Earlier today I came across a post about the mind-body problem (among other things) by someone writing under the pseudonym The Thinker. The Thinker argues that our theories of fundamental physics (which he refers to collectively as “Core Theory”) are so precise and have proven so successful in so many tests that we ought to accept those theories as true, and if they are true then interactionist substance dualism is false. (Interactionist substance dualism, by the way, is the view that the mind or soul is composed of a non-physical substance that interacts with physical substance.)
The argument can be stated as follows:
- Interactionism entails that the mind causes physical phenomena at the levels Core Theory is concerned with.
- If interactionism is true, there should be anomalous physical phenomena that Core Theory does not account for.
- Core Theory accurately accounts for all physical phenomena at the most fundamental levels.
- Interactionism is false.
This might seem at first like a compelling argument against interactionism, but I think there’s a big problem with it: there’s no reason to think that the physical end of mind-body interaction should appear in any way anomalous. All tests of Core Theory have been conducted in a universe with minds in it; if mind is not matter but it affects the material world, then the physical effects of non-physical minds are already part of the data from which Core Theory was derived and which Core Theory so precisely and reliably explains. So the second premise is false, and without it the argument is invalid. The success of Core Theory certainly constrains interactionists’ options as they try to develop a more fine-grained account of the relation between the mental and the physical, but it does not rule out interactionism altogether.