My wife is expecting a baby boy on 8 Febuary 2010. So I must brush up my baby-rearing skills. A great source of information for nurturing a young baby's potential is The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia. The Institutes have been serving brain-injured children since 1955. Their experience eventually resulted in a series of books and materials for enhancing normal children's brain growth. I am reading the Institutes’ founder Glenn Doman's "How Smart is Your Baby?" which is essentially a guide to enriching a baby's first year of life. Surprisingly, a passage of the book touches on the philosophical debate between physicalism and idealism* regarding the nature of the mind. The book clearly favours physicalism. Page 21 of the book reads:
"It is very important to remember that when we speak of the human brain we are speaking of that physical organ that occupies the skull and the spinal column and weighs three to four pounds.
"We are not speaking of that nebulous thing called 'the mind.' The confusion between the organ called 'the brain' and the idea called 'the mind' has created problems in the past.
"The mind has defied any agreed upon definition of what it is or what it is not. The brain, however, is material. It is easier to study. We can see it, feel it, and smell it. We can even taste it if we are inclined to do so.
"The brain is a nice, clean orderly organ whose job is to take in data and process that data in such a way that its owner can relate to his environment appropriately at all times."
Here, the idea is simple. "Mind" is vague and cannot be defined clearly. We are simply unable to study it. The brain, on the other hand, is something which we are able to study. For something that cannot be defined and we are unable to study, like "mind" and "God," all we can do is to remain silent. Only for something that we are able to understand, like all physical entities, that we can study and obtain meaningful knowledge of them.
Ancient Chinese wisdom echoes here. Confucius said, "Respect ghosts and gods, and stay away from them." Also, "We know so little about this life, how can we know anything about after death?" Confucius teaches to be reserved and remain silent for vague and unknown things. Physicalism might not be the only explanation, but physicalism is the only explanation we can understand and handle. I am a physicalist because I am only able to understand the physicalist universe.
*Physicalists argue that only the entities postulated by physical theory exist, and that the mind will eventually be explained in terms of these entities as physical theory continues to evolve. Idealists maintain that the mind is all that exists and that the external world is either mental itself, or an illusion created by the mind.
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Alex from UUHK