MIND, LIFE AND BODY

by     Reginald O. Kapp

PART I - THE PROBLEM IN GENERAL TERMS

Chapter V - RELEVANT AND IRRELEVANT QUESTIONS ABOUT MIND AND BODY


WE shall not be able to decide between monism and dualism until the answers to many questions have been found. Eight of these have been stated in Chapter I, a ninth in Chapter III and a tenth in Chapter IV. Though they all amount to the same basic question about the nature of causality, so that an answer to one is an answer to all, each different formulation throws a different light on the central problem.

So far the formulations given have been rather general. Our theme calls for questions that are more specific and more concerned with concrete realities. For unlike philosophical method, which seeks to reach the widest possible generalisations and abstract statements, scientific method seeks, less ambitiously, more concrete knowledge in a narrower field. The scientist goes furthest when he proceeds from the particular to the general. It is the opposite direction to that along which the philosopher schools himself to travel.

To serve our purpose any questions under consideration will have to be chosen with care. Their most essential characteristic will have to be relevance. Many arguments have been contributed to the theme of this book in the past by those who are interested .in the relation between mind, life and body. A surprisingly large number of these arguments are ill-considered, even absurd, as I have shown in Science versus Materialism. The reason is sometimes that the authors have an imperfect understanding of physics and are led thereby to attribute to matter properties that, to the sure knowledge of physicists, it does not possess. But the reason is also sometimes that the implied questions to which these arguments appear as the answers are irrelevant. Had the questions been formulated, and not merely implied, I believe that their irrelevance would have become apparent.

The error will be avoided here if every question to be discussed is carefully worded and tested for its relevance. If the question has only two possible answers, yes or no, it will be relevant to a decision between monism and dualism if an answer supports one of these doctrines and refutes the other. But if an answer is equally compatible with both doctrines, or if it is equally incompatible with both, then the question is irrelevant.

That is a simple test for relevance. It ought to be applied before an attempt is made to find the correct answer to the question and not afterwards. But in this particular field of enquiry very few, I regret to have discovered, apply a test for relevance at any time.

Let us now find words for some of those questions on the answers to which a decision between monism and dualism will depend, more specific questions than those hitherto formulated in these pages. At the same time it will help towards clarity if I also mention some of those irrelevant questions that are too often brought into the discussion. It is the most direct way of explaining to those who have met them many times and may expect them to figure prominently here why I do not propose to give them further consideration.

It is certainly relevant, when considering whether things that lack location ever act on things that have location to ask:

Is such action scientifically possible?

If the answer is "no" monism must be right and there is no more to be said. The question will be considered in Chapter VII and it will be found that there are very strong reasons indeed for the answer "no". The question is a disconcerting one for those who cling passionately to dualism or any other form of idealistic philosophy. It concerns the nature of matter and is, therefore, a question that only physicists are qualified to answer. But those idealistically minded laymen who have been told that the scientific answer is the unwelcome "no" are sometimes not prepared to accept that answer. Rather than give up their predilection for an idealistic view of reality they disparage science. They prefer the criterion of attractiveness to the criterion of truth.

So let it be made clear that we should all have to accept the monist, materialist, view if the only relevant scientific facts were those that I shall present in Chapter VII. For no easy escape is in sight from the conclusion that it is scientifically impossible for a non-material influence to act on any sort of material system. The only reason why we must all hesitate before we accept this apparently inescapable conclusion is that the answers to other questions suggest forcibly that such action does, in fact, occur. And these questions are equally concerned with the nature of matter. They too are in the province of the physicist. So we shall not be considering a situation in which a humanistic view is in conflict with a scientific one. If we were, no attempts to disparage science should be allowed to succeed; science would have to win. But here the conflict will be between two conclusions both of which are reached from purely scientific considerations. The problem raised by this apparent conflict of evidence lies wholly within the field of science; it can only be solved by the use of scientific method; only scientists are qualified to seek a solution; only scientists, I think, are interested in the result, for they alone are concerned with the nature of causality.

Among the relevant questions to which many scientists would give an answer in favour of dualism is this:

Is it in the nature of the unaided action of matter on matter to accomplish everything that we observe and experience?

Like the last question this one, let me repeat, concerns the nature of matter; so only physicists are qualified to answer it. But as worded it is rather too general for our purpose. Its relevance will be more apparent if it is replaced by one that is more specific and refers to a particular example of things that we observe or experience. One of these is planning for the future. We all observe and experience it every day and I shall discuss its bearing on our problems in Chapter VIII and IX. A relevant question about it is:

Is it compatible with what is known of the laws of physics to assume that any physical system can be so constructed that it can plan for the future?

Though relevant the question has more than one possible answer; for there are those who deny that the planning is a reality. The notion that we plan for the future is, they tell us, a delusion. So we are presented with this further question, which is, however, irrelevant:

Is the planning for the future that we seem to observe and experience a reality or a delusion?

I have met those who set great store by the theory that it is only a delusion. But that would not make the question any more relevant here. Anyone who believed that a cunningly contrived material system can make plans would also believe that it can have delusions; and anyone who believed that such a system cannot make plans would also believe that such a system cannot have the delusion of planning. It is, however, relevant to ask:

Is it compatible with what is known of the laws of physics to assume that any material system can be so constructed that it can have the delusion of planning for the future?

If one could prove that this was compatible with the known laws of physics, monism would be right and if it were proved that no material system could be capable of such things, dualism would be right. For then it would be shown that part of active reality, the part that forms plans or entertains delusions, was not material.

Now to our questions about planning and delusions many scientists will be inclined to answer "no" and thereby support dualism. Hence the conflict of evidence. The more a person knows about physics the less will he be prepared to believe that a non-material influence can act on matter. But the less will he also be prepared to believe that a mere physical structure can form plans or entertain delusions. Such a power is not among the properties of matter listed in textbooks on physics; no one has been able to suggest any connection between the known properties of matter and such a power. It is easy enough to correlate other properties of a material system with its structural features. It is known how the colour, the hardness, the mechanical strength, the magnetic properties of a collection of particles depend on the nature of those particles and the way they are assembled. Physicists have done, and are still doing, much research on the correlation of properties with structure. So here, if the monist answer is right, is a new problem for the research physicist. It is to show how these so far unexplored properties of certain material structures, namely a capacity for forming plans and entertaining delusions, can be deduced from the known laws of physics in the same way as other explored properties have already been deduced. Just as a research scientist seeks to know in what way acid resisting properties of an alloy are a function of its structure, so he would seek to know in what way a capacity for planning and for delusions was a function of its structure. And yet, no one has shown any urge to undertake such a research, not even with the hope of thereby finding a conclusive proof for monism. Can it be that physicists do not really believe the monistic answer about planning and delusions?

I am afraid that is the reason. Hence these two questions are just as disconcerting to those who cling passionately to monism or any other form of materialism as the question whether effective action by a diathete is scientifically possible is to their opponents. The devout materialist can only hope that any questions about the powers of material systems to do all the things that we observe and experience will not be pressed too insistently. He may wish to divert attention from such embarrassing questions to the following irrelevant one:

Is that material object, the brain, necessary for the accomplishment of a plan or the delusion of one?

The question is irrelevant because the answer "yes" is equally compatible with monism and dualism, and no one would give the answer "no". Neither of the disputants has occasion to deny that the brain is necessary for the production of plans or delusions. Monists and dualists differ only in their theories about the function of the brain. The monist sees the brain as the originator of plans and delusions. The dualist, on the other hand, does not believe that the brain or any material system can originate such things. He believes that plans and delusions are originated by a non-material influence, a diathete. And he regards the brain as the instrument by means of which the plans and delusions become manifest. A relevant question is therefore:

Is the brain the originator of our thoughts or is it the instrument by means of which our thoughts are made effective?

The answer "originator" would support monism; the answer "instrument" would support dualism. The implications of the two alternative answers are significant. If the brain is the originator of our thoughts it is a structure of which there is no other example. It is unique and forms a class by itself. No other kind of structure or configuration has the property of originating thought. But if the brain is an instrument by means of which our thoughts become effective it is a member of a large class of similar instruments. Typewriters belong to the same class; they are instruments by means of which the words that we think become effective. Motor-cars are instruments by means of which our plans for reaching other places become effective. Slide rules and calculating devices are instruments by means of which our plans for doing sums become effective. And none of these man-made devices is in any sense of the word an originator of thoughts, it does not originate plans, it does not originate illusions, it does not originate feelings. It does not have those specific properties that monists ascribe to the brain.

The distinction between the monist view that the brain is an originator and the dualist one that it is only an instrument is certainly not at all clear in the no-man's-land where alone these questions have been discussed hitherto. In that pleasant but infertile region there has been much talk at the time of writing this about the philosophical significance of a new electronic calculating device. Its function is to facilitate certain intricate mathematical calculations. It works on the same basic principle as the centuries old abacus in which beads are strung on parallel wires in a wooden frame. By counting the numbers of beads moved along their respective wires sundry calculations are made easier for those who have not been well trained in the use of pencil and paper. In the new calculators the units that are moved are not beads but batches of electrons and these are moved, not along parallel wires, but in a highly elaborate conducting network with many alternative paths. As electrons are much more mobile than beads the electronic calculator does its work vastly more quickly than the old-fashioned abacus. And as there is seemingly no limit to the complexity with which an electrical network can be designed there is no limit in the electronic calculator to the number of ways in which quantities can be grouped and regrouped, stored and released, added and subtracted.

Hence this device helps even those who are skilled in the use of pencil and paper to make highly abstruse calculations quite quickly that would otherwise absorb days, perhaps months, of weary labour. The device might be called a super-abacus. But it has been called an electronic brain. And those who like this name best are just those who hope to refute the view that a non-material mind controls the brain. Which is very curious.

Electronic brain should be greeted by dualists as a happy choice of word. For it suggests that the brain is, like a calculating device, an instrument by means of which thought is made effective. And monists ought, for the same reason, to deprecate that name. They ought to insist that the word brain be reserved only for devices that can in their opinion, like the human brain, originate plans, delusions, feelings, that can originate at least one of the many things that, according to their philosophy, the brain does originate. But no one has claimed, or could claim, that the electronic calculator originates any one of them. No capacity for being an originator distinguishes it from an abacus or a slide rule. So why should those who deny the non-material nature of the mind see in the name "electronic brain" a justification for their doctrine? They seem to think that a good way of suggesting that the brain is an originator and not an instrument is to insist on its resemblance to a device that is an instrument and not an originator. Which only shows how mightily confused the discussion between the two opposed schools has become.

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