Re: Descartes and the Mind

From: Smith, Wendy (
Date: Thu Oct 19 1995 - 15:33:59 BST

> But since religion and belief in an immaterial soul began
> much earlier than the 17th century, it all probably has much deeper
> roots than that.>

When we were studying behaviourism last year, one of the attacks on
dualism was that the Christian belief in a "soul" had been replaced
by a psychological belief in a " mind". This suggests that
psychology is some form of religion rather than a form of science.
The behaviourists suggested that to be included in science a subject
had to be natural - although not necessarily observable. Mind is not
part of nature, because it is fictional. They distinguished between
the natural (thoughts, sensations and dreams) and the fictional (the
mind and its workings). How do we distinguish between experiential
and fictional?

> But as long as you consider only the appearances, the
> seeming, the experience, it is not open to doubt.>

Isn't psychology all about finding how and why experiences relate and
are associated with the physical and the computational causes? If we
consider only the experience, isn't this more the realm of
philosophy? A bit like considering "WHAT is categorisation?" rather
than "HOW or WHY do we categorise?" (as we discussed in the seminar -
the first is philosophy; the second is psychology)
> So where did dualism and the mind/body problem come from? Well, how can
> you possibly equate something as certain and immediate as experience with
> something as uncertain and remote as a physical substance? How, in other
> words, can you give a PHYSICAL explanation of experience?>

Skinner would attack this by saying that whatever deficits the
physical explanation had, the mentalistic explanation really
explained nothing. The "mind" is said to underlie behaviour, but the
only reason the mind exists is as a fictional explanation for the
behaviour. If the mind underlies behaviour, then it is equivalent to
the physical states which underlie behaviour. Does this locate the
mind, ultimately, in the brain? If so, and the mind underlies
behaviour, and the brain underlies the behaviour, then aren't the
mind and the brain one and the same thing?

This isn't easy, is it?! Wendy

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