So having lunch today with my favorite lunch buddy Carl David Ceder and we had a very interesting conversation on mind-body dualism. As you may or may not know, Carl’s grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago and as her condition worsens, the entire Ceder family is affected. It was evident that this was true today in Carl’s case. While at one of our favorite central Ohio lunch spots, our topics of conversation jumped and weaved like you would not believe. How we ended up on the mind-body topic is beyond me, but it made perfect sense when Carl began talking.
Here’s another one of my favorite monologues by Carl David Ceder:
The debate over mind-body dualism is basically over whether or not the mind and body are separate entities. In other words, is the mind a non-material entity (an immortal soul?), a consciousness that can survive independent of the body/brain while the body is simply a container for this mind? Or is our mind limited to the physical brain, “what the brain does” (as our text quotes neuroscientist Marvin Minsky)? Is our mind the product of our brain and nervous system and all of the billions of nerves working therein? The concept of dualism carries a connotation of the supernatural, while the argument against dualism holds that the mind and the body are strictly material.
After taking the Dualism survey, I found that my score (58) accurately reflected my personal position in the debate—for the most part, I do not believe in a dualism between the mind and the body. My reasons for believing that the mind and the brain are not independent of each other come primarily from the following personal experience: My senior year of high school I had a terrible car accident which left me temporarily blind and unable to talk or walk properly for quite some time after the accident. Though the accident was nearly a decade ago, permanent damage was caused and to this day I have problems with memory and attention. I guess my argument here is: If the mind and brain are two separate entities, how could an injury to the brain affect my mind? Where was this supernatural, immortal soul when my head smashed against the door frame? How could this nonphysical entity be damaged by a physical injury? If a blow to the head can cause problems for the mind, what will the death of the body do it? My belief: the death of the body results in the death of the mind.
I think too of my grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. If I were to believe in a mind-body dualism, then I would have several unanswered questions: Is the mind stronger than the brain? (—It seems logical that it would be if the mind is immortal while the physical brain is not.) But if that is the case, then how could the physical brain (the weaker element) shrinkage result in the lack of function of her supernatural/immortal mind (the stronger element)? What caused her mind to leave? Did it decide that it was done with her body? Was it gradually pushed out? Where did it go? Why can’t it communicate with me and with my immortal mind? While my unanswered questions do not disprove dualism, the fact that the theory cannot satisfactorily explain diseases such as Alzheimer’s prompts me to look elsewhere for the answers (monism? materialism?).
Along with my lack of belief in dualism, Stanovich’s finding that dualism scores were positively correlated with belief in ESP hold true for me. My scores were low and I don’t believe in ESP. In this regard, I appreciate the Spanish proverb quoted on page 282 of our text: “A person who talks a lot is sometimes right.”
Rock on Carl!