Do you exist?

My brother, Bob, asked me, “Is there anything that you are sure exists but that is not material?”

My short answer would be, “no”, but instead I replied, “I feel like everything can be put on an existance scale. On one end of the scale, say the left end, are things which I feel pretty sure exist and things on the other end, say the right end, of the scale I’m pretty sure don’t exist. This is not an absolute scale. Each thing is placed on the scale relative to other things on the scale. For example my shoes would go to the left of elves and other non-material things would go to the right of elves. So I wouldn’t say I’m sure things like ghosts, souls, angels, demons, etc. exist. I’m just less sure they exist.”

I forgot to mention to him that I think ideas exist and are not necessarily material, but can ideas exist apart from a mind? Is an idea written on paper still an idea if no one is around to read it? By the way, in my opinion the mind is a physical object made of neurons, synapses, etc.

14 Replies to “Do you exist?”

  1. Our mind requires a brain to function, but that does not mean that the mind and the the brain are identical. There are many scientists who believe they are separate entities, and that the mind is immaterial. The fact that the mind can change the brain lends credence to this view.

  2. What proof do you have that the mind is separate from the brain? While some scientists may believe it, no one has every proven it to be true. In fact, there is more proof that your “mind” is an illusion created by your brain.

    An interesting program on the subject.

    http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/episodes/2005/02/04

    A brain injury can cause someone to become a completely different “person”. That suggests to me that we don’t exist separately from our brains.

  3. Our minds need a brain to function in much the same way that ideas require a language in order to be communicated.

    I think classic mind-brain dualism more accurately reflects human experience and does not force us to resort to illusion in order to explain reality.

    Your brain can affect your mind (as in your example), and your mind can affect your brain (as in hypochondria, for example). This seems to me to be as much an argument for dualism as it is for monism.

    There is a lot of debate about this among scientists and philosophers and no one is close to proving anything.

  4. You have resorted to merely expressing an opinion without any supporting evidence. I could just as easily say that the theory that the mind is an illusion created by the brain more accurately reflects human experience.

    Since there is no proof that the mind exists without the brain, it’s logical to assume (unless proven otherwise) that the mind is a creation of the brain.

    I don’t see how your example demonstrates the mind affecting the brain. People are hypochondriacs because their brain creates an illusion in their mind which affects their behavior.

    We are in agreement that this subject hasn’t been proven. But when there is a lack of evidence I choose a belief in the null hypothesis and only change in light of new evidence.

    For example…

    Does Santa Claus exist?

    1. Yes
    2. No

    I start at ‘No’ but would change to ‘Yes’ if there was sufficient evidence in support.

    In this example,

    Does the mind exist?

    1. Yes
    2. No

    What compelling evidence would make me switch from the default ‘No’ position?

  5. I thought hypochondria was a psychologically induced illness or an illness that only exists in the patients head. In the case of hypochondria how does the “mind” affect the brain? Isn’t this a case of the brain affecting some other part of the body?

    Another kind of dualism is brain / body dualism. As far as I can tell, the brain is just another organ in the body, an unusually crucial organ, but an organ nevertheless.

  6. Hypochondria, which is a type of incorrect thinking, can result in physical changes to the brain and other parts of the body. This is an example of the thinking (the mind) affecting the brain.

    If dualism is correct, the mind is immaterial. If the mind is an illusion, it is immaterial. Either way, the mind is separate from the brain.

    But Perry, you said you “choose a belief in the null hypothesis and only change in light of new evidence.” This is impossible given your materialist world view, since you can’t choose</i< to believe anything. And you certainly can’t “change in the light of new evidence.”

    So, your position is self-refuting:

    1) Perry believes the mind is an illusion.
    2) Perry’s view of the mind comes from his mind.
    3) Therefore, Perry’s view of the mind is an illusion.

  7. When the brain changes how can we tell that the change was caused by something immaterial and not a result of the interactions of different parts of the brain along with interactions with other body parts and external stimuli? If the mind is separate from the brain how do the two interact? Magic? Does the mind control the brain completely? Are we mere puppets and our mind the puppet master?

  8. I really don’t know what you mean by a “materialist” world view.

    I choose to accept the illusion that my brain creates and live life as though choice & free will are real. Thus, I can change my beliefs in light of new evidence.

  9. Dedwarmo, I’m sure I’m not qualified to answer your questions about the intricacies of mind-brain interaction. But it’s a fascinating subject, and there is certainly disagreement about it among scientists. I’ve heard several interviews with neuroscientists and neurosurgeons who argue for mind-brain dualism. And, so far, none of them has resorted to magic to explain anything.

    For some deep reading, check out this article titled “Quantum Physics in Neuroscience and Psychology: a Neurophysical Model of Mind–Brain Interaction” published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. It was written by Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D. from UCLA and two other contributors. I’m familiar with Jeffrey Schwartz having heard several interviews with him on the subject of the mind and the brain.

    Perry, by “materialist” world view, I simply mean your view that everything is just “molecules in motion.” Nothing but Physics, Chemistry, mass and energy. In other words, the material world. Everything is either mass and energy, or phenomena caused by mass and energy.

    Now, I have to comment on your last statement. You have made similar statements in the past, and I must say they are entirely illogical. Think about what you said: “I choose to accept the illusion that my brain creates and live life as though choice & free will are real.” That statement is illogical. You can’t choose anything if you have no free will!

    Tell me if these three statements accurately summarize your position:

    > You have no choice.
    > You live as though you do.
    > You do this by choice.

    Can you not see that this is illogical?

    You also said you can “change your beliefs.” How can you do that if you have no free will? How can you “live life as though choice & free will are real” when you have no choice or free will?! Obviously, you can’t. In fact, according to your view, the very belief that you can change your beliefs is itself an illusion!

    Now, please point out the logical flaw in this syllogism, given your assumptions:

    1) If there is no free will, one cannot make choices.
    2) There is no free will.
    3) Therefore, one cannot make choices.

    Either 1) the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises, or 2) one of the premises is incorrect. Which is it?

    All that said, however, no matter how much we disagree, I do have to say that I appreciate debating with you and Dedwarmo because of your professionalism and respect. Neither of you ever resorts to name-calling or other ad hominem attacks and I respect that. I hope I’ve treated you with the same respect.

  10. Your summary of my position is not quite correct. Better is this…

    > I have no choice.
    > I live as though I do.
    > I have no choice to live otherwise

    I can see your confusion and agree that my starting premise makes all notions of choice illogical.

    Everything that has and will happen was set in motion at the time of the Big Bang. Whether I change my beliefs or live like I have free will was ultimately not something I chose.

    Choice is an illusion.

    The following simile is not exactly accurate, but it’s close and should help explain my thoughts on the subject.

    Life is like a novel. We have no more choice or free will than the characters in the story. Over the course of the book, the characters can change their beliefs, make discoveries, and live life believing they have free will. They don’t know that every thought, feeling, and event has already been determined for them. They are unaware of their circumstances and thus live believing that they have a choice in affecting the outcome of their lives. They don’t. Neither do we.

    I say this simile is not exactly accurate because the specific story isn’t necessarily written at the start (although it could be). What is written are the rules that all the characters follow. These would be the laws of Physics. These rules along with the starting positions were initiated at the Big Bang. The “story” we end up with is an inevitable result. Had the starting positions of things been different, so too would the story.

    But this knowledge of the nature of life is useless. We can’t “know” how things will turn out. We can’t know the choices we have no choice but to make. Thus, the illusion of Free Will and Choice is alive and well. Within that illusion you can feel like you learn things, change your mind, have a self or develop different beliefs.

    Ultimately, I live my life as though I do have choices only because I have no choice but to live that way.

    I too enjoy debating with you. It’s almost as if I’m talking to my younger self as I used to believe many of the things you do. It has also made me better think through my position on things. Thank you.

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