On Cartesian Dualism, Qualia & Searle’s Chinese Room Thought Experiment

Consciousness of Shock, Victor Brauner (April, 1951)

I. Cartesian dualism entails that the body is essentially material made of matter, whose essence is extension and the mind as a non-material substance whose essence is thinking. This thinking component is non-spatial while matter occupies space and hence, body is spatial in essence. Human minds are the only substance in the physical natural world which are not mechanical and materialist wherein human beings constitute of a conscious-mind and a non-conscious physical body whose interaction pose a mind-body dualist problem to consciousness. Hence, the human mind constituters of mental parts imagination, sensations and feelings whereas the non-conscious components of the brain as part of the body constitutes of the neural networks that aid the processing of external stimuli in the brain. Therefore, it’s the difference between these characteristics that pose the very mind-body problem within certain dualist theories. 

II. Hypnagogic transcendental states of consciousness produces subtle to intense visual, auditory and even synesthetic hallucinations in human consciousness. Dualist theories have always expanded on the split between the body and soul i.e., in this case, the act of sensing vs the act of perceiving or hallucinations and delusions vs truth and reality. The dualist theoreticians have located persona i.e., our personal conscious identity within the ‘continuous mind’ as opposed to the ‘fleeting body’. Descartes’ rationale towards melancholia entails a correlation between the outer sensorial world and inner thought, and although hypnagogic mental imageries doesn’t necessarily favor objects seen with eyes, it dictates a complete disintegration between the mind and the body as the dualism persists (Meditations on First Philosophy). 

III. Qualia is the subjective conscious experience that constitutes elements of sensibility and emotivity i.e., sensible and aesthetic conscious presentations. Most reductionist materialists would reject the very existence of qualia, even though it’s merely another name for non-conceptualized experience, at least standardly (CI Lewis). Being a subjective conscious experience, qualia are only a part of consciousness as a whole i.e., qualia reside within the broader compounds of consciousness, and hence, is irreducible to physicality or materialism. Physical or materialist properties cannot be equated with a mentality, and hence it would be an unintelligible categorical mistake on the part of western scientific and analytical traditions to non-functional terms. Reductionist physicalism, however, poses a broader problem wherein the subjective aspect of the mind cannot be categorized within the objective methods of reductionist science. It would pose another hard problem for consciousness if physical theories of mind are framed without speculating the general problems of subjectivity and objectivity (Nagel). 

IV. Gilbert Ryle’s argument, famously known as “the myth of the ghost in the machine” poses a behaviorist view of the concept of mind and thus critiques Descartes’ bifurcation of a person’s life into two separate careers i.e., external and internal. His argument against this metaphor rests upon the theoretical struggles between the influence of mind and body which further pose categorical mistakes due to positing both mind and body within the same logical category. Therefore, Ryle argues that the cartesian dogma presents mind and matter’s polar opposition and rejects this dualism by establishing that physical processes may not necessarily be determined by mental acts. 

V.  Searle’s Chinese Room thought experiment concludes that programming a digital computer may make it appear to understand the language but doesn’t produce any real understanding, hence, the Turing test is inadequate. Therefore, as the whole argument depends upon strong appeals towards intuition, it only follows that the Chinese room follows a purely Syntactic i.e., symbol manipulation process as opposed to a Semantic i.e, that of an understanding one. Thus, the Chinese room argument is unconvincing to those who don’t share Searle’s intuitions as it counts be solely accepted on Searle’s expertise, due to other philosophers disagreement. However, it is true that humans follow semantic processes.

-Sanjana Singh//05.02.2021