“It is much clearer that consciousness is determined by physical states of the brain than it is that a separate mind perceives and acts through the brain” (Stephen Walker, Animal Thought, 1983).
I am going over papers and books at the moment pertaining to the great reductionism problem (preparing a chapter for Thomas’ and mine forthcoming book), and I must confess that it baffles me why philosophers are so convinced of the existence of the mind. While we know that the brain exists, and are able to study its nature and function directly, we only know of the mind through indirect and unreliable means (behaviour, introspection). It seems to me that the questions should not so much be whether or not the mind can be reduced to the workings of the brain, as how the behaviour and cognitive functions we asociate with the mind can arise from neural activity – which is not the same question!
Naturally, there is a historical reason for the reductionism debate. Before mankind had any idea about the nature of physics or the brain, perception, memory, language, and other forms of “mental function”, were pondered as special metaphysical principles or entities – called the “soul” by the Greeks – inhering in the physical matter of the body. Hence, philosophers grabled with mental functions for thousands of years before physics and neuroscience made it possible to even begin investigating the brain. When the first really serious anatomical and physiological results of such investigations begang to appear in the 17th Century through the work of Vesalius, Willis, and others, it therefore came to a conflict between the old received idea of a non-material soul and the new mechanical wordview. How on Earth can the soul possibly be inhering in the physical properties of the brain? Well, according to Descartes, to whom this question first presented itself, surely only through some kind of mysterious linkage about which we cannot say anything. However, without the old assumed existence of the soul, there would not have been a need to reconceale mind and brain.
In parallel to Descartes, today philosophers seek to illuminate how mental functions and neural processes are linked through “bridge laws” and other forms of modern technical notions. Yet, as with Descartes, the question of how mental function and neural processes are linked is only raised by the very assumption that two separate substances – mind and brain – exist. If we don’t accept this metaphysical dualism, the reduction problem dissapear!
It is time to leave ancient metaphysics behind, people! The burden of proof rests with the “non-reductionists”: why should we accept the existence of “the mind”?