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Minds and Brains

The Mechanists' Answers

There are two ways mechanists can counter this argument, one logical but strained and the other illogical. They prefer the illogical one, as it makes no concessions whatever to the critics of mechanistic materialism. They argue, that is, that consciousness “really” is something totally mechanistic. While it patently obvious that this is not true, their preconceptions blind them to the obvious.

So we must then spell it out; when we look honestly and carefully at the nature of consciousness we can see that it cannot be encompassed in an exclusively mechanistic world.

The other, more logical, argument they have is that our conscious awareness of purposeful behavior is actually an illusory “mirror” of the actual physical processes that are truly responsible for our behavior. The mechanistic forces at work “resemble” the conscious activity in our minds and somehow create this mental “reflection” of themselves. What we call mind is thus merely a shadow or image of the electrochemical activity of the brain that is doing the real work.

This is a strained contention because the laws of science do not ordinarily lead one to expect such “shadows” or “images” to be created, no matter how complex the mechanism. We will see just how strained it is.

The first argument denies that consciousness exist, or rather it insists that it is really just a particular manifestation of phyical action. The second is an attempt to affirm epiphenomenalism by denying the contradiction outlined earlier.

First we will examine the nature of physics and consciousness to see how utterly incompatible they are.

[Next page: Looking First at Physics]