Hellena Post - Creatrix

I've tried on so many uniforms and badges that now I'm just me - mother of 8 children and all that entails, flowmad, and human animal parent. Writer of this living book of a blog, philosopher, and creatrix of hand dyed and spun crocheted wearable art. I gave up polite conversation years ago, and now I dive into the big one's.....birth, sex, great wellness, life, passion, death and rebirth.

Friday, May 7, 2010

My answer to Dualism

Allright, so I've had TWO people now ask me what I think about Dualism, which is, I think, plenty of reasons (well at least two of them) why I should publish my dusty old university essay on the topic.  This essay was actually my crowning glory at uni, and also my kind of exit, as after writing it, and having my tutor not be able to understand it and pass it on to the head of the Philosophy department, who told me it was brilliant and what cutting edge philosophy and quantum physics was discussing, and how I could do a thesis on the subject....and gave me a high distinction.....I realised my brain did work, and I could probably keep going on my merry way without the side effects that I was beginning to dislike about University.

So here goes.  My essay on Dualism:)

Explain Dualism and assess one or two objections to it

Dualism is a theme that has reverberated throughout philosophy, thought and theory for most of written history.  The dualistic split between mind and body, human and animal, male and female, good and evil, freewill and determinism.  As P.F.M. Fontaine (1986, p.X) explains,
"In dualistic ideologies the world always becomes divided into two opposite halves, into two systems that are absolutely opposed and often are not even dependent on one another.  The two systems always differ from each other in quality.  For one of them is always seen as much better and more valuable than the other; it is preferable to the other in the most primary and absolute way. The lesser system exists only to be rejected."
Thereby, mind becomes attached to God or immortality, and body attached to the Devil or machine.  'Mankind' is attached to the controller, animals and nature with the controlled.  Male with God's image, and female with original sin.  Freewill the prerogative of the godly and determinism the mechanism of mortality.  In this essay I will focus on the dualism of consciousness and body, illuminate the main oppositions to said, and then suggest an alternative view to the dualistic split.

If we apply the above model to the Mind-Body problem, the dualist takes the view that the essential consciousness, or the soul, is separate in some fundamental way from the body or brain.  Independent or subtly connected depending on which brand of dualism you prefer, of qualitative difference to the neuron's dance in the brain, superior in it's capacity for emotion and reason, and ultimately able to transcend or reject the body in the death of the physical system, to traipse into immortality.  As Churchland (1988, p. 30) notes,
"Dualism is not the most widely held view in the current philosophical and scientific community, but it is the most common theory of mind in the public at large, it is deeply entrenched in most of the world's popular religions, and it has been the dominant theory of mind for most of Western history."
As for the different brands of dualism, Cartesian dualists maintain that the mind is made from a different substance to the brain and body, and exists purely for the function of thinking - a conclusion reached from introspection and it's supposed qualitative difference to brain functions.  Wheras Property dualists announce that instead of the mind being a different substance, it is rather a set of nonphysical properties that provide the consciousness with its difference, and allow for sensations, feelings, beliefs etc.  Both approaches rely on the commonsense notion that one's introspective world is one of  thought, emotion, reason, sensation, belief, and feeling, rather than of neuron's, electrochemical's, nerves, and parts of the brain communicating.  Thereby it seems fair to believe that the mind and brain must be separate.  And the majority of the worlds population have a huge amount invested in maintaining such a belief.  As Churchland (1988, p.33) states,
"Each of the major religions is in its way a theory about the cause or purpose of the universe, and Man's place within it, and many of them are commited to the notion of an immortal soul - that is, to some form of substance dualism."

The arguments against Dualism fall basically into the camps of Materialists, Behaviourists, Identity theorists, and Functionalists.  Materialist's expound the simplicity of their view that mind and body are made of the same stuff, and hold that at some time science will support their view by showing how the complexities of thought, reason, and emotion are causally connected to the brain's activities.  To borrow from Churchlands metaphor, just as when you look at an apple and see it as a red fruit rather than observe it's molecular makeup, science will discover that emotions and thinking have their roots in the neuron's communication.  They also point to in inability of dualists to propose a plausible explanation for what the mind stuff is made of, and how it acts, within the framework of the laws of conservation of momentum, which basically dictates that momentum (or body movement) must be caused by matter.  Another of the key validations of the Materialist stance, is the damage done to the memory or emotional states by damaging the brain, which seems to lead to conclusive proof that the mind and brain are one.  The other theories follow similar paths of argument, the main differences being that Behaviourists assert that emotions and sensations are in actuality merely patterns of behavioural disposition, and Functionalists compare the mind to a computer, with
"internal states mediating sensory inputs and behavioural outputs."  (Churchland, 1988, p. 45)

And now comes the fun bit.  I would like to put forward my own argument against Dualism, borrowing from Animism, Quantum Physics, the Gaia Hypothesis, Panpsychism, and personal intuition.  Let us for arguments sake call it the theory of 'Post-dualism'.  I suggest that both Dualism and Materialism contain part of, but not the whole picture, which is in actuality a combination of the two, and yet more.  I believe that the mind and body are indeed one and the same, and the stuff the body and mind are made of, (as well as that of which the universe is made), has inherent consciousness on a sub-atomic level, and is connected to the entire organism of our earth and universe in a holistic fashion.  To quote the physicist Freeman Dyson, (Davies, 1988, p. 190)
"I think our consciousness is not just a passive epiphenomenon carried along by the chemical events in our brains, but is an active agent forcing the molecular complexes to make choices between one quantum state and another.  In other words, mind is already inherent in every electron."

Furthermore, I propose that this consciousness is both a reflection of the cosmos, and also creates the cosmos and reality by thought and observation.

Ludicrous and far fetched?  Perhaps not.  Let us first asses my claim that the stuff that makes the mind, the body and the universe is all one and the same, interconnected, and conscious on some level.  Indeed it's hard to believe that there is any separation at all in the cosmos when you think that in the air you breathe, the makeup of your body, and the food and drink you intake, is the matter from millions and millions of different things.  Dinosaurs and people, the trinkets and gems of Queens and Kings, old plates and pot shards, excrement and blood cells, dirt and stones have disintegrated and found new forms.  As air, as plants, as people, as animals, as the things we make.  All moulding and remoulding the different clays of the earth.  Even stars and meteorites find a place within the foods we eat and the clothes we wear.  Add to this the realisation that atoms are structures of energetic activity within fields, and as Fritjof Capra (1982, p. 83) explains, how
"Quantum theory has shown that sub-atomic particles are not isolated grains of matter but are probability patterns, interconnections in an inseparable cosmic web that includes the human observer and her consciousness"

And I believe we're coming close to a coherent framework of understanding the matter that makes us as a conscious connection to our cosmos.

All that is left to explain is my claim that consciousness both reflects and creates reality.  One of the most startling discoveries made by quantum physics was the way that atoms being studied could take on either a wave or particle format, depending on the observer.  As Fritjof Capra (1982, p.77) again explains,

"The crucial feature of quantum theory is that the observer is not only necessary to observe the properties of an atomic phenomenon, but is necessary even to bring about these properties.  My conscious decision about how to observe, say, an electron will determine the electron's properties to some extent.  If I ask it a particle question, it will give me a particle answer; if I ask it a wave question, it will give me a wave answer.  The electron does not have objective properties independent of my mind."

In conclusion, I'd like to point out that I've only tipped the very top of the iceberg in terms of the discoveries of quantum physics, and it's ramifications on philosophy and society at large.  I believe the time of looking at the world in a dualistic fashion is drawing to an end, and interconnectedness must be honoured if we are to face the multi-dimensional crisis of our times.  I'd like to finish with a quote by Timothy Ferris (1997, p. 287)
"To assert that the universe is deeply interconnected is to echo what mystics have been saying for thousands of years.  This can be a liability in the scientific community, which has heard more than enough of complacent, shallow-draft assertions to the effect that science amounts to little more than proving what Lao Tzu and Chief Seattle were saying all along."

There you have it.  My argument against dualism.  If you want the bibliography, you'll have to let me know, cause I've had enough for typing for one early morning.  Hope you enjoyed it!


  1. Yes great stuff Helena. Not to take away from your creativity in this essay but they do very much mirror my own thoughts on the topic of dualism.
    It is quite ironic that the science that developed Quantum Theory, is now turning about on itself and having to re-examine it's reductionist and 'categorizationist' (dualism of a multitude) tendencies.
    The thing is how can the Universe be if it is not completely interdependent. If there is separation how can there be communication and cause and effect between the realms of a dualist Universe (old rejection of dualism)?
    Intuitively I have always maintained that the mind and the body are one in the same. The thoughts I think are me are my body. My body is a thought and my thought is substance. Whenever I conceptualize a divided universe, a separation of my conscious world and my physical world then what arises is a falsehood, and dis-ease. The denial of interdependence and interconnectivity has caused the physical, mental and environmental issues we all face in this day and age.
    The difficult thing is the depth with which dualism has penetrated into our world today. It will take a great effort to overcome the conditioning, but as a conciliation to this pessimism is the truth of your ideas and the underlying pressure that it keeps putting on the mind/bodies of all of humanity. Realize or Perish may well be the future that humanity faces.

  2. Wow great food for thought! Loved it :)

  3. I have just come across this post and your essay, and found myself exclaiming, yes, Yes, YES! at the computer screen! Your "post-dualism" theory of dualism has been my belief and driving force for the past decade and a half - though I know very little of the various theories you mentioned! It was fantastic to see this explained in terms others can also grasp! Thank you!

  4. Daylus, your thoughtful comment is as ever beautifully written and appreciated, thanks Cintia! You rock! And Sif, I'm over the moon that what I wrote has such resonance with you! Yee haa baby, let's enjoy the ride!!

  5. Maybe I should read it before I have 2 glasses of wine!

    1. Or maybe you need to wait till you've drunk three :)


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