What Is The Relationship Between The Mind

And The Body? Essay, Research Paper


relationship between the mind and the body is one of the philosophical problems

that has never been adequately answered. The functioning of the mind remains,

for the most part, a mystery, and its precise nature and origins are still

matters of controversy. The

essential question regarding the relationship is simple to explain. How does my

physical body, composed of more or less the same organs[1]

as the person next to me correspond to my mental processes and thoughts, which

I do not have in common with him? Two main streams of thought on this

relationship have emerged: dualism and monism. Dualism was the approach

favoured by Descartes, and has at its core the indivisibility of the soul and

the clear distinction between the soul (of which the mind is a part) and the

body. A monistic approach to the mind/body problem is the belief that they are

not distinct, and that the mind and the body are part of the same thing. This

usually takes a materialistic form-the mind is a physical substance in the same

way the heart or lungs are. It

is worth pointing out at this stage that dualists are unlikely to consider the

mind/body problem in the sense that a corpse, being a body devoid of a mind, is

proof that the two are distinct entities. Clearly, this is irrelevant:

dualists, when referring to a body, are basing their arguments on a living one.

What happens to the mind after the living body dies is another issue

altogether. A central tenement of Descartes? philosophy is the view that the

mind/soul is immortal ? although it exists on earth inside a body, it is

released after death to the next world. A

dualist, like Descartes, is of the opinion that the physical body, which the

outside world sees, occupies space and is governed by the laws of physics as

much any other physical entity is. The mind, on the other hand, does not

inhabit space, is therefore not governed by the usual natural laws, and can

only be ?seen? by itself. Descartes, when considering the relationship, did not

think it was the same kind of relationship as ?a pilot in a ship?, implying

that the mind does not merely observe physical damage to the body, in the way a

ship?s captain would, but it experiences it itself. The two are connected

through some system designed to do this. Descartes himself considered that the

two entities were connected through the pineal gland, which sent and received

messages to/from the body (qv). If this is the case, then one cannot consider a

mind to both be an entirely separate entity to the body, and not be merely like

the pilot. Furthermore, Descartes? view is open to the criticism which was

elegantly expressed by Ryle when he referred to it as ?the ghost in the

machine?. He claimed that it suggests there is a complex visible system called

the physical body which has as an engine an invisible complex called the mind,

which takes on a spiritual form, ever-present inside the body. Indeed, Ryle is

of the opinion that this form of Cartesian dualism is a category mistake, the

meaning of which is explained by a simile with a tourist visiting Oxford,

seeing the colleges and the libraries, and then asking where the university is.

This is to say that Ryle considers the treatment by Cartesian dualists of

mental events as separate to the other aspects of the body, rather than seeing

them as just one part of the processes of the human. There is thus no

categorical difference between mental processes and physical ones. Even

so, Ryle?s criticism does not explain why the mind and its consciousness

actually occur. The chemical reactions, biological operations, and physical

operations of the various components of the body are unlikely to create the

mind as if it were a side effect. This would lead one to a discussion of

whether free will could exist, and Ryle does not appear to be an advocate of

determinism. However, if the immortality of the soul is discounted, then Ryle?s

position becomes more tenable. The mind can thus be considered to be a separate

part of the body; one which inhabits the brain. Certainly, if the mind/soul

dies with the body, it requires the body to think (for example, a constant

supply of oxygen to the brain and so on). This interpretation, though, is still

likely to degenerate into determinism, as any consideration of the mind being a

physical object will. The

relationship between the mind and the body is at its most confusing when the

issue of sensations is considered. Descartes considers the sense of hunger he

gets when his stomach demands food: why, he asks himself, does a feeling of the

stomach tightening indicate this to him? In the Meditations, Descartes

tries to understand the relationship by suggesting that the nerves transmit the

signals to the mind via the pineal gland. He describes the nerves as acting in

a similar way to ropes pulling bells. At the most basic level, he is actually

very near to the modern understanding of the nervous system, although it

neither ends in the pineal gland nor does it operate mechanically (it is a

system of electrical impulses). This description of it by Descartes is

introduced when he considers the phantom limbs which amputees complain are

causing them pain. This is used by Descartes to suggest that interferences or

disturbances from elsewhere affect the body whilst giving the mind confusing

signals. This,

though, does not explain how the mind sends signals in response to these

messages in order to get a reaction. Although Descartes believed that some

responses, like the jerking of a hand away from a hot stove, were automatically

controlled by mechanical processes, thus removing the mind from the process,

others were the result of ?animal spirits? flowing from the pineal gland to the

bodily part it wishes to control. If, though, the mind and the body are truly

distinct, this aspect of the relationship becomes more difficult to explain. As

with the pineal gland, the idea of ?animal spirits? is not only discredited

scientifically, but Descartes does not attempt to actually explain what they

are. With a mind separate from the body, the only way it could control a part

of the body, either as a result of received sense-data or as a result of its

will, would have to be through some form of psychokinetic activity. I can will

my fingers to touch the keys on this keyboard, but there has to be some form of

connection between my thinking of the necessary movement, and its occurrence.

To say that the mind can merely will bodily parts to move is not enough: I can

will my ears all I want, and yet they fail to wiggle. Moreover, to say that the

mind operates its control over the body through psychokinetic energy is only a

step away from saying that it can also move external objects. Even if it were

denied this power, the stomach cannot be willed to stop digestion, for example. At

any rate, the way the communication between the mind and the body still raises

questions of what the mind does with the information it receives. As has been

mentioned above, Descartes considers that the pineal gland is where the

interchange takes place, and, thus, one presumes, where the data is transferred

to other parts of the mind for processing etc. Dennett has expressed this idea

as the ?Cartesian Theatre?, and argues that the mind does not function in one

place as the model suggests. The mind, according to him, takes in information

from the body and the senses but does not deal with it in one central place.

The mind operates (to use a computer metaphor) on a parallel basis, rather than

the serial basis, which the theatre model seems to require. Descartes

considered the mind to be the only thing that cannot be separated from himself.

This means that he considers that it is the essence of the mind to think.

Essence, to Descartes, means the properties of a substance or thing that cannot

be removed from it without losing the concept of it. The essence of a thing

contains only that which is necessary for it to exist. Descartes therefore

considers that his essence is thinking, thus he cannot detach his thinking self

from his essence. Descartes, though, does not suggest that having an essence

entails existence: this is only true in the case of God. However, as Malcolm

suggests, if he can perceives the essence of something, he can perceive the

thing itself. He can perceive thought, so he is able to perceive himself. The

body is not at the essence of the person; it is an extension of it. Although it

is possible to doubt the existence of the body, he cannot doubt the existence

of his mental self (hence the famous cogito). Therefore, the mind is

inseparable to him. Arnauld, though, argued that just because one can doubt the

fact that a right-angled triangle can have the length of the hypotenuse

calculated using Pythagoras? theorem, does not mean that this property is not

essential. Using this idea, Arnauld argues that just because one can imagine oneself

without a body, this does not make it an inessential part of me. Descartes,

though, argues that this ignores the point he is trying to make: he is merely

trying to see what constitutes his essence, and only by doubting all that is

possible to doubt can he do this. Malcolm has rightly pointed out that the

Descartes? test for what his essence consists of is to see if he is aware of

that property, which makes him aware of himself. Only thought fits this

description. Therefore, they can be said to be different things. The

relationship between the mind and the body is too complex to even begin to

explain in an essay of this length. Descartes considered that the mind, whilst

being connected to the body through the pineal gland and able to send and

receive data through the use of ?animal spirits? and the nervous system. By

today?s standards this understanding is flawed, but much of the current

theories are still either dualist ideas akin to this, or materialist, which

carries the risk of determinism. [1] I hesitate

to use the term ?genetic information? for fear of over-complicating matters



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