Minding Matter: How not to Argue for the Causal Efficacy of the Mental

Rev Neuroscience 22 (5):483-507 (2011)
Abstract
The most fundamental issue of the neurosciences is the question of how or whether the mind and the body can interact with each other. It has recently been suggested in several studies that current neuroimaging evidence supports a view where the mind can have a well-documented causal influence on various brain processes. These arguments are critically analyzed here. First, the metaphysical commitments of the current neurosciences are reviewed. According to both the philosophical and neuroscientific received views, mental states are necessarily neurally based. It is argued that this leaves no room for a genuine interaction of the mental and the neural. Second, it is shown how conclusions drawn from recent imaging studies are in fact compatible with the fully physicalistic notion of mental causation and how they can thus be easily accommodated to the received view. The fallacious conclusions are argued to be a result of an overly vague grasping of the conceptual issues involved. The question of whether the fundamental physical principles exclude outright the ability of mental states to have causal influence on the physical world is also addressed and the reaction of appealing to the apparent loophole provided by quantum physics is assessed. It is argued that linking psychology to quantum physics contradicts many basic tenets of the current neurosciences and is thus not a promising line of study. It is concluded that the interactionist hypothesis benefits from neither conceptual nor empirical support.
Keywords dualism  interactionism  mind-body problem  neuroimaging  physicalism  placebo  psychotherapy  quantum physics
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