Materialism vs. Dualism
Many philosophers have proposed various approaches to explaining the theory of mind to achieve this aim. Dualism and materialism are the two most common approaches. Humans and other species, according to dualism, have nonphysical reasons that are responsible for our self-awareness, feelings, ideas, and emotions. Materialism, on the other hand, assumes that these characteristics are the product of the physical brain. I believe in dualism and the notion that no one can know another’s true feelings. This article will compare and contrast Thomas Nagel’s Dualistic and Daniel Dennett’s Materialistic viewpoints, arguing that Nagel’s view is more rational than Dennett’s. In the essay, “What it is like to be a Bat?” Nagel is of the opinion that currently, there is no any form of reductionists strategy capable of allowing anyone to reduce the subjective, individual’s experience that characterizes that individual’s conscious mental state to incidents dealt with by physical science. I strongly believe, just as Nagel does, that however exact our measurement of the brain might be, we will never be able to read another person’s mind or be able to know or comprehend exactly what it is like to be that person. According to Nagel, consciousness is what enables the mind-body problem intractable (Nagel 5). Ideally, what Nagel is trying to say is that no matter the number of research carried out on the brain, we will never know what it is like to be another being. For example, a scientist may be able to record an individual’s brain state, by recording what the subject tells him of his thoughts and emotions, and show which part of the brain is functioning, but he will never have the ability to truly see or experience things from the subject’s point of view.
From the essay, it is clear that while it is true that humans can use their imaginations to think about what it might be like to be a bat, they cannot be a Bat. Therefore, through our vivid imagination, we can only picture in our minds what it would be like to be a bat, but not experience it in first person perspective (Nagel 7). In trying to explain the subjective character of experience, Nagel breaks the subject down into three fundamentals. First, we can never capture the subjective character of experience by an analysis of the brain. Second, it is not possible to analyze the subjective character of experience regarding functional states or intentional states, for it is also possible to observe robots who act like humans yet have no inbuilt consciousness or feelings. Lastly, we can never analyze the subjective character of experience regarding its relation to the human behavior. Simply put, you cannot exhaust your analysis of an individual just by observing his or her behavior.
According to Nagel, by trying to quantify experiences, we can only show the inner workings of the brain on a cellular level, but we can never know what an individuals or organisms feel, thinks, or remembers. To try to explain the fundamental difference between measurable and non-measurable experience, let us analyze our response to certain smells. Some smells, like that of your favorite food, will automatically trigger a response in your digestive system, thereby preparing your body for eating. On the other hand, there are certain smells capable of triggering vivid memories. For example, the smell of a rose flower will bring up my fond memory-picture of my mother’s backyard garden. While I can use language to describe these memories, no one can experience my memories surrounding the smell, a clear example of things that PET scans or MMR of the brain can never show or see.
Therefore, while we can catalog the behavior of human beings and animals, and broadly categorize that certain behaviors can indicate particular brain state, it is impossible to know what another individual or an animal feel, think, or remembers. It is impossible to put ourselves in another person’s place without being that person (Joubert 104). Chemical analysis and cellular functions involve analysis of what we know as part of scientific research, which is the objective data of physical functioning. The subjective is the first person point of view of an individual, which he might be able to describe but ultimately cannot share.
Dennett, on the other hand, shares a firmly reductive and materialistic approach towards consciousness, which is not only controversial but also eliminative by trying to explain consciousness away. According to Dennett, the physical facts about the brain are enough to account for all the fundamentals and facts about the mind, including consciousness (Dawkins 46). From Dennett’s arguments, one can assume that he is not interested in explaining what exactly is consciousness but rather tries to offer a simpler route towards discussing the issue, that of simply understanding it materialistically. By opposing dualism, Dennett only offers a shortcut for scientists to complete the project on consciousness, but not any substantial solution.
What Dennett is trying to tell us is that by materializing human consciousness, humans are comparable to a robot, which is false, since as much as robots can do some things even better than humans, they have no feelings. If we could understand or know another person’s consciousness, then we could avoid many crimes, by simply reading the minds of potential offenders. We could tell the content of a lecture’s test, and whether a spouse is cheating. Human beings would function like robots, without feelings, adrenaline rush, excitement, expectations, hate or love. There would be no clear distinction between tears of joy and tears of pain. That is what Dennett is trying to imply.
From the above discussion and analysis, it is clear that Nagel’s opinion is a subject of clear study and comparison. Nagel’s use of a bat as an example makes dualism easier to understand and comprehend. As much as we might be able to imagine how it would be like if we existed as a bat, we could not have the experience of a bat. To experience once consciousness, we must be that person. Although scientific researchers can record what a subject is feeling, and quantify the subject’s experience, they can never be able to feel or re-live the subject’s experiences. On the other hand, Daniel Dennett does not try to solve the issue of consciousness, but rather tries to write it off. By trying to materialize consciousness, Dennett asserts that it does not exist and that it worth leaving out in the final explanation when trying to explain features such as feelings, and emotions.
Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press, 2016.
Joubert, Callie. Medicine and Mind-Body Dualism: A Reply To Mehta’s Critique. Mens Sana
Monographs, vol 12. no. 1 2014, pp. 104.
Nagel, Thomas. What is it like to be a Bat.? The Philosophical Review, vol. 83, no. 4. 1974, pp.