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What Is Identity Theory?


Over the years, the brain has been known to significantly affect the mind. However, only recently it has been found out that the brain consist of different parts which perform different functions. The proponents of the identity theory are of the view that when we experience stimuli e.g. pain, the effect is a registered corresponding neurological state in the brain. The identity theory therefore is known to state that the states and processes of the mind run concurrently or are identical to the sates and processes of the brain i.e. the mind/mental states are the brain states.

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Thesis statement

Through its contrasting arguments presented by different individuals seeking to define the identity theory, a variety of views exist concerning the mental states being the mind states, leading to the views that some classes of mental states are actually related to some kinds of brain states while some arguments disapprove the existence of any relationship.

The main supporters of the identity theory do so basing their reason on the concept of localization. The argument here is that every occurrence in the mind is usually associated with specific parts of the brain. Schick and Vaughn argue that blocking the activities of the brain consequently inhibits the activities of the mind, thus proving that mental activity is confined to certain areas of the brain. The implication of this is that those who suffer localized damage to the mind also suffer localized damage to the brain thereby proving that the mind is the brain. The logical explanation to this premise is that someone is in pain only when they suffer bodily damage causing them to display pain behavior. Consequently, when a person displays pain behavior due to bodily harm then we can confidently say they are in pain (111).

In another phenomenon attempting to support the identity theory, an accident involving Phincas Cage in which he was knocked out by an explosion which failed to kill him but changed his real self, best explains the relevance of the theory. Psychologists such as Beyerstein sated that the argument that the mind states are the brain states was the best in explaining this as it was simple, fruitful and had a greater scope. He explains that the neurons in the brain are arranged in such a way that they can act as an independent unit/system. In such case the neurons respond at the same time and act in the same frequency, thereby proving that a brain state can be said to be a particular arrangement of neutrons fitting in a particular group (Schick and Vaughn 113).

In defense of the identity theory, proponents compare it to Cartesian dualism and say that it is simpler. This is because unlike dualism which dwells so much on immaterial substance, it states that all the brains properties can be interpreted physically. It therefore downplays any need to go past the physical in trying to explain the mental states. The validity of the identity theory has also been proven in comparison to the Cartesian dualism based on its ability to predict occurrences an example being enabling retrieval of mental states by electrically stimulating the brain. According to Schick and Vaughn, identity theory has also been branded as more superior when compared to the philosophical behaviorism owing to its ability to explain mental states in a clear-cut manner. Philosophical behaviorism or logical behaviorism fails to relate mental states to behavior. Identity theory explains behavior with ease as what we do is largely controlled by what is in our brains, and relating that to the accounts that mental states are brain states it is therefore possible to state that the mind/mental states affect the behavior (114).

It has been argued that in a case of two identical things, then what is represented by is also a representative of the other. The mental states have been said to represent the mind states according to the identity theory. This argument has however been refuted with the argument against stating that there are several known that are true of mental states but fail to represent the brain states. The explanation to this is that the mind and the brain have different properties with one being known to humans while the other is not. The principle of indiscernibility, as it is known, is however fallacious in that it fails to apply in subjective cases such as being known by someone. The conclusion is therefore that mind states can’t be representative of brain states, but due to the fallacious state of the principle, it doesn’t completely disapprove the identity theory.

In a related argument seeking to fault the identity theory, it is argued that brain states can be empirically tested and approved but it is impossible to test brain states. Conscious experience, as it is known, is best represented by Thomas Nagel in his bat experiment. His claim is that there is a conscious knowledge in every being which is the awareness of being of that kind. He further adds that this can’t be empirically tested and from the common knowledge that all physical properties can be acquired through empirical investigation, Nagel concludes that consciousness isn’t a physical property. According to Nagel the physical properties of bats can be known by non-bats but it takes he bat itself to know the exact experience of being a bat. Comparing his argument to identity theory, he contests the possibility of knowing the brain state by studying the mind state from his example of the bat. He therefore concludes that mind states cannot be brain states (Schick and Vaughn 115).

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After careful examination of the two sides of the argument, criticism can be made on the arguments. When the identity theory says that mind states are brain states, it is equivalent of saying that through understanding the properties of one you can draw the conclusions of the other. This lacks a proper backing since there are some properties of the mind states that are not present in the brain states. On one side, the mind/mental states are expressions of propositions and have meanings i.e. have somatic properties brain states on the other hand lack somatic properties i.e. contain C-fiber which means nothing, probing us to therefore conclude that it is impossible to relate mental states to brain states. This position does not however mean that the argument is concluded. The fact that mental properties are not neural properties does not imply that that there is no relation. When one compares the mental properties with physical properties it equals to comparing experience with objects of experience which we can clearly state that it is not fit to say that the properties of experience are not physical experience.


In conclusion, the identity theory’s position that mind states are brain states has in the recent times given rise to the debate that has classified it not only as a philosophical study, but also under psychology and further into neurophysiology as indicated by Schick and Vaughn. The debate rages on in search of the best position in understanding of the workings of the brain and its effect on behavior in human as well as animals. One thing is clear though, having a brain does necessarily imply having a mind. This has been proven by the development in technology with inventions such as robots, computer made of silicon or replacement of neurons with biochips implying that one can have a mind in the absence of brain (118).

Works Cited

Schick, T. and Vaughn, L. Doing Philosophy: An Introduction Through Thought Experiments. 4th ed. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill Humanities, 2009.

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