An essay-style piece of work for the school magazine. Unfortunately, I had to cut a page, so I'm posting the whole original here.
Most people would probably agree that the concept of mind, of the psyche, is separate from that of the brain – but what does this actually mean? And what are the implications for philosophers, like myself, who study the internal metaphysics as well as the outer?
Dualism as a Train of Thought
A Dualist believes that body and mind are separate entities, often working together in the morality of persons, for instance in use of conscience. It is a trait of humanity to reflect upon behaviour and morality, suggesting we have something more within us to do so. The most notable dualist is Plato – cited, one might say, as the father of dualism – whose interests were concerned with the idea that our visible world is one consisting of pale imitations of the true ‘Forms’. These Forms exist in the metaphysical Realm of Forms, from which we come and to where we go after death. Thus, Plato reasoned in their being an ethereal soul to come into and depart out of corporate bodies.
The soul split into three parts – appetite and spirit controlled by reason – relies on an eternal nature that it returns to the Realm of Forms. ‘Proof’ for the dualism of Realms, Plato said, comes from the fact that we have knowledge of the objects in our world we are never taught, such as knowing that a cat is a cat, regardless of coat-colour or fur type. However, Piaget’s explorations into perception might present an issue for this. Assimilation takes into account those things already known and applies them to the environment, not necessarily in the correct way. Accommodation alters incorrect already-known objects into the correct perception of them. Therefore, knowledge may not be Platonic, for it may simply be the operationalised process of input and association throughout.
The one question that stands for philosophers is how knowledge comes to exist from before it is possible to be known. Could it be the soul that provides an idea?
Understandably, one of the major arguments against the concept of Dualism is Verification, a term created by Antony Flew, that only things which can be empirically proven are true in reality. Can one really follow that logic through? Thought cannot be truly proven – sure, we can read the EEG results to see how brain waves are running, but these may be not be caused directly by what we know as metaphysical ‘thoughts’ – and yet, most laymen asked would respond that they believe in the existence of their own thoughts. So which rule does one use when confronting metaphysical terms? This is only one of the Verification discrepancies. As much as I appreciate the Logical Positivist view, I think that there is more to life than ‘meets the eye’, to use the common phrase.
One thing the idea of Dualism has to be careful with is, as pointed out by Gilbert Ryle, that the soul can be imagined as taking place inside the body with no connection to it. Ryle called this the ‘Ghost in the Machine’, and he disputed that the soul can exist in that way. Ryle supposed that, just as the term ‘university’ refers to a collection of buildings, if there is a soul, the term must refer to the integration of physical and metaphysical.
A second proponent of dualism was Frenchman Renée Descartes. Descartes remained that it is thought alone that can prove a person’s existence, because, in order to question their existence, they must be able to reason; when everything else is in doubt, Descartes said, ‘cogito, ergo sum’ – I think, therefore I am.
At first, this does indeed appear a sound proposition for dualism. However,
Heidegger opposed the common translation of Descartes’ phrase, implying instead an existing world of which a thinking mind must be part. That is to say: there must be an objective reality before consciousness can be perceiving and questioning it. Objectivistic Philosophy, too, states that there must be a type of existence current for the mind to be existing and thinking those thoughts: “Consciousness perceives existence” is Objectivistic Philosophy’s second axiom.
Nevertheless, Heidegger does not fully refute the dualist consideration of the soul, but that it is a separate entity to one’s body. Many philosophers – especially the modern – would like to think of the soul as being a part of the body as it is, rather than a soul trapped in a fictional world.
The word ‘Dualism’, however, also brings with itself a second implication: a separation between mind and soul. Many traditional Dualists fail to account for this possibility of separate metaphysical entities. Plato himself suggested that reason should take command over the other desires, but he does not go so far as to specify from where these animalistic tendencies come or whether their presence suggests and signifies another metaphysical entity clutched within the human psyche. Aristotle, whose monist view considered that only reason remains, added that a fulfilling soul comes from being virtuous, but that argument can be cyclical.
In Ancient Latin, the words for mind and soul are different, albeit from the same route: animus and anima. I take this, amongst other theories, to suggest that the soul is not alone in residing metaphysically in each human shell.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also suggests a third metaphysical entity that is part of our being at birth: the metaphysical ‘heart’, or, as I venture to call it, the ‘animus’, which is the centre of emotion and feeling towards God: “the spiritual principle of man.”
Of course, the identity of the soul as part of the Catholic ethos at, say, school is something quite different. Vardy points out that a traditional dualist concept of two leaves the life after death problem wide for agnosticism’s attack: if the soul is ethereal passing to the next life, how much of our identity is left?
Thankfully, this is not the Christian view, which instead focuses on a new body of some sort, post mortem. A spiritual-form body takes the place of our material body. Here, the pluralism of metaphysics clarifies an idea of ‘passing on’ identity not simply through the soul.
It is, then, supposed that body, soul and identity are dependent on each other. Life after death, one might argue, relies on a soul – or animus – for its spiritual continuation. Soul, in its essence-state, provides a ‘thing’ to be cleansed when the body is in transit state.
Naturally, dualism is a comforting thought, even without the consideration that ‘another self’ may mean another existence beyond the physical world constrained by the laps of time and hands of natural laws. Embodied or disembodied, whatever it may be within, dualism’s idea of soul has sparked up the truths of poems and writers as well as philosophers and the living. Even the aphorisms along the lines of “she has a tough soul” declare that there is more to the human than flesh and pumping blood.
Applications of Dualism
It may be implied, by one who focuses on pure logic, that the mind-body separation is just that: a separation regardless of situational differences. However, in the empirical world, this cannot be true. It could be argued that a physical treatment, such as drug therapy, does nothing for a mental condition, or that a mental treatment, such as counselling, does little to aid the healing of a physical ailment. However, this does not seem likely. Many physical ailments are psychosomatic, for instance. As a Psychology student, I believe in the power of ‘mind over matter’, or the like, that optimism is able to influence the process towards healing. It has indeed been proven that emotion can affect physical well-being.
This suggests more than a brief connection between the physical and the metaphysical – more than the way our thoughts and dreams lead us into action. This comes back to the distinctions of mind, mental capacities and brain. Whilst we accept that the brain runs on chemical and electric signals, we must decide when these signals cease being physical tweaks of a brain and begin to be the metaphysical flow of the mind. Perhaps each electrical signal carries within it the metaphysical part of thought.
Indeed, it is clear that the division between mind and brain is less ‘clear cut’ than one might initially assume.
Questions to consider:
o If the brain and mind are separate, how can we go about treating mental disorders (if there is no physical way to ‘reach’ them)?
o Does the existence of a soul naturally suppose a life after death, bodied or embodied? Or vice-versa?
o Do we bear identity in our memories, present actions, or ‘soul’, inner virtues?