28 Jan 2018

More on My Proposed Solution to the Mind-Body Problem

Philosophy, Religious 12 Comments

My girlfriend sent me this interesting link that she was assigned in one of her classes. It reminded me of my earlier Free Advice posts in which I propose a solution to the mind-body problem. Here’s the short version (but follow the link to get the fuller context):

==> To (finally) recapitulate my own solution to these vexing problems: Imagine that a filmmaker could perfectly anticipate where everyone in the movie theater would look, for 2 hours straight. He makes a film accordingly. The people then go sit in the theater, and they soon realize as they’re watching the screen, that each person apparently has a little colored dot assigned just to him/her. That is, each person is looking at the screen, and sees a dot (or the person’s name spelled out, if you prefer) and–no matter how the person moves his/her eyes–that dot (or letters spelling the name) moves around perfectly in response. After just a few moments of this, the people in the theater would be certain that there was some kind of advanced technology, whereby sensors in the theater tracked their eye movements, and then in response moved the images on the screen. But nope, there is no such interaction at all; the dots (or letters) on the screen are just light that is being shot out of the projector in the back of the theater, using the same processes as the Disney move in the next theater. The crucial difference is (to repeat), the filmmaker on this particular film somehow knew exactly what everybody would choose to do, beforehand.

==> If you get my analogy, then you can see why I think an intelligent Creator can solve the mind/body problem. You have a soul with free will. You perceive the unfolding universe through the perspective of your physical body, and you appear to have (limited) control over what happens in the physical universe. However, if we focus on any portion of the physical universe, it doesn’t seem to be controlled by your intangible soul at all; that doesn’t even make sense. We can “explain” everything perfectly well without invoking a soul at all, except we’re left with this gaping hole of why the heck are we conscious and does it sure SEEM like we’re controlling things with our minds?!(My answer is that God created our souls and the physical universe such that there was a symmetry between them, where our truly free choices dovetailed perfectly with the mindless operation of the laws of physics in the material universe.) Yet we just ignore that question as “unscientific,” and don’t really worry about it because it’s so commonplace–just like new, human minds coming into existence and being based inside of organic creatures that shoot out of mother’s wombs every day.

So in discussing the above, I came up with two new things, one a plus and the other a minus.

On the plus side, my proposal handles “out of body” experiences quite easily. In contrast, the strict materialists have to just assume that the numerous accounts are all mistaken. (And incidentally, there are documented cases where the guy who dies on the operating table later reports hovering above his body and seeing things that occurred after he was clinically dead. This isn’t just a bunch of people talking about seeing a light and grandma beckoning.)

On the negative side, I need to flesh out a lot more how the soul experiences sensations that seem to be anchored in the material world. After all, it’s not just watching a movie, it’s smelling, feeling pain, etc. I guess I could just extend the analogy to all of the senses. Does the phantom limb phenomenon help my case or hurt it?

12 Responses to “More on My Proposed Solution to the Mind-Body Problem”

  1. E. Harding says:

    “My girlfriend”
    What happened to your wife?

    “are all mistaken.”
    Products of the imagination. Read Hobbes.

  2. Khodge says:

    The Bible does not provide clear answers because this is a philosophical question, not theological. What ever answer is provided needs prior premises. Something as vexing as do we get our pets in heaven cannot be answered from the Bible. A similar response has to be given to atheists, to wit: you do not have the training to address that question. An example: do dogs have souls? The answer: absolutely yes. By definition. Dogs are alive because a soul (as defined in scholastic philosophy) is life.

    The one thing the Church is emphatic about is that a person is complete and whole only when there is a body. That is the meaning of the Resurrection.

  3. Harold says:

    “The answer: absolutely yes. By definition. Dogs are alive because a soul (as defined in scholastic philosophy) is life.”

    Is this really the case? If I were to ask “is a dog alive?” I am sure very few people would have a problem answering “yes”. If I ask “do dogs have souls?” the answer is not so clear cut.

    The word “soul” has a lot more meaning than just “life” in our current usage, whatever the origins in scholastic philosophy.

    However, we do not have a clear, unambiguous definition of life either.

    • Khodge says:

      Within the context of the Western philosophy that infuses its Christian theology the answer is – by definition – yes. That is really the case.

      Do people throw words around without defining them? Yes.

      Does “current usage” use words without meaning or (the equivalent) “what’s true for me?” Yes.

      Does sloppy/untrained thinking lead to better answers and increasing understanding? If you think it is an improvement to redefine your paradigm every time you encounter a new person, then yes.

      Historically it has been said that, in the history of philosophy there was only one time when there was true disagreement…that was the late Middle Ages in Europe when both sides used the same definitions.

      I am less concerned with moving away from a common language than the failure to explain that there is a common language underlying the common concepts. It is much like taking half a dozen Keynesian economics classes without ever hearing the name Keynes mentioned.

      • Khodge says:

        As an aside, the tech industry is doing its best to bring us back to a common language through the miracle of spell check. The proof-reading I had to do with this post!

        • Khodge says:

          The bigger problem is the failure to recognize that assumptions are being made.

          What passes for a logical argument these days is: blah, blah, blah, BECAUSE Trump or BECAUSE lawyers.

      • Harold says:

        “Do people throw words around without defining them? Yes.”

        I am totally with you here. You cannot debate unless you understand what the other person is saying, and definitions are essential to this endeavour.

        In this context there is no “right” definition, just one that is agreed. In many cases this is the one in common usage, but not always.

        If we agree on your definition of soul (which I am happy to do), I think that leaves us with a problem of what to call the concept that many people use the word for, which is, I thjnk, distinct from life.

        There is a problem if you use it to mean one thing and others use it to mean something else.

        • Khodge says:

          Followed by replying to the wrong comment.

        • Harold says:

          Leibniz seems to use soul for life and spirit for consciousness.

  4. Harold says:

    “Does the phantom limb phenomenon help my case or hurt it?”

    The phantom limb is interesting from the Wiki article “This research indicates that clinicians using motor training for pain relief need to distinguish between imagined movements and real movements of phantom limbs.”

    Showing certain linguistic problems in describing real movements of non-existent things, but I think the point is clear.

    I am not sure this either helps or hurts your case. It can surely be explained by a neurological effect of brain re-wiring or peripheral nervous input. The reporting that “real” movements, that is those involving execution of a motor command, are required to relieve pain supports this. However, the phenomenon is clearly not well understood. I am sure it can also fit into a world where your soul does not literally control the body as well.

    ” I need to flesh out a lot more how the soul experiences sensations that seem to be anchored in the material world.”

    I am trying to get your analogy. The cinema viewers believe they are controlling the dot on the screen, but in fact the dot is “predicting” where they would look. It is indistinguishable from their perspective. There is no way they could determine which was the case unless they could look outside their frame of reference. No experiment could distinguish between the cause and the effect, as they always occur together.

    They would perceive that wherever they looked, there was a dot. If we extend this a bit it gets a bit tricky, because what are we talking about when we say ‘they?”

    In the cinema case, “they” means their consciousness and their physicality -we are assuming a correspondence. We don’t need to distinguish – where ‘”they” choose to move their eyes, their eyes move and the dot apparently follows.

    If we extend this, then when “they” choose to move their eyes, the actual movement if their eyes is not in fact controlled by them, just as the dot was not controlled by them. They observe a coincidence of choice and action, but the choice did not cause the action. It is indistinguishable to them. They are not making their body move, but the movements occur because their choice to do so has been predicted.

    Does this not makes them a passenger in their bodies? I am not sure it is very helpful.

  5. Josiah says:


    This sounds like Leibniz’s proposed solution to the mind-body problem.

    Admittedly, you wouldn’t be the first guy to come up with a cool idea and then discover that Leibniz had got there first.

    • Harold says:

      Josiah, your link is not working for me. I found this one:


      The key problem with the rejection of materialism to me is this:
      “Hence, materialism must be false, for there is no possible way that the purely mechanical principles of materialism can account for the phenomena of consciousness.”

      There seems to be a confusion between “I can’t see how this could happen” and “there is no possible way”.

      Whilst not necessarily directly related, the paradoxes of quantum mechanics throw up things of which we might say “there is no possible way” for this to happen.

      I think part of the problem is that we think we understand things with which we are very familiar. An example might be Newton’s theories of gravity. Many people are very familiar with them and it produces predictable and useful results, but it offers no understanding at all about why bodies attract. However, we might say that Newton’s gravity is easy to understand, at least compared to general relativity.

      When push comes to shove, we have little actual understanding of anything at this fundamental level, and when we do push, intuition seems to fly out the window (to mix my metaphors).

      On your point this does have many similarities with the view Bob has expressed.

Leave a Reply