Sunday, December 8, 2019

Noneism and Philosophy of Mind


Those who are familiar with the contemporary landscape of Analytic philosophy of mind are all too aware that the central dogma of nearly all the schools of thought is that the mind (in whatever sense that term is to be understood) is said to exist. Nearly all schools of thought in the Philosophy of Mind (with one notable exception) hold steadfastly to this assumption. To be sure, many of them will disagree about the nature of the mind, with the Dualists claiming that it is an immaterial substance, and the Identity Theorists claiming that it is identical to the physical brain, but they will not disagree over the central dogma.

However, one option that has very rarely been canvassed is the notion that the mind does not exist. This view would fit quite nicely within a Noneist metaphysics, and as we have already indicated in our previous posts, Noneism is a powerful theory that provides neat solutions to age old philosophical problems. This being the case, it would only be natural to conclude that Noneism would have something beneficial to say in the Philosophy of Mind. This is what I would like to explore in this post.

More specifically, I am interested in examining the 'Type-D Materialism' alluded to in the excellent paper by Paul Douglas Kabay titled What's it like to be a Zombie? A New Critique of the Conceivability Argument for Dualism To put it simply, Type-D Materialism is the view that the Mind is a nonexistent object, but despite that, the mind can still do things like think, will, have qualitative experience, etc.

I mentioned earlier that one notable school of thought does not accept the central dogma of Philosophy of Mind. These people would be the Eliminative Materialists. Eliminative Materialists hold both that the mind does not exist and that all mentalistic terms are about nothing at all. On the basis of terminology alone, it might appear that Type-D Materialism is just Eliminative Materialism by a different name, but the similarities are actually superficial. While both schools of thought agree that the Mind does not exist, the Eliminative Materialist understands this to mean that the Mind is an illusion, and thus a mere Nothing. Consequently, the Eliminative Materialist proposes that we eliminate all terms having to do with the Mind and with mental processes from our scientific and philosophical lexicons.

The Type-D Materialist, on the other hand, holds that even though the mind does not exist, it is still an object with a certain nature and with well-defined properties. Therefore, the Type-D Materialist is quite comfortable with utilizing folk psychological terminology. Thus, the mind for the Type-D Materialist is a definite Something, even though it does not exist.

Now the thing that made me find Type-D Materialism particularly captivating is the notion adumbrated in that Kabay essay. To wit, Kabay points out that despite the consistent use of the term 'object' within Noneist philosophy, we must not fall into the trap of thinking that this "is to be understood in contrast to 'subject'." Incredibly, this is not something that I had ever considered before, but this result follows quite naturally from a simple consideration of the Characterization Postulate. To wit, say that we are considering some nonexistent object such as the character Abdul Alhazred from the Lovecraft Stories. We know from the stories that Alhazred has the property of "author of the Necronomicon." Since writing a book is an existence-entailing property, it follows that Abdul Alhazred exists in those worlds that realize the Lovecraft Mythos. But quite clearly, Abdul Alhazred is a human, and humans are certainly one type of sentient item. It follows thereby that there is something it is like to be Abdul Alhazred, in just the same way that there is something it is like to be you or I. Thus, even though Abdul Alhazred does not exist, he still has conscious experiences.


But things get really interesting when we consider the fact that in the Lovecraft worlds Abdul Alhazred almost certainly believes that he actually exists. But he would be mistaken in thinking this because the only things that actually exist are the things that exist in our world. And as Kabay aptly points out, if Alhazred can be mistaken about his existential status, how can we be so sure that we actually exist?

What is particularly interesting about Type-D Materialism is how it accounts for the law-like correlation between brain states and qualia. To wit, he appeals quite directly to the Characterization Postulate to solve this problem. I can do no better than to quote him en masse:

"On the version of physicalism that I am advocating, there is a purely physical world that consists, among other things, of our human bodies and brains. But included among the many non-existent items in which physicality is immersed is every possible state of consciousness, every instance of qualia. Some of these are completely disordered and in no way correlate with the brain states of human bodies. Some correlate with physical states other than brain states of humans.  There are, for example, qualia that correlate with neutrino states and others that correlate with the inputs and outputs of bacteria, and still others that do so with chunks of mountain. And there are qualia that correlate with nothing real at all. But among this plethora of non-existent qualia are those that correlate in a very law-like manner with the brain states of humans, and among those is a very small subset that correlate in exactly the manner that ours do: we are they."

In other words, qualia states, since they are properties of minds, must be included in any suitable Characterization Postulate. This being so, it is only bound to be the case that some among these will match up perfectly to the goings-on of our physical world. In my mind, this right here is an astonishing piece of Philosophical reasoning, for in effect what Kabay has done is to provide a sound resolution to the Interaction Problem from a purely Meinongian perspective.

Another thing that is extremely exciting about Type-D Materialism is that it can give a purely rational basis for an Animistic belief system. For if every possible stream of qualia states is represented in some object, then some of those objects will correlate precisely with nonhuman animals and the environment. With this in mind, Type-D Materialism can potentially make some very interesting connections to Pagan and Indigenous traditions.

But even more importantly than that, it can provide a key part of the comprehensive philosophical foundation that veganism desperately needs. For, if animals and the environment are the proper bearers of experiential states, than it seems perfectly sensible to conclude that we have direct duties toward them.

I would strongly encourage you all to read and consider the ideas presented in this article. I truly believe that they might contain the first inklings of a philosophical revolution.


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