Dualism Essay, Research Paper
I believe that the popular or “ghost in the machine” form of
substance dualism best solves the mind body problem. My views in this area have
been influenced by my twelve years of Catholic education. The soul, or mind,
depending on your level of belief, was a complete and separate entity and was
the center of a human being. The body was an ambulatory device that the soul
directed. The idea that the mind is a separate entity and that it is
independent of the physical body is the central point of substance dualism.
Churchland explains that substance dualism claims that the mind is
a distinct nonphysical thing, a complete nonphysical entity that is independent
of any physical body to which it is temporarily attached. Any and all mental
states and activities, as well as physical ones, originate from this unique
entity. Substance dualism states that the real essence of you has nothing to do
with your physical body, but rather from the distinct nonphysical entity of the
mind. The mind is in constant interaction with the body. The body’s sense
organs create experiences in the mind. The desires and decisions of the mind
cause the body to act in certain ways. This is what makes each mind’s body its
The popular or “ghost in the machine” form of substance dualism
states that a person is a “ghost in a machine”, the ghost being the mind or
spirit and the machine is the body. Within this description, the mind/spirit
controls the body and is in intimate contact with the brain. The brain would be
the nexus between the mind and body.
The popular form of substance dualism was adopted after the
difficulties of Cartesian dualism could not be overcome. Rene Descartes stated
that the nonphysical and the physical could not interact. this became a problem
in dualism since the nonphysical mind needed to interact with the physical body.
These difficulties provided a motive for the move to popular substance dualism.
The first major argument for substance dualism is religion. Each
of the major religions place belief in life after death; that there is an
immortal soul that will survive death. This very closely resembles substance
dualism. The mind can be substituted for the immortal soul. In fact the two
are almost interchangeable. This argument is primarily the basis for my own
belief in substance dualism. My personal experiences as a religion student give
me insight into this argument.
The second major argument for substance dualism is irreducibility.
this points to a variety of mental phenomena that no physical explanation could
account for what is going on. An example would be the quality and meaningful
content of human thoughts and beliefs. These things cannot be reduced to purely
physical terms, hence irreducibility. This is also another good argument that I
can understand from personal experiences. I cannot reduce my reactions and
feelings toward how a steak tastes to a mathematical equation. This is the same
The final argument for substance dualism is parapsychological
phenomena. Mental powers such as telepathy, precognition, telekinesis, and
clairvoyance are all near impossible to explain within the boundaries of physics
and psychology. These phenomena reflect the nonphysical and supernatural nature
that dualism gives to the mind. Because I believe in these phenomena, it seems
logical to me that parapsychology is an excellent argument for substance dualism.
These arguments give a good basis for a philosopher to believe in
substance dualism. However there are also serious arguments against it
The first major argument against dualism is simplicity.
Materialists state that because their view is simpler (they only believe in one
thing- that which is physical) it is more rational to subscribe to their view.
The materialist point of view is also easier to prove because there is no doubt
that physical matter exists, while nonphysical matter is currently a hypothesis.
This argument seems very illogical to me. Philosophical views should be chosen
because one makes more sense to you, not because one has a smaller number of
ideas within it.
The second major argument against substance dualism is explanatory
impotence. Materialists can explain anything physical through scientific study,
whereas dualists can explain nothing because no theory has ever been formulated.
Churchland says, “…dualism is less a theory of mind than it is an empty space
waiting for a genuine theory of mind to be put in”. I see one flaw with the
materialist theory here. The mind in the dualist theory may use a form of
energy transfer not yet discovered by science. Centuries ago, undiscovered
forms of science were refuted and called “magic”. In the future, The mind may
become completely understood by science.
The third argument against substance dualism is neural dependence.
That the mental capacities depend on the brain’s neural activities. The
materialists show that the mind is altered when the brain is altered by drugs or
injuries. I would explain this by saying that since the mind is a separate
nonphysical entity and cannot interact with physical matter, it needs a focal
point to control the body from. This focal point is the brain. The mind and
the brain are so intimately intertwined any disruption of the brain will affect
The Final argument against substance dualism is evolutionary
history. The materialist states that human beings have been incrementally built
up from simpler physical creatures. This is evolution. Because this is a pure
physical process and the simpler creatures we were constructed from had no
nonphysical mind, there is no way to account for our mind. This is a difficult
argument to win. The only rebuttal I can give is that because we are a pinnacle
of evolution, we developed the nonphysical mind along with free-will and our
level of intelligence. This may be an extremely arrogant and proud view, but it
is the only one I can think of.
I believe that the strength of dualism’s positive arguments
outweighs is detractions.
Churchland, Paul M. Matter and Consciousness. Massachusetts: The MIT Press,