KARL JASPERS FORUM
TA 110 (Mind and Metaphysics)
Commentary 22 (to C20, Moodey)
THE BODY AS MENTAL CONSTRUCT
by William A. Adams
20 February 2009, posted 28 February 2009
I asked Richard Moodey why he rejected the idea that previously the search for truth has been "disembodied." Moodey pondered the possibility that past searchers for truth were "disembodied spirits." But I understand the phrase to mean that historically, epistemological proposals have often not been reflexive; that is, they failed to include their embodied authors within the proposals.
Proposals have suggested, for example, that a knower is equivalent to brain in a vat, a computational engine, a behavioral zombie, a windowless monad, impressions on a wax tablet. Yet the author of such a proposal is physically embodied, situated in time, space, and community, who also experiences non-intellectual or pre-intellectual knowing by doing and by being-with. That failure of reflexivity leaves the proposal describing hypothetical disembodied knowers, not real, embodied knowers such as the proposal's author.
I probed Moodey's apparent endorsement of a double-aspect approach to the mind-body problem, calling it a metaphor because of its implied analogy to visual perception. We do not literally perceive the mind because there are no inner eyeballs. We apprehend it, mysteriously, by introspection. Also, parts of the body are not readily available to perception, such as the back of the head and the inside of the skull. So visuo-spatial metaphors describing double-aspectism are misleading.
Moodey upped the ante with a multiple-aspect view. We can understand a situation from multiple other persons' points of view. I agree. Embodied cognition theorists generally do not take up the topic of intersubjectivity. As they criticize the one-sidedly intellectual epistemological theories of the past, they commit a similar error of, in Harwood Fisher's fine phrase, "undue compression of organismic epistemics".
I suggested, in keeping with Muller's 0-D theory, that ontological assumptions, such as those used for critical realism and modern science, are pragmatically useful but only as belief-organizing heuristics. Moodey nevertheless holds fast to the idea that his ontological assumptions have external validity. He wants to say that the earth does revolve around the sun regardless of what any human being thinks, or has ever thought, or ever will think, about that. Yet in the next breath he acknowledges the hypothetical nature of all scientific knowledge. To overcome this apparent contradiction, he appeals to Polanyi's notion of tacit knowing to support the intuition that current descriptions of reality are "closer to the truth" than past ones.
Intuition has a role in the process of coming to know, but is not sufficient for the kind of knowledge that can be discussed in a scientific journal or a forum like this. We seek in science and intellectual life explicit propositions to which a community can apply its collective critical thinking (as Polanyi recommended).
But communities are particular, not universal. We can imagine being born and raised in a culture where it is well-known that an invisible chariot drawn by two horses carries the sun across the sky. From what culture-independent point of view could that belief be called untrue? I too am most comfortable with the Western, scientific construction of reality, but it seems Whiggish to insist that it has more validity than any other. We should say only that within our culture at this historical moment, using tacit, culturally conditioned, pre-theoretical beliefs, we agree among ourselves that our construction of reality seems reasonable. I don't think we have grounds for absolutism.
Moodey says that the mind-body problem (MBP) is not a practical question that would leave a person indecisive about how to get dinner. I don't agree that it is not practical. As one gets older and confronts the ever-increasing disobedience of the body the question assumes a more than theoretical interest. But even in ordinary healthful life it is ubiquitous. What is learning a skill if not practical, embodied, situated struggle with the mind-body problem? We exalt great athletes and musicians precisely for their illumination of the MBP. Despite the engineering approach of scientific medicine, it is also a struggle with the MBP, as the ultimate concern of medicine is human suffering. The mind-body problem can be framed as a purely intellectual conundrum, but it can also be seen to saturate practical life. True, many people remain unaware of the problem. Is there blame attached to ignorance? Perhaps not.
Moodey says he is a theist, so if the body has a purpose, it is God's. Unfortunately, God's purposes are not known to us in any non-circular way, so this theistic belief cannot constitute a rational argument.
Moodey says he is also an evolutionist. Assuming that evolution is a natural (non-theistic) biological process, its operation and outcomes have no intrinsic meaning, intention, or purpose, so the body is the outcome of a very long series of contingent events that could have been otherwise. I agree with Moodey that it does not make sense to talk about the purpose of the body in the context of evolutionary theory. My proposal, that the body is a mental construction, was not a hypothesis about biology.