The Mind/Brain Identity Theory:
A Critical Appraisal

4. Taming the Phenomenal Qualities Tiger

4.2 Mind/Brain Identity as a Research Programme

Book cover: Mistaken Identity: The Mind-Brain Problem Reconsidered by Leslie Brothers

I draw to your attention some notable examples of empirical identities established through scientific research and discovery:

  • water with H20
  • the gene with DNA molecules
  • lightning with electrical discharges
  • combustion with oxidation

These identities were discovered as the result of progressive research programmes that led to the successful confirmation of novel predictions derived from the respective theories of identification.[25] The predictions were derived from these theories through first postulating the underlying microstructure[26] of the entity or event to be reduced, with the successful confirmations of these predictions constituting the independent evidence for such theories.

These successful scientific reductions of known phenomena raise the important question: What novel predictions have been derived from the mind/brain identity theory that could not have been similarly derived from either epiphenomenalism or psycho-physical parallelism? There are none of which I know. The type of event that needs to be predicted is either a hitherto unexpected physical event (whether within the brain or without) or a hitherto unexpected mental event. This much is obvious, but what is difficult to conceive is the type of experiment that would yield a result favourable to one theory but not to its rivals.

We may now be in a situation akin to researchers working in the sixteenth century who were aware of the magnetic properties of loadstones, but had no idea how such properties could be reduced to more fundamental physical processes. The successful reduction of emergent magnetic properties had to await a complete revolution in physics. Similarly, the demonstration that mental properties are reducible emergent properties may require another revolution in physics, possibly necessitating the addition of a new fundamental physical force. Once this reduction has been achieved, though, it will have the much coveted advantage of showing that the emergent mental properties of the brain, as with the emergent magnetic properties of macro-objects, are simply a manifestation of the interaction of certain fundamental physical forces in particular, highly organized physical structures. The theoretical advantages to be gained from such a unified ontology would be stupendous. However, the seemingly insurmountable problem for the identity theorist who pins his hopes on this prospect is precisely that this is an extremely tall order for any theory.


  1. [25] For a historical case study on the successful identification of the combustion of substances with the oxidation of these substances, see Musgrave [1976: 181–209].
  2. [26] Einstein's identification of gravitational mass with inertial mass is an exception to this generalization, for this identification resulted from his postulation of the macrostructure of the universe.

Copyright © 2016

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