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Motivations for Dualism

Substance Dualism is the belief that the human being is not just matter, subject
to physical laws and interactions, but is comprised of two substances; the
physical part, or the body which is subject to physical laws and has physical
properties, and the non-physical part. This has been labelled in a variety of
different ways, the most prominent in western society being either the soul or
the mind. There are many reasons as to why people have subscribed to this
idea and I will attempt to describe and explain these motivations, as well as
highlighting the plethora of problems associated with the supporting arguments,
most of which buckle under the recent advances in neuroscience and the logic
put forward by the opposing view of materialism; the idea that the mind is a
physical or a material thing, and that our conscious experience is nothing more
than a series of mental states, subjective to the functioning of our brain and
nervous system.
Many arguments in support of Dualism arise from various different
religious texts, detailing that every human being was created by an omnipotent,
omnipresent and omniscient being that designed each one of us with a physical
and impermanent material body, whilst imbuing us with an immortal soul that
will enjoy eternal life. The most basic of these arguments appeal to the authority
of the scripture, usually with the premise, because the scripture says so. One
of the many reasons why accepting this clause would be insufficient is that there
are many statements made in these scriptures which we consider either
metaphorical or just completely false, so why should we not extend this level of
scrutiny to the idea of an immortal soul? Another premise that arises from this
train of thought is, if God exists, he wouldnt create us just to live brief lives
here on earth or there must be an afterlife, or whats the point of it all? Now
the interesting problem with the age old Why are we here? question is that,
fundamentally, it doesnt make sense. Just because something looks like a
question, it doesnt necessarily warrant an answer; e.g. Why is purple? There is
no why behind purple, it just exists. There does not have to be a specific
reasoning behind the existence of the human race that fits neatly with our ideas
of purpose and logic. To this end, there is no imperative reason why human
beings must have an immortal soul, or indeed access to an afterlife.
Arguments for Dualism become stronger when we encounter Descartes,
the 17 century French philosopher widely considered the father of modern
Dualism. One of his best known arguments is his Argument from Doubt, which
follows; I can doubt that my body exists, but I cannot doubt that I myself exist.
Therefore, I myself am entirely distinct from my body, and substance Dualism
must be true. A simple, yet effective parody argument was devised to
demonstrate the problems with this, using the idea of Superman and Lois Lane
that follows; Lois Lane can doubt that Clark Kent is Superman. She cannot doubt
that Superman is Superman, therefore Clark Kent isnt Superman. Here we can
see how this reasonable sounding logic can in fact lead us to the wrong

There is also Descartes Conceivability Argument which states; We can

clearly and distinctly conceive of our minds being just as they are even though
our bodies no longer exist. If we can clearly and distinctly conceive of something
then it is possible, so it is possible for our minds to be just as they are even
though our bodies no longer exist, so our minds must be distinct from our bodies,
therefore they must be non-physical and substance dualism is true. There are a
few problems with this argument, the most prominent being the idea that if we
can conceive of something then it is possible; it is possible to imagine a ball
floating across a room and then slowly passing through a brick wall, but in no
way will this ever be possible. Furthermore, viewing this argument as a
materialist, there is a problem with the first premise of both of Descartes
arguments listed above. A materialist considers the mind as just a mental state
or consciousness created by the brain. This makes it impossible to accept the
idea of conceiving of a separation between the two; it is possible to imagine
consciousness without seeming to see a body, or an outer-body experience, but
to actually experience consciousness without any input from senses or the body
is an experience we simulate by drawing on instances we are familiar with, such
as closing our eyes, the very idea of which involves having a body with eyes to
close and a brain to register it. This is not the same as your body not existing,
and so I do not think it seems possible to imagine this. A materialist would also
say that the mind is intrinsically linked to the brain in such a way that I is
synonymous with the body; therefore the premise would read, It is possible that
my body should not really exist while [my body] exist[s] which is also a state
impossible to conceive of.
Another one of his well known points is the Argument from Divisibility, in
which it is proposed that The body is divisible (it comes apart), and this is true
of all physical things. The mind, however, is indivisible, and so the mind has a
property that the body lacks; minds must be distinct from bodies and so must be
non-physical, therefore substance Dualism is true. This must have seemed an
imposing argument until the dawn of neuroscience and brain surgery, which
demonstrated that the brain can be surgically halved, with evident split
consciousness in which different limbs perform different tasks and do not
coordinate with each other (Wolman, Nature 2012). Even before this, cases of
amnesia have been documented; this loss of memory surely constitutes the loss
of part of the mind. There is even a problem with the first statement made; it is
true that if you divide a rock, you get two rocks, but this basic disability idea
doesnt extend to complex structures. If you split a table in half, you dont get
two tables.
A more challenging argument supporting Dualism is the Argument from
Introspection that follows; If our mental states were physical, theyd be
constituted by neural activity in our heads. When we introspect, it doesnt seem
to us as if our mental states are constituted by neural activity in our heads,
therefore our mental states are not constituted by neural activity in our heads
and are not physical. This means they must be non-physical, and so substance
dualism is true. This is more elegantly explained by Churchland in Matter and
Consciousness, stating When you centre your attention on the contents of your

consciousness, you do not clearly apprehend a neural network pulsing with

electrochemical activity: you apprehend a flux of thoughts, sensations, desires,
and emotions. It seems that mental states and properties, as revealed in
introspection, could hardly be more different from physical states and properties
if they tried. The verdict of introspection, therefore, seems strongly on the side of
some form of dualism." To counter this, we must remember how this argument
assumes that introspection, or inner observation, must reveal things in an honest
and non-simplistic way. We should not accept this premise, when none of our
other senses and means of observation follow this rule; when we look at a
puddle, we dont see millions of bonded molecules of water. Why then, when
introspecting, should the infinitely complex neural activity of our brains be
immediately apparent?
There are many arguments for substance dualism, some of which appear
very convincing at first. There is no doubt that some of these would still be
contested today, were it not for the significant advances in medicine and
technology that occurred since they were originally posited. Today, however, the
various arguments supporting the idea of a non-physical soul are not strong,
and do not bear up under heavy scrutiny.

1. The Split Brain: A tale of two halves, by David Wolman, Nature journal,
483, 260-263 (15 March 2012)
2. Matter and Consciousness, Paul M. Churchland

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