Philosophy of Mind

A Romp Through Philosophy of Mind for Complete Beginners 

A Romp Through the Philosophy of Mind

A Romp Through the Philosophy of Mind

I made this series in 2012. It addresses the perennial philosophical problem: how is the mind related to the body?

You will be first briefly be taken through Descartes’ famous argument for ‘the real distinction’ between mind and body, and the problems it faces. Then I will introduce you to ‘Identity Theory’, the view that the mind IS the brain (or more precisely, that mental states ARE neural states) and the problems that face this theory. Then we’ll look at what is available if we reject both Cartesian Dualism and Identity Theory. We’ll then consider whether, in asking how the mind is related to the brain, we are asking the wrong questions. Finally there is a Q&A session in which the audience ask me all the many questions that they’re left with at the end of the series.

This series is the basis for OUDCE’s short online course An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind

There are five lectures in this series. Each of them is, as usual, available in both audio and video.



Lecture One:Identity Theory and Why it Won’t Work

Lecture Two: Non-Reductive Physicalisms and the Problems They Face

Lecture Three: If Physicalism Won’t Work What is the Alternative?

Lecture Four: Are we Asking the Wrong Questions?

Lecture Five: Question and Answer Session



7 Responses to Philosophy of Mind

  1. Kris says:

    Hi Marianne, In the first place I wish to thank you for the marvellous series you’re setting up. As a complete newbie I learned really a lot after ‘Critical reasoning’ and now on my way in ‘Theory of mind’. As a non-professional, I also like the informalities of speaking and the possibility to convey thoughts and questions about the topics involved.
    Now I have a kind of remark on something I heard today in the lecture from epiphenomenalism (lecture 3) and the ‘Modal argument’. What striked me was the very nature of the thought experiment, that suggested a world which should be an exact duplicate from ours, with nevertheless other metaphysical properties.
    I happend to be also an admirer of Quantum mechanics: a striking accurate (meta)theory of physics, with high credibility in somewhat the whole scientific community.
    One prediction of the calculations is the so-called ‘no-cloning’-effect, whereby, as the name suggests, the microscopic copying of a material state is not allowed in particular where it involves fermions (matter) and not bosons (light, Higgs, ‘forces’).
    A deep theory of mind cannot, in my opinion, avoid such issues as the forbiddenhood of duplication. Conciousness can be biologically explained, physically or in contexts of neurological sciences or off course (and that is what I recently discovered I must admit) in the realm of theory of mind.

    Do you have an opinion (or even a notion) of these matters? I put my finger here on a big issue I think, because exactness is nowhere else more pursued than in here.

    I give you two links to sites I found today after a simple internet search that shared my first opinion in this which I hope that it will contribute to the dissemination of this information.

    From these articles I should be clear the number of thouhts and visions that are overlapping grows exponentially. I nearly skimmed the surface of it, but my hopes are on on a clarification in the future. (maybe in panphenomenalism?).

    Kind regards,

    Kris (Belgium)

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Kris,

      I am sorry I have taken so long to respond to this – do all this around the edges of my day job! I am delighted you are enjoying the podcast series, especially if you are learning a lot from it. Have you seen I have just brought out a book to go with the CR series? Have a look under ‘books’ on the website.

      As philosophers we are constrained by the laws of logic, not the laws of nature. That is why we do thought experience and not empirical experiments in a laboratory. Even if a molecule for molecule replica of our universe is not physically possible, it is logically possible. That’s enough to permit a thought experiment.

      I am also an admirer of Quantum Mechanics – it is indeed probably the best tested (and most mysterious) physical theory we have). But it cannot rule out logical possibilities.

      Thank you for the links – I hope I have succeeded in answering your question…?


  2. Kris says:

    Hello Marianne,

    OK, I follow the cutoff you’re making here, but it doesn’t really answer my question. When I’m not in accord with a premisse of a thought experiment, how can I accept then the conclusion? How is it logically possible to copy a world,… when it isn’t possible?
    To me, the TE creates only a mere illusion. It plagues me because, I’m eager to accept the outcome of it (externalism). The reasoning is perfect from there on. BUT I CANNOT FOLLOW THE REASONING BACKWARDS! In other words, I don’t know where it’s coming from. And this seems a big problem to me.
    You mentioned the strict distinction between The Physical World, Thoughts and Language. I’m willing to accept that, but why is this the case?
    I’m like Hegel now,…and I ask another question, namely: ‘In'(!) the TE itself you make the distinction between the two worlds,.. but after rejoining them, you try to reject the exterior differences (they don’t matter, you think). Of course ‘thougths’ (‘the mental’) are distinct now. You ‘made’ them distict when you created the second world. So it’s not fair to conclude, ‘thougts’ differ from each other (the ‘proof’ for externalism).

    In physics, people also use TE’s to proclaim their findings. You’ve heard without doubt, about the great debates between Einstein and Bohr. The winner was Bohr I think…just because Einstein constructed a TE to reveal an apparent paradox (EPR-paradox), to proof quantum mechanics wrong. Years later in the sixties, the counterattack on his beliefs began, (eg. Bell- theorem) and was later tested and confirmed.

    You mentioned the spoon in a cup of water, in Descartes ‘descend’… where it’s clear that our own eyes could deceive us, and other senses can reassure us about the truth-value of your former (‘spoonish’-)beliefs. But in this case, it’s just not gonna happen that something could reassure you just because human beings aren’t (and never will be) capable to copy the whole of a human brain. It brings us back good old reductionism in that way, I would say but I doubt that could be the goal ultimately?

    For me it’s all pretty confusing. I’m willing to follow, but I just can’t… Can’t you just admit it’s only a mindgame at the end?


    PS. I’m also a big fan of Gödel so you may have guessed
    PS. The part in bold is a bit recursive in the way that physical laws in general have the logical property that they also work backwards in time. I think, TE’s must have, at least the same structure of this kind of laws (in a causal way then, on my way to o buy your book). In contrast you may say that a premisse isn’t actually a part of the TE itself. But I doubt this last part.

    • Marianne says:

      Kris, this is very long, and usually I’d say ‘AAAArgh! Chris’ can you make it shorter please?’ But as it’s your first post, i’ll let it pass!

      You are quite right that if you think one of the premises of an argument is false you need not accept the conclusion. You are also right (absolutely right) to refuse to accept a conclusion when you can’t follow the reasoning that led to it.

      You are equivocating, though, with the word ‘possible’. Do you think that the laws of nature might have been other than they are? If so you are admitting logical, as well as empirical, possibility.

      There are arguments for externalism other than the Twin Earth argument. Check them out here: Good for you: you are trusting an intuition that you have (that externalism is correct) yet refusing to accept what seems to you to be a bad argument for it. Well done.

      Dualism (of the physical and mental) is more philosophically acceptable now than it has been since Descartes. The reason for this is that the arguments for physicalism cannot be shown to be conclusive (indeed many of them are rather bad). If dualism is correct (and this is a big ‘if’) then the mental realm differs from the physical realm in some way yet to be discovered.

      I am afraid I do not understand the paragraph in which you say you are ‘like Hegel’.

      Physics and philosophy are very close – at least at the more theoretical end of physics. Physicists certainly conduct thought experiments and when they do they are being philosophers – constraining themselves by the laws of logic rather than the laws of nature.

      Why can’t I just admit it is a mind-game? If you think this why are you bothering to waste time on this website?!


  3. Kris says:

    Hi Marianne,

    Letting it sinking it in and giving a chance to, let me say, non-physical reasoning can be a real opener (to the mind). The borders between real world-physics and mentality are indeed very vague, but also intricating and full of potential.
    I can see now how ‘duplicating a world’ can work….without restrictions to reality.

    To put it in a drawing (a pity I can’t upload .Jpeg’s of some sort)…You can visualise a picture of the Penrose triangle ( what is a good example of a questionable metaphysical object. But without further extensions in our world.


    • Marianne says:

      The distinction between mind and world is indeed intricate and difficult, Kris, philosophers have teen thinking about it for centuries, and now psychologists and neurophysiologists are joining in. Sadly we are not all working together (though this is now starting properly).

  4. Kris says:

    Hmhm, also a related subject is the issue of the ‘Boltzmann brains’…wich is a remarkable hypothesis about the very existence of our (own) world in terms of chances and thermodynamics.

    While we can’t call these theories of any real physical value, they are very usefull to let you understand the vastness of certain possibilities (e.g. configurations of particles) and the mere (maybe a bit reductionistic) betrayal of our normal impressions by our senses,talking about, of course, the real physical world we experience.

    Don’t take me wrong, I don’t believe in ‘Boltzmann brains’, therefore aspects of the world are too intertwined and tangled, wich also reduces the ‘chances-problem’ a bit more…You know.

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