Mind Body Duality? Not At All!

Posted by on July 30, 2011 in Thoughts | 1 comment

In comments on my recent blog post “Religion Running Scared” I was accused of implying a mind/body duality when I stated “After all, the brain is what interprets everything we see, read, think, do or believe, and also it determines how we react to these things. The brain is the start and the finish of our life experiences, the alpha and omega of any and every action we make in our lives.”

Well I never said anything about there being a mind/body duality, in fact what I think on the subject is a much more holistic view, taking into consideration both the mind and the body when talking about our physical selves.

I can see how someone might think that from my statement, but let me clarify this somewhat. When I say “The mind is everything” I mean that everything we see, hear, taste, touch, feel, think, imagine, learn or do is either interpreted by the brain, initiated by the brain, or react to by the brain. This means that when I taste salami, my brain tells me what the smell, the sensations on my tongue, and the texture on my teeth are, and then digs through memories and experiences past to tell me that what I am eating is in fact salami. Prior to this, I probably saw salami either in the fridge or on a plate, at which point my brain either read the words on the packaging which read “salami” and interpreted what was signified by the writing, or if it was on a plate, recognised it as salami from past experience. The brain also made the calculations and memory recalls necessary to read the words and letters, from which I made the identification of “salami”. And a certain amount of the brain is also involved in anticipation of the flavor and texture of salami once identified. Then of course there is the body feeling hungry, because the mind feels the sensations in the body, the desire to have salami to satiate the hunger, and the choice mechanism between choosing salami and not the olive next to it, all in the mind. But if we were just mind, then of course none of this could happen.

No part of the physical brain can lift salami, nor does the mind have a hole into which it could stuff said salami. For these actions to take place a body is required, an without a body the brain could not exist. (Maybe for argument’s sake we could have a brain in a jar that is “alive”, but it can’t eat salami.) A brain is completely dependent upon the body which supports it, just as the body is completely dependent upon the mind that supports it. The brain makes pathways into the body via nerves, and the body supports the brain with oxygen and energy. Salami talk aside, where, if anywhere can a line be drawn?

I’m no expert in this field, and I know some scientists devote their entire lives of study to such things, but for me it comes down to a definition of self.

When you say “I” do you mean your brain, or your body, or both? Or do you mean that and your immediate surrounds? Or even your physical self, your surrounds and your collective history and learnings from your past? Or all these plus the reflection you see in a mirror?

I have read that many people see themselves as a mind trapped in a body. I however think that the self, the true self is defined by all the things you do, see, remember, think, feel, taste, etc., and the development of self comes from new experiences, and the way you interpret them. It is possible to regulate the way you think about things, and it is possible to train your physical self, mind and body to react differently to different situations. If there were a mind/body duality, we would have to do both separately.

When it comes down to it, I think the mind/body duality question is really just a way for people to insinuate “soul”, like the mind is a ghost in a physical shell, but for me it’s much less complex than that. Because we are conscious and self aware, a product of our social and physical evolutions, we reason that the brain/mind. being the controller of our bodies, is somehow separate and somehow endowed with something more special than just the meat and bones of our bodies. Granted, no other part of our bodies can think, but as I pointed out before, even the most brilliant brain is useless without a body to inhabit, and vice versa.

I have seen firsthand what happens to people when their brains are damaged, both from stroke and from acquired head injuries. Likewise I have seen what happens to people when they suffer from physical damage, such as heart attack and car accidents. All of these are physical injuries, but when the brain is damaged, the body ceases to function correctly. Head injuries are a form of physical injury which in this case cause physical damage to the structure of the brain, and again, causing the body to stop functioning correctly.

People who suffer stroke can go into a vegetative state. People can go into comas. In these cases, the brain has ceased normal function, and we keep them alive with machines. But the fact is that unless the brain recovers sufficiently to resume normal cardio function, these people will remain in these states until we switch off the machines. There is no functioning¬† “body” without the brain.

Somehow people have become convinced that there is not only a duality between mind and body, but a triality of mind, body and soul. Wherever this idea came from, it has been very conveniently used as a way to control people, through threats to their invisible but everlasting third part. (The Bible and the Koran both claim that there is a soul, and it’s the biggest deterrent to going against the wants of the religions). I don’t think there is such thing as a soul, but it must have come from people who didn’t know enough about the mind and body to realise that it’s an incredibly complex set of mechanisms which allows us everything from breathing and eating, to higher thought and learning. If the soul exists, where does it exist? In my opinion, it only exists in the imagination of those who misunderstand the workings of the brain.

In reading over the last few paragraphs, I realise that this was nothing but a bit of a brain-dump, and it’s really just the tip of the iceberg for this topic, but I’d be interested in your thoughts about duality, triality and the mind/body connection.

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1 Comment

  1. Martin, please discuss the physical argument from mind against His existence, and how Plantinga is so supercilious in dismissing it.

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