Physicalism vs. Dualism: An Idiotic Case Study

[Cross-posted from the Teapot Atheist]

With possibly a few very odd exceptions, opinions about the relationship between the mind and the brain come in two flavors. One, called dualism, holds that, despite the unusual correlation between brain injuries and mental impairments, the unusual correlation between active brains and active minds, the unusual correlation between brains dying and minds appearing to stop, the unusual correlation between chemical fluctuations in the brain and measurable changes in thoughts and dispositions, and the unusual tendency of minds to report feeling as though they lived inside the vessels housing their brains, the mind and the brain are distinct. The other, called physicalism, holds that, despite the overwhelming popularity of minds distinct from brains in religious texts, the mind is dependent upon the brain, I think best captured in the way that digestion is dependent upon the gut: digestion is what the gut does; the mind is what the brain does.

Hopefully I laced that paragraph with enough suggestive caveats that you know where I stand on that question. If not, and you're a big facts guy, read what I think about the plausibility of dualism elsewhere. If not, and you're more of a suggestive caveats kind of person, read what I think racism and dualism have in common.

Today, the Fortean Times offered me a case study of the real-world contrast between these two principles too juicy to pass up.

I'll begin by saying that I'm not terribly fond of 'common sense' as an argument strategy. Appeals to our intuitions are appeals to our Serengeti brains, not to honed, rational minds. But sometimes the obvious is just the obvious and there's no caveating your way out of it. Which of the following stories is about people that you just know have a better grasp on the real world:
  • A team of doctors, scientists, and engineers in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has developed a fascinating and medically innovative brain implant that, some day, could be used to translate thought into motion without the need to develop techniques to grow (or regrow) nerve cells.
  • A team of jurists in Israel has ruled that, given that the soul of a secularist lawyer has obviously been trans.... That's stoned to death, not stoned in the way that the idiots in charge of this religious mafia-court must be, that's stoned in the way the Bible says you should be if you disobey your parents or fail to scream while being raped.
So to the first story, what am I going to say? Great stuff. Sounds very cool. Hope it works out.

To the second story... OK, lets work our way from the bottom up. First of all, it is a national disgrace to Israel that it has religious courts with any authority whatsoever, even worse that they apparently have the power to pronounce death sentences. Secondly, this decision indicates that this court is so utterly fascistic that being a secular lawyer who insults a religious judge merits a death sentence. Thirdly, the jurisprudential experts of this court system think that a goddamn dog has the soul of a goddam lawyer in it. Fourthly, being put into a dog isn't punishment enough for insulting a judge, the dog then has to get killed.

This is a principled misunderstanding of neurobiology hard at work. Sometimes there are practical consequences to such errors, and in this case the practical consequence is that the fanatics of a sexist, racist, misogynistic, wantonly genocidal racial supremacy cult handbook called the Old Testament look like, atop the appellations so far, a bunch of idiots. I feel like they're really just racing to the bottom; if I were going to write a parody of Old Testament jurisprudence, I couldn't have cooked this one up in a million years. Some times truth is just stupider than fiction I guess.

The article also indicates that PETA is on the fight to stop this idiocy, but really, best of luck to them- they're trying to appeal to the reason and ethics of judges who have never even heard of reason or ethics. You're not going to get much beyond square 1 when you're trying to reason with a principled enemy of reasonable action.

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