Criticism From The Dualists

Amnesty Ireland has been an active participant within the ongoing debate on transgender issues. They have helpfully provided some definitions of this and other related terms. Their definition of the term “trans” includes the following language:

“Trans people are individuals whose gender identity or gender expression is different from typical expectations of the gender they were assigned at birth. Some trans people decide to transition, which is the process of living your life as your true gender. Being transgender has nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation. You can be a trans man and be gay – or be a trans woman and be lesbian.”

Extract from the definition of “transgender” on the Amnesty Ireland web site

I wrote an article recently that described why this definition seems to imply Cartesian Dualism. That is, the definition suggests that “you” can be an immaterial or metaphysical mind or consciousness, which has a different gender from your body. I disagreed with this idea on the basis that Cartesian Dualism is wrong. There is overwhelming evidence that the mind is what the brain does. Consciousness is purely a function of the brain and cannot exist independently of the physical body. Moreover, an immaterial mind or consciousness cannot influence or control the brain.

In contrast, dualists believe that there is a metaphysical mind or consciousness that exists independently from the physical body, which is not merely a function of the brain. I received some criticism of my article from dualists, and some relevant clips are extracted below. For those interested in the full disquisition of the dualists, their entire video of criticisms is here.

Counter arguments coming from a dualist perspective

The initial demand here is that I should provide an “equation for dualism being wrong”. As it happens, the link in my article that is being discussed in the video clip above, is to a physicist demonstrating why dualism is incompatible with the fundamental laws of nature. He even provides the requested equation within the first thirty seconds of the video.

The physics within the domain that is relevant to the human brain
The physics within the domain that is relevant to the human brain

In fairness, the video that I had linked to is sixteen minutes long and not everyone will take the time to listen through the physics presentation. I will try to provide a summary of the content in the paragraphs below, but I recommend watching the full video. It’s fun and delivered at a popular level, such that it is not necessary to understand any equations (I certainly couldn’t explain the equation above). All of the necessary caveats and clarifications are also in the video, which I will inevitably over-simplify below.

The fundamental laws of physics describe a universe that includes crossing symmetry. One implication of this symmetry is that if any proposed force or particle interacts with say a hadron, then you can smash two hadrons together and make the proposed particle. For example, imagine a man called Higgs who proposes that a new kind of boson exists. He might claim that the purported new boson interacts with hadrons. This is synonymous with a claim that colliding hadrons into each other with sufficient energy will create the proposed new boson.

Now consider what crossing symmetry implies with respect to Cartesian Dualism. Proposing that a mind or a consciousness can influence the particles in a physical brain, is synonymous with a claim that smashing those particles together will create some “mind-stuff” or the force-carrying “particles of consciousness”. The kind of particles that make up the physical brain have been collided together at high energies many times. No “mind-stuff” has ever been created and this leaves an open question for dualists. If people have a metaphysical mind or consciousness, how exactly does this ethereal entity influence or control the atoms of the physical brain? Dualism is essentially the claim that the laws of physics are suspended inside the human skull, where some kind of magic manipulates the neurons.

A fair statement on the conflation of multiple terms

While describing the dualist position, the short video clip above makes a fair statement about a conflation that was in my original article. I did indeed place terms like mind, consciousness, spirit and soul in the same bucket. I did this in order to argue that no immaterial or metaphysical entity (no matter what you call it) can influence the physical brain. Whereas the Amnesty Ireland definition requires that a person can have such an immaterial mind or consciousness that is gendered independently from the physical body, I would argue instead that the mind is purely a function of the brain. Nobody has a metaphysical consciousness that is independent from their physical body.

The Amnesty Ireland definition goes on to state that to be trans is to “live your life as your true gender”. That is, not only do people have an independent immaterial mind or consciousness that is separate from their body, but the gender of this metaphysical entity is the person’s “true gender”. If a person has a female body but they feel as though they have a male mind, then according to Amnesty Ireland their “true gender” is that of their metaphysical consciousness and not that of their physical body.

An argument that a metaphysical consciousness can be gendered independently from the physical body

This brings us to the arguments in favour of dualism. Now that the claim has been made that there is an immaterial consciousness, which can be gendered independently from the gender of the physical body, what evidence can be offered to support this metaphysical claim? Whereas I had offered evidence that the mind is what the brain does, what contrary evidence is there for a different kind of metaphysical mind that is entirely separate from the physical brain? In the short video clip below, the argument for the dualist position suggests some examples of this purported phenomenon.

Some arguments for an immaterial consciousness that is independent from the physical body

The first example in the short clip above, which purports to demonstrate dualism and refute the position that I had described, relates to psychosis and dissociative disorders. These are a set of mental health issues whereby people can become detached from reality and may suffer delusions. Of course, that people with mental disorders may hallucinate does not imply that they have an immaterial mind which does not exist in the same physical reality as the rest of the world. In fact, it implies precisely the opposite. It implies that there is a disorder in the physical brain. That is why antipsychotic drugs exist in the physical world and target the physical brain, rather than addressing some kind of metaphysical consciousness.

The second purported refutation of materialism moves from the silly to the spooky. It is argued that Out-of-Body Experiences (OBEs) offer evidence for dualism. Where such experiences are reported, they are in fact merely another flavour of delusion or hallucination. Conversely, anyone who can demonstrate an OBE that is really a dualist phenomenon whereby their metaphysical consciousness can view the world from outside their physical body, is invited to collect their cash.

Out-of-Body Experience

However, OBE was not the only new age mysticism offered as refutation of my article. The following quote from the short video clip above is quite something, coming from an otherwise intelligent person:

“Mind over matter is literally a thing that exists, yes!”

Quote from argument for dualism

In fact, mind over matter is not a thing that exists. Uri Geller could not bend physical spoons with his metaphysical consciousness. For exactly the same reasons, none of us has an immaterial mind that can push atoms around within our physical brains. In fact, in support of their woo-woo the short video clip above goes on to make the same dualist error as Amnesty Ireland:

“You force your body to do something it does not want to do, by overpowering it with your mind.”

Quote from argument for dualism

Just like the Amnesty Ireland definition of the term “trans”, this quote assumes a metaphysical mind that is entirely separate from the brain. Also just like the Amnesty Ireland definition, this dualist argument further assumes that the immaterial consciousness is more important and more powerful than the physical body. There is absolutely no evidence to support this and in fact, there is a mountain of evidence to demonstrate that it is credulous nonsense.

Contrary to what is described in the video clip, the process of any person weighing two options before making a choice involves information processing in the physical brain only. When a person picks say chocolate ice cream over strawberry ice cream, there is no metaphysical consciousness magically moving atoms around in a physical body, in order to overpower a brain that would otherwise have picked strawberry ice cream. Instead, the process of picking chocolate ice cream exclusively involves atoms inside the skull following the laws of physics. Nothing more.

Dualism is magical thinking, and a dualist explanation for any proposition is not credible.

2 responses to “Criticism From The Dualists”

  1. […] The same self-professed rationalists who will laugh heartily at a statement like, “my mind or spirit was placed in this body by my creator”; will somehow insist on the utmost reverence for a statement like, “my mind or spirit was born in the wrong body”. Some kids may make statements like this in a slightly echolalic manner, whereas others may be expressing genuine distress about these issues. Of course, any child suffering from gender dysphoria deserves the utmost compassion and care according to the best medical evidence. However, slogans like “self-reporting is science” serve only to perpetuate an ideology and do not serve the best interests of vulnerable children. […]

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