a materialist's interpretation of a dualist

I downloaded a copy of Nagel’s “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” and at the end there is an exchange between a dualist and a materialist. It goes like this:

D: You don’t deny, do you, that appearances occur, and that among these appearances are qualia?

M: Of course not. How could I?

D: And these are not part of the public, measurable world of physical science.

M: correct.

D: Then, since appearances do occur and they don’t belong to the world as described by physical science, there must be more to reality than what is physical. And that “more” is the mind, in which appearances occur.

M: Not so. From the fact that the sun actually appears to move across the sky, it does not follow that there is some actual domain in which the sun really moves that way. In general, it does not follow from the fact that something appears to happen or be in a certain way, that there is some place or part of reality in which it really occurs.

D: You’re missing the point.

M: That’s what I was going to say.

Now I must say, I’m always a bit confused by the materialist response, for I’ve seen it more than once. Perhaps some materialists on this board can help me. Why do you compare the domain in which appearances and mind exist to a domain in which something like the sun orbitting the Earth exists parallel to the one in which it is the Earth orbitting the sun? What the dualist in the above exchange wants to make clear is that there’s a difference between appearances and the actual state of the world. If he were implying that there could be a seperate domain in which the Sun orbitted the Earth on the basis that it might appear that way to some, he would not be positing the existence of a domain of appearances or mind but a domain of physical things coexisting with the one science studies. But I think it can be said that if it appears that the Sun orbits the Earth even though it really doesn’t, then there is, in reality, two distinct systems: one of appearances and one of real physical processes. That’s all the dualist seems to be saying.

Actually, it isn’t quite all he’s saying - he would like to add that the system of appearances is by no means physical - but this is not the bone of contention that confuses me so. I would like to know why the materialist interprets the dualist as implying that if things appear to be a certain way, then they are that way in a different “realm” of existence.

Hi gib,

This is my argument for astrology [would you believe], as far as we are concerned the sun does orbit the earth & planets do go backwards [retrograde]. If they were personalities in a room their interactions with you would be relative to your position not to another position extraneous to your worldview.

I don’t think such perspectives are duel. It just the same reality viewed from a different angle. The earth ‘is’ orbiting the sun, its just that to the casual observer the relationships change.

is that kinda what you meant?

Because that’s what he’s depending on with this argument. For him to claim that there “must be more to reality” he needs to take for granted that these apperances by virtue of occuring MUST be true in some realm of reality “outside that of the physical”. The matirialist seems to counter by saying that this does not follow, and denies that things MUST exist as they appear in some other realm.

the materialist is basically saying because there are appearances does not necessitate that there be a realm in which these appearances are real.

Just as a point of note, Mad Man P. The dualist isn’t saying that there is a non-material world in which certain kinds of appearances are ‘true’. He saying that appearances, in themselves, are not physical things, and thus physical things are not all there are. I don’t really get the M:'s response about realms, either.

Yeah, what Uccisore said ^

It’s a good argument, however if we have multiple observers of said realities, then they are not purely within the subjective of an individual.

Even an illusion observed by many, points to a 3rd party reality behind that illusion.

Same deal… because we experience something in a certain way does not necessitate that it be “real”. Dreams are generally not considered “real”… but dreams do occure… Apperances DO occur, but the form in which they occur need not be real.

Notice how they both say the other is missing the point… I think it has to do with our definitions of reality. To a materialist something has to be part of or at least affect the physical world in order to be real, where as for the dualist it seems it need only be part of his experience.

or at least, that’s what I can get out of it… I dunno…

I think indeed it spins on the meaning of ‘real’ - or at least, what is being called ‘real’. To say that my perceptions are real need not mean that the thing I perceive (or that I think I perceive) is real, but just that I am having such a perception. Even that rendering - that I am having a perception - need not be confined to the dualist perspective. The materialist can indeed call his perceptions ‘real’ if by ‘perception’ one means ‘brain state’. I think both the dualist and the materialist would agree that there is a difference between the Sun/Earth system and one’s brain.

 Well, that's why I've argued before that materialism, so-defined, isn't really a position on anything.  There's a huge difference, at least rhetorically, between saying if something isn't physical, it isn't real, and saying if something is real, it must be physical.  In the second case, the materialist seems to have a burden to show that things like appearances, numbers, or justice are physical.  In the first case, the materialist says "Oh, I acknowledge those things aren't physical, I just don't think they're real", and the rest of us are left scratching our heads about what he means by 'real'.
I mean, suppose I'm an idealist.  I believe "Only ideas in the mind are real".  

And you say “Well, what about rocks? Those aren’t ideas in the mind.”

And I say, “Well yeah, rocks don’t seem to be ideas in the mind. So then, they aren’t real!”

And then you say, “So waitaminute, what do you mean when you say ‘real’?”"

and I conclude “I just told you- ideas in the mind!”

Or to put it more simply, if ‘real’ means ‘being a part of the physical world’, then we can both happily agree that God isn’t real, and I remain a theist all the while. Materialism has to be doing something other than a substitution of terms, right? And it’s obvious that appearances are real on a vulgar understanding of the term.

Well i agree ideas are “real” in so far as they are events in the brain… unicorns are “real” too, in that respect… but this seems like trickery…

If we cut through the clutter, everything “exists”… the question is “as what”? unicorns exist as ideas, but not as anything that has influence over the physical world. God exists in the same way (or at least, that’s what I think) as do dreams, numbers, justice, ect… we could claim that there’s “more” to all this than a physical process in our brains… but I don’t see why we should.

I mean… other than allowing us to arbitrarily award some really nice ideas “reality” status, i see no reason for such a view…

I think it was Quine who noted that the metaphysical debate seems to have ruined the word ‘exists’ (in “on what there is”, I think). I’m sure it used to a pretty useful word - in philosophy it’s now pretty much defunct. The problem with it is there just seems no non-circular way to define it - which makes it useless in arguments about ontology (obviously if we could decide exactly what exists, then we would have a pretty good grounds for a definition of ‘exists’, but all this does is confirm my suspicion that appeals to the word exists in onotlogy is just backwards). ‘real’ is probably on pretty much on the same level. Perhaps the closest at a good attempt to find out what 'real means would be:

(real) Something is ‘real’ iff there are true statements about it.

But then we probably just shift the debate in to debates about truth conditions and add in a sub-debate about reference and predicate commitments. Is the shift helpful? I think 20th century metaphysicists spent an awful lot of time trying to prove that it is. And yet, after you’ve made the shift it seems a bit like the same debates just repeat themselves with a load of different labels and terms. Has metaphysics ever really improved on Plato and Aristotle’s first musings? I don’t think it has, really. This is what makes me deeply suspicious of the entire enterprise, even if I do engage in it myself to some degree.

As for Nagel’s materialist, I suspect his argument for materialism is misplaced:

His assumption is that the way things appear argument seems to be:

  1. Some physical things appear to be different to how they actually are.
  2. Mind appears to be non-physical.
  3. But (from 1), (2) does not entail that mind must be non-physical. (note, this is hardly a defence of materialism - but I suppose materialists would argue that all they have to do is prove that there is no motivation for dualism and then let occam’s razor do the rest)

This looks plausible - it seems that if physcial things don’t always appear ‘as they are’ then (3) is reasonable. But, I believe that (so long as I have captured the argument in the quote correctly) there is a bit of wordplay going on in the first and second premisses. I believe what the sun example shows is actually:

1*. Some physical appear to have different physical natures to those that they actually have.

But this has no bearing on (2) whatsoever, so long as the example supprting it is that of the sun. Because mind does not appear to have a ‘different physical nature’ - but instead appears to be non-physical. Of course - if the materialist could find examples of things that appear to be non physical but actually are physical, then they might have an argument again. I wager, though, that this would be impossible to achieve in a non-circular fashion.

In fact I don’t think the argument had a leg to stand on anyway. “mind” does not “appear” in the same way that physical objects or ideas appear. Mind simply is - it is a precondition for appearence of objects and ideas.

This could be the rendering I was looking for. It would seem that D and M are misunderstanding what the other is refering to by ‘appearance’. D seems to refer to the appearance of things in the world (or things other than the mind itself), whereas M seems to refer to the appearance of the mind itself as a non-physical entity. Now I would say that M’s point is sound in this case except for the fact that he already conceded to this:

So whether they are talking about the appearance of things in the world or the mind itself, M seems to have burnt the bridge that would otherwise allow him to cross over to the argument he wants to make.

Good point, BM - well said.

Well, I see a key difference there. When I say an idea is real, I’m not claiming any more about it than you already know- if you’ve had an idea, then that’s what I’m saying is real. Ideas of unicorns are real- as real as any other idea- but saying unicorns are real is completely different claim than that.

This seems confusing to me. Instead of saying unicorns exist as ideas, I’d much rather say ideas of unicorns exist, but unicorns don’t. After all, if I was going to define ‘unicorn’, I wouldn’t begin with “a unicorn is a certain kind of idea…”, I’d begin with “a unicorn is a certain kind of horse…”

Also, ideas seem to have influence over the physical world, so that gets things muddy too.

Yes, but what IS an idea, anyway? I know what the word refers to in my own experiences, but what, if any, relationship do ideas have with the rest of reality (assuming an objective world, that is)?

The best that I can tell they are processes in my brain…

to try and clerify, take the color “red”, we now know that it’s really only a wavelength of EM radiation… that dosn’t mean “red” dosn’t exist or isn’t “real” it means the concept we had of red refered only to the way in which WE (personally) were affected by that perticular type of EM radiation… We’re just adding to that concept by including what “red” is in relation to the rest of the world.

That’s cuz ideas very likely are physical processes in the brain…

[quote=“Mad Man P”]
Yes, but what IS an idea, anyway? I know what the word refers to in my own experiences, but what, if any, relationship do ideas have with the rest of reality (assuming an objective world, that is)?

Would it be rude of me to just link to a paper I submitted on Essay and Thesis a couple weeks ago? It won awards and stuff. :slight_smile:

No need… I looked it up myself now :slight_smile:

It was well written and well done, btw… good job.

This part, however, I find lacking:

I’ll grant you that CONCEPTUALLY we’re better served NOT trying to understand our own minds by trying to picture the impossibly complex network of neurons and the electrical/chemical processes that take place in the brain… simply put, it’d require too much effort for us to compute that vast amount of information at any given moment…

As for the second part, you argue that there’s no necessary reason why a certain brain event should be experienced in one way and not another, and that this somehow leads us to skepticism… To be honest… i don’t understand this argument at all… I’d like some clerification.

I don’t know if this is the thread for this conversation, however… would you want to continue this in your own thread in the Essays and Theses section?

By all means, discuss away.


Well here are my innitial thoughts…

Plantinga’s argument fails because he depends on mind and matter being seperate… which of course wouldn’t be the case given naturalism (which commonly implies physicalism/materialism). I’ve argued why and how from several different perspectives before, as you may recall.

So when you argue that:

This strikes me as blatantly false. I mean “seeing a green pentagon” is supposed to BE a certain brain activity given the model you’re arguing against… not the effect of one… So it seems absolutely necessary that a certain brain activity BE “green pentagon” and not “blue triangle” lest we ignore the law of identity and law of non-contradiction.

It looks like such a conversation is about to brew up no matter what I do, I have some private messages concerning it that I’m sorting through from someone else. Brevel-monkey put up a rebuttal thread of his own that I’m sorting through, as you can see!

I found the thread and I’ve bought myself front row seats for the show… Let the arguments fly… :smiley: