The debate between materialistic monists and substance dualists regarding the nature of the mind/brain relationship continues apace. Materialism is the view that all there is to us is matter. There is no mind. Mind is to the brain, for the materialist, what digestion is to the stomach. It's just a word we use to describe the function of the brain. Substance dualism, on the other hand, holds that there is, as part of us, a mental substance that is not reducible to matter or brain and which corresponds to what we call mind.
With this in mind (forgive me) Michael Engor addresses the surprising claim made by Yale neurologist Steven Novella that materialism has been proven true by research:
Consider this: if the mind arises entirely from the brain, materialism predicts that there must be a specific material cause for each mental state. That is, a specific mental state must be a specific brain state, nothing more or less. For example, if I am thinking "the White House is in Washington, D.C.", there must be a specific arrangement of molecules and neurons and action potentials in my brain that are the thought itself. In the materialistic paradigm, please understand, matter doesn't just correlate with the thought; matter is the thought.
Materialism is the proposition that all things are material, including thoughts. Every time I think "the White House is in Washington D.C.", there must exist in my brain that exact configuration of matter: 2,433 neurons with x concentration of acetylcholine located in 87,456 dendrites arrayed in a discrete geometrical pattern with action potentials precisely defined. That exact configuration is the thought. If I had a different configuration of matter - any difference - I would have a different thought. If each mental state is a brain state, then this reduction must hold for every thought. This is a straightforward prediction of materialism.
We have a vast knowledge of neuroscience. Yet what is the scientific evidence supporting this most fundamental prediction of materialism - that every thought is reducible at the molecular level to a discrete and unique brain state? There isn't a shred of evidence that any discrete mental state - any specific thought - can be reduced at the molecular level to a unique material brain state. Not a shred.
The notion that the mind is nothing but chemical reactions in the brain may have been plausible a century ago, but in light of modern knowledge of the brain and consciousness that type of simple reductionism, what is sometimes called "nothing buttery", seems quaint. Read Engor's full response to Novella at the link.RLC