Descartes jumped to the idea of the material object ‘out there’ on the basis of his clear and distinct ideas and on the basis of his belief that God wouldn’t deceive him.
Once these two substances are established (I am not going into the detailed discussion of Descartes’ ideas of substance and attribute and or his notions of clear and distinct ideas – those do not, for my purposes, matter) then it would become a problem for Descartes as to how these diametrically substances could be related, as they seem to in our day-to-day experience, as for instance, when I foot strikes (an occurrence in the physical world), I feel the hurt (a mental phenomenon), and when I want to raise my arm (a thought, as it were), lo and behold, it goes up (a physical phenomenon).
Again, I do not need to go into Descartes’ solution of the mind-body problem, namely, his Interactionism. (Descartes apparently believed that both mind and body are incomplete substances (finite), neither of them capable of causing ‘modes’ in each other by themselves. But, according to the author I was reading, he believed that body and mind are related as potentiality and actuality and form and they together formed a more complete substance, called the human being which has the properties of voluntary bodily movement or visual perception of material objects etc. This is an unsatisfactory solution based on the unquestion assumption of body and mind being two separate substances somehow being united into a human being.) My interest here is just to show how the problem is generated by Descartes in the first place.
(It’s interesting that the mind-body problem never figured either in Buddhist philosophies or Hindu philosophies. There is no clear opposition between the mind and the body in these philosophies.)
My solution below may appear phenomenological; and it may appear to be subjective. But it is not purely subjective, as something of the sort can be repeated by other people:
1) In the field of pure awareness there is neither body nor mind: there are just images and sounds which can be interpreted as thoughts and things.
2) When I view the world, I have to abstract the things in the world from my impressions of them (sounds like
3) When I confuse the things abstracted with my impressions, then I can generate the mind-body paradox: how can a purely extended thing (abstracted from impressions) be related to a non-extended idea which is again abstracted from another impression?
4) I’ll have to show how I get to the pure awareness: First, I have to abstract the body awareness out. I could do that by letting go of all goals and desires, all the things that hook me to my thoughts. Then the thoughts themselves go. I am reduced to my body awareness. Even the body can be abstracted. The methods of meditation etc. that can be used here to achieve this state don’t really matter for the thesis I am presenting.
5) In that pure awareness the same images or sounds can be both images or sounds or they can be thoughts. This occurrence can be brought about by an event that is happening or resurgence of some memory or some other cause. The causes don’t really matter. What matters is that the abstraction can be repeated by other people and the result is pure awareness.
6) There is engagement and disengagement occurring when we view the images and sounds as thoughts or impressions.
The thoughts and impressions, once they are experienced as such, also present the subject object opposition – along with the opposition we not only have the idea that we are experiencing the world, but also that ‘we’ are experiencing the world.
A parallel abstraction is made on the object side of the thoughts and impressions: then we have the material objects and from there it’s only one step more to the further abstraction of ‘matter’. Matter, of course, would have the extensible properties.
7) Here the two impressions follow one another (in the Humean fashion, and we establish a correlation and causation: ‘raising my hand causes it rise’ or ‘hitting a stone causes the pain sensation or feeling’). There is nothing more to causation than that. We don’t need to establish any more relationship than the correlation: just as when you probe an area in my brain with an electrode in a laboratory, I get the sensation of being pricked, or an image or a dream. Unless we establish by abstraction other entities such as the area of the brain as a material thing and my pain sensation as a mental thing and ask how these are related, there is no problem of relationship between mind and body.
Remark: Am I not reduced to a
Of course, we believe in these things. It doesn’t mean that we know that they exist independently. We believe that there are other people when we are not seeing them around, and other people tell us and we believe what they tell us. But does that mean we actually know that they are there?
I think our thesis is weak, unless we can establish some kind of epistemology here. The objection here would then be, I may be abstracting objects out of my impressions (and matter out of material objects), but we know they are not mere abstractions, for we believe (and other people believe too) that they exist independent of our impressions.Then what is it to know their independent existence: If you take my thesis for granted, nothing would count as knowing it. Ontologically, you are left with nothing but impressions and awareness of them; everything else is a construction or an abstraction. Does it mean that all science is a concoction and has no validity? What about all the results of science and its technology? We do believe in them.
8. We take other people to exist primarily on the basis of our taking language as meaningful. This is the same act through which we take images as thoughts, experiences pointing to objects (or to oneself). How does meaning arise? By somehow the consciousness being linked (or attached or engaged) to an image or sound and looking at the object as a thing, or the sound coming from another person as meaningful. I participate in the dialogue and also see the other person as a person.
9. The notion of ‘abstraction’ needs to be made clear. I hear what someone says as noise, on the one hand, and, when I am viewing the same thing in the ‘intentional’ mode as meaning, as an idea referring to experiences and other people as well as myself, on the other hand.
Here are some specific examples of this: What look like the sounds coming from another person, by being in the intentional mode, I view as speech coming from a person. That’s because the same movement of becoming intentionally engaged also creates me as a person – I don’t just make sounds: through my talk I make sense, communicate and convey information and experiences. Once I am in the dialogue, I have no less evidence to conclude that the other person is a person than I, who am making these sounds, supposedly coming from my awareness and body, am a person. In other words, the abstractions are all intentional movements. They establish me and other people as well as the world as separate entities. Of course, then I have the philosophical problems about how I know them, or how one thing affects the others and so on.
Before, the abstraction, there are no metaphysical problems. We really don’t know that there are other people; but we don’t really know that we exist either, or that the world exists.
That’s essentially where my solution (or, rather, dissolution) of the mind-body problem is.
10. Remark: One might argue (like Wittgenstein) that I cannot assign any meaning to my impressions even unless I take certain uses of language given to me by my culture and society.
The question is not how I get the meanings; that’s immaterial. The causation of these impressions or the origin of the meanings of words is not important.
Then how do I know that these are valid or meaningful? I don’t. I just manage. The question does not arise until I am deceived or fail in my action.
What then? Don’t I have to take something ‘objective’, independent of myself, as the basis for the meaning and validity of my impressions?
The answer to this is that something is more objective only relative to something else. Where I get my knowledge, the sources, don’t matter, as far as I am concerned. Other people are abstractions (of course, I take their independent existence also for granted, as I have abstracted them from my impressions).
There is nothing fixed about meanings. We check, for sure meanings of our words with what we see as an objective ‘dictionary’. When we use we treat them as objective, until something else, or some one else gives us a different definition which might prompt us to revise this definition.
Remark 2: This seems like solipsism revisited. And we will definitely land in not just skepticism but also relativisms of all kinds.
Where is awareness, one might ask, except for my impressions of it, or rather my awareness. Surely, there is no none. There need not be any.
Remark 3: Disillusionment with goals etc. is an unnecessary adumbration in this thesis. We just need to stick to the rock bottom of impressions. Isn’t that what Hume did?
Remark 4: Then how is this thesis different from Hume’s? Hume actually denied not only matter but also mind. He said, just like we are saying, that both are constructions out of impressions. We don’t know either of them directly. Then how is it that Hume didn’t end up being a solipsist. He was and worse, he was a skeptic!
So, is this is a futile exercise?
If we ‘bracket out’ bodies and minds, we are left with just impressions. But then we have no ‘knowledge’? But who cares about knowledge?
11. I read the article by Thurman in the Online Journal of Indian Philosophy: It shows the parallels between Wittgenstein’s attack and Prasangikas’ attack on the private language theory.
It’s not so earth-shattering: I think the confusion arose because Wittgenstein and others were confusing between basing your knowledge on impressions and the privacy of the language on which one could refer to your sensations or impressions. Must the former imply the latter? Suppose we drive a wedge between the two: What we are saying is that your idea of the material objects and matter in general and the idea of minds are generated out of the impressions, or rather they are ‘abstracted’. Does that necessarily have to mean that this is some thing private to me, something which others cannot share?
We are asking what must be the case in our experience for the mind-body problem to be generated. We are showing the presuppositions on which the problem is based. I am not saying that I have any privileged access to these sensations or impressions. Rather, I am saying that from my point of view the public is abstracted from the private, even my mind is abstracted from the sensations or awareness or impressions or what have you.
Of course, this won’t satisfy the hardcore phenomenalists (or what you call them) or materialists.
12. But the question still remains, how is my solution different from that of Hume? Hume assumed that there was a problem in the first place and he offered his solution to that. But then he ended in skepticism with regard to knowledge. My solution, whatever it is, must allow for some sort of relativistic knowledge without landing in skepticism. How is it possible?
But do I have to have a theory of knowledge to solve the mind-body problem. Just skip that part of it. I think it will work out fine.
13. I think everything centers on our notion of ‘abstraction’. What exactly is abstraction? How does it affect knowability of things? What is the resultant epistemological and ontological status of things after abstraction? These questions should probably be answered.
14. ‘Abstraction’ is just a way of saying that if we go in our experience ‘below’ the level of objects, to impressions, and the awareness which is even prior to them, there need not be a mind-body problem.
Then do the objects exist or do they not? Do minds exist or do they not? If they do, how do we know them?
We are not saying that we have a notion of the self, like
The idea of abstraction not akin to ‘superimposition’ in Advaita. If it is, we have to have a prior knowledge of the object somewhere to superimpose on the impressions.
15. ‘Abstraction’ is nothing but imposition of permanence to particular, fleeting sensations, impressions or images, and by adding time, or rather freezing in time, it adds a third dimension and solidity to material objects as well as substantiality to the self. We have to be putting together various sensations and attribute solidity to them and give them a third dimension. Just as we assign solidity to objects, we assign the status of a state to our experiences and place them in time. How this is done? It seems that as our memory and past come to bear upon the present, it’s an automatic process.
First, an image or ‘sound’ becomes a thought when your awareness is engaged to it. The same thing is viewed then as an object with a subject pole.
Two, when in perception an object is recognized as such, i.e., as an object, it too is like an object of thought with its subject pole. Then you can get the further awareness that you are seeing the object.
Three, you get the further awareness that the object exists out there, independent of you. No further abstraction is needed here.
Four, when you perceive several of these objects, you can then abstract the idea of a material object or thing as such, as opposed to my thought of it, perception of it, while at the same time you get the idea that I am thinking these thoughts. I get the idea that I am behind all my thoughts and perceptions, much like matter is behind all the material objects.
Fifth, then I start thinking about the relationship between my perception of the object and the object as such, or between my thought and the object (correspondence), the relationship between my perceptions and thoughts and myself as well as my relationship between my body and thoughts, the body itself being a material thing, although I seem to be in it, having it, etc.
Sixth, I think about how I feel what happens to my body, and am able to move my body according to my thoughts and feelings.
What is the relationship between my thought and my body, then, except that from my point of view they are both something which I perceive, and there seems to be a correlation between them.
The problem of mind-body relationship is a problem which exists in my perceived world. I also ask about what the relationship between another person’s body and what he says which indicate his thoughts.
Notice that in none of this does the private language question rises!
16. Mind-Body Relationship: For myself there is no problem, because both the thought or sensation or feeling and my body are mine. I am not two separate things to be somehow related. There are two sets of things happening in me or to me, if you wish. There is only a succession, as far as I am concerned. No other relationship need exist, because they are both mine. The question of my being two separate entities called body and mind doesn’t arise except in abstraction. I move my arm and once I have an abstract notion of the body, then the same event is interpreted as the arm of my body moving, as if I were something apart from my body. Same goes with my thoughts. They are not separate from me.
The problem of the relationship comes into question when one of them doesn’t go along with the other: as for instance, when I want to stop doing something, and my body, against my will, keeps doing it, when my mind is willing and my flesh is not, or when something happens to my mind (I lose awareness like in anesthesia) and my body seems to remain (for other people) without my awareness. Then a clear separation is made between my mind and my body and we ask the question of how these two are related. But the proper expression here, in order to avoid the mind-body problem, is that I am willing (or I like to do something), but I cannot do it, or my body doesn’t obey or some such thing.
Notice, even here I talk as if I am two separate things, I and my body, as if my body is separate from me.
Death is a special case. I cannot envisage my own death except by extrapolation from other people: I notice other people’s bodies becoming lifeless, and I attribute something parallel to myself, although I have no way of experiencing it directly.
Similarly, you say when I go crazy, my mind is gone. If I am not there, my mind cannot be mine any more, because nothing is mine without me being there. Others may it is mine, but I can’t.
Conclusion: The mind-body problem is generated, not as much out of a misuse of language, but out of certain natural assumptions and abstractions made from my immediate experience. Once, these assumptions are questions, there should be no problem remaining.
You can also say it’s the result of confusing the first and third person points of view.
18. What about other minds? I know only other people’s behavior, that is, what they say and do, and the expressions of their thoughts in words or expressions of their feelings in behavior and what they say. But that’s what constitutes other people to me, not other minds. We often wonder how the other person feels, because we feel that we can’t really feel their feelings.