The Mind-Body Problem – Who Cares?

Guy Claxton said this a few years ago in the Journal of Consciousness Studies:

Any discussion of the causal status of conscious experience has to start, therefore, with the recognition that what appears to be a dispassionate enquiry is actually a question of life and death importance to which there is only one permissible answer.

The preceeding context is given below the fold…

(quoting Claxton)

Just so with myself. There is abundant evidence that I impute causal relationships between bits of my experience — my imagining a calm meadow and a physical feeling of relaxation; the thought ‘I’d better get up now’ and the act of getting out of bed — on the basis of a sufficient tightness of coupling between the events, and whether their conjunction makes sense in terms of the causal narratives through which I habitually interpret my experience. I ask myself, preconsciously for the most part, a number of questions, and on the basis of the answers, I either do or do not make that causal attribution. Is A reliably followed by B? Do

the delays between A and B fall within a range that I can interpret causally, given the kinds of folk psychological stories with which my culture has equipped me?

And especially: what key aspects of those stories might be jeopardised if I were to withdraw the imputation that A is the cause of B?

The answer to the last question, for many people much of the time, is: ‘my sense of self’. The existence of a causal relationship between conscious states, especially thoughts and intentions, and physical states or actions — taking the cello out of its case and beginning to practise; refraining from taking the last piece of cake—is one of the axioms of the garden-variety self. If I acknowledge that this causal relationship does not obtain, or not enough, then I have to conclude that I am ‘broken’: mad, out of control, or the plaything of impersonal forces. While the axiom remains unchallenged, the mind–body causal relationship is not neutrally discovered; it is mandatorily imposed. I am obliged to find it whether it is there or not. I will rig the evidence if I have to, and shamelessly deny that I have done so. Any discussion of the causal status of conscious experience has to start, therefore, with the recognition that what appears to be a dispassionate enquiry is actually a question of life and death importance to which there is only one permissible answer.

Source: Claxton, G. (2003). The mind-body problem: who cares? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 10, 35-8. PDF here

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