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Paul Grobstein's picture

Dualisms and the brain

Thanks, all, for a rich set of thoughts in last week's forum and in class Tuesday. No, we didn't of course settle the question of whether Descartes or Dickinson was "right". But I came away with a clearer understanding of the issues that need to be addressed by any effort to make sense of human behavior and experience in terms of an organized array of matter with no appeal to an additional something.

Basically, an alternative to a dualist approach can't simply do away with dualisms, but must instead provide a description of a material system that displays dualisms. In particular, my experience (and I think most peoples') is that there is indeed SOME kind of a distinction between behavior that is affected by one's thinking and behavior that isn't, and between being conscious and not being conscious. If that isn't in fact a distinction between mind and brain, then it is going to have to be accounted for by some dualism within the brain.

Similarly, the distinctions between "material" and "spiritual", between "biology" and "psychology", between "rational" and "irrational", between "reality" and "imagination", between "innate" and 'learned", and between "safe" and "risky" are not going to disappear. The question therefore is whether the architecture and function of the brain provides a way to make sense of these and related distinctions that is somehow better than the sense made of them by dualist stories.

We'll see ?


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