Once at http://web.rollins.edu/~hedge/DualismandSelf.html, now archived at www.newdualism.org


Dualism and the Self: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

Hoyt Edge

Rollins College


            I have always been intrigued by John Beloff’s dualism.  Having started my philosophical career as a dualist, defending epiphenomenalism in my dissertation, and then having moved away from a dualist position to one that I call a naturalist position (Edge, 1990), I still remain very impressed by Beloff’s arguments.  In fact, I agree with many of them, and I certainly find myself sharing the same motivations as Beloff in his support of dualism.  Why, then, do I consider dualism inadequate?  Where do I differ from Beloff, and what leads us in different directions?  In trying to answer these questions, I would like to consider John’s arguments for dualism, the place of parapsychology in these arguments, and then say why, in the end, I find them unsatisfying.  I will use evidence from cross-cultural studies to support my rejection of dualism, but in the end, I hope to reaffirm my appreciation of Beloff's motivation in his acceptance of dualism--the rejection of physicalism.


            John has stated that “The focus of my interest in the paranormal has always been in its implications for the mind-body problem” (Beloff, 1990f, p. 100).  Conversely, it was my study of the mind-body problem that got me interested in parapsychology.  Having supported epiphenomenalism in my dissertation, rejecting out of hand the evidence of parapsychology in an a priori way, I decided later to take a serious look at the parapsychological evidence to see whether it deserved such a cavalier rejection.  And, I found that it did not.  First rate research gave evidence for the existence of parapsychological phenomena, and thus for what might be interpreted as an active and autonomous mind in the world, so I had to take this evidence into account. 

The founders of the Society for Psychical Research set out to provide such evidence.  They were interested in the question of what it was like to be a person in the modern world, and in how we could describe the self in a scientific worldview.  The rise of materialism and the power of scientific analysis seemed to leave shrinking room for an autonomous, active agent in the world, but they thought that science, itself, could yield evidence, which undercut a strictly materialist position.  The historical irony implied in parapsychology was that it was committed to use the methodology of science to undercut science.  The founders of Psychical Research thought it would be possible to save our common-sense notion of the person from the materialism that was implicit in science. 

            But there is obviously a tension in this goal.  How can we use science to undercut science?  My view is that this conflict arises from the nature of the Cartesian worldview and its implicit assumptions, within which the founders of psychical research worked, and which continue to haunt us today.  My objection to Beloff's arguments ultimately boils down to his acceptance of this worldview, so allow me an excursion into already familiar territory, but in doing so I hope to make clear the assumptions in Beloff’s arguments, and, indeed, the assumptions that I think still pervade parapsychology today.

            As a scientist, Descartes wanted not only to contribute to empirical knowledge, but he also felt the strictures of the Roman Catholic Church.  He yearned for the kind of freedom to pursue scientific endeavors that Galileo had not found, and so Descartes  proposed a solution to this practical difficulty.  Descartes felt pulled in two directions: on the one hand, he was a good Catholic; on the other hand, he was a good scientist; but the two endeavors seemed to be in conflict.  The solution to the problem lay in separating these two commitments into different realms, and that is precisely what Descartes suggested.  The dualism of mind and matter suggested that there were two radically different kinds of realities, each sufficient in itself, and each requiring a different methodology with different assumptions.  We are now familiar, of course, with this dualism, but allow me to reconstruct the characteristics of each kind of being, because they will become relevant later in the paper.  Schematically, Descartes defined mind and matter in the following ways:

            Mind                                                    Matter 

            Thinking                                               Non-thinking

            Non-spatial                                          Spatial

            Meaning                                               A-meaningful

            Free                                                     Determined

            Purposeful                                            Mechanical

            Seat of Value                                        A-valuable

            Private                                                  Public

            Subject (ive)                                         Object (ive)

            The Church and philosophers became the legitimate authorities in the realm of mind, while scientists were the legitimate researchers in the realm of matter.  Since the Church had no interest in lifeless, inert, unthinking, soulless matter, scientists should be completely free to pursue their research in this area.

            The point I want to emphasize is not so much Descartes’ creation of dualism, but rather, his creation of the concepts of “mind,” of “matter,” and of “science.”  We are familiar with Richard Rorty’s (1979) assertion that the mind was invented in the 17th century; I think we can say the same about matter and about science.  Of course, I do not want to assert that Descartes created the concepts of “mind,” “matter” and “science” ex nihilo, that there were no precursors of his descriptions.  We can trace their progeny back to the Greeks.  The point is that Descartes defined mind and matter in specific ways and in opposition to each other.  Descartes, of course, did this in order to free scientific  research from the clutches of  the Church, but it is important to understand how the definitions of both mind and matter are mutually related and in an exclusionary way. 

            I mention that Descartes not only defined matter in a certain way, but by implication he also defined science, because science is the discipline that studies matter.  In doing so, this worldview sets an implicit agenda.  Science is not defined as a discipline that is merely empirical or one that always submits to falsifiability, although we sometimes use the term this neutral way.  Built into the term, however, is its historical use as a kind of default position, or a hidden set of assumptions--that science is a discipline that studies matter--public objects which are assumed to be unthinking, to be mechanical, and to act in a deterministic fashion.  And people implicitly hold this view as a default position even if contemporary physics does not subscribe to all of these characteristics, because this view goes to the heart of how science has been understood for centuries.  There is no doubt that this approach to the world has yielded enormous knowledge about the world.  At issue here is not the adequacy of science or the power of science; the point I’m trying to make is that this view of science is founded in and is dependent upon a particular view of mind, which it is its natural opposite.  The system was created in this way to solve an important 17th century problem, which it did in a magnificent fashion.

            So long as science stuck to researching falling bodies, this split worked excellently.  It is only when one wants to engage in psychology (or any human science) that we begin to have trouble.  The self is defined by mind, which in turn is defined by privacy, freedom, purposiveness, and thinking.  But these are precisely the sorts of things that science is not equipped to deal with; in fact, these are the sorts of things that it cannot deal with, given the implicit definition of science.  Minds are simply out of bounds for science, at least the kind of minds that were invented in the 17th century and which folk psychology assumes.  And hence we have the contemporary debate in the philosophy of mind about what to do with folk psychology.  Psychology, itself, as well as anthropology and other disciplines in the social sciences have had difficulty since their inception in trying to define how they should investigate their subject matter.  One of the reasons why methodology in the social sciences is so difficult is precisely because social scientists do not know whether to study the mind (or persons) using the methodology of mind defined by Descartes, or whether to study people as material objects using the methodology of matter as defined by Descartes.  These methodological wars continue in the social sciences, and the introduction of cognitive science does not solve the problem, it seems to me, because it also arises within the Cartesian worldview, although this discipline comes across as a far less radical scientific approach. 

            It is no wonder that parapsychology has been caught up in the same culture wars; indeed, it is a product of it.  Parapsychology is an ingenious attempt to employ the methodological tools of science—using experimental controls, employing objective methods, etc.—to undercut the assumptions of science, that everything is material; at least, that was the purpose of the founders of Psychical Research, and then of the Rhinean tradition.


            Parapsychology has traditionally sided with folk psychology.  It views the mind as being free and purposeful and efficacious in contradistinction to the scientific approach to the person, which is necessarily based on the Cartesian definition of matter.  Since science assumes the folk psychological view of mind out of existence, it must portray the person in material terms, and we have seen the various attempts at materialism, such as the identity theory, central state materialism, eliminative materialism, and various forms of functionalism, but I do not intend to consider the adequacy of these attempts in this paper. 

The reason I have offered this rather long rehearsal of the historical background is twofold; first, it provides a context for examining how and why Beloff argues for dualism; and second, it shows the historical situatedness of the contemporary debate.  Physicalism did not arise ex nihilo, nor can it be viewed as a simple empirical statement, but it is an integral part of the Cartesian worldview, defined in juxtaposition to a particular view of mind.

The Cartesian formulation yields two kinds of solutions, either some version of dualism, or some version of monism.  Common sense, with its folk psychological assumptions, assumes some kind of dualism, while science sides with some kind of monism.[i]  In his arguments, Beloff assumes that these are the only two viable alternatives, and since he rejects physicalism (monism), dualism (or "radical dualism" as he calls it) is the only option left.

I have given elsewhere (Edge, 1991) an outline of what I take to be Beloff’s argument, and I shall follow it here.  Beloff has given remarkably consistent argument for dualism over his career, and although I will not be able to deal with the nuances here, I will consider some of his major points.  The argument is fairly straightforward, in four steps:

1.  Common sense holds a radical dualist (or interactionist) stance: this is our folk psychology and we should not reject it without good reason.  Beloff affirms dualism, saying that “Mind and matter denote separate domains of nature which, nevertheless, interact with one another in certain critical points”(Beloff, 1990d, p 165).  Although he rejects a straightforwardly Cartesian dualism, among other reasons because he acknowledges the importance of unconscious mental activity, Beloff nevertheless believes that mind-body dualism is “. . . the most important single insight in the entire history of philosophy” (Beloff, 1990c, p 69).  Since dualism is encapsulated in our common sense view of the world, this is a prima facia reason for accepting it; indeed, he believes that rejecting dualism demands “. . very good reasons for relinquishing a commonsense position” (Beloff, 1990b, p 113).  

2.      Psi phenomena exist.  Beloff concedes in several places that it is possible to examine the parapsychological evidence and reject it.  He argues, however, that it is sufficiently strong that it cannot be dismissed out of hand, and he believes that it is substantial enough at least to strongly suggest the existence of psi phenomena.

3.      However, psi is a mental phenomenon and thus it is incompatible with physicalism.

Since I want to devote some space to his arguments against physicalism, let me turn immediately to his fourth point.

4.      Therefore, dualism should be accepted.

What are Beloff's arguments for dualism and against physicalism?  The first point is that he takes pains to show that parapsychological phenomena act like mental phenomena in the traditional, Cartesian sense (Edge, 1985).  Keep in mind the characteristics Descartes used to describe the mental. 

First, psi phenomena are non-spatial.  Numerous experiments in parapsychology have attempted to show that psi phenomena are not limited by the spatial parameters that physical phenomena are. 

Second, Beloff characterizes psi phenomena as teleological, or purposive.  Beloff refers to the work of Schmidt saying, “All such evidence supports the teleological model which assumes that, so long as the means are available the same end will be attained no matter how complex those means” (Beloff, 1990e, p 94).  Teleology has been rejected in science in favor of mechanical causation; being teleological, psi phenomena are mental. 

At another point Beloff says: “Some of the fundamental aspects of mind seem to have no counterpart in the domain of the physical: privacy and subjectivity of consciousness, the apparent freedom of the will, the meaningfulness of thought, purposiveness of action, the peculiar unanalyzable relationship between experiences said to belong to the same “self” etc.” (Beloff, 1989, p 168).

Finally, Beloff describes the mind as necessarily tied to being the seat of value and being involved in morality.  Naturally, this idea is tied to the mind’s being free, because it is only in free choice that a person can be held morally responsible for action.  Arguing against epiphenomenalism, Beloff (1994) says that it “. . necessarily sacrifices the concept of ‘free will,’ a concept which permeates so profoundly all talk of ‘justice,’ ‘merit,’ and ‘morality’ (p. 514). 

The examples could be multiplied, but I think I have shown that Beloff thinks of mind within the Cartesian tradition, that is, of having all of the characteristics that Descartes ascribed to it, adding, as we shall see, Brentano’s notion of intentionality.  The point here is not simply that Beloff’s view of the mind fits in with folk psychology, but that he views parapsychological evidence as suggesting that view of the mind.  To be fair to Beloff, I need to note that he offers a few caveats.  For instance, he (Beloff, 1989, p 176) agrees with Gardner Murphy that psi phenomena are transpersonal.  Plus, he further suggests that parapsychology has more affinity with magic than science (Beloff, 1990c, p 57; 1990d, p 174).  I will return to these caveats a bit later.


At this juncture, the point I am making is that Beloff argues that parapsychological phenomena demand a mind with essentially the same characteristics as a Cartesian mind, and thus these phenomena cannot be explained by any kind of physicalism.  (Beloff uses the term “physicalism” rather than “materialism,” a term which he retains to designate an identity theory, one form of physicalism.)  In addition to these arguments for dualism and against physicalism, Beloff has other arguments against physicalism, or that mind cannot be reduced to the physical, as well as arguments against parapsychological phenomena being able to be explained by physical theories.  The arguments here are too numerous to discuss, but let me outline a few of his arguments.

Beloff has four arguments against physicalism:

1)      The existence of qualia.  Although Beloff does not want to define mind in terms of consciousness, nevertheless it is an important experiential fact that we are conscious, and there is an irreducible subjectivity about this experience (Beloff, 1994, p. 509), what philosophers have called qualia.  He also points to Nagel’s description of “what it is like to be that individual” (Beloff, 1976, p 217); while it would make sense to ask what it would be like to be Joe, or even what it would be like to be a bat, it doesn’t make sense to talk about what it would be like to be a rock or a computer.

2)      Intentionality.  Consciousness has a referential quality, something which the 19th century psychologist Franz Brentano pointed out.  Conscious acts are always about something; we think about a vacation, or we think about writing a paper, while we cannot say that a rock or even a computer is about anything.  It simply is what it is (Beloff, 1976, pp 127-8). 

3)      Meaningfulness.  Conscious thoughts express meaning.  There is a very great difference between the use of symbols consciously, for instance in humans speaking a language, and a computer manipulating its symbols.  While we can think the human is acting meaningfully, we do not think that computers are.  I take it that Beloff is making the same point that Searle was illustrating with his Chinese box example (Beloff, 1976, p128).

4)      Agency is Efficacious in the world.  Beloff asks us to imagine two worlds, a world just like the present and one in which there are minds and agents acting in the world, intentionally building bridges and crossing the street, and to think of an alternate world, W', in which all of the same actions occur but in which there are no minds (Beloff, 1997, pp 1-2).  While there are no insuperable and logical objections to either of these scenarios, Beloff takes the world without mind to be quite implausible, saying that it is “. . an absurd universe” (p 3).

None of these arguments are peculiar to Beloff; they have all been found in the literature of philosophy of mind, but he states them with his usual clarity and forcefulness in supporting the kind of mind that is implicit in folk psychology.

Nor does Beloff believe that psi phenomena can be reduced to or explained by the physical.  Indeed, he goes so far as to say that psi phenomena are by definition, inexplicable in terms of what is known about the brain or nervous system; it is that, indeed, that justifies our calling them “paranormal” (Beloff, 1987).  And, yet, although he seems to dismiss physicalism a priori, he recognizes that even parapsychologists have tried to explain psi phenomena by physicalist theories, and so he takes pains to argue against the adequacy of two theories: observation theories and communication theories.  Beloff has two objections to observation theories.  He accepts Braude's (1979) objection on logical grounds, who argues that it generates insoluble paradigms (Beloff, 1990d).  He also points out that observation theories at best apply to weak cases of psi phenomena—the micro-PK, but they don’t seem to explain macro-PK very well.  Communication theories, he argues (Beloff, 1990a), run up against the difficulty of how telepathic signals could be decoded by a receiver, since they don’t seem to be learned, nor do the codes seem to be hard wired.

Beloff places his dualism, therefore, squarely within a view of mind supported by folk psychology.  He has defined mind as having characteristics of a Cartesian mind, and he has even defined “psi” in those same terms.  While some specifics of Cartesian dualism are inadequate, nevertheless he is squarely in this Western tradition.

Although it is understandable that Beloff would adopt this Western tradition, it may be the tradition itself that needs to be questioned.  Let me lay my cards on the table.  I agree that we ought to reject physicalism, and the arguments he gives are classic ones and, on the whole, sound.  Given a Cartesian worldview, in which mind and matter have been defined in the way they have, the physicalist attempt to make mind an impotent byproduct of physical processes, or even to reduce mind to matter, is inadequate.  However, I believe that what should be questioned is not so much the approach of physicalism, as much as the entire Cartesian worldview, which arose at a particular time in history, in a particular context, attempting to solve a particular 17th century problem; while the recognition of this historical situatedness does not lead to an a priori rejection of the worldview, I believe that three centuries of philosophical befuddlement trying to use it presents a strong case against the adequacy of the Cartesian worldview, with its specific understanding of mind and of matter. 

In a related argument, the anthropologist Clifford Geertz has argued that the Western conception of the person is “rather peculiar” within the context of the world’s cultures.  It is hard for me to believe that Westerners in the Modern world are the only people with insight to have finally grasped reality as it is.  We are dealing with alternative models, and Western folk psychology is only one of them.  (By the way, I am not proposing a cultural relativism here.)  Cultural views are models through which people live, and a plethora of them provide rich, meaningful lives.  Folk psychology represents only one of these models, and not one that nature demands that we take up.


However, Western folk psychology seems hard to give up; it just seems so commonsensical.  There is an intuitive plausibility about it that confronts any attempt to deny it.   Some philosophers go so far as to assert that we are acquainted with this mind directly, which assures its existence.  Barbara Hannan (1994), for instance, says in her textbook on the philosophy of mind, “I believe we do have direct, non-inferential knowledge of our own propositional attitudes.  We are introspectively acquainted with the contents of our own beliefs and desires. . .  I take it that Descartes had a point when he observed that he could not be deceived as to the existence of his own thoughts” (p 58).  The implication is that we have direct, unmediated knowledge of this mind, and to deny it is really an impossibility.  This view would imply that Westerners have always known this mind, and would have always propounded what we know as folk psychology, and all cultures would have come to the same conclusion as to the nature of mind.  Both of these conclusions, of course, are false, and I will say a few words about them shortly. 

Alternatively, one could rely less on introspection in support of folk psychology and argue more that this concept of psychology is native to us.  For instance, Jerry Fodor has said: “Even if [commonsense psychology] were dispensable in principle, that would be no argument for dispensing with it. . .   What’s relevant to whether commonsense psychology is worth defending is its dispensability in fact.  And here the situation is absolutely clear.  We have no idea of how to explain ourselves to ourselves except in a vocabulary which is saturated with belief/desire psychology.  One is tempted to transcendental arguments: What Kant said to Hume about physical objects holds, mutatis mutandis, for the propositional attitudes: we can’t give them up because we don’t know how to" (Fodor, 1987, pp 9-10). 

One may hold this position not only because one is a nativist, but simply based on the fact that we do not know any other conceptual models.  It is awfully difficult to know how else we could talk about the mind if we have been given only limited examples, and I am very sympathetic to this problem.  And this is one reason why it is important for us to examine alternative conceptions, not imagined ones, but cognitive schemes which are in place in cultures and seem to work quite as well as ours does.  The way one overcomes myopia in experience is by getting a better look, so we need to take a good luck at other cultures, who have radically different psychologies.  So, I propose now to examine some of the ways in which nonEuroAmerican views of mind are different from folk psychology for two reasons: first, to show that folk psychology is neither native nor necessary as a psychology, and, two, to give us some alternative categories of thinking about the mind. 

Naturally, the fact that folk psychology seems so commonsensical to us makes us want to be universalists, thinking that everyone really thinks like we do.  We think that there is an important core group of universal concepts that are embodied in folk psychology.  And we can take variations to be simply anomalous: a kind of  Ripley’s Believe It or Not psychology, or a kind of psychological circus sideshow.  The differences, therefore, are admitted but denigrated and relegated to the unimportant.  However, neither of these approaches, a universalism or a rejection of anomalies, is adequate. 

Let me say that the differences in the concepts of self and the experience of self, and the attendant psychologies, are real.  Wierzbicke (1993) has argued, based on linguistics, that certain concepts are universal, but these are more behaviorally related terms, and there are not enough to support our folk psychology.  But even if we admit that certain terms are universal, we cannot conclude that we therefore share the same world, or even have the same notions about these words.  After all, concepts are embedded in a web of usage and it is hard to disentangle concepts from their context.  And even if we investigate how other cultures think, it is awfully difficult for us to lay aside our own interpretations and understand what they say.  Vinden (1996) has described Canadian university students being given a task of retelling other students a Quechea folk tale, one that contained no mental terms.  Like a game of telephone, as the folk tale was retold, more and more mental terms were introduced into the tale.

Linguistics studies show that people have a wide variability in mental concepts.  Westerners, for instance, have over 2,000 English words for emotions; on the other hand, Howell (1981) studied the Chewong in Malaysia and he could discern only five terms referring to mental processes (want, want very much, know, forget, and miss or remember--not even “think” is among this list).  These linguistic differences are important because there seems to be a relationship between how one conceptualizes something and what is experienced.  The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis went out of favor and some (Pinker, 1994) think that linguistic distinctions in no way correspond to conceptual distinctions that people actually make.  However, there is a good deal of evidence that language influences what we experience, although not in the more radical Whorfian way.  If nothing else, having a certain vocabulary primes us to take certain choices in interpretation (see Sera, Berge, & del Castilo Pintado, 1994 for a review of this literature; also see Hoffman, Lau, & Johnson, 1986; and Gopnik, Choi, & Baumberger, 1996).  The language we have and the concepts we use not only mediate how we explain cognition, but they prime cognitive experiences.  Therefore, there are real differences among trans-cultural psychologies.


Folk Psychology and The Western Tradition

Before examining areas in which another culture’s view of the person differs significantly from the EuroAmerican view, it is worth noting that the content of folk psychology has not always been consistent in the EuroAmerican culture, and that folk psychology seems to be changing now.  In an important article, one on which I will rely heavily, Angeline Lillard (1998) makes this point when she says, “even within the EA [EuroAmerican] tradition, the concept of mind has over time come to play a more central role.  Attention to minds, the idea of a private person, and the notion that minds mediate reality are all optional, and such options are the sources of variation” (p 25).  Charles Taylor 1985, 1989) has detailed the development of the concept of mind in the Western tradition, and Marcel Mauss (1985) in the sociological/anthropological tradition has done the same.  Rorty’s assertion that the mind was invented in the 17th century is simply a dramatic statement affirming significant changes in folk psychology.  The early Greek conception of the soul probably shows more affinity to that of many non-EuroAmerican cultures than it does to our modern concept; Snell’s (1953) description of the Greek psyche seems more akin to the Illongot view of “mind” than to modern folk psychology.  And for the longest period, mind denoted what we would call soul, but this connection has been severed in modern folk psychology.  Lillard (1998) says, “Summarizing historical change in the EA concept of mind, one might say that over time, the EA mind has become a unitary concept, has lost most of its spiritual connotation, and has come to have an especially strong (although not exclusively) rational connotation” (p 12).

In light of the history of changes in the EuroAmerican concept of mind, and particularly in light of changes over the last 30 years, one might well ask: Will the real folk psychology please stand up?  The typical description of folk psychology seems to focus on a view held by many EuroAmericans for a short period in the history of Western thought, and it is not clear that it is held strongly now, or at least significant parts of it.  I will return later and discuss the implications of this fact after I have reinforced the variability of psychologies throughout the world's cultures by examining views of the person in non-EuroAmerican cultures. 


            Let us now turn to various attributes of folk psychology, beginning with the idea of individualism.

A.  Individualism        

            (1) Atomism vs. Collectivism

Clifford Geertz (1983) tried to capture an aspect of Western folk psychology, with an emphasis on individualism, in his famous description: “The Western conception of the person as a bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and cognitive universe, a dynamic center of awareness, emotion, judgement, and action organized into a distinctive whole and set contrastively both against other such wholes and against the social and natural background, is, however incorrigible it may seem to us, a rather peculiar idea within the context of the world’s cultures” (p. 59).  The quote not only emphasizes the individualism of folk psychology, but it points toward the related ideas of self identity, autonomy, and privacy, ideas that we will discuss shortly. 

In anthropological circles, as well as in transcultural psychology, this individualist standpoint has been juxtaposed to a collectivist one.  Different authors have expressed the juxtaposition of individualism and collectivism in different ways. Although this contrast between individualism and collectivism can be overdrawn, and it is certainly more complicated than writers have traditionally stated, it is still a legitimate distinction. (I leave aside the attempts by parapsychologists to explain parapsychology through physicalist theories)[ii]  The main contrast consists in how one thinks about the self, whether it is viewed as an atomistic unit, independent from others and the sole place of self identity, or whether or not self is defined in terms of its relation to others. 

Authors                                                Individualism                             Collectivism

Dumont (1970)                          The individual is absolute;           Wholism:  “Stress is placed

                                                there is nothing over and            on society as a whole, as col-

                                                above his legitimate demands     lective Man” (p 8).

                                                ( p 4).


Schweder and Bourne (1984,)    Egocentric self: “Society is         Sociocentric self: “Individual

p. 190)                          imagined to have been created   interests take a second place ‘to 

                                                To serve the interests of some    the good of the collectivity.”

                                                idealized, autonomous, abstract

                                                individual existing free of so-

                                                ciety yet living in society.”


Marsella (1985, p 209)               An individuated self: “Inde-        Unindividuated self: The non-

                        pendence, autonomy and            EuroAmerican self is “extended

                                                differentiation.”  The indiv-        to include a wide variety of

                                                idual is “separate, detached,       significant others.”

                                                and self  sufficient.”


Kirkpatrick and White                Western self: “All psycholog-     Non-Western collective self:

(1985, p 11)                               ical matters pertain to a single    It is “the family, the community,

                        person.”                                    And even the land” that is “a

                                                                                                cultural unit with experiential



Markus and Kitayama               Independent self: “An indi-         Interdependent self: “An indi-

(1991, p. 226)                            vidual whose behavior is            vidual whose behavior is

                                                organized and made mean-         organized and made mean-

                                                ingful primarily by reference       ingful primarily by reference

                                                to ones own internal                   to the thoughts, feelings and

                                                repetoire.”                                actions of others.”


I (1994, 1998) have discussed this elsewhere, so I do not need to produce an extended analysis here.  Let me just say, however, that I believe that the Western notion of individualism, which is encapsulated in our folk psychology (and its philosophy of mind as well as in its social and political views), derives from the rise of atomism. There were certainly political and social reasons for employing atomism in the 17th and 18th centuries, making the rising social sciences compatible with the physical sciences in their use of atomism, but this dependence on atomism gives support to Geertz's view that this idea is a “rather peculiar” one in the history of the world’s cultures.  That our folk psychology has arisen out of this atomistic model means that it will be interestingly different from other conceptions because few cultures take an atomistic aproach to the world or to the self.[iii]

            (2) Individual as a Whole

            Western folk psychology portrays the self as being a whole over time, and having a consistent self-identity, but this idea can be questioned by noting that the self is contexted.  Elsewhere I (Edge, in press) have argued that the self in Bali is understood through a popular saying, desa, kala, patra, or place, time, and circumstance, and can be illustrated through the identity of the gods. As Geertz (1973, pp. 388-9) and Lansing (1974, p. 56) have pointed out: when a god  descends to one temple at a particular place and time, he or she assumes a particular personality appropriate to the context, but if they descend to another temple, perhaps only miles away, another personality will be assumed.  For the Balinese, all knowledge is contextual, and so their understanding of the self is contextual, which means that self-identity will shift from context to context.

            Katherine Ewing (1990) presents a slightly different argument based upon her research in Pakistan, arguing that the idea of a “cohesive” self does not stand up to research when you see individuals negotiating within the culture.  Rather, she introduces the notion of “shifting selves,” when the self-representation shifts; the person’s self-definition shifts according to the social and political necessity of the situation, where the person selects from a set of self-definitions one that is more appropriate in a particular situation.  Ewing says, “In all cultures people can be observed to project multiple, inconsistent, self-representations that are context-dependent and may shift rapidly” (p 251), although the person may not be cognizant of the shifts.

            Therefore, an important idea in our folk psychology, the view of the individual as independent and constant over time, is not always held by non-EuroAmerican cultures.  Sampson (1988) points out that “Individualism is a sociohistorical rather than a natural event” (p 18).

B. Self-Identity

            In the Western tradition, philosophy has focused on self-identity, wondering whether to place self-identity in the mind or in the body.  In general, folk psychology has placed self-identity in the mind, employing some sort of psychological identity.  This attribution, of course, depends on there being a mind-body split, a distinction that is rarely found in other cultures.  Lillard (1998) says, “EAs [EuroAmericans] divide people into mind and body, but in other cultures, people are niwa, lawa, and saya, or kokoro, hara, ki, mi, and seishen, for example.  In others, people are comprised of energies more so than organs, and in yet others, the important part is the nose.  Different and seemingly arbitrary decisions like these have ripple effects throughout folk psychology” (p 25).  The dualistic split between mind and body is not made in Japan, but their term kokoro, is best translated as “the embodied mind” (Lebra, 1993, p 63), with Lillard  (1998) suggesting that the Japanese conceptual distinctions paint “an entirely different conceptual landscape” (p 12).

            Hobart (1983) pursued the question of whether or not the person could be identified with mind or body among the Balinese, creating a story following Locke’s exchange of memory between the prince and the cobbler, except in Hobart's story a woman awoke to find herself in the body of a duck (but with all of her memories and with the ability to speak).  When the Balinese were asked whether this invention would be designated a person or an animal, it provoked much discussion, but they finally came to the conclusion that this creature was not a person since she could not perform ritual offerings and participate in activities of the local banjar.  The point here is not simply that the Balinese rejected Locke’s identification of the  self with memory (the mind), but that their solution did not favor a simple identification of self with body, either.  The important point was not bodily continuity, but it was engaging in social activity.  If they could conceive of being able to accomplish these activities without a body, I believe that they would have designated the bodiless entity as a person.  So, although if forced to choose within the dualistic Western conception, they would come down on the side of bodily identity, their concerns are not the same concerns as Westerners.  Their psychology does not identify the self with a Cartesian mind, but it does not identify it with the physical, either, but rather with social activity.

            It may be worth repeating here that Western folk psychology is in the process of changing, with EuroAmericans beginning to identify the self with the brain, with even ten-year-olds showing evidence that transplanting a brain would have the effect of transplanting the self (Johnson & Wellman, 1982).

C.  Freedom, Autonomy, and Moral Attribution

            Among other aspects of Western folk psychology that have their roots in the Cartesian characterization of the self are a complex set of ideas revolving around freedom of the will, locus of action, autonomy, responsibility, and moral attribution.  The argument bringing these ideas together follows in rough outline: We are integrated selves possessing autonomy, which implies the freedom to think about alternatives, the freedom to choose alternatives, and the freedom to act based on these choices.  Because of having freely chosen the action, we can be held morally responsible for these actions, being praised and blamed for these actions because of our individual choice.  Moral attribution, therefore, is directed toward the individual. 

I should point out that one of the arguments that Beloff gives for dualism is based upon this set of ideas, and he assumes that morality is found only in this individualistic folk psychology.  Sampson (1988) points out that we question whether there can be either autonomy or moral responsibility in a collectivist view (or what he calls an ensembled individualism).  The West seems to think that if the individual is defined in terms of social relationships rather than based on atomic individualism, that autonomy is lost; we no longer have an atomic individual who is able to make free choices.  For instance, we may assume that if society demands that we perform certain actions, that it cuts down on our autonomy--it presents us with external control rather than individual, internal, control.  Robert Paul Wolff (1970) has even argued that one cannot retain autonomy and live in a democracy that has speed laws, as any infringement on absolute choice undercuts autonomy.  What is interesting is that demands placed on the individual by society in indigenous collectivist cultures do not seem to have the effect of people thinking that their autonomy has been infringed upon, or that these demands on them take away their freedom.  In asking the Balinese, who are continually required to work in community projects, whether they felt these tasks were burdensome and took away their autonomy, and they resoundingly answer  “no."

            Folk psychology seems to believe that an atomic individual needs to make choices to be able to hold a person responsible, but a study of other cultures shows that moral responsibility can also be attributed to relational (collectivist) selves, even if the tendency is not to attribute it to an individual.  Among the Maori of New Zealand, the individual is not considered a primary determinant of his or her own life, therefore not specifically responsible for actions (Smith, 1981).  Among the Japanese, even pre-schoolers believe that they bear some responsibility for the behaviors of their classmates (Lewis, 1995).  We find these notions of responsibility are incorporated in their notions of social justice.  Japanese and Sherpa courts do not decide justice based on any kind of individual intent, which they think is unknowable, but based on the consequences of the act (Hamilton & Sanders, 1992; Paul, 1995).

            Further, nonEuroAmerican cultures often emphasize other causes of action and not individual intention and purpose.  Rather than attribute behavior to persons, or a person’s traits, adult Hindu Indians attribute it to the situation (Miller, 1984), perhaps emphasizing one’s duty to perform certain behaviors rather than behaviors coming from traits of character.  Similarly, action can be motivated by relationships, and one may even deny individual responsibility.  NonEuroAmerican cultures  also attribute behavior to gods or spirits (as did the Greeks).  The Baining believe that ghosts take over one’s body and they make them do strange things (Fajans, 1985).

D. Mind as Center of Awareness and Action

            Finally, the idea that there is a center of awareness and decisions is either not pursued in some cultures or seems to be denied.  The Pintupi of Australia (Myers, 1986) show an extraordinary lack of interest in trying to know the motivation for others’ actions.  Fajans (1985) goes so far as to say that the Baining of Papua, New Guinea, have no folk psychology, but this is probably an overstatement.  At the very least, it is remarkable that a number of cultures show no interest in the internal aspects of the person and have no theory about it.  Nor do the languages of some cultures index much mental activity.  It is hard to know whether the lack of emphasis on a  private, internal aspect of the person is ignored because they have no way to talk about it or to discern evidence about it, or because they simply don’t have a notion of it.  At the very least, the notion of a private, internal self receives little emphasis in many nonEuroAmerican psychologies.  Lillard (1998) summarizes this notion by saying, “Attention to minds, the idea of a private person, and the notion that minds mediate reality, are all optional, and such options are the source of variation” (p 25). 


            Perhaps it was not necessary to spend as much time delineating how culturally contexted our folk psychology is, and especially the Modern idea of mind, but it is important for us to see that our Modern Western folk psychology is rather peculiar, at least in terms of how cultures talk about themselves and their actions.  It is our folk psychology, not the "psychology" of other cultures, that is peculiar.  A lesson I take from all of this is that any argument which purports to show the impossibility eliminating folk psychological language has to be mistaken.  If we look at the psychologies of the world’s cultures, the plausibility of Western folk psychology must be argued for.  Therefore, I side with Rorty (1970) and other eliminativists who argue that our folk psychology is not sacred, but there are a myriad of psychologies.  There is nothing uniquely necessary about the Western folk psychology or dualism.

            On the other hand, I am not a materialist or a physicalist.  It is important to see that eliminativism implies physicalism only if you live in a Cartesian world.  If you begin with the assumptions that Beloff begins with, and most people in the West do, the elimination of folk psychology leads naturally to some form of physicalism.  But these assumptions rest on the acceptance of Cartesian dualism.  It simply eliminates one side of the dualism, accepting the Cartesian definition of mind and matter.  I find it passingly strange that the only kind of eliminativism talked about in the West is an eliminative materialism.

            And, yet, in spite of rejections of any simple materialistic reduction by philosophers in favor of various forms of functionalism, and the rejection of behavioristic psychology in favor of cognitive psychology, something like a eliminative materialism seems to be happening in the general public. Johnson and Wellman (1982) report having asked 14 adults whether the brain was needed for certain mental functions, and all of them agreed that it was needed for thinking and most thought it necessary for perception and feeling and voluntary actions.  Older and younger children give essentially the same responses, and it seems to them that mind and brain are virtually interchangeable.  My own informal surveys in introduction to philosophy classes from 1968 to the present, in asking students whether it made sense to say that the thought of fried chicken was a brain process, has seen a dramatic reversal over this time, with virtually no one in 1968 thinking that such an identity made sense, whereas now few would deny the identity, and those that do, typically assert it on religious grounds.  Therefore, if we stay within a Cartesian worldview, it looks like more and more people are opting for a physicalist interpretation of the world, identifying mind with brain.  This suggests to me that if we are to resist physicalism, we must offer a non-Cartesian alternative.

            Another way of seeing that a Cartesian-style dualism is inadequate is to point out that not only is the Western concept of mind "rather peculiar" in the world’s context, but it is just as easy to show that the scientific view of matter is just as peculiar. This should come as no surprise as mind and matter are complementary notions in our Modern worldview; the two go together.  Therefore, what seems more plausible to me is not the elimination of simply a Cartesian mind, but the elimination of the whole Cartesian-style worldview.  In fact, although I do not have time to argue for it here, I suspect that that is precisely the process we are engaged in now, with dramatic new understandings of the world in subatomic physics and in biology, but we have not completed the process.  It must be the subject of another paper to show how contemporary neuroscientists, functionalists, and even cognitive scientists still labor too much within a Cartesian worldview, and so sufficient change has not occurred to bring us yet to a revolutionary switch in our thinking.  It will take some time before it is realized that so much quantitative change has resulted in qualitative change, that there is a process something like a paradigm change happening and soon traditional physicalist terms will begin to feel more and more burdensome and other ones more useful.  My own view is that this world will be a naturalistic one, not a double-decker universe that dualism has presented us with.  But let me leave aside these ruminations (see (Edge, 1990) for an early version of this position, but more work needs to be done in this area). 



Beloff has argued that parapsychological data points us toward a dualism and away from a physicalism, and given those views as the only alternatives, that may be true.  However, if these are not our alternatives, if we understand other cultures to hold different worldviews, then it should come as no surprise that they often interpret the parapsychological occurrences in different ways.  If we accept, for instance, a more collectivist or relational view of ourselves and the world, as most other cultures seem to, what do we find as their view of psi?  If their view of the self is less atomistic and more related to others in the natural environment, then their view of psi has to be influenced by this understanding. 

Let me suggest that several differences between their views and the traditional Western model based on dualism are: 1) Psi phenomena are not viewed as paranormal, or extraordinary phenomena, as they are in an atomistic universe.  One does not find the spatial or personal divide that occurs in an atomistic universe which separates in a radical way one object from another and one person from another.  2) Humans are not the only carriers of psi.  Relational universes are often saturated with spirits, and people can have spirit familiars at their disposal, who collect information and who are effective in the world.  3) Since the spirit is not only attached to humans, objects and actions in the world become imbued with meaning and symbol, so that, for instance, the appearance of a plover bird among the Aborigines announces a death.  4) Given a much more intimate connection between what we call mind and body, the inner and the outer, and between the individual and the social, actions or illnesses on one level have ramifications on the other levels.  Social actions which pollute, for instance, can cause illness among individuals or groups; the paranormal is viewed as the natural working-out of levels of nature.   5) There may be a different notion of what the senses are, so any question of an event being extra-sensory is put into question.  For instance, the Hausa of Nigeria mark in their language only two senses, sight on the one hand and a variety of capacities like hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, feeling, and knowing on the other hand (Ritchie, 1991).  Or, senses may work in a different way so that the Desana of Columbia believe that they can hear in an extra-sensory way (Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1981).


            In conclusion, I can say that I both agree and disagree with Beloff.  I agree with him in what he is against: physicalism.  My arguments differ from his, however, as his view assumes a Cartesian-style dualistic worldview, and then he argues that the parapsychological data undercut physicalism.  However, just as we saw that there are alternatives to the West folk model, so there are alternative ways of looking at psi functioning based on cross-cultural data, so that I don’t think that parapsychological functioning necessarily supports Western folk psychology or dualism (I leave aside the attempts by parapsychologists to explain parapsychology through physicalist theories).  Therefore, I agree with Beloff that physicalism is inadequate, but not because of the parapsychological data, which is steeped as much in the Cartesian enterprise as dualism is.  My position is that the whole Cartesian legacy, which includes physicalism, needs revision.[iv] 

My argument against physicalism as I have presented it here is not a conclusive one; it is, rather, based on where I would put my money in an elimination.   Rather than accepting the Cartesian legacy and eliminating one realm in its dualism, I would eliminate the whole conceptual scheme.  It simply seems implausible to me to believe that Descartes proposed a worldview in a particular context in the 17th century to solve a particular problem, a worldview radically different from most other cultural worldviews, and he was absolutely wrong in defining mind, but absolutely right in defining matter.  Given that these terms were so complementary in his worldview, it strains my credulity to believe that physicalism will have the last say.

            Before I close, let me just say that Beloff’s position may not be all that radically different from the one I am proposing here.  He says at one point that parapsychology has an affinity with the tradition of magic (Beloff, 1990c, p 57), although he says that traditional magic, even if it did allow for the paranormal, was naďve (Beloff, 1990c, p 76; 1990d, p 174). What Beloff has done is to accept the present Cartesian legacy and the critics on their own ground.  I admire his spunk, but I think it is a mistake.  It grants them too much, and it doesn’t take into account the complexity and the pluralism of the world’s cultures.







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[i] The story is a little complicated here by the distinction between ontological monism and methodological monism.  Ontological monism argues either that matter but not mind exists, or vice versa (physicalism or idealism).  Yet, another option is to accept a methodological monism, like epiphenomenalism, but also grant an ontological dualism, arguing that science need only concern itself with matter, since mind is an impotent byproduct and thus not efficacious.  Beloff places epiphenomenalism, since he is exclusively concerned with ontology, into the category of dualism.


[ii]  The individualism – collectivism disjunction needs to be modified in two ways, I think.  In the first place, more emphasis needs to be placed on the varieties of conceptual systems, and parsing them into two categories does particular injustice to collectivism.  I (Edge, 1998; in press) have argued that there are varieties of collectivist cultures, having discussed Australian Aboriginal and Balinese conceptions of the self.  Triantis, one of the leading researchers in the individualism/collectivism debate, has modified and complicated his position (Triandis, 1995).  Secondly, it is easy to be seduced into the view, especially if collectivisms are defined in terms of the individual being subsumed by the collective, that the person in this kind of society has virtually lost selfhood.  Soekefeod (1999) has recently pointed out this fallacy.  Cohen (1994)) has argued for some time that anthropology has lost sight of the individual self, which acts and makes decisions.  Sampson (1988) has even gone so far as to designate the distinction between individualism and collectivism as more appropriately a difference between self-contained individualism and ensembled individualism, saying that individualism is not the issue but the kind of individualism.


[iii]   In all fairness, I need to point out that there have been schools of philosophy and psychology that have been fundamentally anti-individualistic.  William James, John Dewey, Gardner Murphy, G. H. Mead,  humanistic and transpersonal psychologies, and phenomenology have all questioned the adequacy of the atomistic self.


[iv] Parenthetically, let me say that I am a pluralist.  Rather than eliminating physicalism entirely, I believe that its present hegemony is doomed to failure, but like behaviorism, technologies based upon its assumptions will continue to be useful.  It will simply no longer be the dominant and most useful model, even in the natural sciences.