The Mind-Body Problem 2.0

When the philosopher René Descartes suggested that mind and body were distinct, concluding that the mind is a thinking thing while the body is a non-thinking thing (I know, revolutionary right), he shaped the course of history in how we think of ourselves as human beings.

What Descartes was trying to get at was that these two parts of our existence, thinking and feeling, are completely different, but cannot exist without one another—they are deeply interwoven in the very fabric of our being.

I don’t want to go into the minutiae of Descartes’ argument as I’m likely to oversimplify it, leading to an a prioi refutation or whatever mud you devilish analytical philosophers want to throw. However, what I do want to get into is how, I think, people like Descartes have wildly influenced how we see ourselves, leading us to draw an illusory line between mind and body. We see them as separate and, often, give unfair importance to one—the body. Hence, Mind-Body problem 2.0!

What’s more, we not only give more attention to the body, but we also stigmatise the mind, likely because science hasn’t advanced as much in this particular area. If someone’s toes are broken, we know what to do and how to react to the unfortunate soul who has dismantled their digits. Conversely, if we want to understand how information is coded in the neural activity of the brain, and why, sometimes, it malfunctions (think depression) then what are we to do in response but speculate, dose up on sense numbing drugs, and hope its all a wonderful dream?

The phenomena of agnosticism currently sweeping through the universe lead us to hold a staunch unbelief about things which we cannot see. It leads us to even doubt our own experience and emotions! Apparently, if we can’t see it, we can’t measure it and therefore we can’t control it, which is totally unhuman (yep, that’s a made  up word ;)). We, humans, are obsessed with control, but the mind is an absolute enigma of a body part! The more you try to control it the more it runs away from you like that mischievous child that drags a sausage in front of a salivating doggie on a piece of string. Here mind-y, mind-y!!

For those of us who are lucky enough, we want to move our legs and they do, we want to move our fingers and they do, but have you ever tried breaking a bad habit, changing an unhelpful mental pattern or simply speaking to yourself in that kind, gentle tone of a lifelong best friend, rather than shouting at yourself like a raging idiot? If you have, then you will know, only too well, how much resistance the mind puts up. In this way, the mind is more akin to breathing or to your heart beating—thoughts, feelings and emotions arise in the mind without your say so and they are inextricably linked to the body, to sensations, and to physical stimulus.

Question: When you feel a sharp pain in your stomach, where do you feel it? In your stomach or in your mind? Or both? Without the mind, the pain wouldn’t exist and without the body, the mind wouldn’t be able to process the sensation. Accordingly, mind and body are one and we should stop going to such great lengths to separate them!

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