This essay - from Gilbert Ryle's influential book - is a critique of dualism. Dualism is the metaphysical view, according to which there are both material and immaterial kinds of real entities.
When asked in class, most students opt - whether wittingly or not - for a dualist view: confronted with the issue of life after death, most claim to believe that something - presumably a non-material being - survives after the material body has perished. This makes you a dualist. What is wrong with dualism, according to Ryle?
The immaterial entities - notably, minds and the ideas in them - have certain interesting features: they are not in space, they have no extention, and, hence, they cannot be located. In that case, we cannot say that the mind is "inside" onesel; indeed, we cannot locate the mind at all. The problem, which was mentioned earlier in the course, is that not only the locus but also the exact mode of interaction of the mind with anything else, including the body, remains mysterious. Where does the mind 'touch' with the body - with the brain more specifically?
Ryle points out an embarrassment of details in which dualist fails. Ryle accuses dualists of committing a category mistake: The dualists confuse what belongs to one category for something from an entirely different category - they have confused something bodily and material for something non-bodily and non-material. They have been led to this mistake because they have failed to understand how language works. For instance, see Ryle's example about the foreigner who visits the famed Oxford University and, after shown all the buildings, remains unsatisfied and insists that he has not seen the university. He was apparently thinking that the university is a building that is separate from the totality of all the buildings that comprise what we refer to as the university. Compare also how we speaj of "the taxpayer" as if he or she were a real person. A similar mistake is committed when the reference to the totality of relevant and coordinate brain activities is understood in a way that implies a separate existence of a mysterious entity - which is then said to be the non-material mind.
Descartes himself was led into dualism, according to Ryle, because he was too competent a scientist to give up on material-mechanistic explanations of brain-related phenomena; but he was also too religious to give up on a transcendental view of the source of thoughts and ideas.
Ryle further believes that he has caught Descartes in the act of a mistake that indeed shows quite convincingly that the mind-hypothesis is just a wishful-thinking thought - a leftover from religiously inspired times. Ryle speaks of a "paramechanical theory": The mysterious mind, which is said to operate on the material brain, is in fact conceived as a phantom mechanical apparatus - Ryle's coinage is notorious: he refers to the mind as the 'ghost in the machine.' This mind is phantom or ghost-like because it is asserted to be non-material. It remains eerily mechanical - like the ghost of a machine - because in what other way could anything operate on the body except in a mechanical way? Of course, the non-material mind cannot operate on the material body in any way we can grasp and explain. If it is to be conceived as operating on the body at all, the mind must still behave in the way bodily impacts behave - it must operate in a mechanical fashion.
This is a devastating critique, but it is not the end of the story. Check our readings on Artificial Intelligence and what we discuss in reference to the differences between the chemistry of the brain and the subjective experiences one has. The taste, seeing, thinking we do cannot be the same as the chemistry of the brain events - the firing up of appropriate synapses. Suppose that I could construct a perfect replica of a human brain and put it in a dummy, and then contrived to make all the necessary nerve synapses for pain fire simultaneously; should I say that the dummy is in pain? If all there is to subjective experiences is chemistry, though, why shouldn't I say that the dummy is in pain? And yet it doesn't sound right to say this.