What is the mind?

Nigel & Julie Thomas jantec at earthlink.net
Fri Dec 11 07:08:53 EST 1998

Ray Scanlon wrote:

> Not at all, I merely want to make a distinction between that which belongs
> to the material universe and that which does not. The soul (mind) does not
> belong to the material universe.

This, of course, is the metaphysical position known as dualism. Most
contemporary philosophers reject it as incompatible with a scientific approach
to reality.

> The philosopher makes it his business to
> erect castles of words, wonderful, beautiful castles that obscure the
> reality that the soul (mind) is not part of the world of experience.

What do you think you are doing in these postings (and on your website) if not
philosophy? Admittedly it is amateur philosophy that does not appear to be
informed by more than a very small (or perhaps closed-minded) reading in the
subject. (I do not think that anyone who had read very much philosophy would
ever refer to it in general as "beautiful" writing. Beautiful writing is very
much the exception in philosophy, as it is in science too of course.) Your
remarks on mind fall into well known pitfalls, like taking epiphenomenalist
dualism to be a hard-headed scientific attitude, but if there is going to be a
distinction made between philosophy and science, this stuff is clearly going to
fall on the side of philosophy.

> He [the philosopher]
> confuses people.

Real intellectual work is hard, isn't it. Requires study, and careful thinking,
and even some humility and respect for people who have devoted their life to a

[Quantum mechanics confuses me. Gotta be nonsense, eh? I've spent years studying
(other) difficult subjects, sciences even. Bet I could come up with a better
theory and put it on a wesite.]

> Man lacks the intellectual equipment to understand the relationship between
> body and soul (mind).

Why are you so sure? Because *you* don't understand it? Because the intellectual
community as a whole hasn't understood it (or, rather, we hasn't come to
agreement on a solution) yet? Plenty of scientifically well informed people
thought that life was scientifically inexplicable before the work of Watson &
Crick. Really hard problems can take a long time to solve. Would you have told
Newton and Galileo that it was pointless to try to understand the relationship
between motion on the Earth and motion in the heavens because people had been
thinking about it since the time of Aristotle (at least) and had failed to
understand it?

By the way, Galileo and Newton were, and considered themselves to be,
philosophers, not scientists. They knew their Aristotle and their Augustine at
least as well as they knew their Copernicus (and they *needed* to know them to
succeed in what they were doing). The word "scientist" and the distinction
between philosophers and scientists, does not go back before the mid 19th
century and has more to do with the conveience of university administrators than
with any real intellectual divide. To treat philosophers and scientists as
entrenched intellectual enemies with radically divergent aims is simply to show
ignorance of the history and the nature of both disciplinary areas.

Nigel J.T. Thomas Ph.D.
nthomas at calstatela.edu & jantec at earthlink.net
Please use BOTH to reach me promptly and reliably
Visit my web site:
Imagination, Mental Imagery, Consciousness, and Cognition: Scientific,
Philosophical, and Historical Approaches.

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