Dualism–I’m of Two Minds

By | February 27, 2011

Very interesting interview with Susan Blackamore in the Third Way. She talks about how she came to abandon paranormal research and discusses some of the reasons why memetics is still regarded as somewhat suspect as a field of study.

Includes some pretty deep philosphical stuff. Blackamore rejects dualism but owns up to how difficult that is:

It ap­pears to be the case that there is a physical world – I can hit it and feel it, I can hit you and you will agree that you felt it. There is undoubtedly my experience of the de­light­ful turquoise colour of your socks, and I know enough about how the brain works to know that other people looking at those socks will call them ‘green’ and others will call them ‘blue’, because we all have different visual systems. Private subjective experiences seem to be a very different kind of thing from the physical world.

Look inside the skull and what have you got? You’ve got a brain made of billions of neurons, and all those neurons are doing is shunting electrical impulses and little molecules of chemicals here and there, back and forth. That’s all they’re doing. How can that be, or give rise to, or be responsible for – I don’t even know what the right word is! – the experience of that turquoise?

That is the mystery and it’s all around us. I cannot honestly deny that I seem to be having an experience of turquoise. There seems to be a me over here and there seems to be a sock over there. Nor can I deny that if we chop open a brain in the lab we will see all these neurons and everything. But these two things seem completely in­commensurable.


She goes on to talk about the idea that consciousness is most likely an illusion. That’s the one that always gets me. This always raises a couple of questions:

1. Who exactly is having the illusion?

2. If my consciousness entertains the thought that “consciousness is an illusion,” isn’t that conclusion highly suspect — seeing that it is the result of an illusion? (That’s true of all conclusions, of course, but it seems especially pointed when it comes to that one.)

I’m not a dualist, myself, but if I were I think I would draw the line not between mind and matter but between matter and information.

  • dwwood76

    I’m not even sure there can be a duality between matter and information. Where do they separate? Information seems to just be a way to view or categorize a particular bunch of matter.

    Also, I wonder why intellectual constructs often seem to get rendered into dualities? I wonder if this is an artifact of being a creature with bilateral symmetry. It seems we have a compulsion to first of all, discretely categorize things into boxes, even when those things might properly belong on a continuous spectrum, and then arrange those boxes into dualities.

    Why does there have to be a line bisecting these things? Are we artificially limiting our understanding of the underlying reality by doing this? (assuming there is an objective underlying reality)

  • sallymorem

    I wrote a review back in 1998 of “The Brain–Our Universe Within,” a PBS series hosted by David Suzuki. In it I addressed a number of topics Suzuki talked about, including how it is possible for a brain to manifest a fully aware mind. Check pages 4 for a discussion on how this might work. My summary is at the end of the review on page 7:

    “Does all this hard-edged scientific study of human emotions and neural processes rob them of their value and importance—of their authenticity? Are we engaging in reductionism? Do we reduce our emotions, our thoughts, even ourselves to biochemical reactions? Will this diminish our sense of Self? We are not merely our neurons and neurotransmitters. Remember that the brain is an exceedingly complex system of messages and chemistry. We are more than the sum of our parts. We are synergistically self-organizing entities composed of thousands of levels of chemical, biological, and neural organization, each level building upon the organized patterns of matter and energy that those below it have established, and creating new and more comprehensive and flexible levels of organization above themselves.

    “As we’ve seen, each one of us possesses a unique set of neural networks. Our individuality, our very Self, is rooted in this vast interplay of incomprehensibly complex electrochemical interactions. As such, each of us, just as the ancient peoples of the Shanidar Caves, is irreducible to our constituent parts and irreplaceable in the broader scheme of things.”


  • dwwood76

    If I am understanding you correctly, then I agree that our Self can not be fully replicated.

    However, I would argue that what we consider our Self changes moment by moment both in the pattern of information running through the substrate and in physical substrate itself.

    And since that is the case, to me it kind of renders the whole idea of a distinct Self as rather meaningless. I am not the baby I was, 20 years from now, the now me will not exist.

    If the Self is the result of a vastly complex process generated by the activity of the brain and nervous system, then it is in constant flux. How could we ever truly cut out a small enough moment of time and declare that the Self of that moment? You could never really catch that snapshot, and even if you could, it would be about as real as the stars we see in the sky that are just the light from years past.

    I think we need to get over the idea and preciousness of distinct Self. It is truly an illusion.

  • number1300

    As psychology student, I hope to enlighten you about the part when you mentioned consciousness is more like an illusion. There’s a term in psychology called projection. We see things during at our conscious state what we want to believe is true. There are some things that we perceive the way we want to see in order to make things acceptable to our conscious minds.