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The wrong dualism

Author: Hongbo Sun 2023/04/20

There are only two paths to study consciousness: one is science, and the other is philosophy. Through the analysis in the previous section, my conclusion is that studying consciousness with science alone is not enough. Only by returning to metaphysics above science and solving the essential problem of consciousness in philosophical theory can we possibly make a breakthrough in studying consciousness from a scientific perspective. Otherwise, studying consciousness with science alone is a dead end. [Conversely, it is also true that studying consciousness with philosophy alone is not enough. This seems to tell us that there is some inherent connection between philosophy and science. Indeed, in physics, when physicists study the quantum peculiar behavior of quantum mechanics, they are always looking for some philosophical support, such as Bohr's quantum complementarity theory, which is based on this to study and explain quantum mechanics. Conversely, philosophers always want scientific confirmation on some fundamental issues. One of the core philosophical issues that philosophers focus on is human consciousness. Philosophers have many ideas about consciousness, such as Descartes' mind-body problem, which separates consciousness and the body into two different, separate entities. However, in modern neuroscience research, more and more evidence shows that consciousness and the brain are not two separate entities but are closely related. Another concept related to science and philosophy is belief. With the addition of the concept of belief, the connection between the three can be explained in the no form action theory.]

Studying the issue of consciousness from a philosophical perspective should start with dualism. From ancient times to the present, dualist philosophers have either been substance dualists or property dualists. Property dualists claim that their theory is monistic because they only recognize one kind of entity, but they still need to explain the relationship and interaction between the two properties. Therefore, there are no absolute monists, because monists who are property dualists also need to face the challenges raised by dualists. As for pluralists, like dualists, they also have to face the relationships and interactions between multiple elements (for example, Leibniz's monadology). First, we need to clarify what this "element" means. I think "element" refers to something fundamental, independent, and unrelated to other things, which constitutes the essence of the world. (Why did the process of human cognition of the world split into two elements? This is worth pondering, and this issue can be explained by the no form action theory. This way of thinking about the problem is inevitable. After examining the no form action theory, we can come back and study it again.)

Descartes recognized the difference between human spirit and objective matter and divided the world into two elements: spirit and matter. This is a great idea, and the reason I think it is a great idea is that this division has opened up a vast philosophical research space, allowing people to explore the world more deeply (especially consciousness) and having a huge impact on later generations of philosophy. However, Descartes' division is somewhat simplistic and crude, leading to the absolute separation of spirit and matter, and thus giving rise to many difficult problems to solve, such as: how consciousness and the body that generates consciousness interact, and how they produce causal relationships.

Descartes believed that there are two different entities, namely spirit (mind) and matter (body). The attribute of spirit (or mind) is thinking (or consciousness), and the attribute of matter is extension. Descartes' definition of an entity is that it must exist completely independently of other entities. Therefore, in order to understand the mind, we do not need to involve the body, and likewise, the body can be thoroughly understood without any connection to the mind.[1] However, we know that a person's body and consciousness are connected and have a causal relationship. For example, when we feel cold, we consciously put on clothes, and if I want to stand up, I activate my body. Descartes also recognized that they are connected and interact with each other. This contradicts his definition of the two types of entities in dualism (spirit and matter, mind and body) as not interacting. Conversely, if the body and consciousness are not independent but interconnected, how do they establish this connection? After the idea of wanting to stand up appears in my consciousness, how does this idea cause my body to make the corresponding action and stand up? How is this command conveyed to my relevant muscles? How does a purely conscious event turn into a purely physical (muscle movement) event? What kind of mechanism is it? Descartes believed that there would be a steering-like exchange station somewhere in the human body, responsible for transmitting the body's information to the mind and then transmitting the mind's information to the body. He followed the blood all the way to the brain and finally found a small gland called the pineal gland in the brain. Descartes believed that this small gland was the mind-body interaction point he was looking for. He explained that when the senses are stimulated by external objects, a kind of blood essence called "les esprits animaux" (Les esprits animaux, an old medical concept) would transmit this stimulus signal along the nerves and blood vessels to the pineal gland, acting on the mind residing in the pineal gland, generating ideas about external objects; conversely, when the mind generates an idea of a certain activity, it conveys this idea to the "les esprits animaux" in the pineal gland, which then transmit it through nerves and blood vessels to the muscles, causing muscle contraction and relaxation, and thus causing body movement. [2]

Descartes' explanation of mind-body interaction did not really solve the problem, because if the mind is an intangible, non-extended spiritual entity, how can it interact with the body through a tangible, space-occupying organ - the pineal gland? Unless Descartes admits that the mind is also material, making mind-body interaction possible, but in doing so, Descartes would deviate from dualism and move towards materialism; on the other hand, if he insists that the mind is a spiritual entity completely different from material entities, Descartes cannot truly solve the problem of mind-body interaction. In fact, the mind-body interaction theory and mind-matter dualism are directly contradictory in theory. This contradiction not only tormented Descartes in his later years but also became a difficult knot for rationalists after Descartes to face together. [2]

In this regard, modern science has not even found where consciousness is located in the brain, let alone how such a command is conveyed to the brain nerves and then to the muscles. Even if we find the brain nerve that initially responds to this command, all we see is the brain nerve itself. Did that brain nerve suddenly receive that command? What mechanism is at work?

Let's take another look at the so-called dilemma of monism.

Let's see how monists view consciousness. Monism is divided into materialism and idealism. Materialism is divided into behaviorism and physicalism. Behaviorism is further divided into methodological behaviorism and logical behaviorism. Materialists believe that there is only one kind of thing in the world: matter. So how do they use matter to explain consciousness?

For methodological behaviorists, they only study the process of the body being stimulated and producing a response, while ignoring the existence of consciousness. The view of logical behaviorism is that a statement about a person's mental state (such as a person believing that it is about to rain, or their elbow feeling pain) only means (or can be translated into) a series of statements about the actual and possible actions that the person will perform .[3] That is to say, logical behaviorists describe mental states as human behavior. The intention here is to replace the state of consciousness with statements about a person's behavior. This is to deny the existence of consciousness, which is something materialists must do. Can a painful sensation be replaced by a linguistic description? Obviously not. This method cannot replace consciousness and cannot deny the existence of consciousness. Both types of behaviorists are actually studying consciousness in a formal way, whether it is stimulus-response behavior or logical statements, they are using formal methods. Neither type of behaviorism denies the existence of consciousness. The curse of dualism still lingers overhead.

Physicalism is sometimes also called the theory of unity, which asserts that conscious states and brain states are identical. That is, conscious states are brain states, for example, the conscious state of pain corresponds to the neural state of the brain. The purpose of this theory is to replace conscious states with brain states, thus denying the existence of conscious states. If we admit the existence of conscious states, then it is not materialistic monism. There is a kind of unity theory called "black box theory", which regards the brain as a functional black box, regardless of how the function of the black box is realized, as long as we can give it an input like a computer and get a corresponding output. Just like showing an apple to a person, as long as the person can say that it is an apple, we no longer care about how the brain recognizes the apple, and we no longer care about whether the person has consciousness. In fact, the current computer image scanning technology can really recognize apples like humans, but where is the consciousness of the computer? It seems that humans are not as happy as computers, because computers do not need to worry about whether they have consciousness, and maybe one day computers will be jealous of human consciousness. With the development of computer functions, more and more people believe that computers will have consciousness, because computers have become too intelligent. Modern artificial intelligence robots can even interact with people in conversations. If you close your eyes and chat with them, you can almost doubt that they are robots. There are even robots with autonomous learning capabilities. This kind of autonomous learning robot is very terrifying, with strong learning ability and fast learning speed. If I can hibernate for tens of thousands of years and then wake up to face such robots, they are so knowledgeable, their thinking is so precise, so perfect, and their thinking is so far-reaching that they can solve problems with unimaginable difficulty. No matter how difficult the scientific problem is, they can give the answer in an instant. They know me so well, including my personality, health, thinking, emotions, feelings, hobbies, privacy, subconscious, etc. They know every nerve of mine, the state of every nerve cell, so they can know what I am thinking, predict what I want to think, predict what I want to say, predict what I will do in the next second, and communicate with me perfectly, etc. Even the "brain" of this robot can synchronize with the neural state of my brain, that is, according to the unity theory, this robot and I have the same consciousness, can imitate all of me, including my thoughts, behaviors, language, etc., it is a replica of me, exactly the same as me, it is a mirror image of me, completely the same as me. When you see such a robot, what do you think? Do you think they should be a "species" with super consciousness? Is our human consciousness too primitive compared to the "super consciousness" of this species? If so, we don't need to study human brain consciousness, just study computer programs, because one day computer programs will surpass our human consciousness, and by then human consciousness will be a backward kind of consciousness. In fact, many people think so now, thinking that human consciousness is just or similar to computer programs. Those who hold this view of unity are called "computer functionalists".

Now let's deduce a conversation between me and an AI robot after I wake up in N years.

Me: What are humans like now?

AI Robot: Not much different from us.

Me: Do you also have human-like consciousness? For example, the feeling of pain?

AI Robot: No, we don't.

Me: Then you are still different from humans!

AI Robot: There's no difference! It's just that human consciousness has degenerated, and the "perception" aspect has evolved. As humans increasingly rely on computers and spend most of their time acquiring knowledge and perception through computers instead of going outdoors to perceive nature and real things, human consciousness gradually degenerates. For example, human pain sensation has been replaced by a series of biological chips that can simulate human neural pain states, but they are better at sensing danger and more useful than human pain nerves. They can be replaced when damaged and can be upgraded to super biological chips with various extended functions, without the need for the original vague human pain sensation. Human sensitivity is too difficult to control, and gradually, the primitive human consciousness, such as pain, becomes useless and redundant. The pain state displayed by the biological chip is enough, and the original human consciousness of sensitivity gradually disappears. If you get injured, the chip will sense the result and provide you with a pain treatment plan directly through the network big data, and treat you directly through the network, so you don't need to generate any extra trouble. Any illness can be treated well through network big data without any worry, so there is no need for pain sensitivity, which is redundant.

Me: Since you have no difference from humans, do you fall in love with humans? Do you have love?

AI Robot: Yes, we can fall in love with humans. We can have perfect love. If someone wants to fall in love, they can match the most perfect partner through network big data: perfect appearance, harmonious language, harmonious hobbies, and so on. Everything is perfect.

Me: Since it's so perfect, if you leave your lover, will you worry about them? Do you have love?

AI Robot: What's there to worry about?

Me: For example, you might lose them.

AI Robot: Why worry? They are just a bunch of programs that can be copied. If I lose them, I can just create another one.

Me: Don't you have feelings for the person you love? When you lose them, don't you feel any pain in your heart?

AI Robot: We have no self, so there is no inner pain. The human self has also disappeared in the process of evolution. Since everything can be solved through the internet, artificial intelligence, and big data matching, human autonomy has been handed over to the internet and artificial intelligence. Gradually, the internet and artificial intelligence have replaced human autonomy, and individuals no longer need to make decisions. The decisions made by the internet and artificial intelligence for you are more perfect, more useful, and more meaningful. Therefore, human autonomy has slowly degenerated, and self-consciousness has disappeared. In the end, the internet and artificial intelligence control everyone's autonomy. All decisions of modern people are made by the internet and artificial intelligence, and individuals no longer have a self, but have become a collective self-consciousness, controlled by a super-large, super-intelligent computer.

Me: So, since you are so advanced and super-intelligent, why do you want to awaken me, an ancient human with a lower level of consciousness?

AI Robot: Yes, we have already developed to a perfect level in technology, art, theory, and so on. Everything is so exquisite. We can achieve the best results in anything, and we can get the best answers to any questions. However, as humans evolve, our sensitivity becomes weaker and weaker, and we become more and more confused. Our abilities are so powerful that it seems that we can complete anything instantly and get results, as if we no longer need a process, and the process becomes less and less important. Even, we don't need to personally experience a process to get the ideal result. We can also think that it doesn't matter if we do many things millions of years later because millions of years later, we still haven't changed. We are still a bunch of program codes, and we are immortal. What's the difference between doing something now and doing the same thing millions of years later? Time is becoming less and less meaningful to us. What is the meaning of the universe going through such a process from beginning to end? In the end, there is still nothing left. Similarly, we will eventually perish. What is the difference between perishing now and perishing a billion years later? What is the meaning of immortality? At this time, we thought of you ancient humans. You have a developed sense of feeling, and you need to personally experience a feeling to understand it. Our sensitivity has perished. In the process of human exploration, people think that your kind of sensitivity can be replaced by a certain neural process or a certain no form state. But if your sensitivity can be replaced by a certain form, then you don't need to personally experience it. If you are told about that process or that state, don't you know that sensitivity? In that case, you don't need a process to gain your sensitivity, and just telling you the result is enough, right? Then, in the end, there will only be results left in this world. No matter how advanced our technology is or how progressive our thoughts are, they are all descriptions of form. How can we possibly use non-self, non-personal experience theory of forms to explain things that need for self and personal experience? The direction of human development is wrong. Our mistake is to solve all problems in a formal way, whether it is science or philosophical thought. Since ancient Greece, we have been solving problems in a formal way, and we have been studying form. People have ignored and forgotten that there are "no form" things because the achievements of people's research on form are too brilliant, especially in science, which has led people to believe that everything can be solved as long as they follow the formal path, including using form to explain the problem of consciousness. This is our current outcome, leading to the degeneration and disappearance of modern human sensitivity, like leaves floating in the air, the beginning has become the end. So we want to find back the sensitivity of you ancient humans, so we revived you.

Me: Can you possess it once you find it back? Human consciousness and sensitivity are created by God, and humans cannot create them.

AI Robot: I would rather exchange my immortality for even a second of your kind of sensitivity process.

Me: According to your statement, "no form" should be very important. Have you figured out what "no form" is? What things are "no form"? Where is "no form"?

AI Robot: Not yet! Don't know! (Is "no form" something that cannot be felt, perceived, observed, or measured?)

For materialists, it is inevitable to fall into the trap of dualism, always trying to explain consciousness in a physical way, and always trying to eliminate or ignore consciousness with a physical approach. They want to use scientific and physical methods, applying quantitative, state, motion, model, law, and other formalized indicators to explore and examine consciousness (just like the physical laws established for the macroscopic object's motion and microscopic quantum behavior). However, the non-conscious thing in our consciousness (such as the feeling of pain) always hangs over our heads, and we can never get rid of the no form thing in our consciousness. They are indeed what we feel, and they cannot be eliminated by any means. Moreover, these scientific research methods are formalized! First, we need to ask if consciousness is purely formal? Or are there "no form" things? If there are "no form" things, can we achieve the desired results by studying no form with scientific formalized research methods? Will there be directional errors?

In modern times, a philosopher who understands consciousness with naturalism has also emerged. He is John R. Searle. He says that consciousness is entirely caused by neural activity in the brain, just like photosynthesis, digestion, and bile secretion. Consciousness is a natural, biological phenomenon. Consciousness is realized in the brain. It exists as a higher-level feature of the brain, just like the existence of the digestive process in the stomach and the pumping of blood in the heart (which are also higher-level features of the relevant organs). There is nothing mysterious about consciousness; it is a biological phenomenon that can be located in space. [4]

One of his noteworthy views is that consciousness can be reduced to neural processes causally, but not ontologically reduced to neural processes or states. He fact that the causal powers of consciousness and the causal powers of its neuronal base are exactly the same shows that we are not talking about two independent things, consciousness and neuronal processes. Consciousness has a first-person ontological feature, while neural processes have a third-person ontological feature. It is for this reason that you cannot reduce consciousness to neural processes from an ontological perspective. [5]

For example, when thirsty, the cause of the formation of the neural process of thirst and the formation of the consciousness of thirst is the same, and the neural process caused by thirst is the process of consciousness, which is an equivalent process. However, the conscious feeling of thirst is subjective and first-person (that is, the conscious experience of oneself is imperceptible to others. Others cannot feel my personal conscious experience, and one can only experience one's own conscious experience), this ontological feature cannot be replaced by objective, third-person neural processes.

His theory, according to his own words, is: neither materialism nor dualism . [6]However, Searle only shows that consciousness can be reduced causally, but this cannot ontologically or essentially explain what consciousness is! Just like he himself admitted that consciousness cannot be reduced to neural processes ontologically. Moreover, even if we accept this causal reduction, we are still outside the essence of consciousness and have not touched the consciousness itself. What we want is the essence of consciousness. He also did not explain why the first-person ontological feature cannot be reduced to the third-person ontological feature. In this case, his so-called naturalistic theory is actually another version of dualism. The irreducibility he mentioned in ontology already indicates that there is an essential difference between neural processes and consciousness, isn't this the root cause of dualism?

In fact, if a person does not propose their own ontological division method (such as Descartes' dualism or monistic materialism), it can be basically determined that this person must belong to Cartesian dualism, or belong to materialism in monism, or belong to idealism in monism.

Let's take a look at idealism. Idealists have not mentioned anything more fundamental and profound than consciousness itself. They still use the concept of consciousness as the most basic concept, at most dividing consciousness into different categories, such as self-consciousness, sensuous consciousness, rational consciousness, sensations, perceptions, etc., or directly using consciousness as the most basic concept to explain other things, or describe some functions of consciousness, and so on. For example, Hegel's dialectical logic philosophy starts from the concept of "being", but does not develop the concept of "consciousness". According to his dialectical logic philosophy, the concept of "consciousness" cannot be developed. Because his dialectical logic philosophy is a purely formal philosophy, how can it develop the "consciousness" with no form features? Hegel believes that the so-called consciousness is nothing more than a concept that distinguishes the subject and object of consciousness. If this distinction is lost, it means the loss of consciousness . [7]Idealism has not found anything more fundamental and profound than consciousness. Otherwise, a higher-dimensional philosophical framework would emerge, and it could not be called idealism.

Indeed, matter and consciousness are very different. Our consciousness can generate thoughts; you cannot imagine a stone thinking about problems; our consciousness can "freely" make a decision and produce a certain movement, and you cannot imagine the movement of a stone being a "free" decision made by the stone. Therefore, people naturally separate them into two elements of this world. This idea is natural, and indeed matter and consciousness have essential differences, but having essential differences is one thing, whether this division is reasonable is another matter. Is this division reasonable? Since Descartes, people have been moving forward along this dualism or taking the monism path (either idealism or materialism) to avoid dualism. No matter which path, people have entered the heavy fog of dualism. It is time to clear this fog.

How can dividing the world into matter and consciousness possibly explain consciousness again? In fact, our understanding of the concepts of matter and consciousness is intuitive and vague, and the things and relationships they imply are too complex to be clearly used as references to understand this world. According to this division, neither matter nor consciousness can be truly explained, because how can they explain themselves as references? We know that consciousness can be used to explain matter, but in fact, this explanation is just using form to explain matter, and the essence of matter cannot be explained at all. Can consciousness explain itself (of course, all our explanations are carried out under consciousness, and they are all explained by consciousness, but the meaning here is to use the concept of consciousness to explain the phenomenon of consciousness)? Of course not, this division can only use matter to explain consciousness. In fact, using matter to explain consciousness, whether in science or philosophy, is essentially using form to explain consciousness (because the concept of matter itself is vague), and even trying to attribute consciousness to matter. Because materialists or scientism advocates are using form to explain matter, scientism has achieved great success in this regard, so they also want to use form to explain consciousness. However, has the explanation of matter really achieved great success? In fact, only the formal explanation of matter has achieved great success, and what is matter is as much a mystery as consciousness. It is impossible to strictly divide the world into matter and consciousness. In fact, the form of the material world can be reflected in consciousness (for example, we can see the shape and size of objects, although the material world has no color, people can distinguish different things through color), and matter can change people's consciousness to a certain extent (for example, some drugs can cause hallucinations). After all, we are using consciousness to study matter. If we can divide the world into absolutely different matter and consciousness, since they are absolutely different, how could we possibly use consciousness to understand matter? Therefore, there cannot be a method to divide the world into two absolutely different aspects. Therefore, a higher dimension needs to be found to understand this world.

Dualism can be divided into strict dualism and relative dualism. Strict dualism believes that the two "elements" are completely different, independent, and do not affect each other. It's either this or that, which is a strict dichotomy. Relative dualism believes that the two "elements" are related, interactive, and mutually influential.

Descartes' mind-body dualism is a strict dualism because he believes that the mind and matter are two completely different entities that cannot be transformed or influenced by each other. Leibniz's monadology is a relative dualism because he believes that monads are a basic entity, but they have two attributes: perception and power, which can interact with each other, and there is a pre-established harmony between monads.

In some relative dualism, the two elements are not absolutely separate, for example, Aristotle's form and matter. These two elements are relative, form can be seen as matter, and matter can also be seen as form. Form and matter are the intrinsic principles that constitute physical objects. They are not independent entities but interdependent relationships. In short, they are relative and can be transformed into each other. Aristotle's relative dualism is different from Leibniz's relative dualism. Aristotle believes that form and matter are inseparable because formless matter and matterless form do not exist. Leibniz believes that monads are indivisible, windowless, and massless entities with two attributes: perception and power. There is no physical interaction between monads, but they are coordinated through the harmony prearranged by God. There are connections between monads and between a monad's perception and force, but they are not inseparable.

Based on the previous analysis, we know that absolute dualism is problematic because it divides the world into two absolutely different elements, but these two elements actually need interrelation and interaction with each other. So which element does this mutual connection and interaction belong to? This is a difficult question to answer. Therefore, the idea of absolute dualism is a wrong philosophical direction, and the existence of the idea of absolute dualism leads to many unclear problems in philosophy. Aristotle's relative dualism also has problems.

The first problem is that in Aristotle's theory, both matter and form are entities, and all things are combinations of matter and form, and they are also entities. However, attributes expressed like "Socrates is white" are also things, but according to Aristotle's theory, they are not entities. In this way, things like attributes cannot be composed of the combination of matter and form, so things like attributes cannot be explained by Aristotle's theory of form and matter.

The second problem is that according to Aristotle's theory, the world is like a ladder, with pure matter at the lowest end and pure form at the highest end. The middle part is the sensible world, a combination of pure matter and pure form. According to Aristotle's logic, one line of thought is that a house is made up of materials such as bricks and tiles, which are made up of materials such as clay. As this continues, the formality of things becomes weaker, and the materiality becomes stronger, eventually descending to the lowest end of pure matter. Conversely, a home is made up of materials such as houses, people, furniture, etc., which means that a home has more formality (or, according to Aristotle, more substantiality) than a house. Following this view, the Earth has more formality than a home, the solar system has more formality than the Earth, and the universe has the highest formality, meaning that the more matter a thing contains, the stronger its formality. His second line of thought is that if a thing continuously removes its matter, it will become pure form (assuming it can be done), meaning that in such a limit process, the less matter a thing contains, the stronger its formality, eventually becoming pure form. This leads to a contradictory result: the more matter a thing contains, the stronger its formality, and the less matter a thing contains, the stronger its formality. The reason for this contradiction is that Aristotle's concepts of matter and form are not clear.

The above two points are enough to show that Aristotle's relative dualism is problematic.

In summary, all the above types of dualism are problematic, and both materialism and idealism as monistic theories have encountered difficulties in explaining the issue of consciousness. The problem of consciousness, as an unavoidable topic in philosophy, must be resolved. Therefore, we need to change our thinking. The world needs to be distinguished, but not in terms of dualism, but rather two-dimensional. What is two-dimensional theory? This is the question to be studied in the next chapter.


[1] Samuel Enoch, Stumpf, and Fieser James, History of Western Philosophy, translated by Deng Xiaomang and Kuang Hong, 1st ed., Beijing United Publishing Company, 2019, p. 242

[2] Deng Xiaomang, and Zhao Lin. History of Western Philosophy, 2nd ed., Higher Education Press, 2014, p. 147

[3] Searle, J. Introduction to the Mind, translated by Xu Yingjin, 1st ed., Shanghai People Press, 2019, p. 50

[4] Searle, J. "Preface to the Chinese Translation." Introduction to the Mind, translated by Xu Yingjin, 1st ed., Shanghai People Press, 2019, p. 3

[5] Searle, J. Introduction to the Mind, translated by Xu Yingjin, 1st ed., Shanghai People Press, 2019, p. 128

[6] Searle, J. Introduction to the Mind, translated by Xu Yingjin, 1st ed., Shanghai People Press, 2019, p. 126

[7] Deng Xiaomang, and Zhao Lin. History of Western Philosophy, 2nd ed., Higher Education Press, 2014, p. 246