What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 5

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the book Beyond Death, philosopher J. P. Moreland continues to review differences between the mental and the physical.  The next point of departure is the awareness each of us has of our own self.  Here is Moreland:

When we pay attention to our own consciousness, we can become aware of a very basic fact presented to us: We are aware of our own self (ego, I, center of self-consciousness) as being distinct from our body and from any particular mental experience we have.  We simply have a basic, direct awareness of the fact that I am not identical to my body or my mental events; rather, I am a self that has a body and a conscious mental life.

Moreland offers the following experiment in case you doubt his point:

Right now I am looking at a chair in my office.  As I walk toward the chair, I experience a series of what are called phenomenological objects or chair representations.  That is,  I have several different chair experiences that replace one another in rapid succession.  As I approach the chair, my chair sensations change shape and grow bigger.  Further, because of the lighting in my study my chair experiences change color slightly.  Now the chair doesn’t change in size, shape, or color; but my chair experiences do.

I am, of course, aware of all the different experiences of the chair during the fifteen seconds it takes me to walk across my study.  But if I pay attention, I am also aware of two more things.  First, I do not simply experience a series of sense-images of a chair. Rather, through self-awareness, I also experience the fact that it is I myself who has each chair experience.  Each chair sensation produced at each angle of perspective has a perceiver who is I.  An “I” accompanies each sense experience to produce a series of awarenesses – “I am experiencing a chair sense-image now.”

I am also aware of the basic fact that the same self that is currently having a fairly large chair experience (as my eyes come to within 12 inches of the chair) is the very same self as the one who had all of the other chair experiences preceding this current one.  In other words, through self-awareness I am aware of the fact that I am an enduring I who was and is (and will be) present as the owner of all the experiences in the series.

So what does this mean for dualism and physicalism?

These two facts – I am the owner of my experiences, and I am an enduring self who exists as the same possessor of all my experiences through time – show that I am not identical to my experiences.  I am the thing that has them.  In short, I am a mental substance.  Only a single, enduring self can relate and unify experiences, a fact that . . . physicalists cannot adequately account for or explain away.

Continue with part 6 of the series.