Interview with René Descartes

I recently came across this interview, dated 2001/1649.

Interviewer: Bonjour, Monsieur Descartes. Can I call you René?

Descartes: Allô, allô. Mais of course!

Interviewer: I have come back from the twenty first century to ask you a few questions. People there are very interested in your ideas, but you have been getting some bad press lately. Are you happy to take part?

Descartes: I think so.

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Mind and Matter

According to Christian de Quincey (in his books Blind Spots) there are four basic philosophical/ontological ways of looking at the mind-matter conundrum. For simplicity I equate mind with consciousness and matter with energy (as per Einstein).

  1. Materialism. Everything is matter; mind is an emergent phenomenon.
  2. Idealism. Everything is ultimately mind. Matter emanates from mind or is an illusion (maya).
  3. Dualism. Everything is ultimately separable mind and matter. They represent separate domains.
  4. Panpsychism. Everything is ultimately inseparable. Mind and matter together constitute sentient energy, the inner and outer of the one reality. Mind pervades everything, even the smallest atoms.

So, which is the most likely? This is my take:

  1. Materialism really is a crazy hypothesis the more you think about it. How can consciousness ’emerge’ from matter? Which is the more real to you? Although currently in wide vogue, this is in my view the worst theory, and can cause immense damage to nature which is regarded as ‘inert’. This damage is what we see today.
  2. Idealism is sort of the opposite. It has a certain plausibility. How could we know if it were not true?
  3. Dualism seems inherently implausible. How could the two domains interact? This seems to require a third concept.
  4. Panpsychism seems entirely plausible, coming closest to ‘explaining’ the basics of the universe we see. In such a universe we are clearly both objectively and subjectively a part of the One.

You could regard this as a rather obscure philosophical debate. Should we be ‘mindful’ of it, and does it really ‘matter’? The damage being caused by materialism suggest it might actually be rather important to understand.

What do you think?