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.
Now we are back to the beginning.
The material world either exists or it doesn't. I think it exists. If you don't this is solipsism, which was my point earlier which monism ends up reducing itself to.
My perceptions are, as you stated, representations of a real thing which exists.
Of what, is my perception of pi or a mathematical concept?
A) A perception of something which doesn't exist anywhere but has an application in the real world. Nominalism.
B) Something exists somewhere else. Platonism.
If perceptions are of things which exist, nominalism fails. If perceptions are things which can be said to exist or be imaginary, ok. But somee "imaginary" things have material applications, in the way that an imaginary unicorn, doesn't. I can imagine a unicorn. But it does not apply materially. Therefore it doesn't exist. I can imagine the concept of pi, and, it applies materially.
Sand dunes are a 'reflection' of wind. They do not fully represent the moving air, but they represent a measurement of the moving air - much as 'pi' represents a measurement of a circle. Once again, you have 'reality' and you have a reflection of that reality which can act as a measurement. For the 6th or 7th time, that reflection does not create more 'stuff'.
Well that doesn't make any sense. By your argument you are saying that a sand dune is a reflection of wind, but that reflection doesn't create more stuff. What then, is the sand dune?
It's a sand dune.
Does it exist?
I assume that it does.
Does pi exist?
It exists as a pattern in neurons, a reflection, yes. But I've already said that and now you are just going in circles.
As a pattern in neurons, yes, and we can use it in the real world. Pi can be used as a function of measurement. As can a ruler. The ruler exists. The sand dune exists. Why does pi not exist, if we can use it to solve problems? Why do some figments of our imagination apply in reality, but not others. What distinction would you make between the two?
I can test whether some things I think are true or not by applying them in reality. Going back to this imaginary unicorn. I can imagine it. Does it affect the material world? No. Therefore we can say it is a false idea, or "imaginary."
I can conceive of pi as a concept. I can imagine it. Does it affect the material world? Yes. Therefore I can say it is a true idea, or "real".
This is getting pretty awkward semantically but all other things which are real (in the sense I defined "realness" above), e.g. my visual perception of a table in front of me, exist. Why not pi?
Pi is not 'used' in the real world. Pi is a pattern in neurons that reflects around through those neurons in different ways into other patterns that eventually cause motor responses - such as vocalization of 'pi' or writing the digits '3.14159265' or pressing keys on a calculator.
The sand dune is just one of many ways that sand can be arranged. The various neuro-patterns in our heads leave us matching up patterns of sand dunes with patterns of wind and thus a pairing of reflections that combine to cause the concept of 'recognition of a reflection'.
You really should go an read those two books I mentioned.