The philosophy of mind has been a hot topic for several thousand years and over that time almost every philosopher has had something to say about it, for better or worse. The central issues it is concerned with are ones that most of us think about from time to time, even if we don't always use the same terminology. In this article we'll try to see why the subject has had held such a fascination for thinkers over the years and what we can learn from their efforts.
The mind/body problem
It seems clear enough what we mean by a body: we see it, we understand it and we take out life insurance for the day it gives up on us. Whether this notion of body represents our own, or one we might prefer to have thanks to aggressive advertising, we have a general conception of what we mean when we talk about it. What is it that we call mind, though? We say things like "it's on my mind", "I've half a mind to", along with countless other examples, and are traditionally talking about somewhere that thinking goes on, together with deciding, musing, writing bad poetry on Valentine's day, and so on—the place where consciousness, the intellect and other assorted characters are supposed to reside. Descartes noted that if he cut off his foot, his mind did not seem to be affected. If we lopped off our heads instead, would we still have a mind? On either answer, we can still ask where it went as the axe fell—even in the absence of volunteers.
The mind/body problem, in one of its aspects, concerns the relation between the two. Some people have thought that the mind and body are one and the same, the mind being just one aspect of the body and located in or identical to the brain (excepting those instances when our bodies seem to be governed by our stomachs or other regions): these are called monists (i.e. mind and body are one). On the other hand, some consider that they must be separate, either wholly or significantly, with the mind not being equivalent to the brain: these are called dualists (i.e. there are two things at work). These definitions are very basic, though, since we could ask "one (or two) kind(s) of what?" We'll look at some of the possible responses when we come to study both in more detail below.
In addition to wondering how mind and body are related, there is the question of the influence of mind on how we observe our world. Is there a world at all, independently of our perceiving it? How much does mind shape what we see? How do we know that our memories reflect what really happened? Pain is another problematic issue, and not just for doctors or rugby players: if a hypochondriac says he or she is in pain, how can we know if they are or not? If we can find no problem with their body, does it follow that there is no pain? How is it that some people appear to be able make themselves ill, especially around the time of examinations, and how is it that tough decisions can make people ill when there appears to be nothing at all wrong with their bodies? What about the problem of other minds? Can we ever know what other people are thinking, or how it feels to be them? Later we'll also come to the matter of changing our mind about something and ask how much choice we have in it, or if it instead it is determined by circumstances beyond our control (much as we discussed in our previous look at the issue of free will). All of these are aspects of the same problem, hence the attention paid by philosophers today and throughout our history.
As we said above, monism (from monas, a Greek word meaning "one") tries to respond to the mind/body problem by saying that the two are not distinct after all. This is all very well, but that could mean that in fact there is only body, as we often suppose, or that there is only mind. The consequences of the two are quite different and there are several understandings of each, so we'll consider some examples.
To state it in plain terms, physicalism is the idea that everything is physical. This is not to deny that there are other aspects to our world, like morals and bad jokes, but only that, ultimately, these are physical (for the former, perhaps the result of our evolution, as we discussed in the eleventh essay). In the past, physicalism was identified with materialism, but it became difficult to call certain supposed physical features of the world "material" (like the force binding particles in a nucleus together). Physicalism is a metaphysical notion, although it is often associated with the so-called scientific approach.
It's clear both that physicalism is an example of monism and that it provides a suggestion for how to approach the mind/body problem: if everything is physical, then it is probably in physical theories that we'll find the answers. However, there are several different forms of physicalism that approach this issue in different ways. In the first place, we have type/token physicalism, and the best way to understand the distinction is via an example. Consider these three terms:
Auckland Blues, Auckland Blues, Auckland Blues
In that line there are three references but only one thing referred to; or, in the words of every supporter, "there's only one Auckland Blues". We call the "Auckland Blues" a token
, of which there are three, but only one type
of thing is mentioned. More generally, a token
is some physical object, process or occurrence that represents an object, process or occurrence, whereas a type
is some physical property that represents a mental property.
Another example will help us understand the difference in usage: if we take a rugby ball and point at it, we could say that the ball is a token, physically identical with what we mean when we say "give this ball a kick". On the other hand, what physical token can the Auckland Blues be identical with? We could say the stadium played at, but the club is more than that. If we add the players, we don't quite have it; likewise for the supporters. If instead we understand it as a type, then we don't have quite the same problem of trying to find a single physical thing with which it is matched. The distinction is important because, as we said above, if we want to say that everything is physical then we need to explain what that means; type and token physicalism are two possibilities.
A difficult concept in physicalism is the notion of supervenience
. Consider two pictures on a computer screen: both are composed of pixels, and if they are different in any way then we know that they must differ somewhere in terms of the pixels that make them up. We say, then, that the pictures supervene
on the pixels; the higher-level picture is a consequence of the arrangement of the pixels, but not the same. Somehow the levels
are different: if we zoom in to see what makes up the picture, we then lose sight of what the picture was of, just as if we get too close to a painting to observe the brushstrokes we can no longer take in the whole scene. Thus the painting depends on the brushstrokes, but is not identical with them—it supervenes
This brings us to reductive
physicalism: the former says that every mental concept can be reduced, somehow or other, to a physical concept, while the latter relies on supervenience. Instead of trying to reduce the mental to the physical, we can say that the mental supervenes
on the physical.
An interesting problem for physicalism is Hempel's dilemma
, in which we ask what physical
means. If we want to define the term via contemporary physics, then it would appear that physicalism is straightforwardly false, since physics today is incomplete and very few people would claim it gives us the whole truth, if at all. On the other hand, if we instead try to define it by reference to what physics may become
, some time in the near or distant future, then are we saying anything at all? No-one knows what form physics might take in the future and the history of science doesn't give us much confidence in saying what will be retained from what we have today.
This theory is easy to understand: it states that mental states and brain states are identical
. This, if we feel a pain somewhere then this is tantamount to say that the appropriate activity is going on in the brain; likewise, feeling love for someone is just the same as a certain brain state. This is an attractive proposition for those arranging blind dates or dentists, but critics have asked what brain state is identical to the experience of a colour, say. If we experience a grey sky, does it mean the brain state is grey also? That hardly makes sense. Furthermore, other animals can experience the same grey sky but their brains are not identical to ours. Which brain state is the experience identical to?
A popular branch of the philosophy of mind is functionalism
, in which the question is less "what is
the mind?" (i.e. what kind of thing?) and more "what does it do
?" Another way to make the same inquiry is to wonder what the function
of the mind is, and to distinguish it from the body by saying that this function is different from those performed by the body.
Consider, for instance, a bridge. Many different things can serve as a bridge, from the complex structure connecting downtown Auckland to the North Shore to a series of planks laid across stones that will get us from one side of a stream to the other. What's common here is the function
: a bridge is defined by what it does
, not its shape, design or what it's made of (although we may recognise common traits)—we can identify a bridge because of what it's used for.
According to functionalism, we can think of the mind—or mental states—in this way while avoiding the earlier criticism of identity theory; indeed, functionalism was originally suggested to solve such difficulties. Functionalists claim, then, that mental states can be identified with the function they have on behaviour. Instead of worrying about what a mental state is
(i.e. what it's composed of, or where it is), we call it mental
because of what it does.
To understand eliminativism (often called Eliminative Materialism
) it useful to compare it to what the philosophers Paul and Patricia Churchland have called folk psychology
: in the same way we call the collection of remedies built up by tradition and old wives' tales "folk medicine", we mean by folk psychology that similar group of pronouncements we make on questions of psychology to explain why people behave the way they do. When trying to give such explanations we often refer to factors like people's hopes, fears, upbringing, influences, problems at work, their local team having lost again, the price of petrol going up, and so on, all adding up to an elaborate system by which we describe what we suppose Carlos Spencer will do next, or other matters of lesser import.
Eliminativists claim that folk psychology is hopelessly flawed and will eventually be replaced (eliminated) by an alternative, usually taken to be neuroscience (the study of the brain and nervous system). Eliminative materialism dates back to the 1960s and perhaps earlier, with Paul Feyerabend arguing via analogy with the history of science and Quine suggesting a physicalist approach, but the Churchlands have been its modern champions. To better understand the issue here, let's take an example.
In seeking to explain why Hugo failed to arrive on time for an appointment and was instead seen in the company of a young lady, we could say that he has been known in the past to forget completely what he was thinking about or in the process of doing if a pretty girl passes by, and moreover that his chat-up lines consist entirely in philosophical witticisms that only he finds amusing; as a result, he missed the appointment because he was chasing after the unfortunate girl who was running away as quickly as possible.
Now this theory may be wrong
(Hugo could have met-up with a cousin who needed help more urgently), but it is a theory nonetheless. Advocates of folk psychology claim that such theories function much like those in the sciences; after all, they explain
behaviour, can be falsified and tested, and offer predictions
—even novel ones. Thus the factors we described above, like hopes, fears and susceptibility to the fairer sex are simply the mental states we use in such theories, even if they perhaps cannot actually be observed and so claimed to really exist in that way.
By contrast, eliminativists might agree that folk psychology "works" to a certain satisfaction, but they claim it will be (gradually or otherwise) replaced. For instance, the existence of malevolent spirits was invoked to explain some mental disorders in the past, but now we usually say that this account has given way to psychological and other explanations. Thus we generally note that malevolent spirits turned out not to be real after all. In a similar way, notes the eliminativist, the folk psychologist's theories will give way soon enough because mental states do not exist.
Eliminativists typically argue that folk psychology is untenable for one reason or another. Some have suggested that it is stagnant
, or a "degenerative research programme" in our earlier terminology (cf. our sixth discussion), but others reply that this is no reason to assume it false or even hopeless. Another objection is that it fails to account for things like dreams, memories, some mental illnesses and consciousness (see below), but the rejoinder is that technical concerns about its completeness don't outweigh the fact that people use
folk psychology all the time and it is successful
. Indeed, a counter-criticism made against
eliminativism is that it ignores just how successful folk psychology is.
A form of monism that differs significantly from all those we've seen so far is idealism
, in which it is supposed that instead of all mental concepts being actually physical, in whatever way, in fact the converse holds: only minds and mental concepts exist, with the physical being explained in terms of the mental. The most famous idealist was perhaps Bishop Berkeley, but there have been many people who were or are idealists and some suggest that if we took a headcount over history it would probably come out as by far the most popular theory in the philosophy of mind. That proves nothing, of course.
Idealism solves the mind-body problem with ease: there is only the mental, so the problem of the interaction between mind and body is not a problem at all. Many of the counter-arguments advanced against idealism failed, and one of the interesting rejoinders that Berkeley provided was to note that idealism was at least as parsimonious
(cf. our sixth discussion) as physicalism, saying that anything that could be explained on the assumption of the physical could just as easily be explained by reference to mental concepts only. Many people object to idealism on the grounds that it doesn't feel
right, but—quite simply—it does
feel right to lots of others, so this is not much of a complaint. Idealism is the subject of much study today.
Criticisms of monism
There are many critiques of monism, or physicalism in particular, including those we have already noted incidentally. However, there are two that are referred to often and so we'll look at them in more detail.
The knowledge argument
There are several forms of this famous argument, but the most common—due to Jackson—involves a scientist called Mary. For some reason, Mary has spent her life trapped in a room in which the only colours are black and white. She has access to television, computers, and so on, but the monitors are all also black and white. As a result, she has never seen another colour. She is able to get all the information there is via her computer and has thus studied the eye, light, what happens when light of different wavelengths arrives at the retina, what happens when we speak, and so on, so that when she says "the sky is blue" she has all possible information about what it means to say that.
One day Mary is released from her room and she actually sees that the sky is blue (or some other colour, if she is unlucky and lives somewhere it always rains). According to the knowledge argument, Mary thus learns
something new, namely what it's like to see the colour blue (indeed, we can relate this to the discussion of qualia below). Thus we have:
- Mary had all the information about the physical before she was released
- Mary learned some new information after she was released
We conclude that not all information can be physical, and hence we have—seemingly—a strong objection to physicalism. There are plenty of other ways we could understand this problem: for instance, someone could know everything there is to know about rugby, including the rules, tactics, details of all past games, the physics of how the ball or human players could perform in all possible conditions, but they wouldn't know what it's like to play
the game for themselves. The general form of the argument, in its strongest form, is thus:
P1: A person x has all physical information about y before release;
C1: Therefore, x knows all physical facts about y prior to release;
P2: There are news facts about y that x learns on release;
C2: Therefore, x did not know all facts about y before release;
C3: Therefore, there are facts about y that are non-physical
Some thinkers deny that new facts are learned on release. Although this is done in various ways, one basic idea is that it is
possible to infer what it would be like to experience y
from the information x
has. Others deny C2 by saying that although new knowledge is gained, it is actually composed of old facts—precisely those that x
already knew. Nevertheless, the interpretation of this argument and the objections to it are still keenly debated and now highly technical.
A term used often by philosophers of mind is qualia
(from the same root as "quality"), by which we mean the introspective character of an event; that is, what it is like
to have an experience of something, whether it is a pain, bad poetry for Valentine's Day or a hospital pass. Since not many people deny that there are qualia, whatever they might be ultimately, we'll look at what mental states can be said to have qualia and what the nature of qualia might be, if anything.
What states can be said to have qualia? We could consider a list of indicative examples:
- Seeing a blue sky
- Hearing a loud noise
- Cutting a finger on a knife
- Feeling tired
- Falling in love
- Feeling bored
- Smelling a rose
What, then, are these qualia? Are they physical or non-physical, reducible or non-reducible? Some philosophers suggest that qualia are not new information; they can be derived from the physical facts we already have (as we saw with Mary above). A problem with this idea, though, is given by a thought experiment involving a zombie (whether or not zombies actually exist is not the issue here): when we
look at a blue sky, we might feel happy at the nice weather, disappointed that the garden won't get the rain it needs, or any number of other experiences. An identical zombie may do likewise but has no experiences, even though it is the same in all other respects physically. How can the physicalist explain what is going on without supposing that qualia are non-physical? However, if qualia aren't physical then what are they?
As we noted, and in contrast with monists, dualists suggest that mind and body are not
the same. The idea dates back to Plato and we find it wherever the soul is distinguished from the body; more modern versions tend to originate with Descartes. There are several forms of dualism, though, so we'll begin by looking at the ways in which it can be stated before moving on to more specific issues.
Forms of dualism
Dualism is commonly divided into three forms:
- Predicate dualism
- Property dualism
- Substance dualism
When we said that dualism involved two "things", we put off saying what kind of things we meant. The different forms taken by dualism fill in this information in different ways. Predicate
dualism, to begin with, is the claim that more than one predicate is required to make sense of the world. A "predicate" in logic is what we say about the subject of a proposition (see the fourth and tenth parts in our series); thus "Hugo is boring" has "boring" as a predicate. Can the (psychological) experience of being bored be reduced to a physical
predicate, such as one explaining in it terms of brain states, say? If not, we have predicate dualism.
There are plenty of candidates for predicates that cannot be so reduced, like almost all psychological experiences (as we saw with the knowledge argument above), suggesting dualism. We could try, for example, to consider how we feel about learning philosophy at this very moment, and wonder if a description in physical terms could capture it. To many people, it seems unlikely.
dualism is stronger, asserting that whatever there is
in the world, it must have more than one property (such as the property of being physical, say). Perhaps, for instance, there really is only the physical; nevertheless, we may still be unable to account for the properties of what we find in purely physical terms. As before, the troublesome areas are psychological—especially the question of consciousness (see below).
Stronger again is substance
dualism. Substances are intended to be those things—whatever they are—that have properties. The mind, then, is perhaps not just thoughts, emotions and mental states, but that which has them
. If psychological properties are non-physical, does that mean the mind experiencing them must be, too? If we suppose that it is, then we have substance dualism. On the other hand, if we think that all this goes on in the brain, then we don't—the substance would be the same, even if we still think the properties
Bearing in mind these possibilities, we'll now consider the main problem for dualism and some attempts to avoid it.
If mind and body are separate, how is it that they interact? Most people would agree that there is
some form of interaction: thinking in a negative way apparently influences the way we behave, while an experience in the world can change the way we think. How is it, then, that two separate or distinct things like mind and body, either as properties or substances, can interact as they seem to? If the body is physical but the mind is something else, where do they meet?
Descartes thought that the pineal gland was the answer. In more recent times, philosophical issues with causation
have come to the fore: how can the mind cause
a change in the physical? If we suppose that there are laws of physics (a problematic issue in itself, as we saw previously), then we know that energy is conserved therein. If something outside
of the physical brings about a change, then, what does this mean for the assumption of conservation? If physical laws are closed
, as it seems, then surely interference from outside would contradict this? Some interpretations of the quantum theory have made this situation even more complex, but for now we'll look at a few of the suggestions that claim to escape the difficulties of interactionism.
The denial of interaction from the mental to the physical is called epiphenomenalism
, in which it is supposed that although the physical can influence the mental (like the Auckland Blues in full flow giving rise to fear), it doesn't work the other way around; this avoids the worry about physical systems not being closed, but does it really help?
The first objection is to point out that it certainly seems
as though the mental can
affect the physical: what about depression causing us to loll around in bed and write still more bad poetry, or fear of snakes stopping us from becoming intrepid archaeologists? Moreover, why would the mental have come about at all, if it does nothing? Lastly, what of the possibility of explaining how we act by reference to our mental states? To say "I know it didn't rhyme, but in my defence I was feeling upset about the row we had" might invite our valentine to reply with "causation in that direction is disallowed by epiphenomenalism, my sweet."
Some of Descartes' followers, like Malebranche and Geulinex, agreed that the posited interaction was
impossible, so that on every occasion in which it occurred the intervention of God was required to explain it—hence occasionalism
. Whatever our views on religious questions, it seems hard to believe that every instance of interaction should be credited to a miracle, so this idea has lost much credence. Nevertheless, some historians of science believe it may help to explain why science arose in those cultures that disallowed it, since the search for laws
in nature is somewhat confounded by God interfering all the time, whereas a belief that He set everything in motion and subsequently left it all alone could encourage us to wonder what rails it is running on.
A solution adopted by Leibniz but of little use outside a theological perspective is parallelism
, according to which the mental and physical don't
interact at all, running—so to speak—in parallel. Obviously we could ask why it seems
as though they do interact, but the only possible answers are that some kind of pre-established harmony between the two makes it look that way, or that it's just a coincidence that the world appears like they do. The problem with both is that they don't seem to explain anything or give us a chance to learn anything else.
Criticisms of dualism
As we mentioned above, the main criticism of any dualist theory is to ask how the mind and body are supposed to interact if they are distinct. Another problem is to explain the apparent unity of the mind; that is, it seems as though the mind is a unity
, but how does that come about if it is a collection of properties? Alternatively, if it is a unity then what substance explains this?
There are myriad other aspects related to the philosophy of mind that we may consider briefly here.
The explanatory gap
We have a fair idea what goes on in the physical world, even if it is incomplete, and we also have a fair idea what it is like to have experiences. Nevertheless, there seems to still be quite a distance between the two that is called the explanatory gap
, and some claim it can never be bridged. This is a tricky problem for philosophers because it isn't yet clear how this gap comes about, if it must remain a chasm or what it means for our theories of mind.
This term derives from the Latin conscius
, meaning to "know something with others", and is understood in different ways. To try to appreciate what we mean by it, we can consider how we use it: when we say, for instance, "I was conscious that I wasn't paying attention", we refer to a kind of self-awareness—almost a kind of catching ourselves doing something other than what it appears we are doing. Sometimes we experience this kind of situation while driving: suddenly we realise that we weren't concentrating on the road because we were perhaps thinking intently about something else, almost driving on autopilot. Then we might say we weren't conscious of the driving, that we became conscious of this, and so on.
What does it mean to be conscious, then? We could say it is to be aware of our own mental states. In that case, what kinds of thing can be conscious? Can animals, for example, be conscious or self-aware? What about computers, either now or in future? How is it that consciousness seems to be a unity (like mind, above), so that we are conscious of lots of things at once? To take but one of these issues, we'll ask if computers can become conscious as so many science fiction stories presuppose.
The idea that computers can become intelligent or possess intelligence has been the subject of much research, especially with the famous victories over chess masters. Does this mean that the computer actually understands chess, though, and that it demonstrates intelligence, or is it just following a program unthinkingly, without any possibility of self-awareness? Some philosophers and scientists have thought that as technology increases computers will become as intelligent as humans, perhaps more so, or at any rate that there is no objection to this possibility in principle. Others have wondered if the kind of understanding a computer could have must differ fundamentally from what we call intelligence or becoming conscious.
The mathematician Alan Turing proposed a test for whether or not we might say a computer can be said to be thinking, in which we would ask questions of x
, housed in another room. x
would be a person while y
is a machine, or vice versa, and the object of the game would be to use our questions to try to determine which is which. If we cannot tell the difference, can we say that the computer is genuinely intelligent? Are we, in fact, just biological machines that can think, just as computers will eventually be able to?
An objection to the possibility that machines could think lies in the requirement of some philosophers that the machine should be able to do things like writing a bad poem on Valentine's Day because of falling in love; until this kind of thing can be done, they say, machines cannot be said to think. Turing replied that he would be satisfied if we merely had as much reason to suppose the machine to be thinking as we have in supposing other people to think. Another problem is to say that thinking machines ought to be able to do many of the things we can, like have a sense of humour, make mistakes or get angry, but are we right to expect a thinking machine to think the same things as we do?
One philosopher opposed to this idea of artificial intelligence is John Searle, who proposed another famous argument know as the Chinese Room argument
. According to this thought experiment, a person knowing no Chinese is working inside a sealed room with Chinese symbols and an instruction manual for using them. As Chinese messages are passed in, the person follows the instructions and passes more Chinese symbols out. Unknown to this person, the messages coming in are questions and those going out are answers to them. Thus, says Searle, the person is able to understand Chinese by Turing's test but in fact understands no Chinese at all. Searle concludes that, in a similar fashion, a computer does not possess intelligence merely because if its ability to use and manipulate programs and data.
Strictly speaking, what Searle was actually hoping to do was provide an argument against so-called "strong AI", which is the idea that computers may genuinely understand languages and have other capacities that we humans have. He didn't deny that computers think, because he considers that our brains are actually machines and yet think just fine. His thought experiment was designed to show that running a program does not equate to understanding.
There have been many replies to Searle's argument, but one of the main criticisms is to say that the person in the room functions just like the CPU of a larger computer; in that case, although the person may not understand Chinese, the system
does. After all, this system, comprising the room and everything in it, takes questions in Chinese and answers in Chinese. Doesn't that mean that the system understands Chinese after all? Searle replied that the person could memorise all the instructions and symbols, using them even outside the room, but still not understand any of it. Several philosophers have found this unconvincing. Another objection is to ask how we know that anyone
understands Chinese, if not by asking them questions in that language and getting sensible replies back. In that case, the person would understand Chinese as well as anyone else.
As with the other issues we've discussed already, this argument, criticisms of it and rejoinders to them are still very much the subject of contention—like many areas of the philosophy of mind.
The philosopher Franz Brentano revived this term from its medieval origin (the root is intendere
, meaning to be aimed at a goal or purpose) to call attention to what he felt was a distinctive characteristic of mental states. He noted that such states are always about
something; for instance:
- I am mad about injuries to key Blues players
- I am in love with rugby
- I am hopeful that next year will be better
... and so on. Without the additional information, these don't make much sense; after all, if someone said "I'm mad" and responded to the question "what about?" with "I'm just mad", we would probably be forced to leave the conversation by offering our congratulations and going on our way. According to Brentano, then, all mental states are characterised by being intentional
. What this means for the philosophy of mind was covered in his work and that of several others influenced by his ideas.
Mind what you say about mind
To summarise our discussion, then, we have seen that there are many aspects to the philosophy of mind and many approaches to follow in tackling it, all of which have a certain plausibility on the surface but which present interesting problems when we probe deeper. Since there are complex philosophical issues involved and important questions to be answered that have a relevance to all of us, it seems this area will continue to be the focus of considerable work and argument. Whether the last person you spoke to was a zombie, an android, a rugby player or a Chinese speaker is perhaps something to bear in mind.
Dialogue the Eleventh
The Scene: Trystyn and Anna have met for coffee. They are sat across from one another.
The thing that strikes me as a result of yesterday's farce is that you can never really know what someone else is thinking or feeling. You can guess, or just stumble on ahead without worrying much, but people can get hurt as a result.
How can you know they get hurt, then?
Don't try to be clever, Trystyn.
) I'm not. The point is that if you can know that they get hurt, however you manage that, then you can probably make a fair stab at it the rest of the time.
How do we do anything like this? We observe people, use what we know about their character, their ideas and influences, their mood, and so on. It all leads to a picture of them from which we make predictions or take explanations.
So all these things correspond to a mental concept, like sadness?
Not exactly, but we can infer that the person is sad. Usually we say they are sad about
something, though, not that they're in some "state of sadness".
Maybe, but people are wrong sometimes, or they misjudge.
There are alternatives.
Like brain states?
So they say. Being sad corresponds to some physical state of the brain, the firing of neurons and so on. When we say, "I'm sad about what happened with so-and-so", we're saying no more than that at a certain time our brain is in a certain state.
That doesn't tell us
anything, though, about how to deal with anyone.
Well, perhaps they will in the future, with more research, but this is why people are so reluctant to give up the tried and tested old ways: they work.
(A long silence. Anna seems reluctant to say something.
So what does it mean to say that you're in love with someone, or attracted to them?
What do you think? (He is avoiding looking directly at her.
A biological urge, I suppose—or so Steven would probably say if he was here.
(He looks up suddenly.
) I wouldn't be so sure.
(Not really listening...
) It seems to me that there's more to it; that it somehow misses too much, or fails to capture what it feels like
. It's as though even if you were able to state the position of all particles in the universe, the laws governing them, the processes that occur physiologically, the biological origins, and so on, you still wouldn't know what it's like to fall for someone...
... or fall out of a tree. (Anna laughs.
Exactly. So there's information missing somehow.
Maybe not. What if you were actually using the information you already had and just seeing it in a different way or context? Kind of like saying, "ah, so this is how it all fits together." That way you'd have learned something new, in one way of thinking about it, but you'd only have used the facts you already had.
Don't you think that it would truly be new information? That the whole is greater than the sum of its parts? Something would still be missing.
You mean the way the light changes when you're in the room?
It's from a song.
(Silence. Trystyn looks at Anna, but she looks away. He smiles. She looks back; he looks away. Silence again. She frowns.
What are you thinking?
By Paul Newall (2005)