Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Dawkins on the Mind / Body Problem

Dualism is rejected by Dawkins, a scientific naturalist whom as an atheist does not believe in the metaphysical. Rather as a materialistic monist, Dawkins believes that the mind is merely a product of the body, and thus since it is not a distinct substance, cannot exist separate from the body. In fact he believes that the mind isn't what makes a person at all, but rather genes and memes. Genes and memes cannot exist separately of the physical world, but rather rely on physical things to propagate them, so that they can be carried on into future generations. If all the carriers of a gene or meme were to die, the particular gene or meme would cease to exist. Because genes and memes rely on physical things, they are not immortal entities, and thus when someone dies, nothing immortal or immaterial survives them, this includes the mind. Thus since the mind is a product of the body, there is no need to explain the problem of how the mind and body interact.


Dawkins is a monist, believing that humans are essentially physical beings. As an evolutionary biologist, Dawkins explains everything in terms of evolution. Dawkins rejected any idea of the soul. According to Dawkins, the soul or idea of the soul is ‘dangerous to human endeavour’, and it is a restrictive and inappropriate thing to believe in. He believes in a world that is entirely physical, rather than metaphysical. His view is that human beings are just carriers of DNA, and that any opposition to this was a myth supported by no evidence. He claimed that if an individual felt a sense of individuality or that they had a soul; it was just their thoughts based on digital information. He argued that consciousness, and an idea of the self, ‘arises when the brain’s simulation of the world becomes so complete that it must include a model of itself’. Dawkins disregarded the opposing idea that we are mental, rather than physical beings, claiming the soul to be a non-existent ‘mystic-jelly’. He believed that there was no possibility of an afterlife, and that all was left of us once we died was genes, and his invention memes which he used to describe the continuance of ideas, inventions and cultures.


Another monism concept which does not have an issue with the relationship between mind and body was presented by Dawkins. He explained that what we understand as a mind is really an activity of the body. The mind simply arises as a result of the body’s interaction with the world. The world is only physical matter and there is no other “mystic jelly” or “spirit driven life force” that controls our actions. We are simply carriers of DNA so there is no mind and there is no soul that continues to exits after death. Although we as humans feel that there is a mind and a driving force behind our actions this is simply a misunderstanding. Dawkins outlines our consciousness as arising when our view of the world becomes so complex that it has to involve a model of ourselves. He argued that the mind is only a property of the body so it has no individuality and is not a separate substance. The world and humans exist because of evolution and natural selection so there is no God and a soul that returns to him after death. He argued that the soul is “dangerous to human endeavour”. As only the body exists, the only thing left after our life has ended is genes and memes. Dawkins explained that there is no need to argue that there is a relationship between mind and body as body is the only thing that exists. The mind is a property of the body so it is only one substance. This therefore argues against this claim that the relationship cannot be explained as Dawkins believes that he has explained that the body doesn’t interact with something which does not exist.

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