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be dismissed on logical or conceptual grounds.
The mind-brain identity theory argues that human mental states are identical to human brain states. That is, it holds that the feeling of pain (mental state) is the same as a firing of C-fibres in the brain (brain state). We can find evidence that supports this theory when we consider the correlations between chemicals that affect the brain (such as alcohol, caffeine, etc) as well as brain lesions, and their direct effect on the mind. Concussions can cause the loss of consciousness, just as caffeine makes us alert. Through these empirically discovered facts we are lead to the Mind-Brain Correlation thesis. Through this essay I will explore the objections to the thesis, and why they cannot be considered valid.
The mind brain correlations can be explained in various different ways. Before examining the multiple explanations for the correlations between the mind and the brain, I would like to point out that correlation does not mean that the states are numerically identical. That is, whilst both states may have the same properties and qualities they are still not strictly identical, as in they are not one in the same exact thing. A common explanation is the causal interrelation between the mind and the brain. That is, the mind and brain are correlated because one causes the other. For instance, whenever I have the mental state of feeling pain, my brain fires C- Fibres (or vice versa). Another explanation for the correlation suggests that both the mind and the brain share a common external causal origin. That is to say, they are both caused by the same thing. When I stub my toe, it causes me to feel pain as well as for my c-fibres to fire within my brain. Yet another explanation states that the correlation is simply dual aspects of the same thing. That is to say, the mental states and brain states are just different aspects of the same phenomenon. Similar to this idea is the thought that the two are really the same phenomenon. And lastly, the correlation has been attributed to one state being a side effect of what causes the other. In stating these correlations that are dependent on causal roles, I am attempting to show the argument put forth by Lewis and Armstrong, who stated that both if brain states have a causal role, then in order for mental states to be the same thing they must have the same causal role. This can be found through research and investigation, making the MindBrain Identity theory an empirical hypothesis.
Having established the basic claim of the Mind-Brain identity theory, as well as its different versions, I will now outline the main objections. Many of them depend on Leibniz’s Law of the identity of indiscernibles, which states that X and Y are identical if X and Y have the same properties. The first is epistemological, and argues that identical things have identical properties, and the mind and the brain do
not. For example, pain has the property of being known to uneducated children, whereas c-fiber activation does not. You would not expect a child to know what c-fiber activation is, and so it lacks a property which pain has, making it not the same as pain. This objection fails as you can still know you are experiencing cfibre activation without knowing what c-fibre activation is. For instance, a counterexample: Oedipus knew he was marrying the Queen of Thebes, but did not know that he was marrying his mother- according to the logic of this objection, The Queen of Thebes would thus not be his mother. The objection fails as it can be refuted through empirical analysis. Should the uneducated children learn of c-fibre activation, they would then know that it is the same as pain. That is, an unawareness of the fact does not stop it from remaining. Another objection that also depends on Leibniz’s Law argues that brain states such as c-fiber activations have spatial locations whereas mental states do not, and thus they cannot be identical. But this is easily refuted by stating that mental properties are located in the same place as their physical correlates. Essentially, the mental property instantiations happen wherever the physical properties that instantiate them are located. There can be no counter reply to this, as if they are the same thing then they are located in the same place, which can also be found through empirical investigation. The last objection that employs Leibniz’s law argues that physical properties, for example “activations in the visual cortex” do not have the same phenomenal properties of “seeing red”. That is, mental property instances have phenomenal properties and physical properties do not. But this objection is slightly absurd. When you enter into the mental state of “seeing red” your visual cortex does not turn red, it fires the necessary neurons and connections that correlate with “seeing red”. That is, when you have a “pounding headache” you do not expect for your neurons to be “pounding” as well. If we examine this adverbially, one type of visual cortex activation may be “seeing red” (just as others may be “seeing green”), but that does not entail the activation is red. This objection is clearly unjustifiable as it places too much weight on the literal explanations of the particular instances of each state, instead of focussing on what it is to be in the state objectively.
Another objection, called the Multiple Realization Argument states that pain (and other mental properties) are variously realizable. For example, molluscs, which have brains quite unlike ours seem to possess various sorts of mental states. That is to say, they can exhibit the effects of pain even though they lack c-fibers, and so it seems pain is multiply realizable in different forms. It is also possible that devices that produce pain may be multiply realizable, in the same way that a device to contain liquid is (bucket, glass, bowl, etc.). A stronger argument of this can be found when we consider basic mental properties such
as beliefs and desires: there may be a large variation between similar states of belief. For instance, that snow is white can be multiply realizable for the same individual, at different times: he can say aloud that “snow is white”, or imagine a voice saying “snow is white”, or write that “snow is white” or imagine that “snow is white” is being written. This shows that a mental state can have various physical realizations. Since pains (and all mental states) are multiply realizable, there cannot be one mental state type to one physical state type correlation. But one could just as easily point out that the multiple realization argument is referring to the actual mental states individually, instead of what it is to have a brain state. That is, it is dealing in the specific brain state of snow is white rather than the having of the brain state that snow is white. Using pain as an example, yes, a Martian could experience pain that does not involve an activation of C-fibers, however, his pain would still involve an equivalent brain state of some sort. That is, there would still be a correlating brain state for every pain (mental) state, regardless of the manner in which that mental state took form at each specific time. I can be in pain from stubbing my toe or from receiving an immunization, but both still entail the same activation of c-fibers.
Yet another objection comes from Saul Kripke. He explained a contingent truth to be a proposition that is true as a matter of fact, but could have been false. That is, in another world, the statement is false, for example “Bush won the presidential election”. Kripke noted the difference between these contingent truths and necessary truths, which cannot be false, no matter how the world may have been. That is to say, there is no possible circumstance in which 3+2=5 is false. Kirpke argued that terms such as “water” and “H20” are rigid designators that refer to precisely the same kind of thing in all possible circumstances. From this he lead to the conclusion that “water=H2O” is necessarily true. That is, “water” and “H20” refer to the same “stuff” in all possible circumstances. But there seemed to still be a strong intuition that this claim might have been false (only contingently true). Here Kripke argued that this “apparent” contingency is an illusion: we can imagine something that appears to be identical to “water” and yet isn’t “H20”, but it isn’t really genuine water as it only appears to be water. Which means that we can not actually imagine a case in which “water=H20” is false because the instant we try to imagine something else that could be water, we imagine some arbitrary thing that isn’t water at all. When applied to brain states, Kripke considered the example of “pain= C-fiber activity”. If “pain” and “c- fiber” are rigid designators, then according to the analogy, “Pain=C-Fiber activity” is necessarily true. But intuitions lead us to believe this claim is only contingent: we can experience pain without any c-fiber activity, and vice versa. This means that unlike the water example, “pain=c-fiber activity” is not necessarily true. In order to apply the same method as the water example, we must consider that there are states that appear to be exactly like pains but are not genuine pains. Here Kripke says that if something appears to be a pain it just is a pain. That is to
say, if I am feeling pain over the death of a loved one (even if the feeling is actually sorrow) because it causes me pain, it actually is pain. While Kripke has attempted to explain away that human mental states are not the same as brain states using logic, in fact he has not succeeded. He has tried to show that both states are contingent truths, where one can exist independently and without a correlation to the other, making the Mind-Brain identity theory false. What he has managed to do is use the term “pain” in a larger semantical sense as an umbrella term in order to suit his argument. That is, “pain” is still the response to a physical stimulus that results in the firing of C-fibers, but Kripke has extended the meaning of Pain to sensations that could be better described with other words, and misses out on the actually feeling of pain, that is, what Armstrong calls its “ouchiness”. Just as he explains that to feel pain for the death of a loved one is actually to be in pain merely because we are pained, a better word for the feeling would not be “pain”, but rather, “sorrow” or “grief”. Essentially, Kripke attempts to use the logic of necessary vs. contingent truths for his argument, which really is completely dependent on semantics.
Through all the objections considered we see that each have their failings when arguing against the Mind-Brain identity theory. Like Kripke’s objection, many are dependent on semantics in order for the logic behind the objection to function. But because the mind-brain identity theory is an empirical theory, it is impossible to disprove it with logical and conceptual rebuttals. That is- since it depends on investigation, how can a logical argument counter actual evidence presented to every individual that seeks it? Taking the example of a pain=an activation of c-fibers. Even if all the arguments using the clearest logic explained why it is completely impossible for this statement to be true, it would not hold true against actually seeing c-fibers firing when someone experiences pain. Surely, someone could argue that you’re not really seeing c-fibers firing, or that it just so happens that c-fibers are firing when you are feeling pain, but they are not the same thing: but then we run into a case of Ockam’s Razor: why attempt to complicate an explanation beyond necessity? That is, the mind-brain identity theory clearly shows through empirical investigation how the two states are one in the same, there is no necessity to add to that explanation and complicate it. Essentially all the logical and conceptual arguments that attempt to dismiss the mind-brain identity theory fail before they even begin, as it is impossible to disprove empirically acquired knowledge any other way than empirically. If I see that grass is green, the only way to convince me that it is in fact not green is to investigate the truth of my claim. That is, until I could find an instance in which the grass is not green, my claim would hold. Finding this instance would depend on investigation (empirical) rather than approximation. Essentially, how can something that is proved by research and investigation be disproved any other way than that? Any attempts to disprove the theory with conceptual arguments fall short as they are “what if” scenarios and do not deal with the immediate and actual claims. Thus mental states and brain
states are in fact one in the same thing, as the only arguments that refute it are logical (verbally dependent) or conceptual (instance dependent), rather than being disproved by investigation.
Bibliography of Works Consulted:
Chalmers, David J. Philosophy of Mind, classical and contemporary readings. Oxford University Press, 2002 Lecture Notes: 1st year and 3rd year, Simon Prosser