The mind body connection IV

mind-spirit-body

Following my three last posts on the mind body connection dilemma, it is interesting to present the Monadology as a monistic approach to answer the question of this connection between two highly different dimensions, the body and the mind.

The Monadology (a monad means a single unit) is one of the 17th century German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz’s best known works representing his later philosophy. He tried through his work to answer the question of the mind body connection as asked through dualism by 17th century French philosopher Rene Descartes as you can check by clicking on the link of my post: The mind body connection II

The monad, the word and the idea, belongs to the Western philosophical tradition and has been used by various authors. Leibniz declared that there are indefinitely many substances individually ‘programmed’ to act in a predetermined way, each substance being coordinated with all the others. This is the pre-established harmony which solved the mind-body problem, but at the cost of declaring any interaction between substances a mere appearance.

The system of Leibniz is monistic. The universe is made of monads that are simple substances interacting with one another by following a certain hierarchy. The degree of perfection in each case corresponds to cognitive abilities and only spirits or reasonable animals are able to grasp the ideas of both the world and its creator. Some monads have power over others because they can perceive with greater clarity, but primarily, one monad is said to dominate another if it contains the reasons for the actions of other(s). Leibniz believed that any body, such as the body of an animal or man, has one dominant monad which controls the others within it. This dominant monad is often referred to as the soul.

Being directly influenced by the 17th century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza ( to check Spinoza’s philosophy, please check these links: Ethica Spinoza, and What Spinoza taught me about my body ), Leibniz uses his theory of monads to support his argument that we live in the best of all possible worlds. He uses his basis of perception but not interaction among monads to explain that all monads must draw their essence from one ultimate monad. He then claims that this ultimate monad would be God because a monad is a “simple substance” and God is simplest of all substances not being able to be broken down any further.

Leibniz offered a new solution to the mind-matter interaction problem by positing a pre-established harmony between substances: the body is mere perceptions, which are all contained in a soul’s complete concept. The soul and body interact and agree in virtue of the pre-established harmony, maintained by God.

The mind body connection II

Following my first post on the mind body connection that you can read it by clicking on this link: http://the mind body connection I I will discuss dualism.

Before digging deeper on dualism, there is a point in making a detour by the brain that was not aforementioned. As it is widely known, the brain is the most complex organ and mechanism. It is compared to an automatic device for control and computation. It is no strange that a clinical death is recognized as the death of the brain.

The brain is “the portion of the vertebrate central nervous system enclosed in the skull and continuous with the spinal cord through the foramen magnum that is composed of neurons and supporting and nutritive structures (such as glia) and that integrates sensory information from inside and outside the body in controlling autonomic function (such as heartbeat and respiration), in coordinating and directing correlated motor responses, and in the process of learning”. In further definitions, the brain is the equivalent of the mind, the intellect and the intellectual endowment. The problem of the mind body connection lies in the brain:

Are the mind and the brain the same? Is the mind inside the brain, therefore inside the body? If it is so, how can their relationship be established?

Dualism:

Here dualism would attempt to answer these complicated questions. Dualism comes from the word duo, meaning two; dualism is a philosophical and a religious current stating that humans are made of two different dimensions, the spiritual and the matter, as in the mind and the body. In this system of beliefs, the mind is “inside” the body, which explains the idea of the immortality of the soul in certain religions.

Plato was among the first to highlight the idea of the mind (or the soul) being originally in the transcendent Ideals. The soul would fall and incarnate in a body; therefore the mind is trapped in the body which becomes “the tomb of the soul” according to Plato. His philosophy and teaching was always about the urge of the mind to escape the body to reach Ideals through their contemplation.

However, Plato’s radical dualism doesn’t explain how the mind and the body, so divergent in their respective natures, are able to connect. Plato’s influence was and still immense on monotheistic religions, on the medieval scholastic philosophy but also on actual system of thoughts. Think about the dilemma about abortion or euthanasia for example; ethics would come into play here depending on the definition of an embryo as a growing soul or as cells reproduction. Two definitions would give two ways in treating the problem bio ethically.  

20th century French philosopher Henri Bergson suggests a more flexible dualism which can explain the mind body connection. To make it short, there is no mind without a brain as an organic and neuronal basis. In order to explain the connection between the two dimensions, he compares the brain to the instruments of an orchestra and the maestro to the mind. He suggests that music, made possible by the maestro and the orchestra’s instruments is wider than the musical instruments themselves. In other words, no instruments no music. In addition, no maestro would lead to a cacophony. The maestro leads and manages all sounds to produce a symphony (sym= with; phony=voices/sounds). That being said, the mind, the intellectual endowment, thoughts, feelings, emotions are the final results of the osmosis or the synthesis of multiple micro functions of neurons, hormones and chemical actions and reactions.

So far, cerebral imagery can trace organic activities but not thoughts and ideas. The content of an idea can’t be traced so far and hoping it will never be traced by artificial intelligence for freedom of thoughts would be in danger.

Criticizing the metaphysical aspect of dualism in approaching the mind body connection, monism will fire back more “logical” statements: we are not two dimensions but one: the body or the mind. Then what is the materialist monism (the body)? And what is the immaterialist monism? Monism will be discussed in a further post.