Dissatisfaction with Many Arguments for and Against Dualism

Dissatisfaction with Many Arguments for and Against Dualism July 31, 2017

Victor Reppert recently posted on his blog the following quotation of Susan Blackmore:

How can objective things like brain cells produce subjective experiences like the feeling that ‘I’ am striding through the grass? This gap is what David Chalmers calls ‘the hard problem.’ …It is a modern version of the ancient mind/body problem – but it seems to get worse, not better, the more we learn about the brain… The objective world out there, and the subjective experiences in here, seem to be totally different kinds of things. Asking how one produces the other seems to be nonsense. The intractability of this problem suggests to me that we are making a fundamental mistake in the way we think about consciousness – perhaps right at the very beginning.

Susan Blackmore, ‘What is consciousness?’, Big Questions in Science, in Harriet Swain (ed.), Big Questions in Science, (Jonathan Cape, 2002), p. 29-40.

This quotation reminds me of why I am dissatisfied with so many arguments for and against dualism. I am not an authority on the mind/body problem so take what I am about to write with a grain of salt, but in my experience most of the arguments:

a. Amount to a statement of incredulity; or

b. Beg the question.

Now, with all due respect to Susan Blackmore (whose work I have not read), the passage just quoted seems to amount to nothing more than a statement of incredulity, as opposed to an actual argument. If physicalism is true, then the mind just is the brain and, it would seem, there is no subjective experience ‘in here.’ It’s not clear to me how that statement of credulity is supposed to be any more compelling than the following:

The problem of mind/brain interaction seems to get worse, not better, the more we learn about the brain… Nothing mental happens without something physical happening. The idea of mental ‘substance’ existing wholly apart from arrangements of physical matter seems to be nonsense. Even if there were a mental ‘substance’ existing ‘out there’, how, precisely, does it interact with arrangements of physical matter?

Why is Blackmore’s passage supposed to be any more compelling than what I just wrote? What have I missed?

In spite of everything I’ve written above, I still think there is a good evidential argument against naturalism based on consciousness. At the same time, I also think there is a good evidential argument against theism based on mind-brain dependence. This suggests to me that the issue is far more complex than simple quotations of supposed ‘hostile’ authorities would seem to suggest.

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