The Myths We Live By

Mary Midgley

Routledge (Taylor Francis Group) (2003)

Midgley is critical of many aspects of modern scientific thinking. Much of this remains rooted in the 17th – 19th century mechanical physics rather than the acausality of modern physics. She examines the currently fashionable idea of explaining the mind in terms of epiphenomalism, with consciousness claimed to be a by-product of mental processes that can have no influence on the workings of the brain. She highlights the problem of why evolution should have selected to retain such a wasteful process. She views the idea as a contrivance to get rid of the consciousness problem.

She traces this type of approach to Descartes. The desire to evade the control of the church emcouraged an emphasis on the distinction between science’s role with the material body and the Church’s role with the non-material soul. Subsequently the non-material was extended to the mind leading to the 20th century excess of Behaviourism, whose influence in place in respect of the supposed mechanical nature of the mind. Midgley argues for conscious thought as a causal agent in the behaviour. Conscious thought is influenced by the physical environment, and was preserved by evolution because it was adaptive


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