Controversy between Hobbes and Descartes over consciousness

The origins of the monism/dualism conflict

For Hobbes, physiological processes and mental subjectivity are two sides of the same reality. Subjectivity is the brain’s reaction to pressure transmitted by nerves. On the other hand, for Descartes, it cannot be explained as an effect of the bodily process. By virtue of what magic would this physical mechanism explain effects of a completely different order, such as subjectivity? For Descartes it is the soul that experiences, imagines and thinks. Hobbes’ monism versus Descartes’ dualism, who is right?

In Surimposium I argue that there is no controversy. Solution: ‘what experiences’ is not ‘what works’. Our mind directly feels ‘what experiences’. It cannot denigrate its existence (which the eliminativists do a little stupidly). On the other hand, the mind only indirectly experiences ‘what works’. It must use a theoretical representation, a model of physics.

The mind cannot be experienced as matter. It is the result of the process, not its constitution. These are, as Hobbes says, two completely different sides. The mind perceives matter only through its senses, already interpreted. The theoretical model gives him information, but nothing about the experience of being an isolated material element.

What does an atom experience?

Ask a physicist to put himself in the skin of an atom, he will imagine himself in the state of a nucleus surrounded by a probabilistic cloud of particles, a bit like seeing the hair from the corner of the eye but they become blurred as soon as the gaze is fixed on it. This rapprochement attempted by the physicist is also a result, that of the associated atomic particles, not that of the constituent process.

The course of a process is a sequence of mathematical acronyms, with here and there signs ‘=’ signaling transformations. On this occasion, is there also a transformation of the experience of the thing described? Math doesn’t say that. They are pure description.

Is there necessarily an experience?

Isn’t it hominizing the atom that an experience is attributed to it? Our direct impression, however, must make us say that there is one. Indeed no radical transition appears between matter and spirit, says scientific materialism. No anchor point for the dualistic gap. Why would the principle of an experiment suddenly arise in the human brain and nowhere else? And we have no way of interrogating atoms to verify this absence. Dualism is based on a divinization of the mind and not on the principles of science.

To say that everything has an experience is not to fall into the holistic consciousness. Let us avoid this crude trap. An experience is not a “fragment” of human consciousness. Ridiculous quantification. It is not by grouping the experiences of the 7×1027 atoms of the human body that we obtain a human consciousness! The difference is qualitative, of course. An experience is personal to ‘what experiences’. It is in no way transmissible. To exchange our conscious impressions we share codes of oral, gestural, olfactory language etc. To believe that the other person is experiencing the same thing as we do is simply to equate his experience with ours. Easy for a human, impossible for an atom.

No “global” consciousness

There is therefore no “conscious force field”, whose power humans and atoms would unequally share. Experiences are foreign, inaccessible to each other. We know that of our mind, we can only make assumptions about that of atoms, without depriving it of its existence. It would be pure pettiness related to our inability to achieve it. The problem is completely independent of our ability to represent atoms.

Paradoxically, therefore, it is the materialists and in particular the eliminativists who are believers. They claim that atoms have no experience while they have experience as the organization of these atoms. Where would this first-hand observation come from? They don’t have an answer. Eliminating a fact of this importance is the foundation of unsubstantiated beliefs. These are not mystical facts, never reproduced, but an experience that we all share.

The rut of materialistic mysticism

The challenge for a scientist is to understand how processes without a “recognizable” soul can create one that we are certain of. Surimposium makes reality a real complex dimension, atom and spirit installed at its ends. Therefore, the look of our atomic models cannot be compared to that of the mind. The two sides of Hobbes are indeed those of the same reality, but what concerns each side is independent. Neither of these two looks can be reduced to the other.

It is against this reduction that Descartes rightly protests. That Descartes calls “soul” conscious experience is of his time. Let us content ourselves with separating it from a Creator of whom no one knows anything, to avoid the quagmire of very human and not divine religious convictions. So Hobbes and Descartes are both right. But it takes two observers, the atom and the mind, to say it.


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