Person and Mind

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Person and Mind

This paper will address the general form of the argument for the identity of the person (mind) with the body (brain). This argument will be found unsound because it is both invalid and because the premises on which the argument is based are, in fact, false. This analysis will include a critical examination of Logical Behaviorism, a theory that supports this argument.

The argument is based on two premises (P):
P1: The mind is subject to understanding and control by science.

P2: Only what is quantifiable and sense-perceptible is subject to control by science.
Therefore, based on these two premises, the following two conclusions (C) can be reached:
C1: The mind is quantifiable and sense-perceptible.

C2: The mind is the same thing as the body (brain).
The validity of an argument is found when, if the premises are true, then the conclusions would follow logically from those premises. According to the premises established in the argument, the first conclusion would naturally follow. The argument seems to be logical and the conclusions do indeed follow from the premises. In addition, the second conclusion can also be reached from the premises, but only with the assumption that the body is the part of the person which is quantifiable and sense-perceptible. Because this assumption is taken as truth, the second conclusion follows in the argument. Therefore, it would seem that the overall form of the argument is valid. That, however, is not the case because the argument is begging the question.

Begging the question is a logical fallacy in which the conclusion is assumed before it has been proved. In this case, the first premise, by claiming that the mind is subject to control by science, is pre-supposing that the mind is only physical – it is the body, the brain, the neurons. That, however, is the first conclusion of the argument. Therefore, in order to achieve the first premise, one needs to have already established the first conclusion and vice-versa. This argument, therefore, is faulted by circular reasoning because one aspect cannot be discussed without the other. Neither the premise nor the conclusion can stand alone without the other. Therefore, the overall argument is shown to be invalid.

Soundness, however, also requires that the premises of the argument be true. While the second premise is generally taken as truth since science is self-described as controlling and understanding its subjects, the first premise is untrue because it does not take into consideration aspects of the person and the mind which cannot be explained. These aspects, which are used to describe the mental, include qualia, content, and self-knowledge.

Qualia, or “raw feelings” refers to sensations and feelings experienced by the person. For example, when a person says “I feel sick to my stomach” they are referring to the sensation of nausea that overtakes their body, a sensation of which they are mentally aware. Science can explain the chemicals released in the stomach and the traveling of neurons from the stomach to the brain signaling the “upset stomach,” but it can’t fully account for or explain the feeling the individual is experiencing. That “feeling” causes doubt that makes it difficult to believe that the mind is subject to understanding and control by science.

Content, or intentional direction, refers to the “about-ness” or “of-ness” of our thoughts and our mental states. This would imply that certain “semantic properties,” such as carrying beliefs, understanding symbols, and reflecting personal predicates such as honesty, are involved in thought processes (Fodor 37). For example, when an individual says, “That shirt is a nice shade of red,” he or she is not referring to the wavelengths of light being emitted from the fabric but rather to the final color that they see. Perhaps, that person associates the color with certain feelings or memories. Red may remind him or her of a recent trip to Japan, a favorite shirt, or a raggedy, old stuffed animal. The thought is of the color and about the memory, not the physical quality of being red.

The third aspect, self-knowledge, refers to the self-awareness an individual has regarding the existence of his or her mind, the existence of something non-physical. This involves the concept of privileged access. Privileged access refers to an individual’s ability to directly access his or her state of affairs, to know what he or she is thinking about and to be aware of that knowledge. Using the examples above, for instance, when someone says they see red or that they have an upset stomach, what they mean is that they have a certain qualia, not that there is a physical, chemical process occurring in their body at that moment.

Therefore, if even one aspect of the mind is not understandable by science, then it is false to say that the mind (as a whole) is subject to understanding and control by science. It is not. So, the first premise of the argument is false which shows the overall argument to be unsound.

There are many theorists who would claim that all that is mental could be physical. In other words, every mental activity and every thought has a physical, scientific explanation. One such group of theorists is the logical behaviorists. Logical behaviorism is a semantic theory in that it deals with how language is used. The main idea behind logical behaviorism is that “attributing a mental stateto an organism is the same as saying that the organism is disposed to behave in a particular way” (Fodor 27). In other words, logical behaviorists believe that what you think, or your mental state, is what you describe when you speak, but what you actions you take are the behavior or disposition which can be studied scientifically. Therefore, all mental thoughts can simply be reduced to a disposition to behave in a certain way.

Logical Behaviorism identifies mental causation as the source of behavior. That is, it assumes that one initially describes the mental as the cause of behavior prior to describing the physical. For example, if one is to say, “Mike has a headache,” a logical behaviorist would say that what is really meant is that “If aspirin were available, Mike would take one.” The feeling that Mike calls a headache is simply a behavioral disposition to take an aspirin were it available. By translating mental language into the language of stimuli and responses (the “if” and the “then”), logical behaviorists are able to provide an interpretation of psychological explanations for any behavior (Fodor 27). Basically, the meaning of any mental term can be conveyed by a behavior if the correct stimuli are present to cause that response.

One of the faults of this theory stems from the fact that logical behaviorism does not account for the mental processes which a person undergoes before deciding to behave in a certain way. To continue the headache example, for an individual to take the aspirin that is available, he must, according to Fodor, first have the desire to rid himself of the headache (qualia), the belief that the aspirin will relieve the headache (content), and the acceptance that both his headache and the aspirin exist (self-awareness). Therefore, the individual must make a conscientious decision whether or not to take the aspirin (28). He does not automatically respond when the aspirin is placed in front of him such as he would blink if a bright light were flashed in his eyes. That response is purely a physical response to stimuli. The taking of aspirin is a response that requires thought and the logical behaviorist is unable to account for those thought processes.

Furthermore, the content of our thoughts are altered by logical behaviorism. When an individual says he has a headache, he does not mean that he is disposed to behave in a certain way; what he means is that he is experiencing a feeling, a sensation, a qualia that only he can feel, that only he can recognize. Therefore, logical behaviorism denies the very existence of direct access which, in turn, denies that anyone can be aware of their own thoughts and feelings. The meaning of thoughts is what each individual is best able to understand and be aware of.

Overall, logical behaviorism does seek to incorporate the mental in its explanations of the physical. However, it claims that the “mental” is simply a different set of vocabulary. Each term that describes a mental state is actually describing a disposition to behave in a certain way. Logical behaviorism is flawed because that kind of simplification does not take into consideration the three aspects of the mental known as qualia, content, and self-knowledge.

By arguing that the mind is nothing more than the brain, and that the person is nothing more than the body, science minimizes the extent to which individuality can define a person. To say we are nothing more than a collection of cells and that our thoughts are nothing more than chemical processes is to say that the entire human existence is futile. Our thoughts are meaningless and we are purely response-driven beings. We react to our environment and nothing more. We simply have a better vocabulary. That, however, is not the case. Everyday, humans make decisions and behave in ways that are inexplicable by science. They are behaviors that require thought and serve to give us the experiences that shape our identities. The argument is unsound, not only because it is invalid but also because its premise is false, the mind is not in any way fully understandable by science.