Copyright 2012 Jud Evans. permission granted to distribute in any medium, commercial
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Jud Evans

This little 'Question-but-no-precise-answer' piece is not a critique of current forms of psychology and its theory, but a genuine attempt on my part to question the value [if any] of my own position as an eliminative materialist.

This self-reflection, or more specifically 'examination' of the practical value of Eliminative Materialism in respect of practical science has been sparked by the very pertinent question posed by a friend of mine - which I will paraphrase as:

'What benefit to science is provided by an awareness that 'emotion' or 'behaviour' do not really exist?'

(the implication being that only emoting and behaving humans actually exist.)

A. Every cosmic entity is a causal object
B. Every event is caused by a causal object.
C. Therefore every human is causal object
D. Events couldn't have happened otherwise
E. Objects couldn't have existed differently

F. Abstractions Cause and Effect do not exist

This initial message is an attempt to set out the question more fully - to identify the problem, and will not include any attempted answers at this stage, which is something I will try to do in the course of the coming weeks, when I have had a chance to think about it.

Coming from a mainly philosophical/ontological/linguistic background, which is mainly concerned with the description of humans and their world, it didn't really occur to me that psychology is not ONLY concerned with a description of the human mind/brain, but is also involved in TREATING other humans who are experiencing problems in relating and interfacing with their fellows and the world in which they find themselves..

As an extrapolation of this question of 'emotion' or 'behaviour' we could add the abstractions motion, beauty, space, stamp-collecting, existence, time, number, mind, consciousness, causation, sense, freedom, youth, age, god, courage, qualia, psychology, ontology, knowledge, science, education, America, organisation, The British Labour Party, The Sebastapol Chamber of Commerce, Al Quaeda, action, function, meaning, process and just about every other man-created abstraction you can add to the list.

Hitherto my attacks and rants have been directed at what I see as the misconceptions that are given in descriptive accounts of the so-called mind/brain problem - and my eliminative materialist critique has been focussed on the way people TALK about the mind and brain, and not what some people, who are involved in the hands-on TREATMENT of disturbed patients or who are occupied in experimental pursuits such as programmes which investigate human behaviour actually DO in their trials and experiments and information-gathering etc.

What does the knowledge that most of the terms of 'psychology' are useful fictions add to that science, and how could such a knowledge help us to understand the working human brain? Surely it is not the differentiation of observable 'emotions' that are noticeable and possible to compare - but the emotive human patient under observation that provides us with the insights we seek in our exploration of 'mental behaviour?' The contorted face, the shaking hands, the desperately swivelling eyes - the tears are tangible physical entities and do not 'exist' as abstractions, or behaviour? One cannot treat the 'symptoms' surely - one must treat the patient with the contorted face, the shaking hands and the desperately swivelling eyes?

When I pause to reflect more deeply upon this however I know that we cannot treat the patient unless we observe the patient as a behaving holism, and that we need words and terms to use as shorthand to describe the way that the patient is existing at the time of the observation or series of observations.

The words 'emotions, behaviour,' etc., are as good as any other I suppose? The danger is the inaccurate ontological spin-off of coming to believe that 'emotions' and 'behaviour' actually exist, rather than the emotive behaving patient.

But I ask myself again, is it REALLY a danger - and if so in what way is it dangerous?

Of what value is it to the patient, the doctor, or society at large, if we all know that when the doctor talks about the patient's 'mind' or her 'consciousness' that he is mistakenly addressing something that does not actually exist? Conversely, of what benefit, reassurance, or comfort is it to us or to the patient if we know that the doctor is quite aware that he addressing something that does not actually exist?

Is it not that everything is fine as long as he is using the fictions of 'mind' and
purely instrumentally as a metaphoric tool or figurative 'marker' for that which seems to him to be the 'domain' in which the patients problems are located? In other words, is ontological ignorance an issue for science and scientists - and for us - the public?