Materialism is believed to be one of the simplest explanations of reality. It is the belief that nothing exists which is not physical or material. It even goes on to assert that the commonly held beliefs about the highest realities, spiritual or psychic truths cannot be independent of the physical world. Materialism is thus a meme, or a specific socially determined method of perceiving reality. It’s defined as the metaphysical view that only one substance universally exists and that substance is material, physical or empirical.
The skeptical explanations of the universe are a belief that everything is or consists of energy and matter and beyond this, nothing else can exist. According to this belief, nothing is supernatural and all spiritual substance is simple delusion. Likewise, conscience is simply an emergent phenomenon of the physical mind. Despite theses assertions, materialists should not be misconstrued to be necessarily atheists. However, atheism is a corollary of materialism since it denies the presence of supernatural powers. i.e. God or any other higher power. Materialism acknowledges the reality of love, goodness, justice and beauty.
There are several forms of materialism. The most widely explored forms are the identity theory and the functionalism theories. This article attempts to explore these two theories, their strengths and weaknesses. It will also attempt to come to a conclusion whether any of them is strong enough to provide an acceptable account for the materialistic mind.
The identity theory of the mind
This theory was developed in the mid 20th century. The first philosophers to pioneer the theory were UT Place and Herbert Feign in the 1950’s. Others were Smart, Rudolf Camapand Reinchebach in the early 20th century. One of the original papers by UT Place in 1956 ,” Is Consciousness A Brain Process” and another by H Feigh ,” Mental” And “Physical” asserts that mental events could be identified by stimuli and responses just as the internal state of photo electric cells can easily be associated with light or current. All these papers went on to concur that the internal states are physical. The tendency of philosophers in those days was a thought that identity statements need to be necessary apriori truths, today, identity theorists treat sensation and brain processes as contingent. Earlier philosophers like Aristotle thought that the brain was for cooling the blood, while Descartes believed that consciousness was immaterial.
The identity theory makes an assertion that the processes and states of mind are identical to the processes and states of the brain. This is however not new. We use mind and brain interchangeably in all our everyday conversations for instance. We could easily say “Peter has a sharp brain” or even “Peter has a sharp mind” it would however be absurd, to say that Peters mind weighs three or four ounces. Identifying brain and mind as a, matter of identifying processes or perhaps states of brain and mind are tasks that philosophers seek to clarify. If you consider the experience of pain for instance, seeing something or even having a mental image, the identity theorists claim that all these experiences just are processes of the brain but not merely correlated to the processes of the brain.
Some scholars believe that although experiences are brain processes, they too have non physical, psychical properties commonly known as “qualia” the identity theory denies the irreducible non physical properties of matter. Most identity theorists derive a behaviorist analysis of mental states such as desires, beliefs while others believe that mental states are actual brain states. These theorists are better described as physicalists.
Place, for instance used the notion of constitution while smart preferred the axiom of identity in logic. According to Smart, if sensation A is identical to the brain process B and B is between my ears and is circular or straight, and then A is also between my ears and is straight or circular. Similarly, a mathematics teacher may be identical to a science teacher but although a new student may know that the math’s teacher hiccups during lectures, he may not know that the science teacher also hiccups during lectures too.
Types and Tokens
In testing whether mental phenomena is same as physical phenomena, or different from it, it must be clarified whether the issue applies to concrete particulars like individual pains occurring at a time or to the kind of event or state, under which these particulars fall. The token identity asserts that each particular that falls under the mental kind can easily be identified with neuropsychological happenings or other such instances of pain for instance are taken to be not only mental state such as pain but physical instances such as c-fiber excitation.
The token identity is however weaker than the type identity and it goes as far a to claim that the mental kinds themselves are physical. This implies that the identity theory, when taken as a theory of types, but not tokens has to make some claims that mental states like pain are typically identical with physical states such as c-fiber excitation.
One of the greatest strengths of the modern identity theory is its holism. Its important that two feature of this holism are considered. One of them is that the approach allows for the causal interaction of the brain processes and states as well as in the case of external stimuli and responses. Another strength is the ability to draw from the Ramseyfication of a theory. Ramsey FP, has demonstrated how to replace the theory’s theoretical terms like the ‘property of being an electron’ by ‘property Y in such a way that …..” so that when this is done for all the theoretical terms, we are left only with property Y such that’,’ property Y such that’ etc.
Ramsey thus clearly demonstrates that folk psychology is compatible with materialism. The earlier theory of identity deals more with reports of immediate experience.
This theory also solves Descartes problem since it reduces the mental realms to the physical and characteristically allow as for the derivation of the causal role of mental phenomena from its physical substrate. This possibility is however not detailed in realization. The theory has also been used to highlight the empirical investigations about the correlation of the mind and brain by proposing that what the brain is doing, the mind does the same.
Criticism of the theory
Philosophers such as Saul Krypke and David Chalmers have leveled serious criticisms against this theory. Kripke considers the identity’ heat molecule’ and also believes that this is a necessary truth in every world. This proposition is not true since radiant heat may not fit in this category. Krypt asserts that what when we think that molecular motion might exist in the absence of heat, then this is confusing it with the thought that molecular motion can exist without being felt as heat. He goes on to ask whether it is analogously possible that if pain is a certain form of brain process, that it could exist without being felt as pain. His suggestion is that its not possible. An identity theorist would confirm these assertions. We might possibly be aware of a damaged tooth and being in agitation condition without being aware of this awareness.
Identity theorists such as Smart would prefer talk of having pain rather than of pain. Kripke concludes that the apparent connection between the physical state and the corresponding brain states cannot thus be explained by some sort of qualitative ideas such as in the case of heat.
Chalmer developed non physical qualia that avoid the worries of ontological danglers. These worries were expressed by Smart that if non physical qualia existed, there would have to be laws relating to non to neurophysiological processes to apparently simple properties and the laws of collation would necessarily have to be fundamental. Chalmer counters this by proposing that qualia are not simple but unknown to us, are made of simple photoqaulia and thus the fundamental laws relating to these physical entities relate to fundamental physical entities.
This is the philosophical belief that what makes something a mental state of a particular type depends not on its components but on the way it functions, and the role it plays in the system in which it is part. This doctrine goes back to the Aristotle’s conception of soul and was advanced by the conception by Hobbes of the mind as a calculating machine. Its prominence was however evident in the third quarter of the 20th century.
It has been described as a doctrine that what makes something a pain, thought, or a desire does not depend on the internal function but on its role in the cognitive system. Functionalism takes the identity of the mental state as determined by the causal relationship to other mental states, behavior and sensory stimulations.
For simplicity, a functionalist may characterize pain as a state that is probably caused by bodily harm, producing the belief that something is not right with the body and the desire to get out of that state, to cause anxiety thus only and all creatures that have internal states to meet their conditions and play their roles are then capable of pain.
If we suppose that humans meet these conditions(c- fiber simulation), then the humans may be in pain, if they undergo a c- fiber simulation.
This theory however allows creatures that have different constitution to have mental state too. If there are some non human creatures that meet the conditions, they would still feel pain. This means that pain could be mutually realized. Conversely, since descriptions that refer to states causal relationship with stimulations, and each other are known as topic neutral ( Smart 1959) this imposes no restrictions on the nature of item as long as it satisfies the conditions. It means that logically, it’s possible for a non physical state to play the relevant roles and realize mental states. This makes it compatible with dualism that makes mental states to cause and be caused by physical states.
Functionalism is neutral between materialism and dualism. It has been quite attractive to materialists. Since materialists believe that it’s overwhelmingly likely that any states capable of playing the roles in question will be physical states. This implies that functionalism can stand as a materialistic alternative to the psychophysical identity thesis, the thesis that each type of mental state is identical with a particular type of neutral state, this thesis, once considered as the dominant materialistic theory of the mind, entails that no creatures with brains that are not similar with the human mind, can share our sensations, belief and desires no matter how similar their behavior and internal organization may be our own. Thus functionalism is widely regarded as more inclusive and less chauvinistic since it can be multiply realized. This makes it a more plausible theory that is very compatible with materialism.
There are several forms or strains of functionalism i.e., machine functionalism, psycho functionalism, analytic functionalist. Machine functionalism assumes that any creature that has a mind may be regarded as a Turing machine whose operation may be fully specified given a set of instructions.
Psycho Functionalism- This one adopts the methodology of cognitive psychology in its characterization of mental states and processes as entities that are defined by their role in a cognitive psychological theory. The distinction of this branch of functionalism is its claim that the mental states are just those entities, with just those properties that have been postulated by the best scientific explanations of human behavior. This means that information that is used in functional characterization of mental states and processes need not be restricted to common knowledge and or common sense, but even include information that can be made available only by careful laboratory observation. It does not however include characteristics of mental states for which there is no scientific evidence, such as buyers regret or hysteria although the existence and efficacy of these states is something that common sense affirms.
Analytical functionalism – The role of this form of functionalism is to provide topic-neutral translations or an analysis of our ordinary mental state terms or concepts. It permits reference to the causal relations that a mental state has to stimulations, behavior or other mental states.
There are several objections that have been leveled against the functionalist theory as explained below
Functionalism and Holism
The difficulty of every version of the theory is that the functional characterization is holistic. Functionalists, hold the belief that mental states can be characterized in terms of the roles they play in psychological theory, whether it is commonsensical, scientific or any other element in between, however, all these states incorporate information about a variety of mental states. This means that if pain is interdefined with certain highly articulated desires and beliefs, then animals that do not have internal states that play the role of our articulated desires cannot share our pain and humans that do not have a capacity to feel pain are not able to share cannot share certain beliefs and desires likewise, differences in the reasoning of people and the way their beliefs are fixed and the effects of their desires on their beliefs, might make it impossible for them to share identical mental states. This is regarded as a very serious worry characteristic of functionalism.
Functionalism and Mental Causation
Another worry of the functionalism is the causal exclusion problem. The problem about whether role functionalism can account for what we take to be the causal efficacy of our mental states. For instance, if pain is realized in me, by any neural state-type, then as long as there is purely physical law like generalizations linking states of that type with pain behavior, one can give a complete causal explanation of my behavior by mentioning the occurrence of that neutral state. Some philosophers at a higher have however argued that the higher level role properties of pain are casually irrelevant.
The above is a formal analysis indicates that there have been several attempts by philosophers to describe the nature of the mind. Although the philosophers concur that there are several propositions about the possibility of a physical world, it has been indicated by the many criticisms that have been leveled against these theories. It has been proven that the mind and the brain may be interrelated in a number of elements but it may not be easy to justify that they are one and the same thing.
The identity theorists for instance argue that it’s empirically possible to prove the physicality of brain, it’s logically impossible to assume a physical state of the mind. It is only through the mind processes that philosophers attempt to bring the concept of physicality and this has been challenged from many quarters. These theories thus do not succeed in developing a plausible account of the mind and its correlation with the body, at least not in the assumption of materialism that everything is physical.