Skip to main content

Monism, Dualism, and Perception

The mind and brain are different from one another. Two common philosophies exist on the nature of a brain-mind connection: dualism and monism. Monism is the doctrine that denies any distinction or difference between the physical brain and the abstract concept of the mind. In monism, the two are seen as different parts of the same entity. Here, the mind is a personified expression of the electrical signals. This differs radically from dualism, where the belief that a human being embodies two parts, the body and the soul/mind, exists. The primary difference is that for dualism, the soul/mind can exist separately from the body; but for monism, the two must coexist. No evidence exists that an abstraction such as a soul exists separately from the physical brain itself. It should be noted that the idea that some external mind or soul may exist cannot be disproven with today’s science, but this inability to be disproven does not automatically prove its existence. This would be considered an ad ignorantiam fallacy. Because of this, in modern neuroscience, monism prevails as the accepted concept. The connection between a brain and a physical mind can be observed in patients with severe trauma to the brain who are left brain-dead. They are unable to respond to any environmental cues, and no brain functions are able to be detected. This monism-centric view of the brain is critical in understanding how the brain itself is a critical object to all people, as the physical connection between the body and soul allows for a consciousness that is universal across all people. If there is no top-level of perception, nor superseding mind for the brain, then the actual sensory information and experiences that occur in one's life are the key for uniqueness and individuality. The entire process of experiencing some sensory information directly affects one’s perception of the world, which in turn guides behaviors that interact with the sensory information;  it is a cyclical process where each component is an equal. If a dualism-centric view of neuroscience was prevalent, severe head trauma and damage to the nervous system would not actually affect one’s mind and perception of the world, as those components of the self are housed externally. But this just is not the case. Damage to the brain causes direct and severe damage to the mind and the person’s self. The importance of perception to the one’s mind is emphasized by Susan Buck-Morss’ essay “Aesthetics and Anaesthetics: Walter Benjamin’s Artwork Essay Reconsidered”, in which she states:

"The original field of aesthetics is not art but reality--corporeal, material nature. As Terry Eagleton writes: 'Aesthetics is born as a discourse of the body.' It is a form of cognition, achieved through taste, touch, hearing, seeing, smell-the whole corporeal sensorium. The terminae of all of these-nose, eyes, ears, mouth, some of the most sensitive areas of skin-are located at the surface of the body, the mediating boundary between inner and outer. This physical-cognitive apparatus with its qualitatively autonomous, nonfungible sensors (the ears cannot smell, the mouth cannot see) is "out front" of the mind, encountering the world prelinguistically,' hence prior not only to logic but to meaning as well."

The working definition of aesthetics is important, as it helps to eliminate the connotation the word has for being used only to describe art. Buck-Morss accurately describes the importance of sensory over all other aspects of the nervous system, superseding all other components and shaping how one sees the world.

The perception of the world is what actually causes change and growth between individuals. If a brain were to be artificially constructed as a perfect match to a naturally grown brain, would it still have a mind? The answer to this is no. It would merely be a grouping of neurons with no meaning. Any signals that are being transmitted the neurons are meaningless, as they have no association with the outside world. No sensory signals would actually affect the neurons firing, nor would the signals themselves affect any behavior. Without this change to behavior, humans would have no impact upon their environment. Throughout one’s life, these different environmental effects carve each individual’s personality.

This brings into question an interesting idea. If one’s thoughts, experiences, and self were transferred from their physical brain to a computer analog that was perfectly able to replicate the human brain, along with all of its sensory components, would the individual change? I say no, they would not. All of the memories would be intact, and they would still be able to function and make new memories (assuming the electronic sensory organs properly function). The actual type of construction of the brain is not as important as the connections made between the neurons. It is those connections that define an individual. If these connections are able to be perfectly replicated in a brain made via some other medium, the brain would be just as legitimate as the naturally occurring connections found in normal brains. This thought process could also be applied to artificial intelligences (AIs). AIs’ minds could also be considered equal to naturally made minds if the connections were analogous to physical brains and could adapt to incoming sensory information. It is important to note that one’s mind and self start to deteriorate once these neuronal connections are severed.

 

Monism, Dualism, and Perception