Materialism vs. Dualism There is no doubt that we are physical beings, but there is a question as to where our consciousness comes from. Can this consciousness come from a completely physical make up or do we have another non-physical entity Does consciousness come from a physical brain or a non-physical mind The two competing views of this question are materialism and dualism. Materialism views the world as being made up of only physical things, while dualism believes that everything has a physical and non-physical make up.
Dualism claims that the mind is separate from the body. This can be broken down into substance dualism and property dualism. Substance dualism, introduced by Ren Descartes, states that the mind is a separate non-physical entity. Descartes believed that people have a physical body and brain and also a non-physical mind. This mind is where all consciousness comes from. Descartes claimed that if you could build an automaton of a monkey, the automaton and the real monkey would be indistinguishable.
However, if you built an automaton of a human, the human and the automaton would be different. I think this statement in essence is true. I do not think that an automaton of a human would think and feel as a human being would. The other view of dualism is property dualism. Property dualism is based on the theory that all things are physical but some physical things also have non-physical properties. Thomas Nagel explained in his manuscript, “What is it like to be a bat,” that while a person could know everything about a bat physically he still would not know subjectively what it is like to be bat.
If this were true, and the total experience of being a bat could not be reduced to the physical make up of the bat, then materialism must be false. If a bat can not be explained entirely by physical descriptions then there must be something more to a bat than its physical make up. While these theories show that there is a significant difference between a conscious and an unconscious being, neither of these theories address the issue of how a non-physical mind can control a physical brain. It seems rather impossible for a non-physical entity to interact and control a physical entity.
Another issue with dualism is what keeps a particular person’s mind attached to that person. If a mind is a separate entity from a brain, and it is not bound by any physical means, then it seems possible that a certain mind could take control of another brain. Materialism is based on the idea that everything is made up of only physical things. There is no difference between the mind and the brain; they are one in the same.
One supporter of this belief system is Paul Churchland. Churchland believes that all of our thoughts and experiences can be understood physically if we were to all learn neuroscience. According to Churchland our feelings and experiences can be explained by our brain states. There is not an objective and a subjective view of our experiences, but one physical description for both.
The problem with this idea is that something seems to be left out when describing our thoughts and feelings by describing brain states. Nagel explained that there is a difference between the physical act of something and the experience of that act. For example, in his bat analogy Nagel argues that we can not know what it is like to be a bat even though we may know everything about a bat physically. Churchland, however, argues that since we do not know everything about a bat we do not know what it would like to be a bat.
This argument still leaves a sense of something being left out. It seems to me that there is more to our thoughts and emotions than just certain physical brain states. Another materialist, Richard Dawkins, claims that humans are merely survival machines for their genes. According to Dawkins, molecules capable of making copies of itself, which Dawkins refers to as a replicator, created defense mechanisms to protect itself. These defense mechanisms eventually evolved into human beings. In Dawkins view humans are merely the protectors of our genes.
This theory makes no distinction between a conscious being and an unconscious being. It leaves the question, “At what point does an organism become conscious.” Does an organism suddenly become conscious after it has attained a certain level of complexity, or are even the most basic of organisms conscious Dawkins claims that this argument is of no real importance, but I think it is rather important. Is it possible that the right combination of unconscious material can make conscious material If all organisms are conscious, then even the most basic of animal life and even plant life is really conscious. This seems quite impossible.
The answer to the question as to which theory I prefer, materialism or dualism is rather difficult. Science supports the theory of materialism much more than dualism, but dualism is better at explaining the difference between us and other organisms. I would have to say, despite the scientific evidence, that I prefer dualism over materialism. It is difficult to overlook the scientific evidence of materialism, but harder still to imagine that I am really not significantly different from a slug. It just seems to me that materialism just can not explain why there is such a difference between humans and other organisms..