As far a my knowledge of philosophy there is two schools of thought dualism that the human mind is separate from the physical body, and the other school of thought is physicalism that the mind is physical as is the body.

The argument against physicalism From the SEP is as follows

"The main argument against physicalism is usually thought to concern the notion of qualia, the felt qualities of experience. The notion of qualia raises puzzles of its own, puzzles having to do with its connection to other notions such as consciousness, introspection, epistemic access, acquaintance, the first-person perspective and so on. However the idea that we will discuss here is the apparent contradiction between the existence of qualia and physicalism"

And as such I quote from my experience of the world and the qualia I experience is as an example I cannot hear the thoughts of others, The thoughts occurring in my mind as I am typing this into the phone I hear as I do sounds from the external world. The vibration from the external world I hear as sound. That sound can be altered with physical input from me to the external world and that physical input from my body can change the sound, howver no physical input from my body to the external world can change the sound of my thoughts.

So my question is.

Is dualism the right explanation to the mind and body relation as we experience qualia that otherwise the physical world would not?

  • 2
    I vote to close the question in its current form: Your final prompt “What does the community think?” possibly indicates that you did not read the recommendation, how to pose questions on this platform and which type of question should be avoided, see philosophy.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask - Furthermore, did you look up what plato.stanford.edu/entries/dualism says about dualism and monism? I cannot imagine that there is a serious philosophical school stating “that the mind is physical as is the the body.” Otherwise please give a reference.
    – Jo Wehler
    Dec 1, 2023 at 16:03
  • 1
    @JoWehler Thanks for the heads up I'm learning and gathering information I have no academic education other than the school of hard knocks.
    – 8Mad0Manc8
    Dec 1, 2023 at 16:18
  • @JoWehler plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism That link is what I'm referring to.
    – 8Mad0Manc8
    Dec 1, 2023 at 16:33
  • Please add the precise section of the SEP-article to your question. Probably a quote would be best.
    – Jo Wehler
    Dec 1, 2023 at 16:41
  • What they mean (materialists) is that mental states, thoughts etc are a product of physical interactions, so mind is a by-product of matter, NOT that you can touch thoughts. But in that case, the state of thought must be maintained in matter, so you ask : can I touch it? Well, ... good argument against materialism! Dec 1, 2023 at 16:54

4 Answers 4


The mainstream view, physicalism, ie. materialistic monism, is the philosophical position that everything which exists is no more extensive than its physical properties, and that the only existing substance is physical. Therefore, it argues, the mind is a purely physical construct, and will eventually be explained entirely by physical theory.

On the other hand, dualism - in the context of the philosophy of mind - does not give an explanation on the body mind relation, as the interface between these two is not defined.

Another option is panpsychism which states that mind or a mind-like aspect is a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of reality, but the underlying mechanics is not addressed at all.

The problem with all these views is that they do not give explanations of the mechanics and of the interface between physical matter and the mind. They are just a recycling of 3000 years old views phrased with modern terminology.

As I see things, dualism is not concerned with the problem, panpsychism "closes the eye" to physicalism to find the "details" and physicalism is playing the mission impossible.

Many times, using labels and terminology to describe ideas, approaches and theories, raises barriers in going forward.

From my point of view, those who believe that the mind is a physical construct, miss something fundamental : even if the mind is to be proved to be a by-product of physical interactions, even if the mind is to be proved to be entirely physical, this will still shed no light on what the mind does.


Consider the brain to be the TV set and the movie to be the streaming of radio waves through a wifi. The movie is the analogous of the mind. Even if I understand how the interaction of the TV with the waves is implemented, I still cannot understand the movie. Because the movie is not the radio waves, it's the script, the semantics. The script, the semantics are not interpreted in the TV.

So, even if we identify the thoughts as particle interactions inside the brain, the meanings, the semantics is not there.

  • I have a recollection of a thought as to the medium between conscous thought and the 'mechanism' of its interaction. Is this medium a causal boundary between mental causation and physical causation? Or am I barking up the wrong tree there?
    – 8Mad0Manc8
    Dec 1, 2023 at 21:48
  • @8Mad0Manc8, ok, what could that medium be? Dec 1, 2023 at 21:53
  • I don't know to be honest, maybe it's the similar medium between the spiritual and the physical if your willing to accept that proposition. I like the anology of the tv I'll just remark
    – 8Mad0Manc8
    Dec 1, 2023 at 22:01
  • @8Mad0Manc8, yes I see this in a similar way, also I have a feeling that this boundary is a veil. Dec 1, 2023 at 22:08
  • Hiding us from something, Hiding something from us, or both?
    – 8Mad0Manc8
    Dec 4, 2023 at 13:06
  1. The title question frames the content of the OP’s question into the dichotomy of dualism versus physicalism.

    That’s not a complete disjunction. Because physicalism is only one version of monism, such that monism would be the correct alternative to dualism.

    Nevertheless I consider such a framing not a vantage point to approach the mind-body problem. The history of philosophy shows that no accepted solution has been found when juggling with terms like dualism, physicalism or monism.

  2. Much more promising to approach the mind-body problem seems to start with an operable definition, e.g. to equate mind to the mental processes in the brain. Or expressed more simply: Mind is the characteristic capability of the brain.

    On the basis of this working definition neuroscience starts to investigate mental experiences like qualia. A much more compex phenomenon than qualia is the experience of consciousness. A first step is to identify the neural modules where the experience of qualia and conscious experience originates in the brain. In particular, to investigate their neural forward and backward connections which are necessary that mental process are consciously experienced.

    There exist several proposals to model consciousness in a scientific way. A good introduction is the popular science book by Christof Koch Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist.

  3. But in any case, studying the interaction of mental processes with bodily actions and sensations must take into account the deeper level of non-conscious mental processes. That’s a domain, where introspection has only minimal access.

Aside: Due to the reworking of the question and its new title I withdraw my vote to close the question, and try to answer.


Answering this question is complex, it is one of the major questions philosophy has been grappling with over the last few centuries.

First order, dualism is a much better model

If you are only looking at consciousness, then dualism is a far better model of the mind/body than physicalism. In physicalism, no non-physical things can be causal, and as thoughts have no mass nor location, they have no ability to be causal in our world. But we experience thoughts as causal pretty much every moment of every day. We also experience our bodies influencing our thoughts -- as we are motivated by hunger/pain/lust, think more poorly when tired/inebriated, can be knocked unconscious, etc. This two-way causal relationship is readily described by interactive dualism. This is why post people in the world are dualists.

The reasons to adopt materialism/physicalism lie elsewhere than mind/body

There is an excellent paper by David Papineau titled The Rise of Physicalism that details the reasons for the development of a physicalist near-consensus in the mid 20th century: https://www.davidpapineau.co.uk/uploads/1/8/5/5/18551740/papineau_in_gillett_and_loewer.pdf Papineau looks at the history of physics, and the way physics itself did not support the "causal closure of physics" that is a key assumption of physicalism. He notes how it was the discovery f cellular biochemistry, and its utility in explaining cellular processes, as opposed to either emergent or vital forces that led to the rise of physicalist thinking. Papineau notes that dualism is not REFUTED by these observations, it is just less probable.

Papineau does not make his Latakosian Research Programme thinking explicit here, but he is using Lakatos' methodology -- Physicalism made some very useful predictions that led to fruitful science relative to cellular behavior and processes in the early 20th century, while Vitalism and emergence did not. Relative to the reduction of cellular processes to chemistry, and the reduction of chemistry to physics, there was significant "progressivity" to the physicalist reductionist paradigm, while neither the emergent nor dualist paradigms were making useful predictions of note -- hence they were regressive in efforts to explain the success of reductive physicalism relative to both chemistry and cellular biochemistry.

IF, as Papineau claims, physicalism is strongly supported by the rest of science, THEN it is reasonable to try to treat consciousness as an ongoing "work in process" problem for science to address -- and the better fit of dualism to our observations of causation, are just a challenge/problem that the physicalist Research Programme needs to continue working on.

However, Papineau's rationale has been undercut in multiple directions in the latter half of the 20th century

There are several key features of Papineau's paper that gloss over problem areas for physicalism.

Hempel's Dilemma: The most noteworthy of these problems, Papineau tried to finesse. It is Hempel's Dilemma -- that physics is, by virtue of being a field of exploration, intrinsically OPEN. Papineau tried to limit the physicalist doctrine to only the belief that material cannot be influenced by consciousness, and assert that we can be pretty confident of this, but how he might show this dogma to be actually the case for all potential physics advances -- he mostly just waved his hands at. Physics is just a science field, and causal closure of physics is not something either supported by physics itself, or by the methodology of science. Hempel is basically pointing out the conflict from treating a methodology or field of study as an ontology. Physics cannot be a stand in for an otologic theory of materialism.

A recent work exploring this problem for physicalism is Daniel Stoljar's Physicalism. Here is my review: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R13R2OUNXMIN6H?ref=pf_ov_at_pdctrvw_srp

Emergence: A second major issue for physicalism is intrinsic in Papineau's claim that emergence was defeated in the early 20th century. What actually happened was that the premise of universal reductionism made significant and useful predictions that held up and advanced science over a period of multiple decades. However, the universal reductionist programme, which Papineau explicitly ties to the rise of physicalism as an ontology, has stagnated for over 50 years now. MOST of physics reduces to either relativity or quantum mechanics, but not all -- and the efforts to link those two incompatible theories have all failed so far. Only about half of chemistry reduces to physics, and it is actually very little of biology that reduces to chemistry. Population biology, and environmental science, are really only understandable as emergent phenomenon. And psychology, anthropology, sociology, economics, etc. are basically entirely nonreduced, and reductionism appears almost wholly useless in those fields. This is discussed in the SEP article on scientific reductionism. Section 5 notes that philosophers of science have mostly abandoned universal reductionism, and physicalist philosophers of mind have almost all adopted emergence or pluralism rather than universal reductionism. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-reduction/#UnrIss

Justification of science, and of scientism: Science is not self-justified. It is a methodology that is derived from the philosophic field of epistemology, and is a specific refinement of empiricism. That empiricism encompasses the entirely of ways to achieve knowledge, is not justifiable by science. And the rationale FOR science within empiricism, relies upon aspects of rationalism, and of intuition, and upon a circularity of empirical justification of empiricism. Almost no philosophers defend scientism, as it is not justifiable. As the debate has been held about scientism, almost all of its advocates, as they realize the weak foundations of the POV, have moderated their claims. But physicalism assumes scientism, in its whole-hog, unmoderated form. And we can know from basic philosophic investigation that scientism is wrong.

Abstract Objects: Values, morality, mathematics -- all are very useful working hypotheses, and by Popperian indirect realism, therefore are reasonably assumed to exist. Abstract objects are one of the major areas that physicalism fails -- as physics itself treats information, which is an abstract object, as an essential feature of our world. One of the frightening things for reductionists is also that many theoretical physicists consider that physics itself reduces to math. Which if this premise holds up, would lead to physics reducing to an abstract object, and physicalism would then be a variant of idealism ...

Failed test cases: Karl Popper, in The Self and Its Brain, spelled out the core problem that has constituted the Hard Problem of Consciousness. It is that, if thoughts are not causal, that evolution variation would lead to a decoupling of thoughts from our actions. The close coupling we see, shows that evolutionary selection has been operating on our thinking, and therefore it is causal. If our minds are not causal, we would either not have minds, or if they are an accidental byproduct, then our thoughts should be random.

Jaegwon Kim, in Physicalism or Something Near Enough, argues that the last 50 years of exploration of qualia show they are real, and do not reduce to brains. But that causal closure of physics prevents emergence theories from being physicalist, therefore any physicalist must adopt dualist epiphenomenalism relative to qualia. Note Popper's test case refutes Kim's solution, although his problem for physicalism remains. Here is my review: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R1LFTMUSP8VEWB?ref=pf_ov_at_pdctrvw_srp

Papineau basically assumes that physics is intrinsically calculable. But the statistical nature of QM means it is definitely not deterministic, and many outcomes could be achieved with zero change in the inputs -- which is pretty far from "closed". IE, mental, social etc. influences could affect physics outcomes, with no violation of physics. The discovery of chaos theory provides a method by which quantum indeterminism can leverage up to macro scales. And physics conservation "laws" are all spontaneously broken. Papineau assumes properties to physics it does not have. see Deterministic or stochastic universe? and https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.93.25.14256


These multiple increasing and unresolved problems for physicalism suggest it is no longer a progressive Research Programme. The consequence of the accumulation of them is that alternative approaches to mind/body have become more widely pursued.

Idealism has gained the most popularity in recent years as an alternative. The best books I have seen taking an idealist perspective have come from Edward Kelly's research team. Here is my review of one of their books; https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/RZY1A4EL2JOZ4?ref=pf_ov_at_pdctrvw_srp There are other recent idealists as well, including Donald Hoffman, Bernardo Kastrup, etc.

Russellian monism, where mind and matter are aspects of some more fundamental substrate, has also been explored a lot recently. This generally leads to pan-psychism, as does Kelly's version of idealism.

Dualism has also regained interest among philosophers, although to a lesser degree than the two options above. The best recent dualist I have read is Richard Swinburne, who I review here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R18J8OJA7QPLKX?ref=pf_ov_at_pdctrvw_srp

Each of these alternatives to physicalism do a better job of explaining mind, but may struggle to fully explain the rest of the world.  The situation we are in today, is that none of these ontologies are currently fully satisfactory, as none of them have been able to be fully fleshed out without running into evidence from our world that conflicts with them. Lakatos provides a very useful reference -- we have multiple conflicting Research Programmes active in our thinking space, and each of them has problems they need to acknowledge and work on. Consciousness is one of the bigger problems for physicalism.

  • How much money is being poured into AGI right now versus money given into dualism research? Sure some authors may write about dualism to cater to a desperate audience, but we talk about billions of dollars spent on AI at the same time, no matter what some contemporary philosophic writers try to peddle at the book stores.
    – tkruse
    Dec 4, 2023 at 9:41
  • @tkruse -- I am a spiritual dualist, but endorse all the work being one on AGI. There is no conflict. the functionalist approach to intelligence can work, and could have worked evolutionarily. BUT -- the evolutionary test case on consciousness showed it didn't. Life took a shortcut, by going for ensoulment, and taking advantage of souls already having self image, self preservation, and agency. Evolution did not need to do this very complex software development in bacteria, and the ensouled bacteria outcompeted the machine learners.
    – Dcleve
    Dec 4, 2023 at 14:25
  • "thoughts have no mass nor location, they have no ability to be causal" incorrect. Software has no mass, and it has no more of a "location" than thoughts do. And yet nobody would disagree that software is causal. Dec 4, 2023 at 14:53
  • @SodAlmighty -- Treating software as causal is -- a form of dualism. It is to treat software as either an abstract object which is causal, or an emergent phenomena that is strongly emergent. Jaegwon Kim, based on the causal closure doctrine for physicalism, rejects that software is causal. Emergence is almost certainly a feature of our universe, but it appears to require strong emergence to actually explain emergent phenomena, and how strong emergence can mesh with physicalism is most charitably called a work in progress. Less charitable is just to say it is incompatible.
    – Dcleve
    Dec 4, 2023 at 16:20
  • @tkruse -- You can believe what you want, but don't misrepresent my answer. If you had actually read my answer, you would know that your claim "your answer is phrased as if the world had given up on physicalism and endorsed dualism" is blatantly untrue. See "we have multiple conflicting Research Programmes active in our thinking space, and each of them has problems they need to acknowledge and work on".
    – Dcleve
    Dec 6, 2023 at 5:19

The mind is like the software of a computer, and it is obvious that the mind and the physical world are not in the same world.So, both physicalism and dualism are wrong.It is unwise to combine the mind with the old philosophy.Ontology in philosophy has not been updated with the progress of modern science.We need more creative ideas instead of choosing between old ideas because no new ideas are born.Think of a situation where a philosophy professor wants to write a paper on consciousness, but he doesn't have any new ideas, so he has to discuss old ideas.I think a worthwhile attempt is to combine these ideas.My ultimate view is that we can put mind and matter in the same world, but it is obvious there is only matter in the material world.

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    – Community Bot
    Dec 3, 2023 at 12:45
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    The mind is NOT like the software. The software is pre-designed. The mind is being continuously self-designed, if designed at all. The software is stored in a specific position in the medium; the mind is not. The software halts if a problem occurs; the mind finds a way to overcome. The software solves specific problems; the mind solves arbitrary ones. Dec 3, 2023 at 18:59
  • The mind/software analogy is not a good one at all. The brain evolves and stores new information by modifying it's neural connections, creating or strengthening new ones, closing others. The hardware changes in real time and this changes the way information is processed. To mimic that a computer would have its chips growing new copper circuits to create new connections, it's obviously not what happens. You can change what a computer does without touching the hardware, it can't be done with a brain.
    – armand
    Dec 4, 2023 at 1:28
  • In fact, when the software changes, the electronics in the hard disk also change. But this is not important, it is obvious that when the mind changes, the physical world must also change. The problem is that it is very difficult to examine the change of thought by examining the physical world. So I think we can only put our thoughts into another world, which is connected with the physical world.
    – Reflection
    Dec 7, 2023 at 20:10

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