Monday, February 11, 2008

On disemboided minds

Suppose someone wants to convince me that my mind and my body are two different things, not just two words for the same thing. They might make this sort of claim:
"Embodied people are (at least typically) located in space where their bodies are. But since a disembodied person has no body, where is he? Any person, even disembodied, who exists in this world must be somewhere."[1]
What could I say to such a person? A body takes up space. So am I to think that my disembodied mind -- i.e. a thing that take up no space -- is located at somewhere, at some point in space? What an utter confusion!

Consider a parallel kind of objection. Behold the disembodied number "Twelve". Now behold the disembodied number "Google". Does the number twelve take up more or less space than the number google? Again, what an utter confusion to ask such a question!

Someone might retort that the question about two numbers is not analogous to the question about the two substances that make up a person, since a number as compared to a number are the same types of metaphysical thing, but brain as compared to mind are different types of metaphysical things. Yet this would be begging the question, for it assumes what is to be shown -- namely, that the brain and the mind are, in fact, two different kinds of things.

Again, someone might retort that numbers are not existing things, but only a way of describing relationships of succession. Here I could agree, and likewise say that the mind is not an existing thing, but only a way of describing what the brain is doing. Either a mind is what a brain does (and has done), or it is nothing at all.

If someone is still obstinate and says the mind is not just what the brain does, but is some non-material substance which is, nevertheless, located someplace; then, I can only reply that such a view of "mind", therefore, means nothing. But s/he will say, "I'm using the term now, it must have meaning." I will say, "It refers to brain function or to nothing."

The use of a word and the reference of a word is a tangled debate in itself.


[image] Yeachin Tsai "Nothingness" (Accessed 02/11/2008)

[1] W.D. Hart "An Argument for Dualism" in Brie Gertler and Lawrence Shapiro Arguing About the Mind (Routledge, 2007), 123.


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