Can a Person be a Soul? - Michael Tooley | Closer to Truth

Can a Person be a Soul? - Michael Tooley

Michael Tooley - Philosophy of Religion

Michael Tooley

Michael Tooley is a Professor of Philosophy at University of Colorado Boulder. He received a Boulder Faculty Assembly Excellence in Research Award in 1998 for his book Time, Tense, and Causation, and was named a College Professor of Distinction in 2006.

Full Profile >
Contributor

Michael
Tooley

Professor of Philosophy, Univ. of Colorado

Transcript

View TranscriptHide TranscriptDownload Transcript (PDF)Select All and Copy To Clipboard
Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Michael, I did my doctorate in neurophysiology and I’ve been obsessed with the mind-body problem my whole life but I come to you to find out, do I have a soul?

Michael Tooley:

I see. Well, given that you did your doctorate in neurophysiology, I suspect you’re rather skeptical about whether or not you have a soul. I think that sort of skepticism is eminently justified. I mean, there are various facts about, for example, the effect of damage to the brain, okay. One has a stroke and so on, that may impair one intellectually in various ways. Bullets going through the head may affect mental functioning, may change personality. Drugs can have a striking effect. I mean, if my mind were an immaterial substance, I wouldn’t expect, for example, that as I grow older – I mean, I’d have more difficulty remembering things and so on, right. So there’s a whole range of facts that make perfectly good sense if the mind just is the brain, right, and that require extremely ad hoc explanations if the mind is an immaterial substance.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

So you would reject the notion, what’s called substance dualism, there are two kinds of substances. There’s a mental substance that exists disembodied, and the brain, which is embodied. So you reject that substance dualism. But you believe something called interactional dualism. What does that mean?

Michael Tooley:

Well, I think there are properties, okay. I mean, consider the experience you have when you see something red, or consider the smell of lilac, or heaven forbid, the test of Vegemite, okay, right. Now, I mean, the questions - those are properties that you seem to be immediately aware of, right, and so the question is, what is their place in the world, right. Now, some philosophers think that these can be reduced to the stuff of physics, the fundamental particles and the forces and so on, but no reduction has been forthcoming yet, right, and I think there are good reasons for thinking that no reduction is possible. So I think that in addition to the stuff of physics there’s also a consciousness and there are these qualitative properties, colors, tastes, smells and so on, right, that aren’t reducible to the physical world. On the other hand, I think they causally interact with the physical world, but that causes problems but that’s what I’m inclined to believe.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

But what does that mean, though? What are these properties? You’re not saying they’re disembodied substances.

Michael Tooley:

That’s right.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Are they platonic forms existing in platonic heaven, in a different realm?

Michael Tooley:

No, the idea is that they’re extra properties of brain states, okay. So the brain, in addition to having the properties that physicists focus upon, right, the situation is that complex brain states can have these quite simple properties of color, taste, smell and so on. So there are extra properties in the world that are located where the brain is located and they’re located in specific parts of the brain depending on what their properties are.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

But if that’s true, why can’t it ultimately be explained in terms of brain states, if that’s all it is?

Michael Tooley:

Well, I think there can be a causal explanation of how these states arise and so on. But I think there’s a real problem of releasing these sorts of properties to the stuff of physics. There’s a very famous argument dealing with a woman who sees the world in black and white, okay, and she learns everything there is to know about the brain, how it functions, and color perceptions –

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Wavelengths of color –

Michael Tooley:

That’s right, yes. She knows all about – it’s called the Mary (ph) Argument or the knowledge argument, right. But the idea is that then she goes out of her black and white environment, or maybe she needs new eyes, right, and she gazes at a ripe tomato for the first time, right, and so the idea is, now she knows what redness is, whereas before she could have had as much knowledge of the physics and neurophysiology situation as possible, and yet didn’t know what redness is.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

And what does that tell you about the nature of reality?

Michael Tooley:

Well, it seems to me, to tell one that there are properties, as I say, which are over and above the ones that physicists recognize. Now, this causes real problems because if those properties have causal oomph, right, if they make a difference to our behavior then it looks like we have to bump around the fundamentalist stuff of physics, right, and physicists on the whole are not going to be too happy with such –

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Certainly it affects how we deal with the world because that’s – everything we deal with are those properties.

Michael Tooley:

That’s right. And I mean, look, it would be incredible if those properties didn’t have any causal oomph, okay, right. I mean, it seems very natural when, you know, you taste something new for the first time and have a different sort of experience and you say, I’ve never had an experience like that, right. It’s hard to believe that the experience itself isn’t playing a role in producing those sounds and so on, that it’s just, so to speak, electrons and so on in the brain that are doing the causing.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

So that – it seems to follow from that that there is a sense of reality, your sense of reality is a little bit bigger than the reality of fundamental physicists.

Michael Tooley:

That’s right, yes. So I disagree with materialists and people who are physicalists in philosophy and so on. I think there are these – this extra stuff. There’s consciousness, that’s pretty mysterious. I think consciousness exists and that involves direct acquaintance or direct awareness with these properties that are not reasonable to physics –

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

And will never be able to be reduced, and therefore never be able to be explained because you’re not going to explain it with a disembodied, non-physical substance, and you’re not going to explain it, so you tell me, by reducing it to fundamental forces and particles and physics, so basically you’re never going to explain it.

Michael Tooley:

Well, hopefully you will get scientific laws, okay, which deal with the connection between these qualities, both the connection between the brain states that cause and give rise to these qualities, and the causal relations running in the opposite direction. Those – some of those laws at least will be ultimate laws and they won’t be reducible to laws of physics.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

And the fact that our world, of all the possible worlds that could exist, that our world has that aspect, that interactional dualism, those properties of consciousness which can’t be reduced, does anything follow from that about what you can discern about what – how do we explain reality?

Michael Tooley:

Well, some people think that it provides a reason for positing God, okay, as a person who set things up in order to make the world a more interesting place in order to have conscious beings and so on, right. And they try to argue the probability that there be – (inaudible) – a world of this type is larger if God exists than if God does not exist. That’s a tricky and interesting argument, but I don’t think ultimately it’s a sound argument.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Why?

Michael Tooley:

Well, I mean, it may be an interesting argument for the existence of, you know, a creator and so on, right, but for it to be an argument for the existence of God it’s got to be a reason for thinking that there is a being who is perfectly good, okay, right, and I don’t think it provides good reasons for that, partly because of the argument from evil on the other side.