DESCARTES’ VIEW ON MIND-BODY PROBLEM AND CONTRIBUTIONS
Descartes, (2008) noted:
“Nature likewise teaches me by these sensations of pain, hunger, thirst, etc., that I am not only lodged in my body as a pilot in a vessel, but that I am besides so intimately conjoined, and as it were intermixed with it, that my mind and body compose a certain unity.”(p.117)
Descartes is one of the most known French philosopher and a scientist. Also the controversial debate on mind and body distinction is still exist. In the simplest way main question can be explained as how and where mind can interact with the body. Even it looks like a simple question, it is an important topic for both psychology and philosophy. While mind plays a role as the conscious thinking or the soul, the body plays a role as the physical part of your body in other words described in 2011 by Sunil Pandya, “body is by nature always divisible, and the mind is entirely indivisible”. More general point of view this problem is concern with the interaction of mental and physical (Fahrenberg & Cheetham, 2000). Descartes in his book “De homine” explained the body and how this mechanism workin means of automatic which then created the reflex theory just like an outline with his ownillustrations (see Fig.1) , later in his book “Meditationes” the question started to arise on the distinction between mind and body claims that the interaction exist between those two. There can be a misunderstanding on what mind in this picture present it present the soul, even though it was believed that it represent the brain, it should be taking into account that brain is still a physical and material part of the body. Current paper aims to examine different perspectives of this problem with respect to it overall contributions to science.
Descartes claimed that this interaction is done by pineal gland which makes itbidirectional such that in some cases mind can control the body but that doesn’t mean thatbody has no control since it can influence the mind eventually. Mind was un-extended, not material but had the thinking ability and body was an extended, material but doesn’t havethinking ability (Descartes, 1952). Notably, he concluded that mental processes are located in the pineal gland, which is functions to regulate the flow of thought (Hamilton, 1969) also linked with mental health (Lopez-Munoz, Molina, Rubio & Alamo, 2011). That is to say his work also lighten the neurology area as well.
As a daily life example there is such thing as ‘clear body clear mind’ which is used inorder to indicate the relationship of how doing sports and eating healthy benefits your overall mental health state and your mind. Which studies showed that participating in sports which is an clear body act benefits for psychological well-being (Poirel, 2017). This results it self can be another and basic example for min body dualism as well, doing sports or exercise which is something physical and material ends up benefiting the mind and the soul.
Despite this, the case of Phineas Cage, can be another example for mind and body interaction for the earlier times. This accident had too many contributions but looking from our perspective as an evidence on mind and body interaction this provided that how physical accident that leads to a damage on the brain can change the behavior of an individual and overall change the personality to the opposite direction (O’Driscoll & Leach, 1998) which inthis case the mind or the soul. In order for a brain injury to effect the mind, in fact there must be an interaction.
In means of different ideas, if we divide this debate into three as one who believe that there is no such distinctions and two who believe that there is an interaction between them and three who believe that this problem has not been solved yet. In Descartes conclusion as proof of the interaction can be explained by pain such that it is known that body is exist and pain just confirms that body exist and there is relationship between them (Duncan, 2000). Also a recent study explained this interaction with a model on mind and body healing (Kaufman, in press) such that doing meditation stimulates healing through cortical mechanisms which is body.
Another study states that the mind-body problem it self is irrelevant since it is hard to gather evidence in order to work on consciousness and it states that the question it self should be changed to make it testable (Baars, 2003). Moreover another article on mind and body problem today states that still there is no clearly explained relationship between those two (Vacariu, 2011). In contrast this problem arises because consciousness blocks the scientific explanation and leads this problem to become unsolved (Maxwell, 2000).
In contrast the psychology is a field that is not that old and still grows. Descartes overall contributions to psychology might be hard to define with clear cuts since he is not a psychologist , but overall the ability to think and questioning can be the biggest contributions of this problem. The psychology that we know today had roots in philosophy and physiology,and Descartes’ work on philosophy can be considered as first steps of beginning of the psychology. As we discussed in the class as well, how do we differentiate between the reality and the perception of the reality is a question that could have been created from this problem. On the other hand since Psychology is a field that depends on evidence and this problem as we stated can not be easily or clearly studied due to it dependency on consciousness, the contribution of mind and body problem would be more on Philosophy than Psychology. In other words, this indirect contributions does not mean that there is none. Like I said earlier Cage case leads to an localization which is the interaction of mind and body because it the mental capabilities is stored in special places in the brain, such that this case made individuals understand that the personality it self which plays a key role on soul and the mind is stored and located in the brain which is a physical matter.
Also as we discussed in the class under the name Pop-Psychology, the Phrenology might be effected from mind and body problem as well. For instance, Joseph Gall came up with an idea that with a Phrenology practitioner the bumps on the skull can be a predictor of personality and individuals can be analyzed according to that (Simpson, 2005) which was the beginning of localization. This example from the earlier time is also plays a huge role on Psychology as well in means of it relatedness in mind and body dualism. When becoming one of the important names of modern philosophy and Western philosophy it was not his ideas but his methods played a huge role. On the other hand scientific revolution opened a new era where the emphasis was on the experimental method which Descartes made great contributions on scientific thought and his methodology (Moore, 2005). Overall his ideas raised questions and led people to raise questions about the world and themselves, such that his declaration on his Discourse Method written in 1637 “I think therefore I am” lead individuals focus on and think about their personality and his work on mind and body lead individuals to push themselves to find answers or ask more questions.
Baars, B.J. (2003) The mind-body problem is scientfically untestable and irrelevant, Antropological Psychology, 13.
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Descartes, R. (2008). Discourse on the Method. (Veitch, J., Trans.). New York: NY. (Original work published 1924)
Duncan, H. (2000) Mind-body dualism and the biopsychosocial model of pain: what did Descartes really say?, Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 25, 485–513 DOI:10.1076/0360–5310(200008)25:4;1-A;FT485
Fahrenberg, J., & Cheetham,M. (2000) The mind body problem as seen by students of different disciplines, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 7, 47–59.
Hamilton, T. (1969) The pineal gland, Journal of the Royal Medical Society, 6, 13–17 DOI:10.2218/resmedica.v6i4.863
Kaufman, J.A. (in press) Nature, mind, and medicine: A model for mind-body healing. Explore. DOI: 10.1016/j.explore.2018.01.001
Lopez-Munoz, F., Molina, J.D., Rubio, G., & Alamo, C. (2011) An historical view of the pineal gland and mental disorders, Journal of Clinical Neuroscience, 18, 1028–1037 DOI: 10.1016/j.jocn.2010.11.037
Maxwell, N. (2000) The mind-body problem and explanatory dualism, The Royal Institute of Philosophy, 75, 49–71.
Moore, A. (2005) Descartes’ Europe: one good revolution deserves another, EMBO Reports, 6, 110–113 DOI: 10.1038/sj.embor.7400340
O’Driscoll, K., & Leach, J.P. (1998) “No longer Gage”: an iron bar through the head early observations of personality change after injury to the prefrontal cortex, British Medical Journal, 19, 1673–1674.
Pandya, S.K. (2011) Understanding brain, mind and soul:contributions from neurology and neurosurgery, Mens Sana Monographs, 9 DOI: 10.4103/0973–1229.77431
Poirel, E. (2017), Psychological benefits of physical activity for optimal mental health, Sante Mentale Au Quebec, 42, 147–164.
Simpson, D. (2005) Phrenology and the neurosciences: contributions of F.J. Gall and J. G. Spurzheim, ANZ Journal of Surgery, 75, 475–482 DOI: 10.1111/j.1445- 2197.2005.03426.x
Vacariu, G. (2011). The mind-body problem today, Open Journal of Philosophy, 1, 26–34 DOI: 10.4236/ojpp.2011.11005