The Theory of Qualia and the Immaterial Self.


    In the essay below, “ Dual and Other ”Isms”” we explore the problems associated with the notion of an interactive mind or will that are generated by the understanding of the brain as a complicated system. Here we explore the more general problems associated with the notion of an immaterial mind, spirit or soul which persist even after we abandon any interactionist or external control theories involving the brain. The problem as pointed out in the aforementioned essay is that a theory of mind stuff that involves interaction with the material brain is not adequate if it involves only a theory of mechanism, e.g., quantum mechanical level influences somewhere in the nervous system. It must also include a theory of how the immaterial stuff knows how and where to interact with the material stuff. That is, interactionism requires a  mind system which is somehow analogous or comparable to the neurological system to exert the controlling influences.

    The theory of qualia presented here presents even greater problems for two world theorists because now they need not only a mind system; they need different types of mind stuff as well. If the diversity of qualia is a result of the diversity of transduction processes and if qualia include the external stimuli as an essential component then so too must any immaterial component of the sensory processes. Insofar as the spirit, soul or mind are involved in sensation or experience, if life is not just in our bodies but in some other non-material component of the self as well, then this component must either incorporate other elements of the material world or have different sorts of elements in itself that allows for an explanation of the many kinds of experience.


    Does spirit stuff know chemicals, or photons or vibrations in the air? Is this what dualists are trying to get us to believe? How does mind or spirit tell the difference between sweet and sour if it cannot do it on the basis of information alone? We might have assumed that the immaterial mind comes to learn that a certain pattern of excitation represents sweetness while anther means bitterness – what ever this means. But now we have a considerably greater problem that can’t be handled by just assuming that the mind can somehow read or interpret information traces in the brain. If the mind has experiences, if qualia are in the mind then so to must be the essential components of qualia, the elements of the material world and the related processes that produce the qualitative aspects of our mental lives. As serious consideration of the theory of qualia presented previously suggests that the mind, soul or spirit are material phenomenon because they involve as an essential component elements of the material world.

    The immaterial mind that knows biological information is a hard enough problem, an immaterial mind that includes chemicals, photons or vibrating media is a virtual contradiction. Let us try to formulate then all the problems associated with most serious theories of an immaterial component to human existence. Depending on what we think the mind or spirit is involved with or can do, the non materialist needs mechanisms, systems and processes as well as physical elements to account for “mental” capabilities. The mind has to learn to know where to act in the nervous system, or at least to learn what specific patterns of neurological activity mean. The learning process -as near as we can possibly imagine- means changes in the mind stuff because this is what learning is, i.e., changes in the system. Is mind suppose to be digital or analogue or maybe some kind of multi state system to record and store information? What are the changes in mind stuff when learning occurs? Are there immaterial analogues to atoms or molecules or neurological systems? Do they die or are they disabled when someone has a stroke? Suppose someone is born with a defective brain, how does the mind accommodate this, is it also defective or damaged? How does the mind know when something changes in the brain? Does the mind monitor the brain continuously? How does the mind monitor the brain, what exactly does it read and how?


We should distinguish here between what we might call “mentalism” , the idea that there is an immaterial mind that knows or has experiences or causes behavior, and a more vague group of theories we might call “spiritualism” that really involves no commitments to material/ immaterial integration. The spiritualists believe in souls or spirits which generally survive the death of the body and which may somehow and in someway represent the individual without the body. The solutions to their problems are epistemological; they have to come to understand that there is no way to talk about these things without interactionism, that is, without somehow supplying the brain with information about things beyond possible experience. Biological cognitive processes alone cannot produce significant theories of the immaterial.  Mentalism fails here also, ( as does all of metaphysics)- without a speaking mind we cannot speak about the mind. But it will probably be more interesting to challenge the  advocates of mentalism to come up with the required theories about their mental stuff


RCE 11-12