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.
I have absolutely no idea at all. But monism seems to contain some problems. For example in this video:
The presenter states that the main problem with Platonic theories of numbers is how we interact with the other place. That seems to be a problem of understanding, not a flaw of thought. The nominalist and fictionalist theories which embrace a monist standpoint run into even more problems which seem to contain bigger flaws.
I have some trouble with sources that talk about Plato while showing a picture of Socrates. That being said, he's blowing a lot of smoke and not facing the fact that the abstract concept of 3 or 10 or 12 435 is nothing more than a neurological pattern in our brain. When we do proofs we render them out as nominalists, while in language we use them as platonists, and when we smoke dope we become fictionalists. None of this offers any substantiation to dualism -> it's all more a function of linguistics and neurology.
Hmmm. That is interesting. I'll think about that one. Thanks.
Ok but if we ignore the linguistic and weed smoking sides, nominalism still has to address problems.
For example, pi or higher order mathematics concepts, what are they neurological patterns of? If we say they don't actually exist, and they are patterns of something that doesn't exist in the material world, then why can we use and apply them in the material world, if they are (if I understand nominalism correctly) essentially imaginary?
They are neurological patterns that represent our interpretations and understandings of the world around us. This is about the 6th time I've said this. Every single thing you think, feel, remember, etc, is imaginary in that your perceptions are all neurological patterns that you believe represent the world around you in some way.
I mean you can keep repeating it but you are now stating that I just believe these things represent the world, when they actually do represent it. If someone says to you, this is pi. Look what pi represents and how it works in the world, can someone then turn around and say, "I don't believe you?" That would not make the real applications of pi any less "real".
You are now then stating that perceptions are imaginary? Are you saying the world around you is an illusion?
That would therefore mean that our perceptions of neurological patterns themselves are also imaginary.
I'm saying that my perception of the world around me is just that - my perception. Some mirrors are flat, some are curved, but none actually create anything new, they all just reflect.
Well how do you define perception? You perceive something that exists. No?
A reflection of what?