Responses to Some Very Insightful Questions From JoAnn Gonzalez Hickey

In this post, I answer three great questions posed to me via mail from JoAnn Gonzalez Hickey. We discuss the mind-body connection, pleasure and variation in physical activity.

Q1. Are you speaking from a perspective of mind/body as one? I have become quite fascinated with the question of mind/body through my work with drawings. I have come to experience a certain phenomenology repeatedly raising deeper questions about functioning. I have read a scholarly work, The Meaning of the Body by Mark Johnson who defies the long-held notion of a duality of mind/body. I have come to believe everything enters the mind through the body senses. Nothing enters the mind without first entering the body.  Mind and body are as one. So in reading your blog, I needed to understand your perspective on this issue.

A1. I understand the mind-body problem as follows. Humans appear to have physical bodies with physical properties (volume, weight, color, etc.) and minds with mental properties (consciousness, belief, desire, etc.). The problem comes in describing the precise relationship between physical states and mental states.

  • Responses to Some Very Insightful Questions From JoAnn Gonzalez HickeyMaterialism claims all mental states are really just physical states. So when I stub my toe, the purported mental state of pain is really just a physical state. Neurons fire in my brain, I yell “ow!” and an inflammatory response begins in my foot.
  • Idealism claims all physical states are really just mental states. What I think of as my body is just a perception of my mind. When my toe contacts the bedpost, my mental state describes what happens. I experience pain, which makes me aware of my foot and the bed. But a congenital analgesic (a person born with the inability to experience pain) does not experience pain in the same situation. Perhaps he experiences pressure against his toe, which makes him aware of his toe and the bed, but his mental state does not encompass the hardness of the bed, the velocity of his foot and other purported physical properties the way mine does.
  • Dualism claims mental and physical states are distinct and cannot be assimilated into one another. When a sophisticated robot bangs its foot against the bedpost, its circuitry may produce a reaction that includes very human-like pain responses. Yet the robot does not experience pain in the same way I do. So the human mind must be something entirely distinct from the physical body.

I haven’t addressed the mind-body problem on KineSophy as yet, and I hope I haven’t wrongly assumed a position that has led me to some untenable conclusions. I have not read Mark Johnson’s work, but I agree with you that the mind experiences the world through the senses of the body. The question is what happens next. Dualism has a point in that there seems to be something about consciousness not captured by physical states. Materialism is right to suggest that if there is something non-physical about consciousness, the dualist needs to offer some explanation for how consciousness occurs. I think it’s an interesting and important problem, but one that doesn’t necessarily require a definitive answer from an ethical point of view. Ethics requires a thing that chooses (the mind) and a thing that acts (the body). I’m not sure it matters for ethics if the choosing entity is a complex network of electrical impulses or something metaphysical somehow attached to the body.

Q2. Is displeasure commensurate with stress?

A2. Stress can be a form of displeasure. Mill’s definition of higher and lower pleasures allows for non-physical pleasures and displeasures. Using the pleasure expression (d-s-e)t as an example, I imagine stress would either fall under something like s (side effects of the pleasure), perhaps as a symptom of withdrawal, and/or under e (the displeasure of exercise or physical activity). The hedonist who seeks to maximize this pleasure expression must balance stress and the other variables in the expression in order to maximize his total pleasure.

Q3. What degree of variation in exercise/physical action is assumed in the analysis? Is there a baseline?

A3. As for hedonism in particular, the variation in exercise/physical activity depends on maximizing the expression for pleasure, (d-s-e)t, where d is the pleasure value of the hedonist’s chosen activity (drugs in my example), s is the displeasure of the side effects of the chosen pleasure, e is the displeasure produced by exercise and t is time, the quantity of pleasures, which is related to the hedonist’s lifespan. Since an increase in e results in a theoretical decrease in s and increase in t, each individual hedonist can choose a value of e that maximizes the overall pleasure expression. Some people find physical activity more unpleasant than do others, so there will be variation in physical activity levels among hedonists who seek to maximize their pleasure. The question is whether any hedonist actually goes through this calculation, especially if driven by purely sensory pleasures. My point is that anyone seeking to maximize her total pleasure has reason to consider physical activity as a means to do so.

On a larger scale, we can speak of any virtue in terms of how much of that virtue is necessary to achieve a particular end, versus how much of that virtue an individual should actually demonstrate. For example, a person who seeks the benefits of a society must demonstrate a minimum level of honesty in order to gain the trust of others, but most people believe an individual should be honest beyond that minimum, and not merely to dupe others into their trust. The same is true of physical fitness, and I have previously argued for three physical virtues (see Part 1 and Part 2 of that piece) with an explanation of how to scale those virtues (again, see Part 1 and Part 2).