Consciousness: reviewing Descartes on mind and body (General)

by David Turell @, Monday, August 12, 2019, 19:46 (115 days ago) @ David Turell

How are the mind and the body connected?:

"What is characteristic of a mind, Descartes claims, is that it is conscious, not that it has shape or consists of physical matter. Unlike the brain, which has physical characteristics and occupies space, it does not seem to make sense to attach spatial descriptions to it. In short, our bodies are certainly in space, and our minds are not, in the very straightforward sense that the assignation of linear dimensions and locations to them or to their contents and activities is unintelligible. That this straightforward test of physicality has survived all the philosophical changes of opinion since Descartes, almost unscathed, is remarkable.


"Though we do find in the “Meditations” itself the distinction between mind and body, drawn very sharply by Descartes, in fact he makes no mention of our mind-body problem. Descartes is untroubled by the fact that, as he has described them, mind and matter are very different: One is spatial and the other not, and therefore one cannot act upon the other. Descartes himself writes in his Reply to one of the Objections:

"The whole problem contained in such questions arises simply from a supposition that is false and cannot in any way be proved, namely that, if the soul and the body are two substances whose nature is different, this prevents them from being able to act on each other.


"The difficulty, however, is not merely that mind and body are different. It is that they are different in such a way that their interaction is impossible because it involves a contradiction. It is the nature of bodies to be in space, and the nature of minds not to be in space, Descartes claims. For the two to interact, what is not in space must act on what is in space. Action on a body takes place at a position in space, however, where the body is. Apparently Descartes did not see this problem.


"Mind is consciousness, which has no extension or spatial dimension, and matter is not conscious, since it is completely defined by its spatial dimensions and location. Since mind lacks a location and spatial dimensions, [Princess] Elisabeth is arguing, it cannot make contact with matter. Here we have the mind-body problem going at full throttle.


"We have inherited the sharp distinction between mind and body, though not exactly in Descartes’s form, but we have not inherited Descartes’s solution to the mind-body problem. So we are left with the problem, minus a solution.


"Physics consists of a set of concepts that includes mass, velocity, electron, wave, and so on, but does not include the concepts red, yellow, black, and the like. Physiology includes the concepts neuron, glial cell, visual cortex, and so on, but does not include the concept of color. In the framework of current scientific theory, “red” is a psychological term, not a physical one. Then our problem can be very generally described as the difficulty of describing the relationship between the physical and the psychological, since, as Princess Elisabeth and Gassendi realized, they possess no common relating terms.


"What happens, if anything, for example, when we decide to do even such a simple thing as to lift up a cup and take a sip of coffee? The arm moves, but it is difficult to see how the thought or desire could make that happen. It is as though a ghost were to try to lift up a coffee cup. Its ghostly arm would, one supposes, simply pass through the cup without affecting it and without being able to cause it or the physical arm to go up in the air.

"It would be no less remarkable if merely by thinking about it from a few feet away we could cause an ATM to dispense cash. It is no use insisting that our minds are after all not physically connected to the ATM, and that is why it is impossible to affect the ATM’s output — for there is no sense in which they are physically connected to our bodies. Our minds are not physically connected to our bodies! How could they be, if they are nonphysical? That is the point whose importance Princess Elisabeth and Gassendi saw more clearly than anyone had before them, including Descartes himself." (my bold)

Comment: My answer is still the same. Neurons of the brain receive consciousness and can act on what consciousness wants performed. NDE's shows clearly that consciousness can survive a sick brain and return to it. Consciousness must exist separately when it has to be separate.

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