For a theistic dualist, the moment when the brain is no longer just a lump of living neurons but a conscious mind is the moment their deity of choice puts a soul in the body.

For an identity physicalist, who believes that the mind and the brain are one and the same, the question isn't problematic either. The mind starts to appear the moment the brain starts to develop.

This leaves us with non-theistic dualists, who believe that the mind and the brain are two different types of thing, but still believe that the mind can be explained by the laws of nature.

It seems to me that any non-theistic dualist solution to the mind-body problem would have to account for how to differentiate between a living but still non-sentient brain (an embryo, a person in a coma, an animal too low in the hierarchy to be considered sentient, etc...) vs a brain that actually supports a mind.

The details are obviously more the province of neuro-science than of philosophy, but I still feel that a non theistic dualist would need to give some general criteria for when brain states lead to mental states and when they remain just brain states.

Has anyone of note addressed this question: From a non-theistic dualist point of view, when are brain (neural) states alive but inanimate and when do they subsume mental states? At what point does the emergence of a mind occur?

[ I was originally going to use the term property dualist, but realized that property dualist and non-theistic dualist might not be the same thing. ]

  • This question reminded me of the comments I made on philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/22263/… . It seems like you don't very well understand the field of options for philosophy of mind very well. Or rather you conflate all of the views that are not strict identity views between brain and mind with a strict dualism of soul and body.
    – virmaior
    Apr 17, 2015 at 16:13
  • In this specific case, my main question would be whether you take either emergentism or supervenience theories to be "identity physicalist" or not? If not, what is unclear about their accounts as ways to see mind and brain as distinct but not so different as to need a phineal gland to connect them?
    – virmaior
    Apr 17, 2015 at 16:17
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    A simple explanation by analogy to such a view may be that of turning on and tuning a radio. Whatever the radio is built from and whatever laws govern its function, it does not explain the music coming out of it. I would also like to take the opportunity to protest against the use of all these names of different views concerning the mind body problem. They are just as silly as all the underground group names from the life of Brian. Identity materialist, nontheist protodualist... Pff...
    – nir
    Apr 17, 2015 at 17:01
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    Virmaior, would you please be a bit softer. I know I know less than you, but S Kings' question is very clear to me. He looks personally sharing same way of thinking with me. To me, King's saying is clear about him saying a living but still non-sentient brain. I hope you understand.
    – user13955
    Apr 19, 2015 at 8:27
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    i hope my edit was acceptable, Alex (maybe it was you that approved it). anyway, i might differentiate between non-theism and materialism (or physicalism). one might be a non-theist and not "believe that the mind can be explained by the laws of nature." one can be a non-theist and still believe in the supernatural. perhaps they believe in magic, but they just don't believe in God or gods. particularly a dualist, whether they are theist or not, likely accepts a non-material reality in one part of the dual nature of existence. Apr 20, 2015 at 3:42

1 Answer 1


One route into this is through Hegelian pantheism. The universe is a compromise between matter and its interpretation. Mind and matter are coterminal aspects of the same universe, and their inability to truly combine is what guides the evolution of everything.

From this point of view it is both right and wrong to say with the psychedelicists 'The world is not made up of physical things but of linguistic structures.' It is a compromise between these two things in endless tension.

In such a world there is no need to consider mind to begin or end. Your individual mind is composed of stuff that was already mind before it coalesced into you, the same way that the hydrogen that made up the sun was matter before it coalesced into a star. Something just happens to have solidified your specific mind, the same way that the critical gravity just happens to have ignited the sun.

One set of observations that inform this notion are Bion's studies of groups and sentience, as it evolved into the weirder edges of the Tavistock and Alexander theories of unconscious information sharing in groups. In composite, people stop thinking for themselves, but the thinking continues. So whose mind is doing that? Well, all of them, and no one of them in particular. So mind is more of a substance than a kind of object.

This can be held non-theistically. Pantheism is only nominally theism because it made monotheists feel better to think of it that way. There is no reason why the sum of all logic needs to be identified with God. It is what it is. There is nothing to be gained from praying to the sum of all logic. It both totally loves and absolutely hates you, while also remaining thoroughly indifferent. And it will react just that way.

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