Saturday, April 26, 2008

Mind and reality.

Seems to me there exists a spectrum of philosophical belief regarding the relationship between mind and reality. On the one extreme you have solipsists who believe the mind manufactures reality. On the other extreme you have materialistic reductionists who want to reduce every feeling and thought to a chemical configuration, and ultimately to equate the mind with the physical brain. In the middle there are those (like me) who believe that the mind and reality both exist, but in different categories -- mind being a subjective experience, and reality being objective.

Concepts that fit into the category of subjective experience:

Pain. It has no physical reality. Yet we experience it. We know what it is. We know what to do when we feel it. Its causes and effects can be observed in the objective world -- a slap in the face, or a brain-scan at the time the pain is initiated to see which portions of the brain are lit up. But you can't ever point to "pain."

Similarly, the mind is a subjective experience. It has no physical reality. Yet we experience it. We all know what it's like when our "mind" is "groggy." We all know what it's like when a new idea flashes into our mind. We speak of these things are real -- and they are -- albeit not physically real.

Philosophically, and experientially, we treat these subjective experiences as real. And rightly so. We experienced ideas long before we had any idea of how the brain actually functions. In fact, today, we still don't know what the physical manifestations or causes of an "idea" are. Yet we have them from the earliest age.

Materialists would like to reduce those experiences to mere chemical components. How many times have I read articles about how "love" has been proven by "science" to be "dopamine." But when you read the article, you discover that the basis for this conclusion is only that dopamine is associated with love. But dopamine is also associated with all good feelings -- it's a feel-good drug. It explains why one feels high, but it does not select why one loves one person or another -- or how that love is reflected in the physical reality of the brain. It basically reduces love to "feeling good" -- which is, of course, nonsense to anyone who has ever experienced love.

We experience love, mind, and pain as real, not as their physical manifestations. There's no sense denying what we all experience, every day.

And the mind, while subjective, also has the power to directly impact reality. The placebo effect is real, and it is documented. People act and manipulate objective reality based on these IDEAS, FEELINGS, HOPES, CHOICES, and DREAMS, which, although we cannot see, touch, or measure them, are nevertheless very real to us in our experience.

Then on the other hand, there are the dualists who insist that the mind has some substantive reality. Like the mind isn't just an experience, but "something" that could conceivably be found "somewhere." They do this without any evidence. And a substantial argument to the contrary: the fact that you can fiddle with someone's mind by fiddling with the physical components of their brain.

The key is to keep categories separate. Treat the subjective as real, and subjective. Treat the objective as real, and objective. Don't treat the subjective as objective. Don't treat the objective as subjective. Everything in its right place.

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