Problem: Mind and Body
No doubt about it, we are acculturated with the idea that we have minds. Yes, minds! We are taught in many different ways that we have both minds and bodies. Very few doubt this and very few think much about the meaning of this belief that we have both a body and a mind. We learn of this view from many sources and as those around us appear to share in the same view, we have no reason to doubt it or question it. However, there are problems with the view and more and more people are changing their beliefs and positions as experience, critical thinking and science appear to provide reasons and evidence that challenge the popular belief.
We believe that we have a body and a mind and somehow they are different from one another. Our language reinforces this view as well. Many common expressions assume this view that humans have minds.
Consider the following fairly common expressions in the English language:
- What’s on your mind?
- Are you losing your mind?
- Are you out of your mind?
- A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
- You are always on my mind.
- Great minds think alike!
- Free your mind.
- What are you a master mind or something?
- It is a matter of mind over matter.
- I have a mind to…
- He has a mind like a steel trap.
- Back of one's mind
- Bear in mind
- Blow one's mind
- Boggle the mind
- Bring to mind
- Call to mind
- Cross one's mind
- Change one's mind
- Come to mind
- Frame of mind
- Go out of one's mind
- Great minds
- Half a mind
- Have a good mind to
- In one's mind's eye
- In one's right mind
- Know one's own mind
- Load off one's mind
- Lose one's mind
- Make up one's mind
- Meeting of the minds
- Never mind
- Of two minds
- One-track mind
- On one's mind
- Open mind
- Closed minded
- Piece of one's mind
- Presence of mind
- Prey on one's mind
- Put one in mind of
- Read someone's mind
- Set one's mind at rest
- Slip one's mind
- Speak one's mind
- To my mind
- It's all in your mind
- Don't mind
- Put your mind to it
- Mind bending
- Narrow minded
- Messing with your mind
- Mind games
- Mind boggling
- State of mind
- Out of sight (out of mind)
- Peace of mind
- Mind over matter
- No doubt in my mind
- Wrap your mind around this
- In my mind's eye
- Set your mind to it
- Get your mind out of the gutter
- A meeting of the minds
- Great minds think alike
- Peace of mind
- Beyond my mind's comprehension
- Put your mind at ease
There are a number of movies that have been made that contain as themes or as devices, the exchange of minds or the migration of a mind from one body to another. In these movies the idea is clearly in view and assumed that the mind is an entity that is not physical and can move from one body (brain) to another and along with it goes the person. There are movies in which minds are switched between two persons of opposite sex, skin color, or ethnicity or social or economic status.
- All of Me
- 17 Again
- Vice Versa
- Like Father Like Son
- Dream A Little Dream
- Man With Two Brains
- Prelude To A Kiss
- Chances Are
- Family Man
- Mr. Destiny
- Freaky Friday
- Wish Upon A Star
- Source Code
In all of them there is the common element--that the mind of a person is the seat of that person’s being and identity. Further, the films appear to teach us that the mind of a person can "move" from one site or physical human body (brain) to another. We shall not consider whether or not such "switching" is possible (at least not as a planned part of this course). Instead just focus on the idea of a mind as something that can, at least in theory and in the movies, occupy one or another human body. It is not something physical, and can move right through matter, the brain, the wall, and the atmosphere and arrive inside of another head, skull, and brain. There are many films that depict minds or soul moving through physical barriers and entering another human body. Now people viewing these films don’t generally get up a leave the theater or change the channel because they believe that such events are not possible and are preposterous. No, quite the contrary, audiences are prepared to accept the possibility that such events might occur and they remain to follow the rest of the action in the film.
These films tend to be comedies, romantics or even horror. They are part of the culture. The result is that we have a great number of people who believe that they possess a mind and that it is something that makes them what they are or it is what houses their personal identities. Further, they believe that the mind is not a physical entity but that it is non-physical, even spiritual, and can survive outside of the physical body and somehow can survive the death of the body and over half of the world’s people believe that it is capable of entering into another body and having another life (reincarnation, metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls). This view that we have both a non-physical mind and a physical body is known as dualism.
Now there are some that have come to doubt and disbelieve in such a view. They have been brought up with another belief system or have come to disbelieve in dualism due to a consideration of evidence and the implications of the claims of the dualists. Of those who do not believe that we have both a body and a mind are those who do not believe that we have bodies. These are known as idealists. Another group, growing larger all the time, believes that we do not have mind at all, at least not as a separate and non-physical entity apart from our physical bodies. What we have are only physical bodies, which include the brain, which is responsible for what previously was thought to be the work of the mind.
How is it that there is a problem with the commonly held belief that human beings have both minds and bodies? How is it that there are a number of different views on this? What is the correct view? If there is a problem? What is the solution?
The problem comes about once you really consider what the implications are of believing that minds are not physical objects and that they still somehow or other influence the physical object that is our brain in order to get our bodies to do what they do. Nothing seems more obvious to most people but that our minds do interact with our bodies. I make up my mind to type something and my mind gets my brain to stimulate the neurons that continue to excite other neurons through my body down to my arms, hands and fingers which strike the keys according to the ideas and the plan that my mind is directing them to follow. It is quite obvious. But wait! Lots of things have been obvious at one time or another and then have turned out not to be true. Could this be one of them? That sun looks not so big, not so hot, not so far away and that it is moving and yet I know now that despite how it appears and how I thought of the sun, that it simply isn’t true. The truth is quite otherwise. Could this be the case with the idea that I have a mind? More and more people are coming to think so. Why?
- What is a mind?
- Do you have a mind that is separate from your brain?
- Are you sure?
- How do you know this?
Rene Descartes thought he had proven that we have minds and that they are not material and that we do not need to have a body to have a mind. He arrived at the following idea as his first indubitable idea or clear and distinct idea or obvious truth.
Cogito, ergo sum: I think, therefore I am
Okay, so you know you have a mind. You must have one because you think. Because you think you also know that you exist in some way. But is the mind (the thing you think with)the same sort of thing as the body, or is it different? If it is different, how is it different? According to Descartes there are two very different sorts of things that exist or substances: the physical and the spiritual or non-physical. Brains are part of the physical realm and minds are part of the non-physical realm. The two realms make up all that is real.
Dualism is the distinction between
- Physical realm: matter
- non-physical realm: spirit
|Have mass, density
|Have no mass
|Have no location
|Have tactile properties
|Have no tactile properties
|Have taste, smell, etc.
|Have no taste, smell, etc.
|Have no duration
|Are not physical
So, for Descartes and many people before and since his writing the mind is distinct from the body - they are two different sorts of things.
Dualism: the view that there are two sorts of substance in the universe - physical and non-physical.
With dualism comes many problems concerning the existence and relation of the two substances. One of those problems is the one we focus one here. So, how does the non-physical mind bring about a causal change (motion) in a physical substance? Finally, we have it! This is the problem. How does the non-physical mind bring about a causal change (motion) in a physical substance?
The Mind/Body Problem
Think of it this way: a mind, being non-physical, would not be able to contact, touch, move, tingle, excite, push, shove, a physical object such as a brain, a neuron, a synaptic fluid or molecule of any type because they are all physical. Consider it this way: in the films that show minds being changed or that show non-physical or spiritual beings, these entities are shown to move right through walls, skulls, windows, brains and all other physical objects. So, if a mind is not physical and moves through physical objects, then how does the mind get the brain to react or act or to do anything, for that matter. The mind is not made of matter, the brain is. How can something not made of matter or energy because something made of matter and energy to do anything?
Descartes thought that it was through the pineal gland! (he thought it was the master control unit where the soul contacted the brain (body) because it was singular and not doubled as are other parts of the brain.) Scientific investigation has now proven that the pineal gland does not function as a central control unit for the brain.
Problem: the pineal gland is still a physical thing how does the mind excite it? Or excite the neurons, for that matter? Suppose you would think that it is through a harmonic vibration?
Problem: how does a non-physical thing, vibrate?
Problem: how do we explain the interaction of the mind and body?
Mind certainly seems to effect the body: just move your fingers, toes, etc. Some evidence suggests that mind can heal the body. Body certainly seems to effect the mind: strokes are physical, yet effect the cognitive. Drugs and a high fever can disturb our abilities to think, to focus, concentrate, calculate, etc...mental states can effect changes in the body. There appears to be plenty of evidence from experience in support of some type of interact going on between the mind and the brain. Or is it the brain and the body?
Problem: If the mind is a non-physical entity and not the physical brain then harm to the physical brain should not cause any changes in the functioning of the mind. Yet when the brain suffers a physical change from:
- Physical blow to the brain
- Electrical shock to the brain
- Disease growths in the brain
- Chemical imbalance in the brain
- Chemicals induced into the brain
All of these physical events produce a change in the way people remember, feel, think, and act. If the mind is not physical and not the brain then why do these changes in the brain make any difference to how the mind operates? We know that the physical events made those changes but how can that be explained if the dualists are correct? Dualism says there should be no consequence to the mind, if it is not physical it cannot be touched by physical agents and acts.
Think of all the stories you have read and heard about the mind and what it is supposed to do or to have. Is it your mind that thinks, hopes, dreams, has memories and feelings, and calculates and can imagine things? Our own experiences and the careful study of scientists challenge the part of the story that claims that the mind is non-physical and separate from our bodies. Neuroscience and research is indicating that the entire list is accounted for without need of postulating or claiming or believing in some non-physical mind. Memories, hopes, emotions, and plans are all being located in electrical and chemical and physical entities in the brain.
Chemicals influence the physical brain. Chemicals enter the brain cells and alter emotions, perceptions, moods, abilities and more. When they do so it is evidence that there is a physical mind. Why? The chemicals are physical, they influence the physical brain, the brain influences the feelings and memory and thinking of the person. In this, there is no non-physical mind involved. If the mind was a non-physical it would not be influenced by physical blows or chemicals in the brain since the non-physical mind cannot be touched by physical agents.
So the mind body problem is located in this precise question of how is it that non-physical entities called "minds" can have any influence over the physical brain or interact with it or cause it to do anything?
4 traditional and most logical options:
- Dualism: two kinds of substance mind and body (brain) that interact or are coordinated in some way.
- Monism: one kind of substance.
- Materialism: only material substance exists, there is no spirit.
- Idealism: only spiritual substance exists, there is no matter.
We shall examine all the options and then you shall decide for yourself what you should believe.
There are the essentialists who believe that mind does exist. They believe in such concepts as the Self, the I, the Ego, and other ideas indicating that there is in the human being an entity that exists and yet is not physical but occupies or associates with the physical body. Among philosophers who have thought so are: Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and Leibniz.
Possible approaches to the mind - body problem
- Dualism mind and body both exist
- Interactionism - minds and bodies exist and interact in some way
- Epiphenomenalism - body acts on mind but minds do not act on bodies
- Double aspect theory - there is one substance with two aspects (mind/body)
- Parallelism - minds and bodies exist in separate dimensions and are coordinated
- Pre-established harmony - minds and bodies are set in motion and coordinated from the beginning of time by a deity that creates the universe
- Occasionalism- on the occasion of the mind making a decision the body is moved by the creator (deity) to do whatever the mind has decided to make the body do.
- Monism: materialism - only body exists there are no minds. The brain accounts for the activities previously associated with the mind. In Monism: Materialism there are several variations such as;
- Logical behaviorism
- Semantic behaviorism
- Monism: idealism - there are no bodies only minds. All that exists is ideas. All is idea in the mind of the creator. Each human is a subset of ideas in the mind of the creator. We have similar ideas at similar times and think that we have bodies and are experiencing the same computers and rooms and chairs as other people because all is coordinated in the mind of the creator of all. The Divine Creator thought of the creation and there it was, as ideas in the mind of the creator.
- In this world Hinduism holds a form of this and Christian Scientists hold similar views.
These questions are part of a branch or sub area of philosophy known as philosophy of mind. It is one of the most modern of the areas within philosophy. Today it has been influenced by questions being asked in Computer Science, Psychology, Neurophysiology, etc. Why?
First computers could do amazing things:
- once they are programmed they are more accurate than humans, and
- they are faster at complex computations than humans
These devices raise interesting questions such as: what was the machine doing? Could a machine think? To assist us we have a variety of disciplines, each with a great deal of knowledge and a number of theories and each with its own problems.
- Neurophysiology - knows a lot about how the brain works as a biological mechanism, but cannot find thought anywhere.
- Computer science - a great deal of information with respect to the computer, but no knowledge of how to program "thought" into the machine.
- Psychology - knowledge of how people behave, but not of consciousness itself or internationality.
- Philosophy - many theories about all of the above - no consensus
In the following sections we will discuss each of the approaches.
Read the following quote and answer the question.
“How often has it happened to me that in the night I dreamt that I found myself in this particular place…while in reality I was lying in bed.”
Can you be certain that you’re not dreaming right now? If so, how?
Suppose you fell in love with someone who seemed to be the most intelligent, witty, and caring person you’ve ever met. Now suppose that “person” turns out to be an android.
- Would you conclude that he or she doesn’t have a mind? Why or why not?
- Would you still love him or her? Why or why not?
Vocabulary Quizlet 6.1