Philosophy of Mind is the study of the relation between the mind and the body.
As one of the oldest branches of philosophy, the Philosophy of Mind examines questions such as the nature of emotion, perception, memory, identity and death.
The doctrine studies how we connect to the world around us. It attempts to answer some of the most basic of life’s questions: who we are, how we work, and how we understand the world.
There are two schools within the Philosophy of Mind, Dualism and Monism, examining whether our mind and our body are separate, or if they exist as one.
The Philosophy of Mind is usually illustrated through thought experiments, which present problems to express how we understand the world and ourselves, or, rather, how we don’t understand it.
Here are three of the most interesting thought experiments that the Philosophy of Mind has to offer.
Mary is a scientist who has lived in a solitary room her entire life. Her living conditions are only in black and white. She studies neurophysiology, particularly the concept of the colour red. She understands the wavelength of the colour, how the colour and light effects the retina, how the nervous system understands the colour. But Mary has never seen the colour red. One day, Mary is released from her room and sees the colour red in person. Will she have learned anything more from seeing the colour? Will she be able to recognise it in the first instance?
This thought experiment examines what we can understand through learning and what we can learn through perception. Most would agree that you are not able to understand things like colour without actually perceiving it.
It is entirely different to perceive something than it is to understand all there is to know about it. Complete knowledge combines perception with understanding.
Years in the future, scientists have developed a system of teleportation. It’s simple and you can quickly travel from here to Australia instantly. It works like this: you step into a booth which scans every cell and electron in your body and creates a perfect copy of you in another booth in Australia. However, it then destroys the original body. Are you still you? Will your consciousness transfer into the new body?
This thought experiment explores where we consider our consciousness to be. There is a conflicting opinion on whether or not the consciousness lies in the body, or if it exists as a separate entity. If there is a carbon copy of ‘you’, is it also you? Or, is it someone entirely different?
Now imagine that there is an issue with the machine. Your body is scanned and a copy is created in Australia, but there is a five-minute delay in the destruction of your original body. Would you still go through with the teleportation? Which copy would have consciousness? Would it be split? Would you cease to exist when your original body has been destroyed?
This addition to the thought experiment questions whether your consciousness would be split if there were two of you. Most wouldn’t go through with the teleportation because the anticipation of the destruction of the body would be too much.
The Dualistic view says that the consciousness is split between the two. Having a split consciousness presents interesting consequences for what you might perceive. This idea of a split consciousness brings us into the next thought experiment.
The Split Brain Transplant
A new groundbreaking surgery has found a way to split the brain in two with both new brains being able to function normally. They offer you the opportunity to have your brain split in two. The second brain is then implanted into a body which is an exact copy of yours. Would your consciousness be split into both brains? Would it remain in the first body or move to the second body? If the consciousness was split, would you be able to see both perspectives?
This Philosophy of Mind experiment asks the question of where your consciousness exists – if it’s in the brain or a separate entity. Perception is an essential question of the Philosophy of Mind.
If the consciousness is split, it begs the question as to whether both will be ‘you’, whether a second person will be created, or if the splitting of the brain creates two entirely new people. Is the essence of who you are within your body somewhere or does it exist as a separate entity?
Philosophy of Mind presents some of the most interesting and thought-provoking ideas in philosophy. It questions the very core of who a person is and how we examine and perceive the world. Knowledge and consciousness are the two overarching themes in Philosophy of Mind, and these thought experiments present the key issues academics have been trying to solve for centuries.
We hope that these thought experiments have incited your interest in the Philosophy of Mind. There are plenty more where these came from. Philosophy is an incredible study and has so much to offer in all areas of life.