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Letter to the Editor   |    
Dr. Kendler Replies
Am J Psychiatry 2002;159:880-a-881. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.159.5.880-a
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To the Editor: It was with some trepidation that I ventured into the troubled waters of the mind-body problem. Given my lack of formal philosophical education, I anticipated receiving numerous letters from professional philosophers pointing out my egregious misunderstandings of key concepts in this sometimes obscure field. I was, therefore, relieved to review the letters printed here. Comments that the article was "useful," "illuminating," and "entertaining," are particularly gratifying in that that was precisely my goal. These individuals share my conviction that the profound issues surrounding the mind-body problem are given short shrift in psychiatric education and discourse.

Drs. Waterman and Schwartz correctly take me to task for oversimplifying the spectrum of opinions underlying the associated positions of eliminative materialism and epiphenomenalism. I am sure that their characterization of Rorty’s position on this is correct, although I have not read his work. Perhaps we are describing the subtle difference between the view of epiphenomenalism that mental experiences are "real" but causally inert versus the eliminative materialism position that mental events do not exist and represent a view of the natural order as mistaken as that of pre-Copernican man thinking that the heavens rotated around the earth. I think that Drs. Waterman and Schwartz would argue that psychotherapy works because sound waves elicited from the mouth of one individual (the therapist) produce adaptive changes in the brain of a second individual (the patient). Would not the eliminative materialism position assert that the subjective sense of the parties involved that "meaning" or "insight" played a causal role in that process was as mistaken as the belief that a thunderstorm indicated that Zeus was angry?

There is nothing with which I disagree in Dr. Brendel’s letter. Indeed, I recommend his recent review (Brendel, 2000), which examines the tensions between explanatory and causal models for mind as alternatives to eliminative materialism. In the language of my review, Dr. Brendel compares models of "explanatory dualism" (which assume that humans will always need to make sense of their experiences in mental terms) and nonreductive materialism (in which mental states have top-down causal powers).

I am not as pessimistic as Dr. Berger that radical approaches are needed to reach some greater clarification of the mind-body problem. Although I am not familiar with any of the "unorthodox works" that he cites, I did read his most recent article (Berger, 2001). He is correct that my essay assumed a classic or Newtonian view of the physical world. However, perhaps out of ignorance, I remain unconvinced that any of the issues reviewed are changed dramatically by taking quantum mechanical or relativistic models into account.

Dr. Mender notes, correctly, that the dialogue did not discuss hermeneutics or quantum computation. I fail to discern how the latter would directly affect the mind-body problem. As I understand it, the central "storytelling" element of hermeneutics would be incorporated into the concept of explanatory dualism.

Those interested in the central mind-body questions of reduction and emergence might profitably consult the September–October 2001 issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies, which contains several helpful reviews.




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