What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 3

Post Author: Bill Pratt

There is another way that the mental differs from the physical, and that is in the subjective nature of experience.  J. P. Moreland offers the following illustration:

Suppose a deaf scientist became the world’s leading expert on the neurology of hearing.  It would be possible for him to know and describe everything there is to the physical aspects of hearing.  Nothing physical would be left out of his description.  However, something would still be left out: the experience of what it is like to be a human who hears.

Moreland quotes Howard Robinson: “The notion of having something as an object of experience is not, prima facie, a physical notion; it does not figure in any physical science.  Having something as an object of experience is the same as the subjective feel or the what it is like of experience.”

Moreland explains that “subjective states of experience are real.  I experience sounds, tastes, colors, thoughts, and pains, and they are essentially characterized by their subjective nature.”

Philosopher Thomas Nagel points out the problem this causes for physicalism:

If physicalism is to be defended, the phenomenological features [the felt quality or experiential texture of experiences that make them the kinds of things they are, e.g., the painfulness of pain, the sounds, colors, odors, of sensory experiences] must themselves be given a physical account.  But when we examine their subjective character, it seems that such a result is impossible.  The reason is that every subjective phenomenon is essentially connected with a single point of view, and it seems inevitable that an objective, physical theory will abandon that point of view.

In summary, Dr. Moreland argues:

The subjective texture of our conscious mental experiences – the feeling of pain, the experience of sound, the awareness of color – is different from anything that is simply physical.  If the world were only made of matter, these subjective aspects of consciousness would not exist.  But they do exist!  So there must be more to the world than matter.

Stay tuned for more differences next week!