The question has been challenging mankind for thousands of years – what is the precise connection between the mind and body? This poses another question as to the relationship between the mind and the brain. The answer coming from metaphysics is the range of the philosophers that try to prove that which is beyond physics – or the apparent physical. Modern science has taken a twofold approach to finding an answer – while searching for artificial intelligence a better understanding can be found by seeing the connection between hardware and software. The other approach is through biology to shed light on this issue. It is a well-known fact that Einstein’s brain has been preserved to help in biological research. In mind-body dualistic thought, it is said that mind and body are two separate entities. Pythagoras who preceded Socrates said the non-physical parts of an individual survive the death of the physical body. He believed in soul reincarnation.
Socrates and Plato after him argued in favor of the surviving of the soul after death. Aristotle said that the soul is another “form” of the body but he reiterated that the intellectual part of this soul never died – was immortal. Christianity believes in the body being immortal because of a bodily resurrection without referring to a soul without a body. In both the Old as well as the New Testaments the soul in a metaphysical connotation was introduced in the 4th and 5th centuries AD by Augustine of Hippo who tried to argue that Platonism and Christianity were in tune with each other (Marvin 78).
In the 17th century, Rene Descartes argued that the only thing that can be said with surety is that he exists. Every other evidence provided by the senses, mathematical truths, and even the entire physical world all come under doubt but what cannot be of any doubt is the feeling of every individual that he or she exists. Even to doubt it one has to exist! Starting from this premise Descartes established that man is a thinker independent of the physical world – including the body encasing it.
Materialists believe that the mind is the brain and nothing but it. The Greek philosopher Democritus argued that there are two things – atoms and void. Atoms cannot be divided and these occupy space in which they move about. Thus if everything is reducible to physical atoms then the mind is also physical. Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century argued that everything is spatial and hence physical. He said that whenever people think of anything it has to be physical; even a ghost is given physical properties albeit hazy or smoky (Copleston 112).
This materialistic theory of the mind being the brain was dominant from the ’50s to the 80s. U.T. Place, in his paper, Is Consciousness a Brain Process? noted that consciousness is exclusively the same as the physical function of the brain. Another theory was expounded by Parmenides of Elea who was a monist of the pre-Socrates era – 6th or 5th centuries BC. His theory was that it is the mind that exists only and physical items including man’s body are all dependent on the mind for their existence.
Plato contended that the forms or eidos are non-physical. These are essences that exist independent of space, time, and the human mind. But if the mind is properly trained it can grasp the eidos in principle. Plato opines that the empirical world for its very existence depends upon the eidos (Marvin 123).
Immanuel Kant in the 18th century spoke of transcendental idealism. He said human beings are cognitively made up in such a manner that people will cognize things as they choose to appear not as what they are. The mind can pose philosophical questions but cannot answer these. Metaphysical propositions cannot be there because beyond time and space these are above truth or falsity – cannot be bracketed into either category. Hegel in the late 18th and early 19th centuries spoke about multiple kinds and degrees of consciousness and that these were ultimate aspects or shapes of the one ultimate Consciousness that he termed Geist.
Baruch Spinoza in the 17th century said that the mind and the body are two sides of a jointly pre-supposed reality that is neither mental nor physical. He said reality has two properties – thought and the second extension. Thought cannot exist sans extension and neither can the extension be there without thought. Spinoza said that the underlying reality is neither mental nor physical but it is the existence or being.
Bertrand Russell in the late 19th and 20th centuries condoned the double aspect views and said mind and matter are logical creations of data provided by the senses.
Indian philosophy – perhaps the oldest in the world delves at length on this issue of mind and body. One of the oldest materialistic schools of philosophy is the Charbak School. It denies the mind and soul and believes in the merry principle of eating and drinking to be merry because death awaits us tomorrow. It goes a step ahead and advises us to incur debts and live well while the body lasts (Copleston 243).
In the ancient world, people believed that our mind is simply a part of our brain and consciousness a chance event of evolution. But it has now become evident that our consciousness and awareness are extremely complicated and not simple a part of the brain. Our brain acknowledges our consciousness and several things about our basic existence change, proving that our mind is an aggregate of our thoughts. If we have no proper thoughts, then we will be left without a mind too. But this does not mean that if we have no thoughts then we lack consciousness since awareness and consciousness are present even without us being “mentally” aware of it (Marvin 77).
We can have a mind without any awareness or consciousness as the latter sometimes gets filtered by the mind. While the realm of our mind can be narrowed down to space and time, for the consciousness it is infinity and eternity. Although the process of thinking is taken very lightly by most people as they believe that thinking is natural for the mind since all humans are born with a brain, it is not so. Having a mind along with consciousness is precisely what separates human beings from all the other species. Human beings are complicated individuals and to understand them completely we need to understand both their minds and the various mental processes. As our consciousness does not depend on our body, it can exist before a person is born and after the body dies (Marvin 87).
Previously philosophers had the opinion that our mind and body had no connection and thus, the former has nothing to do with our behaviors. But that is not so since if our mind is affected then the whole body gets affected. So we can say that there exists nothing called the independent brain. One’s mind and consciousness are closely related to one’s physical body since one’s mind is nothing but a captive of one’s body. Our brain is connected with every part of our body and without it, our body will not be able to function at all since all the movements of our body are generated in our brain. Although it may seem that an independent mind controls all the physical activities of our body through our central nervous system, it is not so (Copleston 216).
The connection between our mind and body takes place through nerves present in our brain. Our mind responds to any stimuli which our body feels and then instructs our body to reproduces certain behavior. Just like the body is dependent on the mind for all of its actions, so is the mind since it has to use our central nervous system, an integral part of the body, for sending the various signals and responses. Thus, the body and mind are completely interdependent.
Scientists and philosophers have put forward numerous theories regarding the relation of our mind and consciousness to the physical body and their interdependence. Some say that our mind and body have interactions compiled in a parallel manner with the physical functions of the body and thus, they operate at separate planes. Since our minds cannot exist as separate entities from the various activities of the body, they interact at every point in time.
Although we have not been able to precisely determine any activities of the body which represent our mind, thought or consciousness, we have seen that a man’s consciousness becomes non-existent whenever our neural activities stop. Having said that our mind controls the physical functions of our body through our central nervous system, we can further say that it is our brain that determines the limitations and parameters of our body’s potential (Marvin 99).
Our mind controls all of our abilities and also determines how we process and respond to different ideas and information. Our body is influenced by our mind since the former receives all information, processes them in the brain transforming them into actions in the form of physical functions and behaviors sent to our body through the neurons of the central nervous system, namely the motor neurons, sensory neurons, and interneurons.
Indian Philosophy in general claims that the mind is just another sense – the sixth sense. It reacts like any other sense to the outer world. If you hurt the mind, tears pour out and if you please it, then smiles break out. The mind here is quite distinct from buddhi or the intellect (Arnold 201). The intellect is at a higher level than the mind. When one cognizes an object – suppose the pen, it is done so by the mind. Its shape, texture, color, smell, and all other relevant information are noted by the mind. The buddhi or the intellect then recognizes it to be a pen. Then the ego or ahamkar immediately decides its proprietary rights – whether it belongs to the observer or not. This is the process of mon-buddhi-ahamar (Goel 76). The steps do not occur simultaneously but are separated from each other by split seconds.
The goal of Indian philosophy is to find out what is Reality. Nothing in this world is absolute or can stand independently. For instance, the word water means it is not fire; man means it is not a woman; cat means it is not a dog, and so on. Beyond all this, there must be something absolute that can stand on its own.
This has split the various schools into pluralists, dualists, and monists. The pluralists like Nyaya say there are many realities. The dualists like Samkhya claim there are two realities while the Advaitins or monists claim it is not two. The idea is that the moment we say one the concept of two or three creeps in, but by saying not two an absolute statement is made. Kashmir Saivism also talks of non-duality.
At the core of Indian philosophy is the idea is that it is the self in each of us that is the Self. The mind with the help of the intellect or buddhi will help us to realize this. It is not something that can be known – it is a question of realization. One can know water to be H20 but to realize it one has to drink water (Anand 122).
The mind poses the biggest challenge to realization. It teases. It deludes. It is flighty and constantly jumps from one branch to another making concentration difficult. It is meant to be that way. Thus the first thing is the taming of the mind. For this, there are various methods of first controlling the bodily postures and then the breathing. Like the neutrons and protons that cannot be seen but can be calculated and only its effects were seen so too, the mind in a sense cannot be located. It has to be felt. A little retrospection helps in this.
We are all fond of going down memory lane. How is it possible if there was not some entity that withdrew as an observer to enable this remembering? This is consciousness acting through the mind and buddhi. If the station master had not been there standing steady the knowledge of trains coming and going would not have been known. Thus there is one side in us, the mind, that gets involved – cries or laughs and the other entity in each of us that observe.
The mind seems to be intelligent as well as conscious but in reality, says the Yoga school of philosophy, it is not. Its intelligence is borrowed. The mind reflects the Pure Consciousness and hence it seems conscious.
The mind is not the seer or the observer. It is only a tool of knowledge. When an object in the outside world is noted by the senses a thought-wave arises in the mind. This is technically referred to as vritti. The ego identifies itself with this vritti and there is a feeling that “I am happy” or “I am sad.” This is the root cause of all our misery (Goel 45).
To take the example of the audience watching the drama – the viewer with the tool of the mind identifies with the hero or heroine and accordingly suffers or enjoys. The moment the curtain drops the person withdraws from this identification and resumes their previous identity. It is all the working of the mind. Thus to be enlightened these thought waves have to be brought under control. While watching a drama it is under control and we knowingly allow the mind to lead us on. If this can be done in real life then we will get the vision of watching a drama and rise above all pleasure and pain to a state of bliss (Marvin 76).
However, it should be remembered that the focal point of this paper is to evaluate and analyze Human nature, its physical aspect, its mental aspect, and the mind/body combination in views of philosophers and academics of various schools of thought. It can be stated that fundamental subsistence and nature of a human in the context of physical, mental, and from the perspective of mind and body. It also includes the entire assortment of behavior that is considered to be constant and sustainable over a large period of the time frame and it is persistent in the context of every cultural variety and difference.
The realm of consciousness has different views. The empiricism point of view enumerated the mental aspect as tabula rasa by John Locke (Copleston 220). By him, the entire nature of the human self is the constant nurture of sensory experiences where the individual gathers information right from birth. On the other hand, Plato incorporated the idea of anthropology and metaphysics in defining the amalgamation of the concept of the mental aspect of human nature. He suggested that human nature is the combination of genitals, belly, breast, and the concept of intellectuality. Thus he states a direct relation between the mind and the body. He also stated the basic human nature was always uncomfortable with this coexistence and death was the only way out of this coercion. However, from the point of view of Teleology, such a perspective of human nature is considered to be naive as according to this philosophy there is a certain purpose of all human life and thus circumstances shape up human nature following the purpose of the specified individual is to perform (Copleston 177).
The relation between the mind and the body is best described by the ancients Greeks when they mentioned that a sound mind is only possible in a sound body. As a result, it can be stated that the basic setup of a healthy mind is situated in the domain of a healthy body. Thus there is a direct relation between the mind and the body. The body provides the mind with the needed nutrition and energy to work efficiently. On the other hand, the mind controls the body and helps it to remain healthy by maintaining healthy characteristics. But from the point of view of biology, the nature of a human is chiefly dependent on genes and all the aspects of the concept of physical, mental, and the mind/body feature of human nature are dependent on that principle. Biology seeks the justification in the aspect of genetics and states that every individual and human nature is the result of a formulation constructed well within the genetic codes of the double helix and the body just follows these codes as human nature is to build on these directions. Thus according to biology, the central nervous system controls the basic parameters of the mind (Marvin 231).
However, the characteristic of psychology also enumerates the variables of the human mind on the same principles of biology but add in the influence of the immediate environment and virtually subtracts the elements of the central nervous system. According to psychology the human nature of the mind features are generated by the direct influence of the environment around the individual and any instigation by the environment is processed by the mind without the intervention of the central nervous system and the result of the reaction of the human nature is delivered accordingly. Thus it can well be stated that the mind can be free from the parameters of the CNS.
Nevertheless, following Taoism, if there are waves on the surface of the lake then the bottom cannot be seen. The lake is the mind and the bottom is the soul or atman. The body is taken to be a vessel in which all these six senses including the mind fit in. Hence it is very important to keep the body in shipshape condition. The body is the temple must not be abused. If this is done then the senses will run amuck and bring about disease and death (Anand 55).
At death, the five elements in the body go back to their respective spheres – dust to dust, water to water, and so on. What about the mind? With death, it is wrong to say that the atman goes out because the atman being Pure Consciousness neither comes nor goes. It is always there – omnipresent and omniscient. What leaves the mind is a subtle body or the mind with all the impressions of the past life. Thus, it is apparent from the fundamental paradox of the paper, mind, and body, remains unsolved.
Anand, KewalKrishna. Indian philosophy: the concepts of Karma. New Delhi: Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan, 1984.
Arnold, D Anderson. Buddhists, brahmins, and belief: epistemology in South Asian philosophy of religion. NY: Columbia University Press, 2005.
Copleston, C. Frederick. A history of philosophy. NY: Doubleday, 1993.
Goel, Aruna. Indian Philosophy: Nyaya Vaisesika and Modern Science. Bombay: Stosius Inc/Advent Books Division, 1984.
Marvin, Walter. The history of European philosophy: an introductory book. London: The Macmillan Company, 1998.