This is Essay LXXIII of Mr. Stolyarov’s series, “A Rational Cosmology,” which seeks to present objective, absolute, rationally grounded views of terms such as universe, matter, volume, space, time, motion, sound, light, forces, fields, and even the higher-order concepts of life, consciousness, and volition. See the index of all the essays in “A Rational Cosmology” here.
The traditional Cartesian dualist argument, stemming from the ideas of Rene Descartes (1596-1650), asserts that the mind itself is not physical, although it is capable of perceiving the physical world. This essay shall endeavor to refute this view and its current manifestation in the ideas of Mr. Reginald Firehammer.
In his essay, “Life,” Mr. Firehammer continues to make his argument on the separation of matter and consciousness:
“Even if Ayn Rand had never specifically said the physical and consciousness were not the same thing, it is not logically possible that they be. Physical existence is that which consciousness is conscious of. That which consciousness is conscious of and the consciousness itself cannot be the same thing; if they were the same thing, that is if the consciousness itself were the physical, it would be conscious of itself, which leads either to extreme empiricism (essentially denying that consciousness exists) or idealism (essentially denying the physical exists, that is, solipsism). Existence and our consciousness of it cannot be the same thing, consciousness cannot be physical.”
This argument is remarkably similar to Cartesian dualism, the idea that, by virtue of the mind being aware of the realm of physical existence, it must be outside that realm entirely. Yet this argument falls into the same trap as the following line of reasoning: “That which the ball is pushing and the ball itself cannot be the same thing; if they were the same thing, that is, if the ball itself were physical, it would be pushing itself, which leads you to either deny the ball or the physical…”
Yet we know very well that both the ball and what it is pushing are physical. It is true that the ball and that which it is pushing are two different things. But nothing precludes them from having a similar attribute of being physical!
Similarly, nothing precludes something red from pushing something else that is red, or something big from pushing something else that is big. While it is true that what consciousness perceives is not consciousness itself, and that what it perceives is physical, never in those facts is it implied that consciousness itself cannot be physical.
Consciousness is a physical process that perceives other physical things outside itself. Since “the physical” is not one giant entity, but rather an attribute that trillions of distinct and discrete entities share, it is quite possible to perceive something physical while still being physical and not being a part of the entity one is perceiving.
In his argument above, Mr. Firehammer, has committed the fallacy of reification, which he defines as “Treating abstractions as actual existing entities or regarding them as causally efficacious and ontologically prior and superior to their referents.” (The Autonomist Logic Fallacies). He is treating the word “physical” as an entity in itself, ontologically prior to the discrete entities which all have the attribute of being physical but are all separate from one another nonetheless.
Read other parts of “A Rational Cosmology” by clicking here.