What are you?

  • What are you?
Physical Phenomena
  • The Universe consists of things big and small: galaxies, stars, planets, mountains, oceans, rocks, molecules, atoms, subatomic particles. It also consists of spacetime.
  • Science has discovered other things as well: forces, electromagnetic radiation, electric and magnetic fields, energy.
  • Finally, there are living things: bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals, including human beings and their parts: organs and tissues, cells and cell parts, and biomolecules.
Mental Phenomena
  • Mental phenomena include feelings, sensations, emotions, sense-perceptions, thoughts, moods. For example,
    • Headache, ringing in ears, joy at the birth of a child, sadness at the death of a loved one, fear of heights, nervousness, back pain, poison ivy itch, afterimages, hunger, fatigue, smell of a skunk, music, taste of orange juice, embarrassment.
How They Differ
  • Physical phenomena are in theory publicly observable. In contrast, mental phenomena are observable only by the person experiencing them.
    • You have a headache.  We open up your skull, observe your brain, and watch the neurons fire.
      • Your brain and neurons are publicly observable
      • Your headache is privately observable, only by you.
      • I can see your brain but can’t feel your pain.
  • A person has privileged access to their mental goings-on.
    • It’s self-evident to you that you have a headache.  But I need evidence: your moaning, holding your head, telling me you have a headache, lying down, taking Tylenol.  You don’t need such evidence.
Competing Hypotheses
  • You’re an immaterial person (self, mind, soul, spirit), interacting with your body.
  • You’re a physical human being (human animal, member of homo sapiens), having feelings, emotions, sensations, thoughts,…
Big Picture
  • Being either an immaterial person or a physical human being, you’d think you could tell which you are.
  • I myself can’t.  The problem is I don’t how how to tell.  I can tell whether I have a headache or whether I hear singing.  But I don’t know how to tell what I am.
  • David Hume tried introspection and couldn’t even observe himself.
    • “For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception.”
Split Brain Thought Experiment
  • Argument for immaterial personhood.
    • You have an afterlife only if you’re an immaterial person.
    • There’s evidence of an afterlife.
    • Therefore, there’s evidence you are an immaterial person.
  • View Afterlife
Ockham’s Razor
  • Ockham’s Razor, set forth by William of Ockham (1285–1347/49), is the principle that entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.  The simpler of two theories is preferable, other things being equal.
  • Naturalistic Dualism is simpler than Cartesian Dualism because it postulates one kind of entity (physical bodies) rather than two (physical bodies and immaterial persons). The immaterial person is merely a gratuitous middleman between physical and mental phenomena.
Chimpanzee Trilemma
  • For the Naturalistic Dualist, chimpanzees and human beings are fundamentally alike. Their genomes are 96% identical.  Both have high levels of consciousness. Chimpanzees also seem to be self-aware, having passed the Mirror Test.  For the Naturalistic Dualist, they’re both animals.
  • The Cartesian Dualist, on the other hand, must choose among three views:
    1. Chimpanzees are immaterial persons, like human beings  (Richard Swinburne)
    2. Chimpanzees are non-conscious automata, philosophical zombies (Rene Descartes)
    3. Though Chimpanzees are not immaterial persons, they nonetheless have a high-level of consciousness.  That is, Naturalistic Dualism is true for Chimpanzees.
Free Will
  • Argument for Immaterial Personhood.
    • You have free will only if you’re an immaterial person.
    • You have free will.
    • Therefore, you’re an immaterial person.
  • Philosophers disagree about the nature of free will.
    • Hypothetical Free Will
      • A person acts of his own free will if they could have done otherwise if conditions had been different.
    • Categorical Free Will
      • A person acts of his own free will if they could have done otherwise given the same conditions.
  • The argument for immaterial personhood uses categorical free will
    • You have categorical free will only if you’re an immaterial person.
    • You have categorical free will.
    • Therefore, you’re an immaterial person.
  • But there are good reasons for doubting that people are categorically free.
  • View Free Will