The mind-body problem is an important issue in neurophilosophy, with regards to the relation between the mind and the body. It involves the eternal question of whether the mind, brain and soul are one and the same or are distinct and separate. In an attempt to solve this problem two schools of thought emerge namely – dualism and monism. These two philosophical views are compared and differentiated between, and explained in this post.
The theory of dualism was applied in various ways in the movie “The Matrix”, a science-fiction film released in 1999.
The mind-body problem concerns itself with the explanation of the relationship between the physical and mental abstract processes carried out by the body, and how an interplay between the mind and body affects each entity. The brain is a physically perceived object that has a specific function, which can be observed and exhibited via the transmission of electrochemical pulses throughout the organ. However, in contrast to this, the mind is a purely abstract concept, whose function cannot be proved by conventional means. This raises the question of how exactly are our surroundings perceived by us? Is it possible for conscious experiences to emerge from what is basically electrochemical signals? If so, how is that accomplished? Another query that arises is whether the thoughts of the individual and the body affect each other, and if so, how is it brought about?
These questions have puzzled many a philosophers and epistemologists over the course of time. In an attempt to elucidate and explain these questions, they came up with two primary schools of thought – dualism and monism. Dualism proposes the existence of distinct realms of mind and body (or matter), while monism holds the belief that everything we perceive are the different manifestations of a single absolute entity, and every phenomenon experienced by us can be explained in terms of this universally common entity.
Dualism Vs. Monism
◆ Mind and body are distinct and non-identical entities.
◆ Mind and body are manifestations of a single entity.
◆ Rene Descartes
◆ George Berkeley
◆ Baruch de Spinoza
◆ All existence is separate and distinct. Individuals are clearly different from the concept of supreme self, i.e. body and soul are two distinct entities, and upon the death of the body the soul remains a distinct entity.
◆ All individuals exist as one, and have the same potential. Upon the death of the individual, the consciousness merges with the common supreme self (individual becomes one with God, so to speak).
◆ Religious dualism proposes the existence of two opposing universal powers/entities.
◆ Religious monism claims that either all divinities are interchangeable forms of the same cosmic entity or no such entity exists at all.
◆ Interactionism – Mind and body are separate but they interact to induce events in each other.
◆ Epiphenomenalism – Only physical events can induce mental events, and not vice versa.
◆ Parallelism – Both mind and body function in a parallel manner in harmony, but do not interact with each other.
◆ Materialism – Only physical matter exists, and all perceptions are a result of physical processes only.
◆ Idealism – Everything exists as mental thoughts and ideas, and non-mental matter is an illusion produced by the mind of God.
◆ Interactionism – If in case you want to hug someone, the mental decision to hug someone causes you to hug a person. The physical event of being hugged by you brings about a mental reaction of warmth and happiness in that person.
◆ Epiphenomenalism – Your hug was translated from a physical event into a mental one by the person, but it wasn’t his/her mental decision that brought about the hug.
◆ Parallelism – The act of hugging is a purely physical process regulated by mechanical movements, and the mental experience of joy and warmth were purely mental as there is no physical basis for such emotions.
◆ Materialism – Brian Greene’s string theory, that claims that all matter is composed of one-dimensional strings of energy.
◆ Idealism – George Berkeley’s philosophy that claimed that all perceivable entities were due to the mental imagination of them in God’s mind.
In the field of neuroscience, many efforts have been made to study consciousness and explain it in terms of molecular signaling pathways that occur between neurons. However, these efforts have yielded no results because, the basic premise of consciousness being a biological process itself hasn’t been proved. Hence the issue of gaining an understanding of the exact relationship between the mind and the brain remains elusive and unresolved.