The Paraphenomenal Hypothesis

Gilbert Ryle accused Descartes of advancing what he called the “paramechanical hypothesis,” according to which the structure and operations of the mind can be understood on the model of the structure and operations of a physical system. The body is a complex machine – “a bit of clockwork” – that operates according to laws governing the mechanical interactions of material things. The mind, on the other hand, according to Descartes (according to Ryle), is an immaterial machine that operates according to formally analogous laws governing the paramechanical interactions of immaterial things – “a bit of not-clockwork.” In other words, mental processes are the same as physical processes, only you don’t have the matter. I don’t know whether Descartes actually thought this. But, surely, if he did, he was making some kind of logical or conceptual error. Mental processes can’t be the same as physical processes, minus the matter, since the matter matters. The properties of physical systems have physical explanations, which are explanations in terms of physical properties and physical laws. But it is absurd – a category mistake – to suppose that mechanical explanations could apply to immaterial things with no physical properties, subject to no physical laws. (If matters of mind..
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