Are our minds and bodies connected? My opinion on dualism inspired by two exceptional philosophers.

I focus on mind-body connection, and more specifically, I reject Descartes’ theories and side with Spinoza’s arguments. Spinoza believes that the mind and body are the same entity, so one does not have control over the other. Descartes believes that the mind and body are separate and are able to function independently, which is more of a dualist point of view. Spinoza focuses on how thought is the cause of extension, while Descartes argues that one can prove that the mind has thoughts but cannot necessarily prove the perceptions of the physical body. I agree with Spinoza’s theory over Descartes’ because I believe that there is a strong correspondence between our ideas and actions that our bodies create due to said idea.  

Being trapped in one’s own thoughts can cause the unsettling feeling of having no control over the mind. On the other hand, having no control over one’s own body may throw all actions into question. Despite these two notions of destress, the overall theory that one must consider is the idea of how the mind and body work either together or separately. The mind is about mental processes, thought, consciousness, and perception, while the body is about physical aspects involving size, shape, and movement. The body also contains aspects of the brain and how the brain is structured. The mind-body debate is about how the mental and physical aspects of both interact, and philosophers question if the mind is part of the body or if the body is part of the mind. Essentially, which of the two is in control and whether the mind and body are separate or the same thing. 

One of the major theories regarding the mind-body debate is known as dualism. This theory lies under the notion that the mind has control over the body, but the body can also influence the mind but there is not a time when they are both influencing the other as one substance. In other words, the idea of having both a mind which is mental and a body that is physical, and that they both exist as separate aspects is dualism. Human beings can be seen as material objects because we have weight, solidity, liquids, and gases. However, unlike other material objects such as a rock or a table, humans have the ability to form judgments and reasoning based on different experiences because we have minds. 

Oppositely from dualism is the theory of monism which is that only the mind or body exists completely separately from one another. One type of monism is known as materialism, which is the belief that nothing exists apart from the material and physical world. Philosophers under this notion believe that mental entities can be identified as physical aspects and that humans are physiological organisms and no more. Also, the brain itself is a physical matter and could be considered nothing more than a physiological aspect as well. The other type of monism, known as phenomenalism, is the belief that nothing exists apart from the mental world. We can perceive our own bodies with our minds, therefore our bodies are simply perceptions and our minds are able to separately live without our bodies controlling them. 

Dutch philosopher, Benedict de Spinoza, believes that the mind and body are the same substance so one does not determine the causes or effects of the other. “The infinite intellect as constituting the essence of substance belongs altogether only to one substance: consequently, substance thinking and substance extended are one and the same substance.” (Proposition 8, 146) In regards to Spinoza, there is not just a causal interaction between the mind and the body, but a connection to our internal elements that are perfectly correlated. The mind and the body act simultaneously, like mirror images of each other, so one cannot say that one determines the other. “…as any given body is more fitted than others for doing many actions or receiving many impressions at once, so also is the mind, of which it is the object, more fitted than others for forming many simultaneous perceptions” (Proposition 13, 149) Thought is the cause of extension, which is what our physical bodies are able to do, and extension is the result of our thoughts therefore neither has any freedom from the other. In other words, every idea has a corresponding physical extension of which is an idea. “Mind and body are one and the same individual which is conceived now under the attribute of thought, and now under the attribute of extension.” (Proposition 20, 154) In addition, confusing ideas lead to confusing or unethical actions or extensions, while the healthy and active mind becomes conscious of said idea and is able to establish freedom within the mind. The unfree mind is that which is not fully awake and has unclear ideas. Therefore, individuals who are free and awake have clear and functional ideas and behavior and are freer when they have clear ideas which is shown through the physical body. Spinoza tends to avoid the idea of correspondence between our ideas and other objects in the world because ideas and things themselves are not separate entities but the same thing just perceived in different ways. Moreover, Spinoza believes that it is important for the mind to realize the unity between all things, and the mind is united with the world. 

Clashing with Spinoza’s theories is French philosopher Rene Descartes, who believes that the mind and body are separate substances and each is able to exist without the other. This dualist point of view argues that physical bodies are substances that are capable of independent existence, and the mind is always dependent of a substance. “From this we are prompted to acknowledge that the natures of the mind and body are not only different from one another but even in a manner of speaking, are contraries of one another.” (Med 6, 39) One of Descartes’ main arguments as to why the mind and body are separate, is that doubt is possible in regards to the true existence of the body but there can be no doubt in regards to the existence of the mind. The mind cannot doubt the existence of thinking because the doubt itself would require thinking of existing. The body, however, can be doubted and it is possible to think and to go on without proof of the body so one can conclude that we have an independent existence of the mind. “From all, this one ought to conclude that all the things we clearly and distinctly conceive as different substances truly are substances that are really distinct from one another.” (Med 2, 39) Also, the idea of thinking could be considered as having infinite thoughts, and “a body can very easily perish, whereas the mind by its nature is immortal.” Med 2, 39)

I agree with Spinoza’s theory over Descartes’ because I believe that there is a strong correspondence between our ideas and the extensions that our bodies create because of said idea. A concept of representation seems to play a major role in theorizing about the mind and body, known as RTM, representational theory of mind. This theory lies under the notion that the object in from of us is not the object itself but rather a representation of the object constructed by the mind. Speaking from experience, when I think of an object in my mind, or even of my own body, what I am thinking is not just in my mind but it is the thing itself therefore my thought is not just representing whatever is in front of me, but my thought is the actual object. I believe that there is a distinction between the two, but I do not believe that this distinction is that the body is capable of being independent of the mind. Like Spinoza, I believe that thought and extension are two aspects of the same substance, and our thoughts are what is known based on what we think and extension is what is sensed physically because of these thoughts. Therefore, the mind and body can never be entirely independent of each other. Descartes divided the mind from the body or thinking from the physical world, but he never found a theory as to how the mind acts upon the body. Descartes’s dualist view seems to downgrade the of the physical world as it almost does not have the same value in nature as the mind. 

I also agree that a healthy mind is shown through healthy body language and actions. As someone who struggled for years with trichotillomania, I can conclude that as my mind knew what it should not have done my body acted upon it anyway because my mind compulsively wanted to do it. I had the internal tendency to act in ways that I did not want to, but my mind wanted my body to feel the satisfaction of feeding my trichotillomania and acted upon that and I felt like I could not physically stop myself. Overall, individuals may tend to misunderstand the body if they view it as a different substance so it is important to take into consideration the unity of all that humans are made of. 

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