Monday, July 16, 2012

Descartes, dualism and monism

Let’s assume that both you and me do have minds; I guess it would be way easier to think this post over if you had some free mind to use. Otherwise the idea of thought without a mind might get a little bit tricky – but as you’re about to see, thought could exist without a mind. Anyway, before I become completely incomprehensible let’s start on with our bodies.

René Descartes
(1596-1650)
You probably do not have to think much to say what your body really is. You know that you’ve just used a hand to open this blog and you’ll probably use it again to scroll this blog for other posts or maybe to close this window (but please don’t do it now). You know your body is something physical – you can touch it, you can see it, sometimes you can even smell it, and if you were desperate enough you could try to taste it. However the problem of what exactly made you open this blog, read it, and finally close it is more complex. I guess most people, probably including you as well, would say that they did so because they wanted to. They thought that this blog would be interesting to read so they gave it a try. You may therefore argue that because you are able to think you have also your own mind. That would mean that everyone of us has the mind and the body. In the philosophy of mind this view is called dualism. It means that the body and the mind (not to be confused with the brain which is a part of the body!) are not the same and that mind is not something physical thus it can’t be neither touched nor seen (and you can’t taste it either). One of the most famous philosophers who believed in dualism and who is often regarded as the father of this mind-body problem is a French philosopher René Descartes (he was the first philosopher whose works I began to read, and if you still haven’t read any of his texts, I really recommend that you start with “Discourse on the Method” – you can easily find it on the Internet).


Other philosophers, however, argue that the mind and the body are actually identical. Personally, I don’t agree with them but you’re free to choose which theory you find to be the right one. The theory I’m talking about is called monism. As you probably might have guessed, apart from the view that the body and the mind are real there are also two other theories: physicalism stating that only body is real and idealism whose supporters maintain that the reality we can now is mental in its nature. A physicalist would argue that seeing your own body has nothing to do with your mind. He would explain that this is strictly a physical process which involves the light, your retina, nerves and finally your brain which creates the image of your body. You may think “All right, I could believe that seeing is – at least to some extent – a physical process (a blind dualist would not be able to see his body!) but what about the feelings? Love, sadness, happiness? They are mental states!”. A physicalist is prepared and would answer that this is all about the hormones, for instance endorphins make you happy. There are also idealists who believe that the nature of the reality is mental – however weird may it sound it is quite an interesting theory to study (even though I’m not an idealist). Most idealists admit that the thinking process cannot exist without a thinker, what makes their theory different from the physicalism is that the source of thought is not a body. Thinking depends entirely on the mind and not on the brain. Some idealists claim that the physical reality is no more than an illusion of the mind. It is as difficult to argue with this view as it is in the case of physicalism. One cannot prove that the physical process is not a mental state nor that a mental process is not a physical process. I believe this is a vicious circle and the number of counterarguments is practically infinite.

So to sum up – the two major theories in the philosophy of mind are dualism (mind and body) and monism (mind or body). It is up to you which theory you will choose – and to be honest, probably nobody will be able to prove you’re wrong. I think it’s all about what you feel is right… oops, physicalists don’t feel – my bad! 



What is a theory that you believe in?



4 comments:

  1. Anger hate different colors,lover smile to all colors,,,remember,the deeper you meditation,the less you will be dictated by dualistic mind
    gedeprama|bellofpeace.org

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    Replies
    1. Dualism as described by Eastern religion and as described by Western philosophy are very different. They differ in what it is that's being counted as either one, or more than one. desCarte is talking about a separation of mind and body, physical and non-physical. Buddhists, for example, are talking about the self being separate from everything, including the environment and other people. While I appreciate your encouragement to meditate, escaping the dualistic mind starts with right understanding. This includes understanding about the nature of a phenomenally dualistic experience of a world without any such distinction. " . . . it is difficult to put oars in the hands of a mountaineer, nevertheless, I shall bestow the teaching!" Of course, direct experience of the Buddha-Dharma is required to even begin to understand it, and all who experience it don't necessarily understand it. I hope this clarification helps.

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  2. I don't believe anyone can possibly say that there is no such thing as dualism, especially if you know what I think l know about how the mind works with the body, which in turn, is controlled by the mind. It is now known that people can actually heal themselves by using her mind but also just think, you only use about 6% of your brain mass and if you can just comprehend what all your mine together with your bodydoes, you see, smell, taste, touch which goes hand in hand with your mind and your body working together!

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