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Biological Naturalism: Dissolving the Explanatory Gap

‘The mind-body problem’ is the problem of how to understand conscious awareness within a world made up of physical things. But I argue that any view according to which it is meaningful to use different terms to refer to ‘the mind’ and ‘the body’ must be a dualist view; and that dualism is not a satisfactory metaphysical position. A strong case can be made for the claim that even those who profess to be opposed to dualism can often still be described as ‘closet’ dualists. Much typical ‘consciousness’ research concerns what David Chalmers calls ‘the easy problems of consciousness’. My own view is that almost all of Chalmers’ ‘easy problems’ could better be characterized as ‘problems to do with (‘conscious’) sense perception, and with cognition’. However, perception and cognition are very often not ‘conscious;’ therefore, I argue, approaching conscious experience by means of investigating perception or cognition is problematic. Just like perceptual and cognitive processes, psychological processes can take place without being (introspectively) ‘conscious’. I explain how Freud’s account of unconscious psychological processes enables him to understand psychical processes as similar in kind to other natural (physical) processes; and I dismiss a number of complaints from critics who have misunderstood Freud’s naturalist project. On the Freudian view, which I endorse, it is problematic to equate ‘what is mental’ with ‘what is conscious’. The considerations against conflating ‘the mind’ with ‘consciousness,’ I argue, are just as relevant within philosophy as they are in the context of psychoanalysis. The condition hydranencephaly (in which children are born with part of their brain missing) provides good evidence that we should not approach the mind-body by examining the functioning of the cerebral cortex – which goes against the prevalent ‘corticocentric’ view of ‘consciousness’. Whereas Mark Solms claims that hydranencephaly is problematic to the Freudian view, I argue that Freud’s view is well-suited to accommodating cases of hydranencephaly. Finally, I argue that, rather than talking about ‘the mind-body problem,’ we should use a biological naturalist framework to help us understand why there is no such problem. If we are able to free ourselves from our dualist intuitions, something along the lines of Panksepp’s ‘affect-centric’ view – which incorporates several commitments that are central to Freudian theory – is just what we need to help us understand the truly physical nature of conscious awareness.

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Dr Jane Anderson
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