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What Does It All Mean?: The Mind-Body Problem Essay, Research Paper

Human beings have a conception of at least two different kinds of things that exist in the world, mental and physical. Any of us could generate a long list of obvious physical things and clear cases of psychological things. And we assume that both of these types of things, mental phenomena and physical phenomena, are part of our world. But in order to get a more unified, overall picture of the world, we need to consider what the connection is between these two categories. How are the mental and the physical related, if at all, and how does the former fit into our general conception of the world? This question constitutes the mind-body problem, which Thomas Nagel briefly discussed in his book, ?What Does It All Mean??.

If we consider some of the traditional answers proposed by philosophers, perhaps we will get a better grasp of what the question is. One answer says that there exist two distinct entities, body and soul, that interact with each other causally, though it is not known how. This is called dualism. Dualists believe that a person is made up of two very different things: a complex physical organism, and a soul which is purely mental. Thus, the mind is rather like a ‘ghost in the machine’ of the body. Dualists reason that there is a necessary relationship between the two for that is what makes us different from other material objects.

Another view says that there simply are no mental phenomena. There is only the physical world. The existence of consciousness, therefore, must be some kind of massive delusion: contrary to popular opinion, nobody has any opinions, desires, or feelings. We are all just mindless beings who?s thoughts and feelings are just physical states of our brains. “Pain” for example, just happens to be another word for a certain kind of brain state. This absurd view is called materialism or physicalism.

Finally, there is the view that mental properties represent a distinct aspect of certain physical objects – that is to say, some objects, like people, have two different kinds of properties, mental properties and physical ones. This is called the dual aspect theory. It differs from dualism in that it postulates distinct properties but not a special, distinct entity to have those properties. Consciousness is not a property of an immaterial substance, the soul, but of plain physical objects. It is believed that the mind is not physical; it is distinct from the body but would not exist if the body was not there. It is not composed of matter, and therefore considered to be indivisible and non-spatial.

I however do not agree with any of these explanations. Since there is no actual credibility to any of them, I propose my own theory. What we see as reality is in front of our eyes and those images from reality are projected onto the back of our retinas. However, we do not have an inner eye which then sits in the dark and watches projected images coming from the retina onto the back of our heads. What does happen is that the images on the back of the retina are transferred into electrical impulses into our brains. The problem here is the link between reality(or sight) and these electrical impulses. We cannot know for certain that what our eye sees is what our mind perceives, as we cannot step outside our heads and assess the data being received. Thus, we put our faith in our eyes and trust that our perceptions correspond with reality. However, if reality is ‘received’ then how do I know you are ’seeing’ the same as me, and if you are not then how can we communicate or understand what each other means? Perhaps we should consider the notion that because we cannot fully trust our perceptions, we do not know that anything really exits. Reality may only exist inside my mind and I may only be living a dream…..


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