Solving the Mind-Body Problem: Dualism Vs. Searle


"It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary
to make belief possible." --Eric Hoffer, The True Believer
1. Introduction 

While John Searle exposes the errors of materialists,
dualists can only be delighted. Searle and dualists, both
minorities in academic philosophy of mind, have something
crucial in common: Namely, they agree that mental states as
standardly conceived exist; they are not "really"
illusions, behavior, functions, or computer programs.
Denial of the reality of the mental, rather than being the
necessary implication of science, is in fact a profoundly
unscientific attempt to say that reality can only contain
what our theories adequately account for. Despite these
points of agreement, Searle's solution to the mind-body
problem is avowedly anti-dualistic; and even if he
requested admission to the dualist camp, it is likely that
they should be uneasy to receive him. This paper compares
and contrasts the Searlean and dualistic solutions to the
mind-body problem; it then argues that dualism is a
perfectly adequate theory of the mind and Searle's view is
not. 2. The Mind-Body Problem In his works in the
philosophy of mind, John Searle claims to solve the
subject's central problem: how the mind relates to the rest
of the world. His solution to this problem, in turn, leads
him to his positions on the other main questions about the
mind -- most importantly, the problems of interaction and
free will. What exactly is Searle's solution? It consists
in two simple propositions: 1. The mind is caused by the
brain. AND 2. The mind is a feature of the brain. As Searle
puts it, "Mental phenomena are caused by neurophysiological
processes in the brain and are themselves features of the
brain."[1] There is nothing radical about this claim, he
insists, because it aptly parallels a host of
non-controversial relationships that modern science has
exhaustively studied. Searle's favorite example is the
liquidity-H20 relationship. The feature of liquidity that
we observe in water, says Searle, is caused by the
underlying molecular features of water. At the same time,
liquidity is not some extra property that floats on top of
the H2O molecules; it is the molecules, or rather one
feature of the molecules. The crucial notion here, Searle
explains, it that of levels of description.
Frequently, we can describe something either at the micro-
or the macro-level. In all of these cases, the macro-level
is caused by the micro-level, and is at the same time
identical with the micro-level (or a feature thereof). On
this model, the mind is a macro-level property of the
brain, and the neurons are the micro-level of the brain; it
is therefore true, says Searle, that the mind is both
caused by the neurons and at the same time simply is a
feature of the neurons. One explicit implication of this
view is that the mental is also physical. It is a mistake,
says Searle, to divide the world up into physical and
mental; everything is physical; there simply happen to be
mental physical things and non-mental physical things. To
Searle may be contrasted the dualistic approach. I am not
aware that any other philosopher holds precisely the same
theory of the mind that I do; but it should be clear that I
fall in the dualist camp. In any case, it is my own version
and only that version of dualism that I am presenting and
With that caveat aside, let me explain what I think the
truth about the relationship between the mind and the brain
is. Contra Searle, the mind is caused by the brain, but the
mind and the brain are two separate entities. The mind is a
mental entity, and the brain is a physical one. You cannot
have a mind without a brain, but nevertheless they are not
one and the same thing. Both exist and are fully real; but
they are different things. Since Searle gives some
analogies to explain his view, so will I. The relationship
between the mind and the brain is like that of a building
to its foundation: you cannot have a building without a
foundation to support it, but nevertheless a building and
its foundation are two distinct entities. Here is second
analogy: the relationship between the mind and the brain is
like that of an astronaut to his spaceship: the astronaut
cannot survive without his spaceship, but nevertheless the
astronaut and the spaceship are two distinct entities. The
reader familiar with the usual flavors of dualism,
substance dualism and property dualism, will note that my
view does not neatly fall into either category. It is not
substance dualism because, according to normal philosophic
usage, a "substance" is something able to exist all by
itself. But according to me the mind depends upon the brain
causally; the mind could not exist all by itself; hence it
is not a substance. Neither is my view property dualism;
for the essence of a property is that it could not even be
conceived as existing apart from something else.
For example, "whiteness" could not even be imagined to
exist all by itself; the reason is that it is a property,
not an independent thing. But we can conceive of the mind
all by itself; hence it is not a property. A even stronger
argument against property dualism is that if there are
mental properties but no mental entities, it would be
unclear what made all of my mental states mine, how they
could be experienced as the mental states of a single,
unified subject. But the unity of the mind, the
impossibility of analyzing it into a disconnected
succession of discrete mental states without leaving out
something essential, is one of its central features which
simply must be accounted for.
What then is the mind? It is an entity; we learn
empirically that it requires the brain to exist, so it is
not a substance; but it is not a property because it can be
conceived of as an independent existent, and because the
mind is a unity. We are already overloaded in philosophic
jargon; but if I had to give my view a name, it would be
"entity-dualism." The content of this view is simple: the
mind and the brain are two different things; the mind could
not exist without the brain; and the mind is not merely a
property of the brain but an entity. Whatever other
dualists have said, on my view the mental and the physical
are not "two separate realms."
They are very different, but they all exist in one "realm."
How are the mental and the physical different? They are
different in many ways, but we all understand the important
ones. The physical things are matter and energy; they are
both indestructible and can transform into one another; and
they are unconscious. Matter has extension and mass, and
energy at least could potental have these attributes since
it can transform into matter. The mental, in contrast, is
destructible and cannot change into either matter or
energy; it lacks and could never acquire extension or mass;
and most distinctively, the mental is conscious.[2] Since
this view overlaps closely with common sense, it should be
easy to understand.
Searle has said that it is simultaneously true that the
brain causes the mind and that the mind is a higher-level
feature of the brain. That appears almost incoherent. It
seems that something can be identical with something else,
or be caused by something else, but not both. I am not the
first person to make this criticism, and Searle has a
carefully prepared reply: "Place [a critic of Searle] is
thinking of cases such as 'These footprints can be causally
dependent on the shoes of the burglar, but they can't also
be identical with those shoes.' But how about 'The liquid
state of this water can be causally dependent on the
behavior of the molecules, and can also be a feature of the
system made up of the molecules'?"[3] The very essence of
Searle's solution, he explains, is to deny both that (1)
The mind is a different thing than the brain, (2) The mind
can't cause anything. As Searle puts the apparent dilemma,
"Either you have dualism and an unintelligible account of
causation or you have an intelligible account of causation
and abandon the idea of the causal efficacy of the mental
in favor of some version of the identity thesis with an
attendent epiphenomenalism of the mental aspects of
psycho-physical events."[4] He thinks that he solves this
problem by saying that the mind is a higher-level aspect of
the brain; hence, since the mind is itself physical,
causation is conceivable, and since it is a higher-level
feature, causation is possible and indeed real.
Just as an explosion is caused by movements of molecules
and is at the same time identical with the movements of
molecules, so too the mind is caused by the brain and is a
feature of the brain. If Searle's H20-liquidity and
molecular movement- explosion examples were genuine
instances of causation and identity at one and the same
time, his case might be strong. However, he is simply wrong
to think that there are any examples of simultaneous
causation and identity.
The explosion isn't caused by molecular movement; it is
molecular movement; liquidity isn't caused by H20; it
simply is a feature of H20.
The proof of this is quite simple. Searle places all of the
weight of his argument on the so-called "different levels
of description." But -- as Searle has pointed out in his
critique of cognitivism -- we must be careful to
distinguish those attributes that are intrinsic from those
that are observer-relative. As he explains the distinction,
"The expressions 'mass,' graviational attraction,' and
'molecule' name features of the world that are intrinsic.
If all observers and users ceased to exist, the world still
contains mass, graviational attraction, and molecules. But
expressions such as 'nice day for a picnic,' 'bathtub,' and
'chair' do not name intrinsic features of reality. Rather,
they name objects by specifying some feature that has been
assigned to them, some feature relative to observers and
users."[5] What kind of attribute are these "levels of
description"? Well, there aren't any "levels" in a thing
apart from observers -- the thing just exists. There are as
many "levels" as there are ways to observe something; and
if there were no observers, there could be no "levels."
Therefore, the levels are observer-relative. Now, it makes
no sense to say that observer-relative attributes cause
anything; these attributes aren't in the things observed at
all, but are rather assigned to the world by observers. So
how could the levels be causally inter-acting when they
aren't intrinsic to the world at all? We can't create new
causal relations just by looking at one and the same object
from different perspectives.
At first glance my position appears to lead to a strange
conclusion. Wouldn't this mean that, for example, liquidity
couldn't really cause anything? Wouldn't that be an
observer-relative feature (along, presumably, with the rest
of the world we directly experience)? This initially
puzzling objection misunderstands what part of the world I
claim is observer-relative. All of the features that we
perceive, at higher and lower levels alike, are intrinsic
and have causal powers. The point is just that these things
don't acquire or lose intrinsic attributes when we look at
them on different levels (though it may be easier to
discern certain properties on a particular level). This is
because there is no intrinsic feature of a thing that
demands that it be "split up" into any particular levels;
instead, the levels get attributed by observers, i.e., they
are observer-relative. And these observer-relative
features, virtually by definition, cannot have any causal
powers -- since in a fundamental sense they aren't in the
thing at all. Water exists; we can look at it on the
micro-level and on the macro-level. But that doesn't mean
that the levels are causing anything; it means we have two
different perspectives on one and the same event. Now we
may loosely talk about H20 molecules "causing" the behavior
of water, but they do nothing of the kind. Learning about
the molecules helps us understand why the behavior of the
macro-level is the way that it is; but the relationship is
identity and only identity. To deny this is to accept the
absurd view that we can create new causal relations in the
world simply by observing them from additional
perspectives. And the same goes a fortiori for the mind and
the brain. If the mind is merely a feature of the brain,
the two can't causally relate; if they two causally relate,
they can't be identical. Searle's dilemma remains
unscathed. This is the first criticism of Searle's view.
Second, we may bring up the objections of Thomas Nagel,
which, though not specifically directed at Searle,
nevertheless apply.
What is interesting about these objections is not so much
the objections themselves but Searle's reply to them; for
as I shall show Searle's defense of himself could just as
easily be used by me to defend my theory against Searle.
Nagel's central criticism of any solution to the mind- body
problem is that we lack the requisite conceptual apparatus
to even begin to resolve the difficulty. Causal
explanations in science are necessary. Given the theory,
the observed effects must follow. Given the molecular
composition of H20, for example, its solidity, liquidity,
etc. is strictly deducible. But no necessary connection
exists between the physical and the mental. No matter how
much we know about the brain, we could never deduce a
single mental predicate. We might state Nagel's objection
even more strongly.
As Michael Huemer has pointed out, it is logically
impossible to deduce any mental statement from any non-
mental statement.[6] Just as Hume said that we can never
deduce any "ought" statement from any "is" statement, or
just as we will never deduce anything about geometry from
non-geometrical statements, so too will we never deduce
mental facts from physical ones. Even if we knew everything
about the physical world of molecules, forces, spins, etc.,
we would not be able to predict the most trivial mental
fact unless we smuggled a mental premise into the argument.
Searle has three responses to Nagel; they are quite
revealing. First, says Searle, not all scientific
explanations demand necessity; for example, gravity appears
to be just a brute fact, not a necessary implication of
anything more basic. Second, there is a kind of necessity
in mental- physical causation even now: witness a man
screaming with his hand caught in a punch- press, says
Searle in effect, and tell him that he is not necessarily
in pain. Third, this lack of perceived necessity may merely
be epistemic. It might very well exist, but we are too
dense to see it. As usual, Searle gives a comprehensive
reply to his critics. Alas, this reply proves far too much.
We have to reject dualism, Searle has repeated again and
again, because the dualists could never explain how the
mind and brain interact. With evident skepticism, Searle
asks, "Are we supposed to think that our thoughts and
feelings can somehow produce chemical effects on our brains
and the rest of our nervous system? How could such a thing
Are we supposed to think that the thoughts can wrap
themselves around the axons or shake the dendrites or sneak
inside the cell wall and attack the cell nucleus?"[7]
Apparently, dualism can only be true if we can describe the
mechanism. But if Searle's reply to Nagel is valid (and I
think it is), then it is open to me to say to Searle just
what Searle said to Nagel. Namely:
1. It could just be a brute fact that when you get a
working brain a mind appears, and these two causally
interact. Just as we don't need a transcendental deduction
to conclude that gravity exists, neither do we need to
describe the mechanism of mind-brain causation before we
can conclude that it is real. 2. Anyway, there is a sort of
necessity between the interaction of the mind and the
brain. As Searle suggests, it might be a prima facie
necessary truth that when a guy gets his hand stuck in a
punch-press, he has to be in pain. 3. Just because we don't
(and maybe can't) understand how the mind and brain
interact doesn't mean that they don't.
When I presented this argument in lecture to Searle, he
replied in the following way. Since on his view, the mental
is also physical, it is obvious that mental things could
causally interact with non-mental things, since they are
both physical. It might be hard to understand how they
relate, but it is not hard to understand that they could
relate. In contrast, said Searle, dualism posits "two
realms," which makes it hard to envisage even the
possibility of interaction, much less a mechanism for
interaction. I am not sure which dualists Searle is
thinking of who use this "two realms" notion; I suspect
that he lumps together dualists with a hidden religious
agenda (e.g., Descartes) with dualists who see it as the
best description of the way that the observed world works.
In any case, as I specified, my dualism does not say that
there are two realms. It says that there is one realm which
contains two rather different types of things: mental
things and physical things. If two very different types of
physical things can interact (e.g., color and temperature),
why couldn't two very different types of existents interact
(e.g., mental and physical)? By now I have shown why
Searle's solution to the mind-body problem just doesn't
work. In particular, he gives insufficient heed to his own
notion of intrinsic vs. observer-relative features; because
if he did heed this distinction, he would realize that
different levels of description are observer-relative, not
intrinsic; hence different level features of one thing
cannot "interact"; hence something cannot be both caused by
X and be identical with X; hence Searle's solution to the
mind-body problem fails. I have also shown how Searle
conveniently provides dualists with the proper response to
his own criticisms. In particular, we don't need to explain
how mental-physical interactions happen before we can
accept dualism. It is possible that their interaction is
just a brute fact like gravity; or perhaps the limitation
is merely epistemic. With that out of the way, we may move
to the crucial question: What is the evidence for my view?
The best evidence is simply observation of our own minds.
When I introspect (another Searlean no-no, but that is a
topic for another paper), I observe thoughts, beliefs,
pains, and so on. They are really there. Morever, they are
not floating randomly around, like Hume thought. Rather
they are all predicates of one and the same thing; they are
bound together, unified. But this thing to which they
belong can also be observed by introspection; and like the
thoughts, beliefs, and pains, it lacks all of the essential
features of the physical: spatiality, mass, etc. It is not
simply that I don't see what its mass is; I see positively
that it has none.
And this entity of which individual mental states are
predicated is the mind. If you doubt that there is a mental
entity inside of you, please look again. Not only is there
a mental entity "inside" me; but I essentially am that
mental entity -- it is one and the same thing that I speak
of when I speak of my "self." The bottom line is this: My
view should not be hard to accept, because intuitively this
is what we all think. Only after people learn some
philosophy do they begin to doubt this. But as I think
Searle's reply to Nagel shows, the doubts are illegitimate.
My view better explains the facts than Searle's for two
reasons. First, his notion that the mind can simultaneously
be caused by the brain and be a feature of the brain is
wrong; relationships like that just can't exist. I accept
the former and deny the latter: The mind is causally
dependent on the brain, but is not identical with it. As
for the allegedly attendent problem of explaining how the
causal link works, Searle has solved the problem for me
with his threefold reply to Nagel. In sum, my view is both
internally consistent and intuitive, and Searle's is
neither. Second, my view has genuine empirical content and
Searle's does not. Searle says that the mental is also
physical; but I think that this stretches the meanings of
mental and physical completely out of shape. When an
eliminative materialist, for example, says that reality is
all physical, he leaves his theory open to empirical
falsification. To show that the eliminativist is wrong, we
need merely find a single mental state, at which point he
must say, "Reality isn't all physical after all." Searle,
in contrast, will call anything that exists physical, even
if it has no mass, extension, etc. I suppose that if we
found some demonic spirits, he would say that they were
also "physical."
But what then, for Searle, is the meaning of "physical"?
He apparently will re-define it to include anything that we
discover to exist. But in that case, the previously
meaningful (though false) identity statement "existence is
physical" loses all of its content. Searle's world, in
effect, breaks down as follows: existents -- physical
existents -- non-mental physical existents and mental
physical existents. The dualistic categorization is simpler
and more to the point: existents -- physical existents and
mental existents. (See diagram 1.) Dualism is, moreover,
falsifiable: it would be false if (a) There were no mental
things, or (b) If a third type of thing, say angels or God,
existed. Once again, the dualist's breakdown of the world
is both more internally consistent and more intuitive than
Searle's. 3. The Problem of Interaction For the sake of
argument, let us accept that Searle's view of the mind is
correct, and then see whether he has really solved the
problem that dualism allegedly founders upon: the problem
of interaction. It seems to be an obvious fact that my mind
can cause my body to do things (and vice versa), and Searle
admits that this is so. He then claims that his view makes
the causal efficacy of the mental easy to understand, and
in Intentionality he even diagrams out the pattern of
causation. If you glance at the diagrams (p.269, my diagram
2) you will see that for each simple "A causes B"
relationship, Searle produces a four-cornered diagram with
four causal arrows. The lower half of the diagram indicates
the micro-level, and the higher half indicates the
macro-level. In each case, the micro-level "causes and
realizes" its correlative macro-level; and at the same
time, A causes B at both levels of description.
Searle applies this four-cornered diagram to the explosion
in the cylinder of an internal combustion engine. On the
macro-level, a rise in temperature causes the explosion in
the cylinder; on the micro-level, the movement of
individual electrons between electrodes causes the
oxidation of individual hydrocarbon molecules. But these
two levels are not independent. Rather, the movement of
individual electrons between electrodes "causes and
realizes" the rise in temperature, and the oxidation of
individual hydrocardon molecules "causes and realizes" the
explosion in the cylinder. And, says Searle, the mind and
body interact in the same way. (See Intentionality, p.270,
my diagram 3.) On the macro-level, an intention-in-action
causes a bodily movement; on the micro-level, the
individual neuron firings cause physiological changes. But
these two levels are connected causally, too. The
individual neuron firings cause and realize the
intention-in-action, and the physiological changes cause
and realize the bodily movement. What could be simpler? The
upshot of this view, Searle explains, is that the mental is
quite able to cause physical things; the mental makes a
causal difference. Or, as Searle tells us, "on such a
model, the mental phenomena are no more epiphenomenal than
the rise in temperature of the firing of a spark plug."[8]
I remain unconvinced. Return to Searle's diagram and you
will notice that the arrows from the micro- to the
macro-levels move in only one direction. (Searle does
mention that we could draw a diagonal from the macro- level
of A to the micro-level of B, but at no point indicates
that the macro-level of A or B could cause its correlative
micro-level.) The causation always moves bottom-up, never
top-down. In order for the macro-level mental cause, such
as the intention-in-action, to even happen the micro-level
has to initiate the cause. It is not merely the case that
the mind needs to have a brain to exist; in order for any
mental cause to happen, a neuronal cause must cause and
realize that mental cause. The bottom line then, is that
the mental (the macro-level phenomena) is always an effect
of the neurons (the micro-level), but cannot itself cause
the neurons to do something. In other words, I could at
this moment use my mind to cause my arm to move. And if the
explantion were that simple, there would be mental
causation in the true sense. But according to Searle, my
mental state was itself caused by the neurons of my brain.
My intention-in-action is merely a higher-level perspective
on the neurons, which originate the causal sequence. In
what sense, then, is the mental causally efficacious on
Searle's view? Notice the asymmetry between a Searlean
account of the brain causing something in the mind and the
mind causing something in the brain. If my neurons cause me
to become drunk, for example, Searle could represent this
with a single up-pointing arrow from the neurons to the
drunken state. But if decide to raise my arm, Searle does
not reverse the direction of the causal arrow. Instead, he
says that my neurons first cause and realize my intention
to raise my arm, and then the bodily movement occurs.
When the brain causes the mind to do something, Searle
draws an arrow from the neurons to the mind; but when the
mind causes the brain to do something, Searle draws an
arrow from the neurons to the mind to the neurons again. In
no case does Searle begin the causal sequence with the
mind. Given this, it is simply inconsistent for him say
that the mind is causally efficacious. In fact, there is
quite a bit of textual evidence that Searle admits
precisely this point. In an especially revealing passage he
informs us that, "Our basic explanatory mechanisms in
physics work from the bottom up. Mental features are caused
by, and realised in neurophysiological phenomena. But we
get causation from the mind to the body, that is we get
top-down causation over a passage of time; and we get
top-down causation over time because the top level and the
bottom level go together. But the top-down causation works
only because the mental events are grounded in
neurophysiology to start with."[9] (emphasis added) Searle
makes this point in his discussion of free will; but it
also implies that even deterministic mental causation is
The truth of this follows from two premises, both of which
Searle accepts. First, the mind is merely a higher- level
feature of the brain. Second, valid causal explanations
(excepting those through time) always work from the
lower-levels to the higher-levels, never the other way
around. From this it follows that the mind could never
cause anything unless it were itself caused by the brain.
And this is precisely what epiphenomenalism amounts to --
the denial that the mental genuinely makes a causal
difference. Let me emphasize that this point has nothing to
do with free will; Searle's theory of the mind makes
genuine mental causation impossible, even deterministic
mental causation. Yet this is the very counter-intuitive
proposition that Searle was trying to avoid when he came up
with his theory of the mind; because it is absurd to say
that my intentions-in-action make no causal difference.
Even if Searle's view were correct, then, it winds up
denying the common-sense truths with which his theory is
supposedly consistent. To this we may compare my dualistic
theory of the mind. On my view, it is just a brute fact
that the mind can causally affect the brain and the brain
can causally affect the mind. Mind- to-brain causation need
not be reduced to something else; it is fully real. Searle,
if you recall, has no problem with brain-to-mind causation;
but he tries to show that mind-to-brain causation is
actually neuron-to-mind- to-neuron causation. Yet when he
does this, he winds up unable to say that the mental makes
a causal difference. I refuse to paint myself into that
corner: the mind really causes changes in the brain, and
this fact is irreducible to any other causal relationship.
Rather than making mind- brain causation incoherent, as
Searle accuses dualism of doing, only dualistic theories
can naively embrace the common-sense truth that the mental
makes a causal difference. I illustrate this view in
diagram 4. The mind can cause changes in both the mind and
the brain; the brain can cause changes in both the mind and
the brain. The brain "sustains" the mind, in the sense that
humans need to have a brain to have a mind; but they are
not identical. I diagram this relationship by drawing
arrows marked "cause" from the mind to the mind and the
brain, and from the brain to the mind and the brain. The
illustrate the state relationship between the mind and the
brain with the solid pillars, with arrows indicatisince
they are just two perspectives on one event.
As in Searle's diagram, my diagram has four arrows; but in
my diagram all of the four arrows refer to one and the same
causal instantiation. Since "rise in temperature"="movement
of individual electrons between electrodes" and "explosion
in cylinder"="oxidation of individual hydrocarbon
molecules," if one of the former terms causes one of the
latter terms, we could, with equal validity, diagram the
causal change in any of four possible ways. To wit: "rise
in temperature" causes "explosion in cylinder" could, with
equal validity, be diagramed as "rise in temperature"
causes "oxidation of individual hydrocarbon molecules";
"movement of individual electrons between electrodes"
causes explosion in cylinder"; or finally, "movement of
individual electrons between electrodes" causes oxidation
of individual hydrocarbon molecules." The reader will
notice how my account of a spark plug firing differs from
my account of the mind-brain relationship. In the first
place, the relationship between the micro-level and
macro-level of the spark plug firing is identity, whereas
the relationship between the mind and the brain is that the
mind is causally dependent on the brain, but not identical
with it. Secondly, (and following from the first point) all
four descriptions of the spark plug firing (see above) are
equally valid descriptions of one and the same event. But
since the mind is not identical with the brain, the four
possible types of causation (i.e., mind-brain, mind-mind,
brain-mind, and brain-brain) are not identical.
Indeed, they are mutually exclusive. It might be, for
example, that when the brain causes a change in the brain,
the brain also causes a change in the mind; but there would
be two distinct causal instantiations here, not two views
on one and the same causal event. Searle's reply is not too
difficult to anticipate: "But how does it work?" Yet as the
last section showed, Searle himself admits that there are
many brute facts in the world, such as gravity, which we
accept as real even though we have no explanation of how
they work; and even if we cannot see the mechanism, it
still might be there. This demand for an explanation of
"how" before we will accept the "what", made by Searle and
materialists alike, is confused. Normally, the "what" is
what we know for sure, while the "how" is accepted only
tentatively, only so long as its predictions match up with
our observations.
Observations trump explanations; if an observation is
inconsistent with an explanation, it is the explanation
that must go, not the observations. There is another reason
why the unconditional demand for a mechanism is mistaken.
Imagine that we get an explanation of any observation. At
this point, it is still open to us to request a deeper
explanation, an explanation of the explanation. And if we
find that, we can look for an explanation of the
explanation of the explanation -- and so on. But eventually
we must come down to the brute fact: This is the way that
it works, and there is no additional reason. In the end we
bottom out in brute facts, facts for which we have no
further explanation. Does this show that all of our
observations are invalid? I doubt it; what I think it shows
is that we do not always require an explanation in order to
have knowledge. In many cases we do; but if something is a
brute fact, such that no further explanation is possible,
then it isn't necessary either. Explanations have but
limited utility; they are useful so long as we deal with
facts for which a further explanation exists. But when we
reach the brute facts, explanation is neither possible nor
necessary. It may very well be that the causal interaction
of the mind and the brain is one of these brute facts.
Since no one has come up with a remotely plausible
scientific theory about their interaction, and since it is
logically impossible to deduce a mental statement from a
non-mental statement, the mind-brain interaction is a
likely candidate.
This doesn't mean that I am sure that no explanation is
possible; maybe one day someone will show that this "brute
fact" is not a brute fact at all, but one capable of a
simple explanation. The point is that we don't need to wait
for this explanation before we can accept my view. We can
gather all of the needed evidence for that if we merely
turn inwards and observe. 4. The Problem of Free Will There
is no need to show that Searle's view leads to the denial
of free will; he freely admits it. "In order for us to have
radical freedom, it looks as if we would have to postulate
that inside each of us was a self that was capable of
interfering with the causal order of nature. That is, it
looks as if we would have to contain some entity that was
capable of making molecules swerve from their paths. I
don't if such a view is even intelligible, but it's
certainly not consistent with what we know about how the
world works from physics. And there is not the slightest
evidence to suppose that we should abandon physical theory
in favor of such a view."[10] Since Searle has said that
the mind is merely a higher-level feature of the brain, and
the brain is made up of neurons, and neurons certainly
don't have any free will, the mind has no free will.
Searle's doubts about free will stem from his whole
bottom-up model of explanation; to him it just seems
incoherent to think that the higher-level could in turn
cause the lower- level. With evident skepticism, Searle
remarks: "The naive idea here is that consciousness gets
squirted out by the behavior of the neurons in the brain,
but once it has been squirted out, it then has a life of
its own."[11] Such a thing would, he says, violate the
weakest principle of the transitivity of causation. Unlike
other philosophers who intellectually accept determinism,
Searle admits that free will seems to be an obvious fact.
After all of his philosophizing, he continues to act on the
assumption of free will. In a rather disheartened admission
Searle tells us, "the experience of the sense of
alternative possibilities is built into the very structure
of conscious, voluntary, intentional human behavior. For
that reason, I believe, neither this discussion nor any
other will ever convince us that our behavior is
unfree."[12] At the end of his reflections, Searle finds
himself driven to pragmatism: he cannot see how free will
is consistent with everything he knows, but he continues to
believe that he is free all the same. When we reach a view
that so manifestly contradicts experience, such as the
denial of free will, it is time to check our basic
premises. Searle's basic premise, as explained earlier, is
that the mind is a higher-order feature of the brain. But
it doesn't take much insight to see that this leads to
determinism: for if the brain is deterministic, and the
mind is a feature of the brain, then the mind must be
deterministic as well. But these conflicting observations
are actually a great point in favor of dualism. For if the
brain is determined and the mind is not, they can't be the
Now it should be stressed that one could easily be a
dualist and a determinist at the same time; one could say
that every mental event was necessitated by prior mental
events, so that they are deterministic even though they are
not physical. However, the reality of free will is a
central feature of my theory of the mind. Let me first
explain its content and then give the most convincing
arguments in its favor. My view is that the mind is
causally dependent on the brain. All that this means is
that minds don't float around by themselves; they aren't
ghosts in the machine; they are simply another development
of evolution, not visitors from another dimension. But that
is the limit of the causal dependence; once the mind
exists, it can both be influenced by and influence the
brain (and thereby the rest of the body). One basic feature
of this mind is that it has freedom. This does not mean the
freedom to do anything -- for example, I don't think that
my memory, emotions, or intelligence do what I want
automatically. But I do at least have freedom over my
beliefs, the course of my thoughts, my effort, and some
bodily movements.
Now I suspect that if a neurophysiologist were looking at
my brain while I made free choices, he would observe
changes. This is no problem for my view, because
correlations between mental and physical states is
precisely what interactionism requires. Nor would it be an
objection to my view that the doctor might inject me with a
drug that makes me hallucinate helplessly; for brain-mind
causation is real, too. All that my view says is that the
mind can cause things to happen in the brain, and at least
in some cases there was more than one thing that my mind
really could have done. How is this possible? As I
explained in the previous sections, we don't need an
explanation of, say, free will before we can accept its
reality. From the fact that it is real, it follows that it
is possible. The pressing question, then, is this: Is free
will real? I have five arguments to this effect. First,
there is the simple fact of observation. I observe that I
choose freely, at least sometimes; and if you introspect,
you will see it too. There is no reason to assume that
these observations are illusory, any more than there is
reason to assume that vision or hearing is illusory.
I frequently hear scientists declare that real science (as
opposed to bogus Aristotelian science) rests on
observation; that is, they take the observed facts as a
given, and work from there. The insistence that free will
does not exist has more in common with the worst a priori
scholasticism than with modern science. The latter demanded
that the facts fit the theory, while the essence of science
is supposed to be that we make our theories fit the
observed facts. I would like to see a single argument for
rejecting introspective evidence in favor of the other
senses, because any argument against the validity of
introspection might be applied, ipso facto, to sight,
hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Second, determinism leads
to skepticism, a self- contradictory position. It is a fact
that people disagree on many questions; this leads us to
wonder if on any given issue we are correct. But if the
content of my mind is determined entirely on the level of
micro-particles, how would I ever double-check my views? I
would be determined to believe them; and if arguments
convinced me, then they would be determined to convince me.
But all of the wrong people were determined to be convinced
too -- so how could I know that I'm right? Of course, I
might be correct by coincidence. But knowledge is justified
true belief; and when we are pre-determined to believe
whatever we happen to believe no matter what, it is hard to
see what the justification of our beliefs is. Put
succinctly, if we have knowledge we must accept beliefs
only because we understand them to be true; but if
determinism is correct, then we automatically accept
whatever beliefs that our constituent micro-particles
impose on us, since as Searle says, scientific explanation
works from the bottom up. It might be the case that those
micro-particles coincidentally make me believe true things,
but the truth would not be the ultimate causal agent acting
upon me.
Determinism, then, leads to skepticism. This is a
controversial issue, but I hold that skepticism is
necessarily false. For suppose we affirm skepticism. Then
we may wonder if we know that skepticism is true. If we do
know it, then at least one item of objective knowledge
exists, which contradicts the premise. But if we don't know
that skepticism is true either, why should we accept it? To
recap: Determinism implies skepticism; Skepticism is
necessarily false; Hence determinism is false. Third, I
bring G.E. Moore to my defense. In his "Proof of the
External World," Moore refuted skepticism about physical
objects merely by saying, "Here is a hand, and here is
another hand." Critics accused Moore of begging the
question; and the critical reader of this paper might
object that I am merely repeating my first argument. Both
of these complaints simply miss Moore's point, which was
In order for any argument to work, it is necessary that the
initial plausibility of its premises have greater initial
plausibility than those of any other argument. Since no
premise has greater initial plausibility than "This is a
hand," said Moore, it is in principle impossible for that
claim to be overturned. I think that the same is true of
the existence of free will. Nothing has greater initial
plausibility than the premise "I have free will"; no
scientific or philosophical argument will ever have greater
initial plausibility. So how is it even coherent to argue
against free will?
Note further that Searle says that he continues to believe
in free will no matter how many arguments against it that
he hears. This shows quite well that Searle finds the
initial plausibility of "Searle has free will" to be
greater than that of his arguments against free will; for
if the arguments against free will were really that
powerful, Searle would do what we usually do when
overwhelmed by convincing arguments: Namely, change his
mind. Since he can't change his mind, the initial
plausibility of his free will must exceed the plausibility
of the apparently conflicting scientific arguments. Given
this, he should re-examine the propositions of science and
his philosophy of mind and see if they are really harder to
doubt than the existence of free will. Fourth, try the
following thought experiment. Our brilliant
neurophysiologists come up with an equation that they claim
will predict all of our behavior. The equation is so good
that it even incorporates our reaction to the equation, our
reaction to knowing that it incorporates our reaction, and
so on indefinitely. Suppose that the equation says that the
next thing that you will do is raise your arm.
Do you seriously believe that you couldn't falsify this
prediction by failing to raise your arm? But if you can
falsify any prediction about your arm, and if the
prediction is derived perfectly from a comprehensive
knowledge of your body's constituent micro-particles, then
your mind must be free. Fifth, let me answer the "argument
from illusion" that Searle alludes to. On this view, we
appear to be free, but aren't. Science has shown that
freedom is an illusion, along with sunsets and the apparent
solidity of tables. We now accept that the sun does not set
and that "solid" objects are mainly empty space. Why not
accept that free will is equally illusory? The answer, I
think, is that the scientific explanation of sunsets and
tables does not contradict our observations of sunsets and
tables. Once we hear the scientific explanation, we learn
that the explanation is perfectly compatible with our
common-sense observations; indeed, our common-sense
observations follow with necessity from the scientific
explanation. It is easy to see how the sunsets that we
observe are consistent with a heliocentric model of the
solar system; it is equally easy to see how the observation
of solidity is consistent with the presence of empty space.
The macro and the micro explanations fit together. They
cohere. But how could the observation of free will ever be
compatible with determinism? Our other examples of
scientific debunking of naive folk beliefs wound up
reconciling the views of the vulgar and the wise, as
Aristotle might say. But there is no way to reconcile the
observation of free will with the theory of determinism
because they are mutually exclusive. Until the critics of
free will come up with a single example in the history of
science of a situation in which observations inconsistent
with our theory led to the rejection of the observations
rather than the theory, I will be unable take this line of
argument seriously. 5. Conclusion: Dualism and Science
Searle repeatedly invokes the name of science in order to
get us to limit the theories of the mind to which we will
even listen. The primary challenge of the philosophy of
mind, as he sees it, is to show how our common-sense
picture of the mind can be reconciled with modern science,
which tells us that nothing exists except micro-particles
in fields of force. Materialists agree with him, but
conclude that our naive views of the mind cannot be
reconciled with science, so they reject the mental
altogether. Searle thinks that he does attain a fairly
successfully reconciliation; but I suspect that if he came
to agree with my counter-arguments against his theory, he
might drift away into the materialist camp. I think that
there is a serious misunderstanding of the nature of
"science" going on here. Searle and the materialists both
seem to think that science="nothing but atoms and the
void." Yet they err; they confuse a particular conclusion
of science with the essence of science. The true essence of
science is the use of observation and reason to objectively
understand the world. If what we know about the mental
contradicts the findings of "science", then our science
must be revised. If we observe mental states, apparently
inexplicable by atomic theory, then we discover that either
atomic theory has its limitations or we are misinterpreting
our science.
We cast no doubt on the existence of mental states; for any
argument for doubting our observations of our mental states
would ipso facto be an argument to doubt the observations
that confirmed atomic theory. Searle is correct that our
culture suffers from deeply-rooted prejudices about the
mind; but these prejudices do not come from Descartes,
whatever his errors. The chief prejudices come from people
who assume that everything about the mind must either be
illusory or consistent with theories derived from the study
of inanimate matter. "Dogma" is a harsh term, but an
appropriate one for such belief-systems. For what is the
essence of dogmatism but the acceptance of a belief in the
absence of or in contradiction to one's immediate
Materialism is not science; it is a dogmatic perversion of
science that blindly demands that the mental be just like
the physical when it plainly isn't. As Eric Hoffer observes
in The True Believer, "It is the true believer's ability to
'shut his eyes and stop his ears' to facts that do not
deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of
his unequaled fortitude and constancy. Strength of faith,
as Bergson pointed out, manifests itself not in moving
mountains but in not seeing mountains to move."[13]
Materialists refuse to look at something even more evident
than moving mountains -- their own minds.
Unfortunately, for all of his skillful critiques of
materialism, Searle falls into the same errors that they
do, only in a less obvious form. While he affirms such
aspects of the mind as consciousness and subjectivity, he
denies some equally essential and obvious facts about the
In particular, he says that the mind is merely a "higher-
level" feature of the brain rather than a separate mental
entity, and that free will is incoherent; yet both of these
are vital facts about the mind that any unbiased person can
see if they observe their own minds with care. Dualism
wears the mantle of science properly understood. Unlike
materialists and Searle, dualists trust their own
observations of the mind more than theories developed to
explain completely different phenomena. As a dualist, I am
happy to open up my theory to empirical falsification,
unlike a priori theories such as those of materialists and
Searle. Dualism, as I said, would be false if (a) There
were no mental states, or (b) There were yet another type
of existent, like angels or God. If these conditionals
empirically fail (and I think they do), then dualism is
true. Like all good scientific (and philosophical)
theories, dualism is internally consistent, intuitive, and,
above all else, consistent with our observations. 


1: John Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind 

(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992), p.1. 

2: I am indebted to Steve Blatt for the observation 

that matter and energy can transform into each other and 

are indestructible, whereas mental things are 

extinguishable and cannot turn into either matter or 

energy. This considerably clarifies and renders more 

plausible the distinction between the physical and the 


3: The Rediscovery of the Mind, op. cit., p.252n4. 

4: John Searle, Intentionality: An Essay in the 

Philosophy of Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University 

Press, 1983), pp.264-265. 

5: The Rediscovery of the Mind, op. cit., p.211. The 

criticism has been made by Jennifer Hudin that causality is 

itself observer-relative. It is clear that Searle could not 

make this objection because he mentions "graviational 

attraction" as an intrinsic feature of the world, which is

specifically causal property that matter has. This view of 

causality as observer-relative would incidentally also 

undermine almost all science, the chief function of which

the discovery of causal properties. I find the notion that 

causality could be an observer-relative feature to be 

almost incoherent. A strange tribe might have objects that 

look just like our bathtubs, except that they use them to 

store pet chickens. The tribe could change a bathtub into a 

chicken cage merely by commonly using it for that 

purpose. But could that strange tribe take gravitational 

attraction away from the bathtub and give it some other 

attractive or repulsive feature merely by changing their 

conventions? To sum up, if a feature is really observer- 

relative we would be able to change it merely by changing 

the nature of the subject; but causal properties work just 

the same no matter who the observer is. Hence they are 

not observer-relative. 

6: See Michael Huemer, "What is the Mind-Body 

Problem?", unpub. ms., available on request. 

7: John Searle, Minds, Brains, and Science (Cambridge, 

MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), p.17. 

8: Intentionality, op. cit., p.270. 

9: Minds, Brains, and Science, op. cit., p.93. 

10: ibid, p.92. 

11: The Rediscovery of the Mind, op. cit., p.112. 

12: Minds, Brains, and Science, op. cit., p.98. 

13: Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (New York: Harper 

and Row, 1951), pp.78-79. 

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