The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Anomalous Monism

Donald Davidson (“Mental Events”, 1970) showed that the mental and the neural are not the same thing while avoiding Descartes’ dualism and remaining within the scope of materialism.

Davidson's theory of the mind rests on a simple syllogism:

·         At least some mental events interact causally with physical events

·         Events related as cause and effect usually fall under strict deterministic laws

·         But there are no strict deterministic laws under which mental events can be predicted and explained (this is the "anomalism" of the mind).

This reads like a contradiction, unless we assume that the mind is something else. What this all means is that the physical and the mental realms have essential features that are somehow mutually incompatible: a mental state cannot just be a brain state. There can be no laws connecting the mental with the physical. In other terms, there can be no theory connecting Psychology and Neurophysiology.

In the lingo of identity theory, Davidson claims that the same instance of a mental state may correspond to different neural states at different times; which means that, given a mental state, it is not possible to relate it to a specific physical state. The same event is both mental and physical, but there is no formal  relationship between the two descriptions.

Every mental event is a physical event, but it is not possible to reduce mental properties to physical properties (there exist no "psychophysical" laws), and therefore, for example, the language of Psychology cannot be reduced to the language of Physics. The mental is ultimately physical, but there is no way to explain a mental event in terms of physical events. The mental domain cannot be the object of scientific investigation. (Ultimately, we can view this as due to the fact that the mental is holistic).

Donaldson’s “token identity theory” came to identify a less strict version of identity theory: more than one physical state may correspond to the same mental state (a mental state can be realized in several different physical states). This would account for the fact that people with widely different brains can be in the same psychological state.

This view opened the doors to functionalism.


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