Monsieur_Lynx at brown.edu
Thu Nov 13 15:04:49 EST 2003
Why is there SOO much reluctance to think of the existence of
consciousness as a substance? If it does turn out that there is an
actual substance that is consciousness, then it would turn out that
people are "imagining" that the brain is producing consciousness.
One interesting view was raised--the possibility that I am
energy-dynamics. Here is a hypothetical scenario. I am aware of my own
existence. Likewise can we say that some changes in energy is aware of
it's own existence? Again, I think the difficulty that is seen here
is as follows
1)When I exist, there are certain changes in the energy in my body.
2)When I'm no longer there, then the body becomes lifeless (or
typically, a physicalist would think of it the other way around, when
the brain stops functioning, then I'm no longer there)
3)Thus, what I am is the energy dynamics of the body.
The problem with this view is as mentioned above, changes in energy
are just, well electrons moving around/heat dissipation/etc. (imagine
an electrical generator producing the same patterns of electricity as
the brain--it isn't "alive" or "thinking").
A dualist perspective would be this substance that's present in the
body makes the brain function. When this substance is taken out, the
brain stops functioning (that is, there's no need for my brain to send
signals to my heart when I'm no longer there!). But bear in mind that
a soul is a "non-physical" substance--that is, it's made of
consciousness rather than energy, or matter.
Try and conceptualize this view--it's very hard to do. I got a
patronizing response as if he were implying "haha, you think that
consciousness is a SUBSTANCE?!" or "this guy doesn't know that
consciousness is a function of the brain?!". That view is called
So, in other words, if we view that energydynamics of the body as
something external to me, then not only is it consistent with observed
phenomena, it also gives an explanation as to WHY the brain functions,
and WHY I remain throughout my life though the energy in my body is in
Is it possible that there is no enduring substance such as a soul?
Well, okay, for the physicalist it becomes very hard to define life
without a concept of a non-physical soul:
1)Life is composed of cells--nope, a dead body is also composed of
2)Life is composed of living cells--nope, circular definition, what's
a "living" cell?
3)A living cell is a cell that's carrying out life processes (well,
certain cells don't reproduce, yet they would be termed alive, also a
neutered animal would be considered alive, though it's incapable of
reproduction--so being alive doesn't necessarily mean capable of
A nice, cleancut definition would be as follows:
Life is a body inhabited by a soul. The body is what's *physically*
there. The soul is a non-physical substance. You don't HAVE a soul.
Rather, you are a soul, that makes the body you're in function. The
fact that humans have souls is quite evident from the fact that *I*
exist. If I'm not there, then this body would no longer function--it
would be dead. Animals possessing souls is also evident for those who
have pets (that is, the brain of the pet doesn't produce feelings, nor
does it perceive feelings, it's the "soul" that's in a pet--when taken
out, the pet, that is the body of a pet stops functioning=death).
And I think rather than making logical arguments against this, the
issue is often brushed aside. After brushing aside the possibility of
a soul existing, scientists then proceed to explain consciousness.
Well, clearly the brain controls the functioning of the body.
Therefore, it must be producing "feelings" as well. Or maybe
consciousness is the functioning of the brain. After all, if the brain
controls the body then what purpose would a soul serve? So they might
The difficulty here is that they identify themselves with the body,
and then try to visualize the soul as something "in" them, or
something "external" to them. The soul controls any living body, as
does the brain. How's that possible? Here's an analogy that some might
find a bit odd, but I think it brings out the dualist perspective:
Think of a car--what controls the car? Is it the engine? Or is the
driver? Well, they both do. Whenever I want to do something, we
observe changes in the engine(because it has to send the right signals
to the right parts of the car). It would be silly to say that the
engine has something to do with what the driver is aware of!!!
What the hell is the analogy I'm making? The brain is just a bunch
of parts. Like an engine of a car controlling the car, my brain
controls the physical functioning of the body. Neither "produces"
consciousness,nor does either of them have "mystical" abilities like
thinking/knowing/etc. Rather, just the way we think of the driver of
a car as knowing what's going on or controlling the operation of the
car rather than attributing such things to the engine, think of a
distinct soul(this is what you are) controlling the functioning of
*your* body. This soul(what you are, not something that you have) is
what's capable of knowing, NOT the brain. What if there is no soul?
Well, in that case, there's nothing there making the brain function!
The analogy does have its limitations (as changes to the engine don't
cause the driver to experience!), but it points out the relative
functions of a brain & soul, from a dualist standpoint. They're
intimately connected, but still distinct "substances", one sentient,
the other just insentient matter.
Second analogy: But changes to the brain result in me experiencing an
emotion--therefore experience must somehow be tied to the brain.
Take any object I posess. If something were to happen to it, say
someone were to damage it, it would produce a feeling of anger in me,
correct? Look at this analogy VERY carefully: changes to one object
would cause an emotion in a *completely* different location!! That
object has nothing to do with what I experience! Why can't this be
explained using some scientific process? If an identical object that
belonged to someone else were to be damaged, the same feelings of
anger would not be produced in me. The analogy to be emphasized here
is that though certain changes to the brain might result in me(the
soul) experiencing, it doesn't mean that experience has something to
do with the brain. Rather,it could be the case that something that
affects the brain, because it's *my* brain, causes me to experience a
particular emotion. Nonetheless, just like that object in that
analogy, the brain doesn't have anything to do with experience.
The dualist perspective is a bit strange--I'm trying to present
analogies as best as I can to better understand it, but of course,
like any analogy they have their limitations.
To better understand it requires distinguishing your existence from
that of the body, though changes to one can affect the other. Yes, I
*think* that I am this body, however that does not mean that I
actually am this body--it's a case of the real self vs. the apparent
self. The neat part about dualism is that it completely divides
existence into 2 categories, so you never run into problems like
"well, the energy here is aware of its own existence, but the energy
there is not." , "The body I'm in now is not the body I had 10 years
ago, yet I'm still *me*" , etc.
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