Assess the claim that mental states cannot be reduced to physical states? (50 marks)
By mental states we are referring to ideas, beliefs, emotions and the like. By physical states, we are referring to neuron interaction and connections. Substance Dualists claim that we have a separate mind and brain, where as reductive physicalists state that there is no mind as such – only a brain and brain states. As we shall see, the reductive physicalists provide the most compelling case.
Mental thoughts causing physical movement may seem natural to us at first. If one wishes to go to the cinema, one thinks about going to the cinema first and then physical goes there – a mind seems to think first and cause the brain to carry out the required steps. This is what substance dualists believe, that actions are caused by a separate, non spatial, non physical, mind.
However, although attractive at first, certain problems arise with this view. Such as how can a non physical mind interact with a physical brain? Some philosophers have suggested that they are somehow connected or tethered together. Be that as it may, our actions seem to be very dependent on our brain; more specifically neurons. If one has too much to drink, then one finds thinking and reasoning clouded and movement difficult. One can think of similar examples regarding brain damage. Thus, ones ‘mind’ seems to be dependent on, if not the same as, ones brain.
Occasionalism is a theory which attempts to solve the problem of mind body interaction. It is accepted by this theory, that there is no mental – physical causation. Rather, when one wishes to do something, say buy an ice cream, once one has completed the initial step of thinking about buying an ice cream and goes next to do it, God interferes and makes our hands, mouth, voice box all move and work so that one feels like one’s own mind is controlling one’s physical body.