Mind–body problem

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René Descartes' illustration of mind/body dualism, from his Meditations on First Philosophy

The mind–body problem in philosophy examines the relationship between mind and matter, and in particular the relationship between consciousness and the brain.

CONTENT : A - F , G - L , M - R , S - Z , See also , External links


Quotes are arranged alphabetically by author

A - F[edit]

  • We must no more ask whether the soul and body are one than ask whether the wax and the figure impressed on it are one.
    • Aristotle, in Aristotle's Psychology as translated by E. Wallace (1882), p. 61
  • People often prefer to believe that there is a disembodied soul that, in some utterly mysterious way, does the actual seeing, helped by the elaborate apparatus of the brain. Some people are called "dualists"—they believe that matter is one thing and mind is something completely different. Our Astonishing Hypothesis says, on the contrary, that this is not the case, that it's all done by nerve cells. What we are considering is how to decide between these two views experimentally.
    • Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul (1994)

G - L[edit]

  • René Descartes developed the idea that human beings have a dual nature: they have a body... of material substance, and a mind, which derives from the spiritual nature of the soul. ... It is remarkable to reflect that these seventeenth century ideas were still current in the 1980s. Karl Popper... and John Eccles... espoused dualism all their lives. They agreed with Aquinas that the soul is immortal and independent of the brain. Gilbert Ryle... referred to the notion of the soul as "the ghost in the machine." Today, most philosophers of mind agree that what we call consciousness derives from the physical brain, but some disagree with Crick as to whether it can ever be approached scientifically. A few, such as Colin McGinn, believe that consciousness cannot be studied... At the other extreme, philosophers such as Daniel Dennett deny that there is any problem at all. Dennett argues much as... John Hughlings Jackson did... that consciousness is not a distinct operation of the brain; rather it is a combined result of computational workings of higher-order areas of the brain... Philosophers such as John Searle and Thomas Nagel take a middle position, holding that consciousness is a discrete set of biological processes... very complex and... more than the sum of their parts.
  • Prior to Brenda Milner's discoveries, many behaviorists and some cognitive psychologists had followed the lead of Freud and Skinner and abandoned biology as a useful guide to the study of learning and memory. They had done so not because they were dualists, like Descartes, but because they thought that biology was unlikely to play a significant role in studies of learning in the near future. Indeed, Lashley's influential work made it seem that the biology of learning was essentially incomprehensible. ...Milner's work changed all that. Her discoveries that certain regions of the brain are necessary for some forms of memory provided the first evidence of where different memories are processed and stored. But the question of how memory is stored remained unanswered, and it fascinated me.

M - R[edit]

  • The Descartian notion of a mechanical body presided over by an independent entity called the soul is replaced, as the "matter" of theoretical physics becomes more attenuated, by the notion of the transformation within the organism of mind-states into body-states, and vice-versa. The dualism of the dead mechanical body, belonging to the world of matter, and the vital transcendental soul, belonging to the spiritual realm, disappears before the increasing insight, derived from physiology on one hand and the investigation of neuroses on the other, of a dynamic interpenetration and conversion within the boundaries of organic structures and functions. Now the physical and the psychal become different aspects of the organic process, in much the same way that heat and light are both aspects of energy, differentiated only by the situation to which they refer and by the particular set of receptors upon which they act.
  • Dualism is the view that you consist of a body plus a soul, and that your mental life goes on in your soul. Physicalism is the view that your mental life consists of physical processes in your brain. But another possibility is that your mental life goes on in your brain, yet that all those experiences, feelings, thoughts, and desires are not physical processes in your brain. This would mean that the grey mass of billions of nerve cells in your skull is not just a physical object. It has lots of physical properties -- great quantities of chemical and electrical activity go on in it -- but it has mental processes going on in it as well.
    • Thomas Nagel, What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy (1987), Ch. 4. The Mind-Body Problem.

S - Z[edit]

  • Dualism makes the problem insoluble; materialism denies the existence of any phenomenon to study, and hence of any problem.
  • What is the nature of this problem? It arises from a fact and a theory. The fact is that our minds and consciousnesses are clearly very intimately connected with our bodies; the theory is that we know that all physical bodies are alien to mind. In other words, reflective thought has been pulled in two different directions at the same time and has been unable to work out a harmonious view. The physical sciences have assumed that they alone had the physical world for their object and they have naturally concluded that the physical world must be conceived only in terms of the information they have acquired. The consequence has been the existence of a dualism. Mind and consciousness are real, yet immaterial. The physical world is real, yet material. The mind-body problem has consisted in the attempt to relate two such antithetical realities. That they are actually related has always seemed undeniable—at least the denial of a relation has been the counsel of despair. But how to conceive the relationship has been the crucial point of metaphysics.
  • Et consequenter quod substantia cogitans et substantia extensa una eademque est substantia, quae iam sub hoc, iam sub illo attributo comprehenditur.
    • Substance thinking and substance extended are one and the same substance, comprehended now through one attribute, now through the other.
  • Nempe falluntur homines, quod se liberos esse putant; quae opinio in hoc solo consistit, quod suarum actionum sint conscii et ignari causarum a quibus determinantur. Haec ergo est eorum libertatis idea, quod suarum actionum nullam cognoscant causam. Nam quod aiunt, humanas actiones a voluntate pendere, verba sunt, quorum nullam habent ideam.
    • Men are mistaken in thinking themselves free; their opinion is made up of consciousness of their own actions, and ignorance of the causes by which they are conditioned. Their idea of freedom, therefore, is simply their ignorance of any cause for their actions. As for their saying that human actions depend on the will, this is a mere phrase without any idea to correspond thereto.
  • Men believe themselves to be free, simply because they are conscious of their actions, and unconscious of the causes whereby those actions are determined.
  • Descartes's so-called dualism is often taken to represent a fundamental revolution in ideas and the starting point of modern philosophy. ...but in substance his work is... better understood as an attempt to conserve the old truths in the face of new threats. His dualism was in essence an armistice... between the established religion and the emerging science of his time. ...isolating the mind from the physical world... ensured that many of the central doctrines of orthodoxy—immortality of the soul, the freedom of will, and, in general, the "special" status of humankind—were rendered immune to any possible contravention by the scientific investigation of the physical world. ...
    For men such as Descartes, Malebranche, and Leibniz, solving the mind-body problem was vital to preserving the theological and political order inherited from the Middle Ages... For Spinoza, it was a means of destroying that same order and discovering a new foundation for human worth.
  • What is conserved, in modern physics, is not any particular substance or material but only much more abstract entities such as energy, momentum, and electric charge. The permanent aspects of reality are not particular materials or structures but rather the possible forms of structures and the rules for their transformation.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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