the difference between apples and oranges, could be explained by the operation of nature where the mechanism isn't immediately obvious. Someone who has never seen a modern phone might wonder at a symphony coming from someone's pocket. Humans are not violins and to hear the Brandenburg Concerto #3 coming from someone's pocket might cause no end of consternation and speculation as to its cause. Saying that mental stuff is different from physical stuff is to put a label on a lack of knowledge and put it in its own category.

The conceivability argument is as follows:


That is to say, it is entirely conceivable that one could exist as a disembodied mind, with one’s body and brain, and indeed the entire physical world, being nothing but a figment of one’s imagination. But then it is conceivable and therefore at least metaphysically possible for the mind to exist apart from the brain. Therefore, the mind is not identical to the brain.

The problems with this are manifold. First, the mind is not identical to the brain, any more than a symphony is identical to an orchestra. Therefore, this doesn't show that the mind can exist apart from the brain. Second, the conceivability argument can be used to show that solipsism is true. But in chapter 1, Feser argues against solipsism, thereby undercutting the power of the conceivability argument. Third, Feser himself admits the weakness of conceivability arguments in the next chapter by writing:

But conceivability arguments, if they prove anything…

Conceivability arguments prove nothing at all.

The indivisibility, obviousness, and conceivability arguments are so bad that professors who present them should be stripped of their degrees and run out of their supporting institutions.

And I say this as a convinced dualist. But I am a dualist who thinks that matter and mind are so entangled in a loop that they are impossible to separate without destroying our ability to think about them (cf.
The Physical Nature of Thought).
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