Abstract Details

The Mind-object Identity Hypothesis  Riccardo Manzotti (IULM University, Lavagna, GE Italy)   C18

All physical phenomena are observable, causally relevant and, to some extent, located in space-time. When in the past neuroscientists and philosophers took into consideration the possibility of a science of consciousness, they looked for physical phenomena in the brain that might be deemed identical to our familiar consciousness. This approach is usually referred to as the mind-brain or mind-body identity theory. As is well known, the persistent failure in finding anything like our experience inside the brain led people to look for neural correlates of consciousness rather than for consciousness itself. The quest for neural correlates is still going on, with uncertain outcomes. In this paper, I will return to the original attempt, namely finding what is the physical process that is identical to our conscious experience with a big difference: rather than focusing on phenomenal processes taking place inside the head I will suggest to consider physical processes taking place outside the head and outside the body. The main hypothesis is that the conscious experience of an object is the object itself as it takes place relative to one's body (neural and sensory systems included). I call this hypothesis the mind-object identity hypothesis. This hypothesis has the advantages of traditional mind-brain identity theories: it is a scientifically testable empirically grounded hypothesis. Ontologically speaking, it is a very economic solution, insofar as it does not require any additional ontological level, neither emergent properties nor fancy unknown physical phenomena. In regards to standard perception, it solves the issue of intentionality in terms of identity between mental states and their objects, the two being the same. It is a form of eliminativism because it removes the notion of mental states being something different from the physical world. There is only the physical world, conceived in terms of physical relative objects taking place relative to each other. In order to be succesful, the theory needs to address to key problems: the problem of the variability of subjective experience and the problem of the alleged autonomy of subjective experience. The former can be summarized as such: if our experience of an object is the object itself, how is that we all experience a different object? Illusions are an extreme case of this problem. The latter consists of the fact that in many circumstances we seem to have experiences in the absence of the corresponding physical objects (memory, dreams, hallucinations). How can the identity hypothesis cope with both cases? The key is the notion of physical relative existence - namely the fact that physical properties as we experience them exist relative to our body as in the case of velocity that exists only relative to a frame of reference. Our body is thus seen as the causal reference frame of those external relative objects that are one and the same with our experience. The mind-object hypothesis articulates further into the so-called Spread Mind Theory.