Guide The Mind-Body Problem and Its Solution

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A set of references to these more traditional approaches are given at the end of this article under General references to the mind-body problem. A brief expansion of this description is appropriate in any discussion of the Mind-Body problem. Dualism supposes that there two ontologically distinct entities, mind and body.


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The distinction may arise from body and mind being composed of distinct substances substance dualism or from the same substance but with distinct functions function dualism. The dualistic concept can be traced back to Zoroastrianism at around BC, and is involved heavily in parts of Buddhist philosophy as well as in modern religious beliefs.

There are numerous varieties of dualism: interactionism where mind and body interact in a manner as yet completely unknown to achieve the apparent effects of mind on body and vice versa which were mentioned earlier , epiphenomenalism where the mind is purely a pale shadow of the body, so an epiphenomenon, having no independent powers but being completely subservient to the actions of the body , parallelism where the mind and body run along completely parallel tracks, again in a completely unknown manner, but leading miraculously to the synchrony between inner experiences and related bodily actions we observe in ourselves and others , and occasionalism where mind and body occasionally hook up so as to produce the effects of mind on body or vice versa again as we experience, so being a limited form of parallelism.

One form of dualism is soul dualism, in which the soul is a part of the total human experience but continues after the death of the body. Such a feature was strongly represented in Ancient Egyptian religions, where the soul was considered as composed of several components, some of which died with the death of the body, others of which continued after the body's death. It is also a commonly held modern religious belief.

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Idealism, on the other hand, supposes in short that mind is all that exists, and the whole world is so composed. However there are numerous nuanced varieties of idealism, some brought forward to avoid the difficulties of other versions. The extreme version that all is mind is usually called subjective idealism or phenomenalism, whilst objective idealists propose that thought is the highest degree of reality. On the other hand another branch of idealism, that of panpsychism, consider that all objects of experience have minds; even more extremely, epistemological idealists claim that minds are aware of or perceive only their own ideas, not external objects.

Physicalism, at the other extreme, proposes that all of the Universe is composed of physical objects, and that even mind itself is created by some extremely subtle and as yet unknown mechanism of action between suitable physical components, most likely according to modern ideas situated in the brain. We have seen that there are serious problems in the idealist or dualist answers to the mind-body problem. In the first case no idealist approach of any persuasion has even begun to explain the detail of the material world at the present level science has reached.

The characteristics of the protons, neutrons and electrons which compose our bodies, and more especially of the quarks and gluons that compose them, is infinitely remote from an idealist world view.


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  • Yet it throws little light on how the two different worlds — of mind and matter — interact. In spite of the increasing understanding of matter at ever shorter distances there is no hint of a corresponding enlightenment about how mind is constructed and more particularly interacts with that miniscule matter. Numerous questions arise such as does mind act on each sub-atomic particle independently or is there some sort of global mind-to-matter interaction? What about action in the reverse direction — of matter on mind?


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    • These and many similar questions have no answers. However there are likewise serious problems for the physicalist approach: the Mind-Body problem still faces brain science and philosophy like a nemesis. The global principles being painfully gleaned for the brain do not seem to involve any solution to this problem. That is because neuroscience has not explicitly led to any idea as to how and where consciousness arises in the higher-order brain processing achieved by attention and guided by emotion and long-term memory.

      The first of these problems emphasises the intrinsic difficulty of understanding consciousness, the second that of how to get mind out of a stone and the third as to how can we appreciate the mental experience of other animals. None of these, as subparts of the mind-body problem, has had any accepted solution. If the mind-body problem cannot be explained satisfactorily through a brain-based approach as above, possibly expanding on the principles governing the brain, but always being able to be checked by scientific methods, then science will have failed in its attempt to explain all of the world.

      It would not have been able to answer in particular how mental experience is created from the activities of the apparently mindless nerve cells in interaction in the brain. Philosophers from Descartes to Kripke have struggled with the glittering prize of modern and contemporary philosophy: the mind-body problem. The brain is physical. If the mind is physical, we cannot see how. If we cannot see how the mind is physical, we cannot see how it can interact with the body.

      And if the mind is not physical, it cannot interact with the body. Or so it seems. In this book the philosopher Jonathan Westphal examines the mind-body problem in detail, laying out the reasoning behind the solutions that have been offered in the past and presenting his own proposal. Or was Descartes only concerned with the mind and considered the soul to be a separate question? What exactly is meant by "mind" in the context of Descartes?

      Is this related to "consciousness" or "sentience"?

      Mind–body problem - Wikipedia

      Are these words used with similar meaning in French and English or even German? The meaning of "body" and "soul" is probably the same in different languages, but I'm less sure about the other words. Thomas: I'm afraid I've not actually read Descartes except short excepts translated to English.

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      Presumably anyone answering the question will have a better handle on what he meant than I do. However, I would imagine he started with Cogito ergo sum and reasoned from there. Wikipedia is brief: Dualism in modern and contemporary philosophy The American philosopher Arthur Oncken Lovejoy in his The Revolt Against Dualism develops a critique of the modern new realism, reproposing a form of dualism based on a "fork of human experience.

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      Thanks for the answers and especially the links. I don't think this answers the question of how mind and body interact, however. Perhaps the answer is that nobody has proposed answers to the question lately? You are correct Jon it doesn't answer that question. It was an attempt to the question if there are any dualist philosophers still in existence, but it was too long for comment. Welcome to Philosophy. Do these views suggest that there can be events which have mental properties but no physical properties?

      Do all events that have mental properties fall under the label of "thought"?

      The Mind–Body Problem

      I would have imagined that pain has at least as many if not more physical properties than mental ones. While there electrical signals of pain must have an effect on the mind, it seems strange that we would say those signals have mental properties since we can measure them like other physical events.

      Further, some pain events bypass the mind altogether. At any rate, you given me a lot to think about.

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      I updated the answer and deleted out my comments to remove duplication. Assuming this conception of the mind is acceptable to a thinker, the solution is perfectly serviceable I am not sure if it is indeed as straightforward as you think. Jim Jim 1 1 silver badge 4 4 bronze badges. As a point of reference, I actually believe the mind is separate from the body. The considerations you've mentioned are important one, but many can be explained physically.

      For instance, scientists believe that the brain carries multiple copies of important memories. It's actually more complicated than that, but that's the general idea. I understand what you are saying. But I don't think that the theories that try to explain these observations in a physical manner are so good. This did not happen.

      The subject had lost various aspect of his persona of course but he did not forget anything. The problem with today's science is that it is separated into specific areas and scientists usually do not know many thing except their area of concern.