Philosophy of Mind has a Headache; Cygnus has Aspirin

[Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of essays that looks at selections from Rush and Philosophy (Open Court Press: 2011), edited by Jim Berti and Durrell Bowman. The book came out in March 2011 and looks at Rush’s music through different philosophical lenses.]

Philosophy of mind is an academic discipline in which one of the central problems is the different natures of mind and body. We’re physical beings, and indeed, many of our mental processes can be reduced to physical states that we can measure. For example, by using various types of scans, we can actually see changes taking place in our brain in real time based on what we’re experiencing. But there remains a central part of our conscious experience —our feelings—that we can’t reduce to measurable physical action. It’s possible to map physical changes to our brain when we look at, say, the color red, but what we can’t map is how looking at red makes us feel. Some philosophers of mind, known as physicalists, say we’ll eventually be able to reduce even these subjective states to measurable physical actions. But there are other schools that think some states of consciousness are simply not reducible to something that’s measurable. That is, it’s not a question of developing measuring tools fine enough to measure those states, because they’re simply not the type of states we can measure. The problem is that, if that’s the case, then can we ever say iffy things like mysticism, ESP, and fairies aren’t real? Who can say without a shadow of a doubt that elves don’t reside among us in a parallel universe?

Liz Stillwaggon Swan, a post-doctoral fellow of history at Oregon State Univerisity, wades into this debate in her essay called “A Heart and Mind United,” and uses the duality idea explored in “Cygnus X-1: Hemispheres” to help us clarify one way to look at the issue. In the piece, we first follow Apollo, the god of reason, who helps us take care of our basic needs—food, shelter, clothing—before we shuck him aside after life gets boring to instead follow Dionysius, the god of love. But as soon as winter sets in, it becomes clear that dancing in the woods won’t keep us warm at night or our stomachs full. Then along comes Cygnus, through a black hole, who helps us find a way to combine the two views of living, and we live happily ever after as people who know how to unite heart and mind in structuring our lives.

The parable is simply a cautionary tale about taking an either/or view of the world. It’s not necessary to reduce our thinking to purely physical terms, as physicalism tries to do, and neither is it necessary to reject physicalism and admit the existence of the supernatural. In other words, you can allow that some things aren’t measurable without having to also allow the existence of anything we can dream up, like fairies.

“The solution,” she says, “is to develop, in connection with the natural sciences, a deeper kind of physicalism—one that allows for the variety of human experience without taking on supernatural baggage. If we are committed physicalists, then we should strive for a deeper understanding of human nature that recognizes us as fully emerged from and enmeshed in the natural world, not partly separated from, and beyond, it.”

The key here is that we’re fully emerged from the natural world. That means our irreducible thoughts are also emerged from the natural world, even though we can’t measure them. But fairies? While our thoughts about them are real, albeit non-quantifiable, they themselves aren’t necessarily real.

Swan calls “Hemispheres” the uniting of heart and mind, and that’s what the editors of Rush and Philosophy use as the subtitle to their book. The subtext is, the music of Rush means to a lot of people the uniting of heart and mind.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

Read Q&A with book co-editor Durrell Bowman.

 Read the second essay in this series: “It’s Just Chemistry: Rush Try to Make Sense of Reality.”

 Read the third: “Is Rush Helping Humanism Out-maneuver Religion?”

 Read the fourth: “The ‘Rand’omness of Rush’s Libertarianism.”

 Read the fifth: “Rush’s Table of Virtues.”

Read the sixth: “Rush’s Rosier Shade of Reality.”

Read the seventh: “The Trees: More Than Meets the Eye?”

 Read the eighth: “Plato: ‘Rush Non in Forma Petra Musica'”

 Read the ninth: “Rush Music: Spontaneous as a Baroque Jam Session”

 Read all book reviews

~ by rvkeeper on June 4, 2011.

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