Preface – this discussion originated in another thread which can be viewed here:

I should point out, that I have not deeply studied any religious texts, or for that matter, any philosophical ones, and I have no specific position whatsoever. This has no bearing on anything, but some of the arguments for and against seem to be ad hominem, so I say that just to avoid those from the beginning. If you have no interest in this subject, don’t bother posting at all.

There are several questions it seems to me, left unanswered by monism and dualism. To say dualism is dead seems to be a bit premature.


Where do abstract ideas exist?

What is our brain doing when we think abstractedly, and where in the brain does it do this?

How does monism resolve the “illusions” of free will and self?

If monism is correct, abstract ideas must exist in the physical world. Where do they exist? Some say that abstract ideas only exist when we think of them, but this poses more problems than it solves. If we take the idea that abstract thoughts only exist in conscious minds, if there are no conscious minds, or, if no conscious mind is thinking of an abstract idea at that moment in time, does the idea no longer exist? If none of us think about the number 1 or 2, and abstract ideas only exist in conscious minds, that would mean that 1 or 2, at that point, do not exist at all. Intuitively, this seems incorrect, and dare I say, a “conscious-centric” worldview, which seems to arrogantly suggest that the humble numbers 1 and 2 do not exist without us.

To look at it from another perspective, let us consider an abstract law which exists in the universe. For example, gravity. If none of us think about gravity, we must still accept gravity still exists and acts in the universe. That must mean that gravity has a place in the world without conscious minds. What about numbers?

To continue the monist problem, where does gravity exist in the physical world? Or E=mc2? If monism is correct, we ought to be able to look closer and closer and perceive gravity, or another law. We ought to be able to look close enough and say, “This is a gravity. This is an E=mc2.” This does not seem likely, even if we had the most powerful perceptive faculties imaginable. However, everything else in the material world operates in a space. Two balls, one red and one blue exist in space. We can say, “This ball is red, that one is blue. They are not the same.” The balls exist, they operate in the physical world, the same as gravity, and E=mc2, but the balls are divisible. We can break them down and find that fundamentally they are the same particle. But these particles exist in space, separate from each other. How would we break down a gravity? What would it’s constituent parts be? Everything we say materially exists operates in space and is divisible down to fundamental building blocks. Gravity exists in space but where, and what can it be broken down to? We cannot avoid the issue by saying gravity exists everywhere because that would mean we are made up of fundamental particles of gravity, yet so far we consider ourselves to be built up of minute particles. If we are just fundamental blocks of gravity, what about other physical laws?

The Ancient Greek and Indian philosophers were able to intuitively suggest that solid objects are actually made up mostly of space. This is completely counter-intuitive and if I were alive at that time and they told me I would have thought them mad. To say a solid table is mostly space seems wrong, yet they were found to be correct.

If our brains are simply sense perceiving and translation devices, how did they arrive at this conclusion? Where did this idea come from, where in the brain was this done and how? If our brains are simply sense perceiving organs that must mean there is a site in the brain which has something akin to an electron-microscope (when thinking ‘micro’ abstractedly) or a high powered telescope (when thinking ‘macro’ abstractedly, for example in pre-scientific theories about the Big Bang/creation of the universe). Where is this site in the brain, and how does it see that far? Monism MUST say that there is a device like this in the brain, if so, where is it, and how does it do this? Furthermore, if this was simply a perceiving organ, why do we have the ability to create abstract ideas as well as perceive them?

From a monist’s perspective, “free will” and “self” are illusory, because everything is determinable by the fundamental laws of the universe. A monist must therefore consider both an illusion, which would suggest all conscious minds are suffered from some kind of dementia. If our senses of selves and will are delusional, how can we trust our other senses? This seems dangerously close to slipping into solipsism, and if we can prove nothing else, as Descartes said, the one thing we do know is that we exist. If the only thing I can prove to exist is myself, yet this is an illusion, does not monism slip gently into solipsism at its most fundamental state?

The dualist stance would solve a lot of these questions, but pose more of its own.

A dualist world which consisted of thought/matter, and our consciousness as some sort of window between the two solves the problems of where these abstract thoughts exist which seem problematic from a monist standpoint, as they would exist in some sort of universal other place where the abstract ideas which shape our world formally exist in their entirety and can be seen in their pure forms. The problem for dualists to solve is how we are able to see this other world, where in our material brains does this window exist? As a kind of point of singularity? Where precisely could a dualist point to and say, “This is the material site of our window?” A dualist must resolve this point if they are able to say where the point of interaction between the two worlds exists.

A dualist can also site a “will” or “self” at this point of consciousness, and resolve the monist problems with free will and self, but dualism still has to resolve the problem of where this point exists materially, as everything else we can prove to exist has a “place” in the material world.

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Tell me where 'pi' exists as anything other than a 'concept'.  I've already explained 'concepts' at least 7 times so we're not going through that again.  When you can tell me where 'pi' exists as anything more than a concept then we can proceed.  You are getting very boring.

I'm not going to say where pi exists. I am asking if it does. If it does exist then we have to reject nominalism.

If you have no example of 'pi' that exists as anything other than a concept then it is not an example of dualism.  Let me know when you have some sort of example that supports dualism.

I'm not for or against any specific position. I'm not arguing for dualism.

You asked how pi would exist except as a concept. If mathematical concepts do exist we have to give them a place. If they do not have a place, how can they be said to exist, since being able to place or perceive something in reality seems to be the very definition of existence.

If they exist, we have to reject nominalism, since it specifies that mathematical concepts themselves do not exist.

For the 8th, and last time, concepts are nothing more than patterns of neurons (such as patterns of grains of sand) - a reflection of the world perceived by those neurons.  That's it.

Substitute '1' or '2' for 'pi' and go back through our entire exchange and you end up with the same thing.

But my other perceptions are perceptions of real things (or in the case of memory, things which happened). If those perceptions are "real" why is pi not?

We can say that we can not know if any of them are real, they still exist/happened in space and time. We can still say that we are real. How can we say that my perception of this table is real, but my perception of pi is an illusion. I can use pi. It cannot therefore be illusory.

Your concept of the table is just that - your concept/perception; a reflection of something that exists in reality.  Our minds reflect reality with many patterns - but those patterns are just that - patterns, not a table.

That reflection is reflected and refracted all around the brain in many ways - creating a pattern for '4', the way we numerate the legs on the table.  Other patterns for diameter and circumference can arise if the table is round - interfering and combining with each other to arise with the pattern for 'pi' - just a reflection of the table but not a table.  The concept of a circle exists but is nothing more than a pattern that might arise as the reflection of all sorts of things - but the concept is still just a pattern - not the thing.

The colour of the table is a pattern resulting from the light perceived to be reflecting from the table but still not another object existing anywhere outside of our head.

That's it.

Please read Daniel Dennet's Consciousness Explained.

That's fair. I guess my problem is the idea that mathematical and physical laws, pi etc. don't actually exist but have effects on the material world is troublesome for me. Thanks anyway. Looks like I need to study more...

I was considering your numerical conundrum, as proposed by Plato and the counterarguments.  I have to say that I'm of the persuasion that numbers are actually tools to describe the cause and effect nature of the universe in which we find ourselves.

Quantum physics and mechanics deeply disturbs the otherwise predictable nature of numbers, in that objects interact in a seemingly irregular way once a certain point is reached.

This would apparently upset the philosophy that numbers are fixed objects in "another place".

There is an amazing scientist and philosopher called Michio Kaku, perhaps you know of him.  He has done some things with Big Think, and there is an interesting looking playlist that I am just about to launch and lose myself in. 

Here is the link to that, in case you are interested - I think this guy may have a better set of answers than most people around.  He is also a very animated and interesting character himself and extremely watchable.

Yeah I've seen that guy, and I really like Big Think. This guy for instance:

as well as the RSA Animate videos, especially this one:


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