Philosophy of the Mind — a delectable Hors d’oeuvre.

An explaination is in order for the prolonged hiatus from blog-posting. More pressing concerns (like getting my Computer Science degree, having a life ?) have been weighing me down for the last few weeks. I had been a proud member of the “Athesist Community” – a very vibrant, socially active, freewheeling bunch of young students, for far too long. It is with remorse and sadness that I bid goodbye to those halcyon days. … This shall help the confused readers understand my predicament a little better.

On to more engaging (or soporific) matters — The Mind.

The primary questions that we want to address can be enumerated as  :

a.) The nature of the mind and its relation to the brain

b.) The ability to make choices or “free” will.

I shall be more concerned with the first of the two in this post. There are two basic positions on this — Dualism and Materialism. For the Dualist, the mind and the brain are two starkly different entities. The materialist, on the other hand, posits that the mind is simply processes of matter. They are one and the same thing.

There are refinements to the materialist position. The older view stated that the mind is nothing but the brain, while the newer doctrine of “Externalism” propounds that a brain becomes a mind only if it is related to something else. That something else has several candidates — a stable social setting, the external world etc. There are other points of difference as well. I shall enumerate them below —

Identity theory of materialism : Every mental state and every mental event of a given kind is identical to some brain state or brain event of a given kind. Each mental event can be reduced to a brain event.

Functionalism : The mind is implemented in or realized by the brain, but is not strictly, identical to the brain. The mind is certain functions of a complex system (the brain).

So the dualist and identity materialists agree on one point — the mind is a thing (an immaterial one for the dualists, a material one for others). Functionalists opine that the mind is just a system of functions.

There are important implications for those who stand by any of these philosophical schools of thought. Immortality is not possible for materialists, since the body perishes along with the brain. The dualists can live in hope, that the mind is utterly different and may live on. (yeah, right!) There are implications for the existence of free will as well. Free will means that you have choices and nothing forces you to pick one. If you are a materialist, there are sufficient causes for everything that happens in the mind. And this cause-and-effect mode of operation implies that there are no “real choices” — there is only one choice, which was caused. For the dualists, there is more than one way in which the mind works. The mind could work in a way akin to how premises and arguments work. If there is a premise, and a logical conclusion follows from them, it does not mean that the premise “caused” the conclusion. If you were not rational, even if the premises implied the same conclusion, you would not have reached it. Hence a dualist mind can work in ways different from just cause-and-effect. It is the only hope for free will.

Of course, there are objections to this statement as well. I think that instead of free will being ruled out by causality, it may be just a different kind of causality. A choice’s being free may be quite compatible with the choice being caused (in the right way).

This should be enough to whet the appetite of my insatiable readers, for we shall continue this rollicking, absolutely nerve-tingling (spine-chilling ?) and sordid sojourn into the philosophy of the mind in future posts. Have fun.

I shall leave you with a deep thought on immortality —

“I hope that after I die, people will say of me : “That guy sure owed me a lot of money.” “  — Jack Handey