A Call To The Humanities To Reclaim Its Concious Self
- Written by Shaun Johnston Shaun Johnston
- Published: July 7, 2014 July 7, 2014
As someone who in his early manhood was a physicalist, I know how it feels, that rapture of seeing everything as purely physical, even ourselves, even how all of nature evolved. But in middle age I settled for the common-sense view of ourselves as “volitional” creatures. So now I’d prefer a theory of evolution in accordance with common-sense dualism. We can account for evolution with either a physicalist or a dualist theory, the choice is really one of temperament. But when the temperamental divide is as wide as that between physicalists and dualists it’s hard to compromise. So I propose we negotiate. Like this:
If you’re an evolutionist in a public institution may I, as a representative of the lay public, call on you for professional service?
(If no, goodbye.) If yes, great. On behalf of the lay public I accept that the evidence we evolved is overwhelming. Now we want an origin story to help us understand what that implies about human nature. Would you agree to come up with some evolutionary theories we can select among? We’ll expect you to take into account the traditions we already subscribe to, either accounting for how they evolved or giving us suitable alternatives. Is that agreeable?
(If no, that’s OK, we’ll come up with something ourselves. We know almost four out of five of you are physicalists so of course you prefer physicalist accounts of natural phenomena. But we’re mostly mind-matter dualists and we wanted you to put our wishes before yours. But we realized that might be too much to ask. So goodbye.)
If yes, good. Of course, we’ll expect you to come up with theories accounting for the evolution not only of our physical bodies and behaviors but also of our volition--our conscious experience, our ability to consciously direct our behaviors, and our creativity, which are as real to us as our bodies. You will provide this service?
I've had people complain about this approach by saying you can't vote the truth. But we can, and we do. Minority views are quite often suppressed. Temple Grandin abides by decisions she doesn't understand arrived at by the non-autistic majority around her. Desire for child porn is "true" for those with the desire but is forbidden for the greater good--the same case was made against eugenics, and could be made against anything tending to induce fatalism. The mere fact that physicalism is inscrutable to the majority of people does not make it true.
Can physicalists be persuaded (paid?) to come up with a dualist theory of evolution as a public service? Or are they absolutely compelled to paint human origins in terms of their own passion for physics?