Written for my freshman-year Philosophy of Mind class, which was held, at some reason, at 9am. To paraphrase Lewis Black, there's not a lot of philosophy you can learn through one bloodshot eye. The paper starts rough, with overly long sentences no doubt constructed to sound academic. It gets a little better in the middle, when my point regarding subjectivity is finally made with some kind of clarity. But then one sees that I am attempting to dismantle and invalidate the entire philosophy of mind, in a mid-term paper. It's foolishly stubborn, and comes across as petulant, a grand flowery refusal to even entertain the brilliant thoughts that are being presented in a class that I signed up for.
The mind-body problem is one of crucial importance to the knowledge of ourselves. We would like so hard to believe that our minds, our only advantage over other animals, could somehow be classified as “transcendental” or “beyond the real.” While many philosophers are firm in their belief that we will never unlock the physicality of the mind, our scientific natures struggle against the eventuality of not being able to understand a subject so closely personal to us.
Thus, we consider compromises to reconcile the abstract idea of mental states and our methodical way of approaching the unknown. Theories like interactionist dualism, functionalism, and the theory of reference are such compromises, well-thought-out attempts to bring this all-too-important debate to some kind of agreement as to where the truth lies.
However, it seems as though not enough attention is being paid to the individual human experience, and too much accent is placed upon the general cataloging of the aspects of our existence. The most important part of being human is the “be” in human being; we must learn how to simply be, as a unit. A lot of this subject’s schools of thought seem dedicated to the fractioning of the wholeness of the being, when they should be concerned with the unification of the mind and body into a healthy whole.
This is not spiritualism, only an observation of the negative effects of theories such as parallelism and dualism, and less directly, functionalism wherein, the goal is to separate human existence into the mental and the physical, then attempt to reconcile. The emphasis now is being placed almost entirely on objectifying human existence.
I understand that, to a point, a scientific mentality is required in order to understand and communicate a thinker’s theories about the nature of the mind, but when this mentality ends up running counter to the intentions of the subject (the betterment of the human condition), the technique of evaluation must be reexamined.
The present trend of explanations in the philosophy of mind is leaning towards the elimination of subjectivity. Admittedly, if one is to have an organized school of inquiry about a specific subject (in this case, the mind-body problem), certain objective common grounds must be established between the participants or no communication can take place. However, since the philosophy of mind deals primarily with issues that are internal in nature, the attempts to fully explore these issues in any kind of generalized sense is futile.
The issues of the significance of different brain states as they influence behavior is highly relative to the consciousness examining them. Such knowledge depends more on the attention that is paid to these interactions than on the facts about them. For someone who simply lives, instead of intellectualizing the life he leads, the interaction between the mind and the body would go all but unnoticed; but as for intellectuals and people who consider deeply how their behavior is influenced by brain states, such as the very philosophers who explore this question, they would consider these interactions pivotal to their being.
One way of living is not more correct than the other, one is not in better faith than the other; the debate is simply too relative to measure scientifically. Those who choose to simply be would consider the introduction of introspection into their lives as a serious transgression that would ultimately upset the way they’ve chosen to live. Conversely, the intellectual, once he has begun to contemplate his being and actions, can never let go of his path.
In a discussion of the theory of reference, many more types of people can be identified from their responses to questions that, instead of requiring the participants to philosophize, ask only that they respond using their common sense. For instance, a popular scenario is often used, where, on a Twin Earth, H2O is black and tarry, while XYZ is clear, rained, and drinkable. The question is posed, “Which would you call water?” Some people see water as defined functionally, claiming that whatever functions for us as water, should be called water; in the case of Twin Earth, its chemical formula would be XYZ. Others would say that we must adhere to an objective classification system for substances, such as chemical formulas, to define our language; therefore the black and tarry substance would persist in being called water. Still others would insist that our present language would be too constrictive when dealing with such a situation, requiring new terms be invented for each substance.
The most intriguing line of thinking in the philosophy of mind is also the most truncated. In the discussion of behaviorism versus functionalism, the question is stated, “What is it like to feel like someone or something else?” This avenue is one of the few pathways to truth that this complicated subject has allowed us. The very fact that there is no verbalization for the concept of “feeling like something" should suggest that, since I’m the only one who knows what it’s like to feel like me, my subjectivity is the key to understanding my own individual mind-body problem.
The philosopher pushes hopefully to identify a single mind-body problem and a single mind-body solution, but the fact is that there are six billion mind-body problems, each of them only slightly different but different enough to fall outside of any attempted solution umbrella that the philosophers would attempt to cast over them. The hopeless subjectivity of the mind-body problem is what keeps the philosophers at bay as they strive to examine the questions that surround our existence. These philosophers cannot help but examine and dissect, for that is their function, but as they examine and dissect, they must leave room in their ultimate explanations for individuality and subjectivity. Granted, humans do have essentially the same ontology, but we cannot hope to explain all of the issues surrounding language, function, behavior, and so on, by assuming too much about the similarity amongst the members of our species.
The philosophy of mind concerns itself with the discussion of whether the mind functions as a physical part of our bodies or as a formless, romanticized notion of pure thought. While language philosophers and reference theorists take sides in this debate, and push one alternative or other as the absolute, objective truth, the very existence of the debate negates any possibility of an individual interpretation on the issue. One of the reasons that philosophy exists is to allow us humans to expand our horizons and fully exercise the potential of our minds. Philosophy should be the study of expansion, not of constriction, but the encroaching scientification of this subject, with its accompanying rigidity and exclusionism, cannot be overlooked if the spirit of philosophy is to endure.