While recently poking through my ancient floppy disks, I found some college papers which were written on a vintage Canon Starwriter 30 electronic typewriter. Most of the disks are corrupted or unreadable, but mixed in among the Organic Chemistry and Ecology Lab papers were five or six philosophy papers that I could decipher if I corrected the strange formatting. Some were basic writing assignments such as, “supporting or refuting an argument,” some more in-depth. The interesting thing to me is that over the years, the higher math, the biology and certainly the advanced chemistry have all proven to be unusable in my adult life and career paths. But the philosophy has done and undone whole sections of my understanding of the world around me and continues to be accessed whenever I’m confronted with some new story on NPR, a girlfriend’s arguments against my worldview or simply when I’m deciding whether or not to give money to a homeless person. To quote Sean Connery’s SAS character in The Rock, ” In retrospect I would rather have been a poet. Or a farmer.”
I’m not sure how I feel about what I’ve written in some of these papers. They certainly seem like they are just scratching the surface of arguments, but perhaps that is due to the limitations of the writing assignments (one page limits, etc.). If you are still reading this blog post, perhaps you could read one of these papers and comment below.
Knowledge and Reality: Mind
September 12, 1995
Writing Assignment #2: Supporting or Refuting an Argument
One page limit
Ever since its introduction, the philosophical theory of "dualism" has been surrounded by controversy. Many arguments have been formulated both for and against the idea with both sides having their own good and bad points. Further expanding the debate, science and technology have been developing at remarkable rates such that much of what was previously unknown to us is now considered common knowledge. This has thrown a wrench into the works of many premises supporting dualism. For this reason I will focus attention on one argument for dualism which has to do with the concept of irreducibility. Dualism holds that two things exist in individuals, the non-physical mind and the purely physical body. This mind exists separately from the body and is independent of the body's influences. This dualist concept is used to support the belief that thought is something non-physical. Dualism goes on to explain that no physical system could possibly think, perform mathematics, or do anything else that requires non-mechanical functions of the body.
I submit that much of this concept is based on faith and not fact. The original concept was laid down by Descartes in the seventeenth century and relied on a very limited, at best, knowledge of brain anatomy and physiology. I propose that thought is a result of neural function so complex that it confounds even today's best scientists. Descartes believed that thought was irreducible, that it could not be broken down into simpler functions or components. But using the evidence of mood-altering medications and drugs, as well as the effects of brain damage on the thought patterns of individuals, I see thought as a remarkable function of a mass of neural complexity which is subject to the laws of Physics, Biology and Chemistry.
Descartes could not have imagined the complexity and sensitivity of neurotransmitter function, nor the vastness of the neural network which exist in the brain. Did not the earliest "experts" believe that the earth was created by the will of a superbeing, or that the sea and weather was controlled by different gods? Similarly, Descartes was confronted by a vastly complex system and he, too, invoked the supernatural or non-physical to help explain it. We cannot blame him for his shortsightedness but today we can not follow this flawed line of thought.
The arguments seem very basic to me, but I guess I have a good excuse in that I wrote this paper many years and much experience ago. But I can hear the anger through my fingertips as if I am trying more to convince myself than my intended audience. Strange that I would take a class entitled, “Knowledge and Reality: Mind,” and then be so hard-headed about other points of view.