What good books are there on the mind–body problem?

I would be especially curious whether there are any well-written books about the "mind vs. brain" problem and related questions like the hard/soft problems of consciousness that are not written by authors that are of the eliminative philosophy (Dennett, Churchland etc.)

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    In what sense do you mean that Dennett or the Churchlands do not believe that the mind exists? They certainly both use the word "mind". (Dennett's book "Kinds of Minds", for instance.) – Rex Kerr Sep 21 '14 at 6:17
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    They believe any 'events' that occur in the brain are Brain-states only and that mind states are equivalent to brain states. Dennett said he thinks 'qualia' don't exist and implied consciousness and the 'mental' states are an illusion of a entirely physical neuro-chemical 'system'. – user128932 Sep 21 '14 at 22:04
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    That doesn't mean that they believe mind doesn't exist, just that it is implemented by the brain. As an analogy, there is a big difference between believing that crop circles don't exist and believing that people make them (instead of aliens or whatnot). – Rex Kerr Sep 22 '14 at 14:48
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    I think this is an interesting essay by Noam Chomsky: ucd.ie/artspgs/meaningthree/chomskylangnatobj.pdf – The very fluffy Panda Sep 22 '14 at 17:28
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    Chomsky is critical of Dennett and Churchland in the essay. It might be what you are looking for. It isn't that they don't believe, that the mind doesn't exist but that it is "an emergent property of the brain." – The very fluffy Panda Sep 22 '14 at 17:33

Arthur Eddington's "The Nature of the Physical World" as reprinted and edited in "Quantum Physics and Ultimate Reality; Mystical Writings of Great Physicists" editor Michael Green


"What is Life?: with 'Mind and Matter'" by Erwin Schroedinger

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If what you want is a standard introduction to the philosophy of mind that includes both eliminativist and non-eliminitivist theories, then I recommend William Jaworski, "Philosophy of Mind," Blackwell 2012. It's an excellent, lucidly written guide to the literature.

For more advanced books that are pushing a specifically eliminativist line, then you'll have to go look for work by the Churchlands. "Neurophilosophy" is a good read and I think it's still the usual place to go, even though it's now pretty old.

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  • Are there any non-eliminativist 'only' books on the mind vs. body problem? – user128932 Sep 30 '14 at 17:04
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    well the churchlands are eliminativists, and they wrote a book arguing for that position. There aren't going to be introductory books that just ignore the majority of the positions in the literature. Philosophy isn't just writing down what you think: you have to show that your view is better than the competitors, and you have to engage their arguments that your position is wrong. – user5172 Sep 30 '14 at 17:33
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    So are you implying most of the literature on the mind-brain problem is eliminativists? Are Roger Penrose or Jaeguan Kim ( forgive spelling) or Searle eliminativist ? If not are their arguments respect-worthy? – user128932 Oct 2 '14 at 2:36
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    Most of the philosophers working in philosophy of mind are non-eliminativists. Neither Jaegwon Kim and John Searle are eliminativists, for instance. Yes, their arguments are taken very seriously. You can find out what those arguments are in the introductory text I linked above. – user5172 Oct 2 '14 at 10:22

Searle's Mind: A Brief Introduction

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You might enjoy the work of Varela and Maturana. While arguing that the mind is ultimately tied to the body, Varela's use of Zen philosophy does make his approach different and worth looking at. Their paper "Autopoesis and Cognition" is a good introduction as is their book "The Tree of Knowledge."

On the other end of things, Alasdair MacIntyre's paper "Hegel on Faces and Skulls" uses Hegel's discussion of phrenology and physiognomy to, at least in part, argue that mind is not reducible to something like the brain. But "The Phenomenology of the Spirit" will give you a better (albeit longer) probing of the idea that "Spirit is not located in the bone."

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  • Can a specific computer system like A.I. be entirely described by it's operating systems and all it's interacting programs that all work ( to some degree ) together to 'keep it functioning' in a 'self sustaining manner'? In other words describing a computer system by its important functioning programs only and not by its hardware or their relevant states. By analogy could the mind-brain system be described sufficiently by its 'software' or 'behavioral software' and how all the 'behavioral software systems interact? – 201044 Sep 29 '15 at 0:12

I second the above mention of "Descartes' Error" by Antonio Damasio, although the fundamental argument has been more succinctly stated in other places.

"Mental Events" by Donald Davidson is an excellent essay, arguing for metaphysical reduction of the mind, by way of explanatory non-reduction (it is genius.)

"What is it like to be a bat?" by Thomas Nagel is an absolutely foundational essay on the explanatory gap.

"On Confusion About a Function of Consciousness" by Ned Block is also prerequisite reading for most modern philosophy of mind.

Although you were very explicit about this, Dennett has some excellent literature on constructing an objective phenomenology, that is very interesting.

Finally, Richard Moran has an entire novel out called "Authority and Estrangement," that deals with the asymmetry of self knowledge and knowledge of other types, and "privileged access" to some parts of our minds. Self-knowledge actually has some import in terms of whether or not the mind can be reduced.

I can recommend other essays. Are you interested at all in functionalism?

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Herbert F.J. Muller, Brain in Mind: Ontology Becomes Pragmatic Design in the Unstructured, 2010

Our work in psychiatry always involves both sides of the mind-body divide. But despite much effort to clarify the nature of the relation between mind and body, this question is still a riddle. That is a puzzling situation, to put it mildly. One central unresolved question in understanding the mind-brain relationship is not of an experimental type but stems from difficulties in the use of concepts. St. Augustine (~400 CE) wrote that it is impossible for humans to understand how the mind is attached to the body. Despite the inherent paradox that humans as minds plus bodies are entirely puzzling and incomprehensible, this would appear to be an accurate statement until now, despite an extensive literature that tries to solve the difficulty, particularly as a result of the recent increase in the knowledge of brain function. This essay, Brain in Mind, shows that the difficulty is due to the Occidental tradition of metaphysics-ontology, which claims that reality is mind-independent; that belief eliminates the mind from reality, because the mind cannot become mind-independent. Principles from phenomenology (Jaspers) and constructivism (von Glasersfeld and others), and the awareness that all reality-structures involve the subject's pragmatic designing activity in an unstructured background, show a contradiction-free way of dealing with the question, which is also of help for other areas of knowledge.

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  • If this is Occidental, then Christianity is not Occidental: God is certainly no less than a mind. – elliot svensson Jan 14 '19 at 20:22
  • @elliotsvensson Isn't he an old guy with a big beard living on a cloud? – Bob Jan 16 '19 at 9:53
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    No, it's mute Alanis Morrisette playing Skee-ball on the boards. – elliot svensson Jan 16 '19 at 14:52

Look at The Blank Slate by Chalmers - he aims quite specifically at the "hard problem". Also several books by Damasio are very illuminating, especially Descarte's Error and Self Comes to Mind.

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