How are the Mind and the Body Related?
One of the writings that explain in detail the relationship between the mind and the body is J. J. C. Smart’s “Sensations and Brain Processes.” In his paper, Smart expounds the identity thesis which states that certain states of the mind are very much alike with certain states of the brain. For example, when a person feels pain through sensation, his or her experience is simply a brain process that allows him to perceive the feeling of pain. In other words, Smart asserts that the sensations are identical to brain processes. So when a person reports about something he or she perceived through sensation, he is also reporting a brain process.
In order to elaborate on his claims, Smart used a variety of illustrations particularly the ones that involve the use of the senses. However, it is notable that in most of his illustrations and examples, he uses that ones that can be seen or described using the eyes. His first illustration was when he asked what he was reporting when he had “at this moment, a roundish, blurry-edged after-image which is yellowish towards its edge and is orange towards its center” (141)? Although he claims that he could not be reporting anything at all, he also emphasized the he is not in any way reporting something “irreducibly psychical” (142). Meaning to say, from the statement above, Smart believes that sensations as well as other mental events are not excluded from the physical domain. In short, mental events can also be broken down to physical processes, which are controlled by the brain, forming one of the main points in his thesis—that sensations are not simply correlated with brain processes but are, in fact, brain processes themselves. However, Smart also stressed that statements about sensations does not necessarily mean statements about a brain process. Rather, it means that reporting about a sensation is also reporting a brain process in itself.
However, in his paper, Smart also outlined in detail eight plausible objections to his arguments. The first objection is that anyone, even an “illiterate peasant” (146) can talk about his pains and aches even without knowing anything about neurophysiology. In other words, the objection claims that one does not need to know about his or her brain processes in order for him or her to make reports about his sensations, which therefore proves that sensations are not brain processes. In his reply, Smart illustrated the concept of describing something in many ways. For example, it is a well-known fact that lighting is an electrical discharge. However, Smart explains that one can claim that he can see a flash of lightning even without knowing that it is an electrical discharge. The same thing applies with sensation and brain processes. In his view, one can report about sensations even without knowing about brain processes.
The second objection states that a person is simply correlating his sensations with his brain processes and therefore does not necessarily mean that both are identical. Smart replies that just because it is a “contingent fact” (147) that sensations are the same as brain processes doesn’t necessarily follow that they are not identical. He also claims that while this object may be sound, it fails to prove that sensation and body processes are different from one another.
The third objection, according to Smart, states that a person experiences brain processes and sensations differently. Meaning to say, sensations have certain properties that mentally irreducible. However, Smart counters by going back to his example of seeing a yellowish-orange after image. He explains that when a person says that he or she sees that after image, he or she is also saying “There is something going on which is like what is going on when I have my eyes open, am awake, and there is an orange illuminated in good light in front of me, that is, when I really see an orange” (149). In other words, Smart is not describing how the two things are similar, but simply stating that they are simply similar to each other.
The fourth objection affirms that an after image is not present in physical space but the brain process is and therefore, an after image is not a brain process (150). In his reply, smart stressed that he never said that the brain process is identical with the after image but rather the experience of an after image is the one that is identical with it. Next, the fifth objection claims that processes in the brain can either be slow or fast and can form numerous shapes in the brain. However, one cannot talk about sensations in the same manner which is why the two are not identical. Smart asserts that the objection stated above may prove that sensations and the brain may not have the same meaning or the same logic, but it doesn’t follow that they cannot be identical.
The sixth objection, on the other hand, claims that “sensations are private, and brain processes are public” (152). Again, Smart maintains that sensations and brain processes have different logics. While it may be true that every person has his or her own feelings and accesses towards his or her experiences, all that can be change once he or she knows more or gains more experiences.
The seventh objection states one can imagine himself or herself turned to stone and yet still have images, aches, and pains (152), among others. Smart, however, refutes that this particular objection only shows that brain processes and sensations do not have the same meaning, but it doesn’t prove that the two have different references. It merely presents a ghostly figure while Smart shows figures made from the brain processes.
Finally, the eighth objection is the “beetle in the box” (152) argument. According to his objection, people have their own beetle in the box which only they can see. In addition, the beetle for one person could be different from the beetle of another. Therefore, how can people tell that if they all have the same beetle in their respective boxes? Furthermore, a rule of language “must have public criteria for its correct application” (153). In his answer, Smart simply claims that his description of something, for example a green thing, is impartial as to whether the similarity is physical or mental and does not necessarily mean that they are alike.
After examining Smart’s arguments and the objections to his claims, it can then be deduced that he makes excellent points in all aspects of the topic. His vivid illustrations and in-depth examples are very persuasive as it redefines the meaning of sensation and puts it into a different perspective. However, on a personal note, it can be disputed that Smart’s arguments fails to acknowledge the fact that mental states, such as sensations, can also be understood in a variety of systems and not just the brain. Since his theory mainly revolves around the identification of brain states with certain mental states, it more or less fails to account for those organisms or systems that have no brains, literally but can still have sensations. In short, my biggest criticism is that this theory is simply too narrow and does not cover other situations.
Smart. J. C. C. “Sensations and Brain Processes.” The Philosophical Review April 1959, Vol. 68, No. 2, pp. 141-156.