JUSTDOLIT: a single tool to analyse all texts

The problem of reducing mind to matter according to Hans Jonas

The two most important works I know which prove - they do so convincingly - the inadequacy of the scientific reduction of mind into matter are

of Jonas I will provide a summarised account here, since, as far as I know, it has never been translated into English.

Jonas argues that the reduction of mind to matter is, although tempting, ultimately irrational from a scientific point of view, because it violates the fundamental scientific tenets of cause and consequence, and Darwin's theory of evolution.

An example of the problem of reducing mind to matter

1845, Berlin, three young German physiologists (Ernst Brücke, Emil du Bois-Reymond and Helmholtz) swore they would study and prove that only physical and chemical powers operate in living organisms, i.e. they swore they would let their organisms follow only their chemical and physical paths.

Paradox: what value did it have to swear loyalty to a present idea, if the future of their own bodies was foredoomed by their physical and chemical make-up? If we were only physical and chemical bodies, our freedom would be invalidated by the chemical and physical operations of the world

>There are 2 alternatives, 2
body-soul principles

1. We can think and are free to choose
OR
2. Our thoughts and decisions are something which we perform just apparently, really they are only a side-effect of chemical and physical processes which run in us but independently from us

human experience
as regards the 2 alternatives

Our experience is that we think and decide, that we are free. This experience is immediate, we feel it, but we have no proof. Science works the other way round, it has no immediate experience, but it has a kind of proof, a model which works in nature, so why should it not work in us?

Argument in favour of the mind-into-matter reduction: the scientific view is powerful

If not everything is chemistry and physics, it would seem as though the basis of the human is the idea, the consciousness, and that leads to the danger of idealism, that everything may be idea. However, every time somebody dies, we see that in the world around us there is matter without consciousness, but not consciousness without matter, so matter is primary, consciousness secondary (among other things, Darwin preaches just that).

From a scientific point of view, it would seem as though thinking that everything, even consciousness, is matter, provides a less complicated model than thinking that there is matter and consciousness, and, given equal coherence, science always prefers the less complicated models

 

 

Problems with the scientific view

Let’s suppose only matter exists. If we take science seriously, we have to take the laws of cause and consequence seriously. Everything, apart from the big bang maybe, would then have to have an explanation in terms of cause and consequence, everything would have to have a previous origin in matter. How could we then account for a phenomenon – thought, free decision – which does not really exist? Where would it have originated? We are talking here then about a “creatio ex nihilo”, a something created from nothing. It is then to save science and matter itself that we have to accept thought and free decisions.

If thinking and free decision taking are not real, and only a by-product of matter, how can we account for them in developmental, i.e. Darwinian, terms? In Darwinian theory, developments are random, but they survive because they have a function within a given environment. If thinking and free decision taking have no function, how can they have survived?

 

Final
conclusion

Science has powerful arguments (see above), but ultimately it is more scientific to save [1] the principle of cause and consequence and [2] developmental theories, even if they lead to a more complex theory, than to abandon them for the sake of [1] simple theories or [2] the primacy of a concept. Complex theories are possible, and primary concepts do not exclude secondary concepts

Work consulted

Jonas, Hans. Macht oder Ohnmacht der Subjektivität: Das Leib-Seele-Problem im Vorfeld des Prinzips Verantwortung. Frankfurt a.M: Suhrkamp, 1987.

daniel.candel@uah.es ©2008 Daniel Candel Bormann