cog sci paper 1 - Wood 1 Lindsay Wood Intro Cognitive...

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Wood 1 Lindsay Wood Intro Cognitive Science Prof. Livingston 18 February 2008 The Mind Matters: Weighing in on Dualism and Reductionism Cognitive science may be a relatively new discipline, but humans have been thinking about their minds for centuries. It seems only natural that if people are to look up at the stars and wonder, question, and attempt to explain, they should also turn their curiosity within. In fact, understanding the mind would seem far more universally relevant to human beings than the study of any other phenomena – for people may sometimes wonder about the economy or history, but the very act of “wondering” is a mental journey. The extent to which it is also a physical journey, however, is the source of a heated debate. Modern scientists, in favor of emphasizing the material nature of the universe, have largely eradicated traditional, mystical theories of the mind, yet there exist lingering doubts about the ability of the purely scientific and concrete theory of the mind to explain abstract mental activities. It is astounding to consider that through hundreds of years of debate, one of the earliest thinkers about the mind still has such weighty influence, still leaves such a strong legacy. Rene Descartes, a 17 th century philosopher and mathematician, systematically doubted his own beliefs and ideas to the point that he doubted everything he knew, including his own perceptions. Through his process of methodical skepticism, Descartes found only one certainty, his own thoughts and, by extension, the ability to think (Churchland, 1988, p. 8). For Descartes, his mind
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Wood 2 was the only certainty about his existence and he could trust only his mental experiences. This difference in reliability led Descartes to consider his mind not only of a fundamentally different nature than his body, but even composed of different substance. Descartes emphasized two central points about the mind: that it shares no causal properties with the body and is of a different substance, and that it does not interact directly with the physical body. Descartes’ form of dualism, deemed substance dualism because it distinguishes between the mind and body in terms of physical substance, inspired a slightly more feasible, more modern dualistic view called property dualism. Property dualists do not insist the mind and body are different substances, but suggest the mind has different causal properties from the body. Property dualists propose mental activity is caused by the brain, but does not in turn affect the physical body. One’s actions, therefore, are caused by the physical brain, and not by mental activity, which occurs simultaneously and only appears to have a causal influence on the body. Mental events are said to emerge from the physical brain, but cannot be themselves reduced to the physical (Churchland, 1999, p. 10-12). Descartes’ theory of mind its ideological successors, based in antiquated scientific and
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This essay was uploaded on 04/07/2008 for the course COGNITIVE COGS-100 taught by Professor Livingston during the Fall '08 term at Vassar.

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cog sci paper 1 - Wood 1 Lindsay Wood Intro Cognitive...

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