Science

The Mind Body Problem: Dualism Reloaded

Posted 10 Sep 2009 at 19:11 UTC by steve Share This

As we've seen over the last year, there has been a resurgence in advocacy of dualism as a "solution" to the mind body problem. In some cases, these arguments are motivated by religious conservatives who see the alternatives as a threat (e.g. physicalism, functionalism, teleofunctionalism, etc). Now we have a new paper from a scientist, Dr. Avshalom C. Elitzur of the department of Chemical Physics at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, titled, "Consiousness makes a difference: A reluctant dualist's confession" (PDF format). In the paper Elitzur claims:

I believe I have a scientific argument (Elitzur, 1989, 1996) in favor of one of the rival parties. Unfortunately, this party is interactionist dualism, which I dislike most. Indeed my argument comes with the expected penalty on this option, namely, entailing violation of a very basic physical principle. Being a physicist, this violation upsets me most.

My (possibly confused) understanding of it basically boils down to: if dualists are wrong and non-dualists can't explain why dualists are wrong, then non-dualistic logic must be incomplete, so (somehow) dualists were right all along. His argument largely hinges on the presupposition that qualia exist, a topic as controversial and hard to pin down as consciousness. He further proposes that consciousness is "the totality of our qualia" (!) which, if true, probably means we should forget about conscious robots. As expected, Elitzur's dualism wreaks havoc with the laws of physics, starting with basic laws like conservation of energy and momentum. The paper is destined to become a book chapter and provides some interesting reading (look for the Zombie bafflement Turing Test). I expect it will also stir up renewed interest in the idea of dualism.


Lycan looks at Dualism, posted 11 Sep 2009 at 19:49 UTC by steve » (Master)

For a related look at the major problems facing new advocates of dualism and how they might be resolved, have a look at Giving Dualism its Due, a forthcoming paper for the Australasian Journal of Philosophy by William G. Lycan of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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