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The Supervenience of The Mind and The Human Zombie (Part 1)

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 0
Zombies(54108)

Questions regarding the mind and the body have plagued humanity for as long as we could think, and more so as we evolved in such a way that we began to read, write, and share our thoughts with one another. The question of why we exist (if for any reason at all), and what this existence exactly was has always been an important question; and human beings (in all of our superiority in the hierarchy of animals) still lack the ability to give a concise answer. Countless theories have been thrown around, however it would appear (by mere speculation) that many individuals adhere to "mainstream" philosophical theories; whether they be theories provided in social settings (through the church, for example) or through other social means (hearing someone talk about being an atheist on television). While there are some redeeming qualities of this "sheep-like" mentality, such as the opportunity to engage in a social environment or simply have something in common with others who adhere to a particular religion or non-religion; we as individuals tend to lose ourselves if we do not examine our own beliefs more closely. I am in most respects very critical of my own thought processes, and therefore will be writing this article with the intent to structure my belief in what I deem functional materialism. I will begin by examining the nature of supervenience, the mind as it has been conceived in modern times, similarities and differences between zombies and human beings, strict materialism, and finally functional materialism.

Supervenience is perhaps one of the most interesting concepts I have come across in all of my philosophical studies. In mainstream views, the "mind" is not typically viewed as anything less than existing on its own (or plainly, not existing at all). For example, in most mainstream Christian churches; it is taught that the mind is the soul; and that soul will continue to live even after death of the physical. The cultural requirement to essentially view the physical and potentially non-physical as two separate entities (in a black and white spectrum) seems to exist, albeit subtlety. This is a dualistic way of thinking which dates back to the beginning of time.

Supervenience, however, indicates that there may be a dependency relationship between the mind and body. In lamens terms, there is an area of grey amidst the extreme ends of the black and white spectrum. While this may, at least in theory, go either way (the mind supervenes on the body, the body supervenes on the mind) the former is typically the most examined concept due to the qualities of the physical being more tangible than those that make up the mind. In short, most people are more willing to accept that the physical realm exists in comparison to a notion of the mind which requires metaphysical analysis. In the case of my article, any reference to supervenience will be referring exclusively to the mind supervening on the body unless otherwise noted. The dependency relationship present in this form of supervenience would be that of mental events requiring physical substances and causing physical events. There is no mutually exclusive mental substance.

In the same way that there can be multiple forms of supervenience, there can also be multiple different ways of perceiving the mind. One of the most important factors I consider when I examine the nature of the mind is its fallibility. If the mind is a substance and exists in an alternative plane of existence (though is still present in our physical world), I would fathom that human beings should be capable of one hundred percent accuracy as far as what the nature of this "mind-world" is like. It seems fairly illogical to believe in a mind substance, though not understand, in the least, the general nature of its very existence outside of the physical realm. I am a materialist on the account that I am able to examine the physical realm, and in the least know all there is to know about it on a general, observational level. In comparison, human beings know nothing of the mind except for what can be observed through physical senses. For example, a psychologist may study the mind; however the nature of the mind is tightly connected to the nature of the physical body (even on a neurological level). A majority of modern psychological theories would indicate that there are mental states, however they are dependent on physical states. There is no mind being examined without a patient, nor is their a mind being examined that is separate from a physical being. There is something it is like to be a physical being. Similarly, there is nothing it is like to be a mind substance.

Furthermore, it is important to examine the mind as it has been perceived throughout the ages in folk psychology. Folk psychology is generally a form of thinking that is viewed as "common-sense" thinking, however this definition is not entirely accurate as the concepts developed through folk psychology are typically those that are easiest to explain and conceptualize; and not necessarily those that hold much weight once further analyzed. Folk psychology may also be viewed as "popular belief" as adherents to folk beliefs are abundant, even in modern day. A very common conception of the mind is that it is a substance that exists mutually exclusively from the body (Cartesian dualism), often in a form typically called the soul (a strictly mental being). In folk psychology, the mind and the soul are typically words that are interchangeable; the former typically invoking a concept of the mind while it is with the body; and the latter expressing a concept of the mind when the physical body dies and only it is left.

From this basic concept of the soul, numerous other ideas have been considered; such as concepts of an afterlife (generally, where the mind/soul go after physical death), concepts related to god(s), and even attempts at rationalizing folk psychology by describing the mind as ether (a substance from the heavens). For example, one common concern many individuals tend to have at some point in their life is the nature of the afterlife (if there is one at all). For myself (and countless others), the notion of Hell (as portrayed in the Bible, and depicted through art and literature such as in Dante's Inferno and in Gustave Dore's paintings depicting Hell) is a very frightening concept which begs the question, "If I truly have a soul and am aware of the potential consequences, why am I not following the guidelines for salvation from this damnation?" The questions I have come to pose against this are, "Why can I not know with one hundred percent certainty that this is the true nature of the potential afterlife? Why can I not be fully aware that my mind is a substance that will continue to exist after my body dies?" Inevitably, in depth analysis of each of these concepts alone would require multiple articles to be written (and perhaps I will do this in time); however it is important to acknowledge the general public perception of the mind as it is portrayed in the media, in church, in school, and in other social environments.

(CLICK FOR PART 2 AND PART 3)


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