Theory of Mind
Expand
Theory of Mind
Expand
Play
Episode 51
Featuring Patrick Grim
The human brain contains three pounds of gray matter, a few neurons, and a handful of synapses. How can consciousness — everything that we think and feel — be explained by a few pounds of flesh? Here, Patrick Grim explores the history of mind-body philosophy, as we look to solve the hard problem of consciousness.

Recent advances in science and technology have allowed us to reveal — and in some cases even alter — the innermost workings of the human body. With electron microscopes, we can see our DNA, the source code of life itself. With nanobots, we can send cameras throughout our bodies and deliver drugs directly into the areas where they are most needed. We are even using artificially intelligent robots to perform surgeries on ourselves with unprecedented precision and accuracy

But despite all the advances that we’ve made, there’s one part of our biology that remains largely in the shadows: the human brain.

We know that the brain is a material object. It is composed of gray matter, neurons, and trillions of synapses. What we don’t understand, and what philosophers and neuroscientists have been trying to figure out for quite some time, is how our consciousness (our thoughts, emotions, experiences, and everything that makes us who we are) can be explained by these few pounds of matter.

Ultimately, it is a problem that’s centered on the relationship between mind and body. Formally, it is known as “the mind-body problem.” Put succinctly, it’s the problem of trying to explain the relationship between the mental realm and the physical realm - between the material and immaterial. It is also known more commonly by David Chalmer’s phraseology “the hard problem of consciousness.”

Although Rene Descartes is often credited as being the first thinker to worry about the connection between mind and body (or mind and matter), the question is actually a far older one. In fact, it extends at least as far back as Plato and Socrates, and it is characterized by three primary schools of thought.

Materialism says that the cosmos, and all that is contains, is an objective physical reality. As a result, philosophers who subscribe to this school of thought assert that consciousness, and all that it entails, arises from material interactions. As such, the material world (our flesh, neurons, synapse, etc.) is what creates consciousness.

Idealism says that the universe is entirely subjective and that reality is something that is mentally constructed. In other words, consciousness is something that is immaterial and cannot be observed or measured empirically. Since consciousness is what creates the material world, according to this school of thought, it is unclear if we can ever truly know anything that is mind-independent and beyond our subjective experience.

Dualism essentially holds that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical in nature. In this respect, the mind and the body exist, but they are distinct and separable.

Although most modern philosophers subscribe to the materialist view, determining, and ultimately understanding, the nature of human consciousness using an empirical methodology is a remarkably difficult task. The primary issue with accomplishing the aforementioned is that empirical science requires things to be measured objectively. And when it comes to consciousness, everything is subjective.

 

So, what can science say about human consciousness? Can it say anything at all?

In this week’s episode, Patrick Grim joins host Demetri Kofinas for an exploration of the roots of human consciousness and an examination of what the world's greatest philosophers think about the relationship between the mind and body.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Patrick Grim just retired from the State University of New York at Stony Brook as Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, becoming Philosopher in Residence at the Center for Complex Systems at the University of Michigan.

 

He graduated with highest honors in anthropology and philosophy from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was named a Fulbright Fellow to the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, from which he earned his B.Phil., with a Ph.D. from Boston University. In addition to being named SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor, Dr. Grim has been awarded the President and Chancellor’s awards for excellence in teaching and was elected to the Academy of Teachers and Scholars. The Weinberg Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan in 2006, Professor Grim has also held a visiting fellowship at the Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh.

 

Professor Grim is author of The Incomplete Universe: Totality, Knowledge, and Truth and coauthor of The Philosophical Computer: Exploratory Essays in Philosophical Computer Modeling and Reflexivity: From Paradox to Consciousness. He is editor of Mind and Consciousness: 5 Questions and is widely published in scholarly journals across a range of disciplines. He has recorded four lecture series with the Great Courses—in Mind-Body Philosophy, Philosophy of Mind, The Philosopher’s Toolkit and Questions of Value. Grim is founder and co-editor of over 35 volumes of The Philosopher’s Annual, an anthology of the best articles published in philosophy each year. Starting in 2019 he will assume Editorship of the American Philosophical Quarterly.

 

 

Lock

Coming soon. Subscriptions with exclusive access to premium features.

FREE SAMPLE RUNDOWN

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Phasellus hendrerit. Pellentesque aliquet nibh nec urna. In nisi neque, aliquet vel, dapibus id, mattis vel, nisi. Sed pretium, ligula sollicitudin laoreet viverra, tortor libero sodales leo, eget blandit nunc tortor eu nibh. Nullam mollis. Ut justo. Suspendisse potenti.

Sed egestas, ante et vulputate volutpat, eros pede semper est, vitae luctus metus libero eu augue. Morbi purus libero, faucibus adipiscing, commodo quis, gravida id, est. Sed lectus. Praesent elementum hendrerit tortor. Sed semper lorem at felis. Vestibulum volutpat, lacus a ultrices sagittis, mi neque euismod dui, eu pulvinar nunc sapien ornare nisl. Phasellus pede arcu, dapibus eu, fermentum et, dapibus sed, urna.

Morbi interdum mollis sapien. Sed ac risus. Phasellus lacinia, magna a ullamcorper laoreet, lectus arcu pulvinar risus, vitae facilisis libero dolor a purus. Sed vel lacus. Mauris nibh felis, adipiscing varius, adipiscing in, lacinia vel, tellus. Suspendisse ac urna. Etiam pellentesque mauris ut lectus. Nunc tellus ante, mattis eget, gravida vitae, ultricies ac, leo. Integer leo pede, ornare a, lacinia eu, vulputate vel, nisl.

Suspendisse mauris. Fusce accumsan mollis eros. Pellentesque a diam sit amet mi ullamcorper vehicula. Integer adipiscing risus a sem. Nullam quis massa sit amet nibh viverra malesuada. Nunc sem lacus, accumsan quis, faucibus non, congue vel, arcu. Ut scelerisque hendrerit tellus. Integer sagittis. Vivamus a mauris eget arcu gravida tristique. Nunc iaculis mi in ante. Vivamus imperdiet nibh feugiat est.

Lock

Coming soon. Subscriptions with exclusive access to premium features.

FREE SAMPLE RUNDOWN

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Phasellus hendrerit. Pellentesque aliquet nibh nec urna. In nisi neque, aliquet vel, dapibus id, mattis vel, nisi. Sed pretium, ligula sollicitudin laoreet viverra, tortor libero sodales leo, eget blandit nunc tortor eu nibh. Nullam mollis. Ut justo. Suspendisse potenti.

Sed egestas, ante et vulputate volutpat, eros pede semper est, vitae luctus metus libero eu augue. Morbi purus libero, faucibus adipiscing, commodo quis, gravida id, est. Sed lectus. Praesent elementum hendrerit tortor. Sed semper lorem at felis. Vestibulum volutpat, lacus a ultrices sagittis, mi neque euismod dui, eu pulvinar nunc sapien ornare nisl. Phasellus pede arcu, dapibus eu, fermentum et, dapibus sed, urna.

Morbi interdum mollis sapien. Sed ac risus. Phasellus lacinia, magna a ullamcorper laoreet, lectus arcu pulvinar risus, vitae facilisis libero dolor a purus. Sed vel lacus. Mauris nibh felis, adipiscing varius, adipiscing in, lacinia vel, tellus. Suspendisse ac urna. Etiam pellentesque mauris ut lectus. Nunc tellus ante, mattis eget, gravida vitae, ultricies ac, leo. Integer leo pede, ornare a, lacinia eu, vulputate vel, nisl.

Suspendisse mauris. Fusce accumsan mollis eros. Pellentesque a diam sit amet mi ullamcorper vehicula. Integer adipiscing risus a sem. Nullam quis massa sit amet nibh viverra malesuada. Nunc sem lacus, accumsan quis, faucibus non, congue vel, arcu. Ut scelerisque hendrerit tellus. Integer sagittis. Vivamus a mauris eget arcu gravida tristique. Nunc iaculis mi in ante. Vivamus imperdiet nibh feugiat est.