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The Mind-Body Problem and the Narrow Token Identity Theory
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The Mind-Body Problem Overview
The mind-body problem questions the relationship between the mind and the body, between the mental realm and the physical realm. Philosophers ask, "Are our thoughts, feelings, perceptions, sensations, and wishes things that happen in addition to all the physical processes in our brains, or are they themselves just some of those physical processes?"
The question is important for several reasons. First the question poses a philosophical conundrum: how can something as physical as the brain give rise to something as mysterious and abstract as a mental state? Also, the problem poses an existential dilemma: what am I? If materialism is true, then I am a physical object (an organism). If dualism is true, then I am an intangible essence (a mental state), like a soul inhabiting a body. This would mean that I am just part of the body which I call myself. This latter theory, dualism, is oftentimes referred to as the narrow-token identity theory.
The mind-body problem has puzzled philosophers for hundreds of years. Until recently, the numerous theories of whether we are mind, body, or both have failed to determine where and how mind and body interacts. While there have been valiant efforts to prove that interactionism and epiphenomenalism are logically plausible conclusions to the mind-body problem, I feel that a dualistic theory called narrow token identity theory is much more precise.
In this article, I will argue for the narrow token identity theory. First I will display the arguments and counter arguments for interactionism and epiphenomenalism. In doing so, I will have created a thorough foundation on which I may then argue why narrow token identity theory is the most correct answer to the mind-body problem. By the end of this paper, I hope to bring about a better understanding of who we are in this mysterious game of life.
Interactionism: Am I a Mind or a Body?
In Richard Taylor’s , he declares that we are “a mind that has a body and, equally, a body that has a mind” (18). Since we believe that we have both mind and body, there must be some way for them to interact with each other. The theory of interactionism was given by Rene Descartes, and it argues that, Metaphysics
“1) There are material things as well as mental things. 2) Mental things are completely different kinds of things from material things. 3) Mental and material things causally interact” (Cornman, 143-42).
Knowing that we are made up of seemingly two different entities, Descartes struggled to derive exactly where the mind-body interaction took place. Descartes’ answer was simple. He claimed that the pineal gland was the “seat” of the mind (sometimes referred to as the soul). “He felt that it functioned as the intermediary which transmits the effects of the mind to the brain and the effects of the body to the mind” (143).
Epiphenomenalism: Material as a Prerequisite to Mental States
Most theorists have discontinued Descartes claim, because it is thought, today, that “the brain affects the mind in many ways that bypass the pineal gland” (143). If no place of interaction can be established, we must forfeit all hope of interactionism providing a useful answer to the mind-body problem. Perhaps, then, there is no place of equal interaction between both mind and body. A twentieth-century philosopher named George Santayana described the relationship a bit differently. His theory, later deemed epiphenomenalism, stated that, “Material or brain events cause mental events, as by-products; but mental events cause nothing whatever” (158). Instead of having an immaterial mind, epiphenomenalism claims there are only mental states that are caused by material states and bodies.
Finding Flaws in Epiphenomenalism and Interactionism
Epiphenomenalism may be attractive to evolutionists, but it is flawed. Since epiphenomenalism claims that mental states are only byproducts of physical states, this means that we no longer need thought to thrive in the world. Unlike the mountain stream analogy in –where the babbling sound produced by water flow is analogous to the mind by means of a mere by-product–the mind cannot be viewed as a mere by-product of physical states. We see that mental phenomena have a causal effect on humans when we understand that our thoughts and personal views of the world shape the course of human history. Epiphenomenalism cannot be correct, because if it were, “None of people’s hopes, desires, dreams, joys, or sorrows have in any way affected the course of human events” (159). Chapter 4 of PP&A
If interactionism is a flawed because of its problems with the point of interaction, and if epiphenomenalism is flawed because it is logical to think that mental states influence the events of physical states sometimes, then we must turn toward a theory that has neither a point of interaction nor the elimination of a mental or physical states. A theory such as this would have to be considered dualistic, seeing as how it contains both mind and body, but it would not necessarily divorce the mind and body from the single entity of human being. The theory I propose when attempting to solve the mind-body problem is called the narrow token identity theory.
Token-Token Identity Theory and Narrow-Token Identity Theory
The narrow token identity theory is the thesis that “each mental state token is identical to some neural state token or other” (188). This is a token-token identity theory. A token-token identity theory states that each instance of a mental entity, such as a pain, is identical with an instance of a material entity. It differs from interactionism, because interactionism claims “no mental state would have any material properties” (189).
Instead of searching for a point of interaction between the mind and brain, narrow-token identity theory posits that the mind is identical with brain processes. This way, the point of interaction is eliminated and rests solely on the fact that we were wrong when thinking that the mind exists outside of neural properties. We can further elaborate on this fallacy when we observe how dependent thoughts are on neural activity.
PP&A offers the consideration of mind with people who have had strokes. “People who have strokes and lose certain brain functions also lose various mental functions as well” (189). If damage to sectors of our brain influences the mind’s function in any way, we must conclude that the mind and the brain are synonymous processes. This is the main argument for the narrow token identity theory.
Narrow-Token Theory Best Explains the Mind-Body Problem
Alas, many philosophers continue to argue that the narrow-token identity theory makes no clear sense. “Narrow token identity theory must be incorrect because there are things which we can quite meaningfully say about mental states that we cannot meaningfully say about neural states, and conversely” (190). An example of this is the limit that current language puts on the meanings of words and sentences. Narrow-token identity theory claims that we ascribe material properties to neural states, but that we also ascribe mental properties to mental states. If a mental state is identical to a neural state, and a material state is identical to a neural state, then we are saying that something such as pain (a purely mental state) has properties of a physical state (such as molecules).
The objection to this concludes that, currently, our way of language is too primitive to fully grasp the meaning of the above statements. While pain is a purely mental entity, it can also be used to describe the nerve impulses that arise at the pain center and flash to the brain. Just like we have the chemical compound for sodium chloride, we also have the conventional term that makes it salt.
Even though many believe this theory to be flawed, narrow-token identity theory is still superior to other arguments for the mind-body problem. It answers many of the questions that come about through other theories, and brings about no new questions of its own. Perhaps soon, with a better understanding of how this single theory can be ascribed to both mental and physical states, the mind-body problem will be completely answered.
Cornman, James W. Philosophical Problems and Arguments an Introduction. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992.
Richard, Taylor,. Metaphysics. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall, 1992.
The Mind-Body Problem Explained
© 2017 Luke Holm