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Being conscious creatures, people learn more about the world on a daily basis. Our knowledge of the principles that make the human body work gradually becomes more profound. With that in mind, it is not enough for humanity to understand only physical processes that take place in our bodies and make us undergo essential changes such as aging. In this connection, the way that mind and body cooperate remains an important issue that many philosophers of the past attempted to study. The key question that helps thinkers to shape their positions centers around the relationship between the physical and the mental realm. The essay aims at defending monistic views on the mind-body debate.
The Mind-Body Debate: The Strong Points of Monistic View
The relationship between mind and body is a problem that has many potential solutions. Despite the difficulty of the issue, there are two primary positions that are defended by thinkers: dualism and monism. As is clear from the name itself, dualism presents the position according to which two main components make a human being. In this position, the physical body and the mind (something immaterial) present two separate entities that can cooperate (Solomon et al. 332). This cooperation, as it is clear from the arguments of dualists, is the reason why people can have two different kinds of experiences.
In contrast to the above-mentioned viewpoint, monists suppose that the relationships between body and mind are asymmetric, and there is no equality between these two entities. From this derive three different positions that explain various types of asymmetric relationships between the above-mentioned entities. They include the superiority of physical matter (materialism or physicalism) and the superiority of the mind (idealism). Finally, there is one more position that regards these two elements as the opposite ways of describing something that is the only source of everything. This source is believed to be neutral, which means that it is non-physical and non-immaterial simultaneously.
Personally, I believe that monism (in particular, physicalism) presents a viewpoint that allows making reliable conclusions about reality. According to this perspective, everything in the world has to deal with physical matter, and all that happens in a person’s mind ultimately represents the objective laws of nature. Unlike dualism, materialistic monism regards the presence of consciousness and all processes that are called “subjective” as the result of physical processes (Duncan 671). An important strength of materialism is that the key ideas concerning the superiority of matter align with real-life issues. Materialists suppose that physical and objective events can impact things that dualists call immaterial and, therefore, their immaterial nature becomes a disputed idea. For example, it is known that different parts of the human brain are responsible for fulfilling various functions. Consequently, it is possible to predict potential personality changes in case of brain injuries. There are no significant causal problems in materialism since it explains that changes related to subjective things such as memory loss are always related to physical problems.
Nowadays, arguments that bring the independence of mind and body into question can be found in different fields of science. Materialism denies that “humans have an immaterial soul and other animals do not”; considering the theory of evolution, it is clear that complex organisms (such as humans) originate from simpler ones (Duncan 672). Being primitive, the latter cannot have immaterial components, and it is impossible to explain at which point and how an organism acquires an immortal soul. Recent studies show that the brain activity of people who report the cases of out-of-body-experience is atypical, which makes them sure that they leave their bodies (Smith and Messier 1).
Materialism regards the existence of thoughts and sensations as a representation of the physical functions of the human body. In one of his famous works, Hobbes supposes that “perception seems to be of something outside the body” because objects that we perceive “press” on our bodies, and this pressure is always external (Duncan 672). In real life, it often happens that people’s extraordinary claims result from flaws of perception.
Counterarguments: Dualism and Its Flaws
The mind-body dualism defended by Rene Descartes is widely criticized due to the non-provability of many of its ideas. Cartesian dualism attempts to explain the nature of the relationship between the body and the mind by emphasizing numerous differences between the properties of mental and physical events. In particular, when it comes to mental events such as sensations and thoughts, dualists highlight that they are always subjective by nature, whereas events that involve interactions between physical objects are more objective. This division seems to be logically relevant since events at the physical level of reality are subject to the laws of nature that are objective by default.
Even knowing that the properties of these events are heterogeneous, it is not possible to prove that physical processes cannot cause mental ones and vice versa. The theory defending the mind-body dualism was formulated a few centuries ago when knowledge on the causes of depression and other mental issues was scarce. Modern people know a lot about endogenous depression, whose symptoms can be managed with the help of various drugs such as antidepressants. These symptoms are also subjective in nature because a depressed person can feel helpless and experience a sense of frustration even though objective stress factors are absent. However, the impact of drug components helps to make people with depression think in a more positive way.
From the dualistic perspective, it follows that body and mind coexist peacefully when a person is alive (Solomon et al. 332). However, given that these two entities are relatively independent, it is right to say that the mind does not disappear when the body dies. Following the logic of dualism, an immaterial component of what we call a person cannot be destroyed due to physical death. Being non-physical, it remains invincible to physical death since the objective laws of nature (everything that is physical should have a beginning and an ending) are not applicable to immaterial entities. In general, the decision to present mind and body as two separate entities that can exist separately and cooperate meets with an obstacle. If the mind does not need the physical body to exist, it means that the state of unconsciousness due to injuries and other objective reasons is impossible. However, in case of severe physical conditions such as brain injuries, something that is similar to non-existence can take place – a person’s physical body is still alive, but there are no thoughts.
To sum it up, there are a large number of views on the mind-body problem, ranging from the superiority of the mind to beliefs that there is nothing else apart from physical matter. Nowadays, there are many scientific facts and hypotheses that make the existence of something immaterial almost impossible and, therefore, undermine the position of dualists. Despite the argumentation that is often strong, solutions to the mind-body problem other than materialism do not refer to verifiable facts.
Duncan, Stewart. “Materialism and the Activity of Matter in Seventeenth-Century European Philosophy.” Philosophy Compass, vol. 11, no. 11, 2016, pp. 671-680.
Smith, Andra M., and Claude Messier. “Voluntary Out-of-Body Experience: An fMRI Study.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, vol. 8, 2014, pp. 1-10.
Solomon, Robert, et al. Introducing Philosophy: A Text with Integrated Readings (10th ed.). Oxford University Press, 2012.