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Angus Menuge on the mind–body problem: It’s like developing and then writing down an idea


From his background in computer science, the Concordia University philosopher sees mind–body interaction as a transmission of information between two realms:

Angus Menuge: My own view, and here I’m influenced by my background in computers, is that I see evidence all the time that there is transmission of information between two realms…

A simple everyday example is reading and writing. When I read, my eyes interact with physical marks on a page. Yet as a result, I have thoughts. Then I can store memories. And it seems that these engrams in my brain, they’re physical as well. And likewise, as I’m thinking about an essay, I have ideas in my mind; they’re translated into things that I can write down.

So we need to think of the human being as an integrated system. And that integrated system has, within it, an automatic translation function. And what that means is that we can go from, for example, an abstract volition, where you notice that when you want to raise your arm, you don’t have to have taken a PhD in physiology and know what’s really going on, right?

You have an incredibly abstract specification. Raise my arm. And every time you do it, it’s probably different. And yet the motor program, or probably a suite of motor programs, takes over.

So what happens? I think what happens is that your volition is translated into a physical instruction that then implements that volition…

It would be a very poorly designed system if, every time we wanted to raise our arm, we’d have to know how to adjust each and every molecule in our arm or what specific pattern of nerve signals we would have to send. Well, then we’d be unable to act. And likewise, if what matters is that I don’t stub my toe again, all I’ve got to remember is, don’t push your toe like that rather than worrying about how I did it this time. Because the odds are, I’d never do the same physical movement again.

News, “How would Angus Menuge resolve the mind–body problem? ” at Mind Matters News

Here are the earlier parts of the series:

Part 1: How do we know we are not just physical bodies? The mind–body problem is one of the most difficult issues in modern philosophy. Philosopher Angus Menuge cites the immateriality and indivisibility of the mind and discusses the evidence from near-death experiences.

Part 2: If the mind and body are so different, how can they interact? A look at different models of the mind–body problem. Angus Menuge asks, Why should wanting a drink of milk produce physical changes like opening the fridge? It’s a harder question than many think.

Part 3: How have various thinkers tried to solve the mind–body problem? Philosopher Angus Menuge explains why traditional physicalism (the mind is just what the brain does) doesn’t really work. Some philosophers today claim that the mind is simply what the brain does; a newer group thinks the mind emerges from the brain but is not simply the brain.


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