Ibn Khaldun and the Crisis of Modernity

Ibn Khaldun was a fourteenth century historiographer, sociologist, economist, and philosopher. Born in a turbulent time when the remnants of the Umayyad Caliphate in Iberia and North Africa were either collapsing or under extensive pressure internally and externally (corruption and European invasion and crusades), Ibn Khaldun set out to chronicle a sociology of the rise […]

Ibn Khaldun and the Crisis of Modernity

The mind body connection III

mind-spirit-body

Following my two posts on the subject (I and II), our study reached monism as a critic of dualism.

Monism:

Originally mono, one, monism believes that we are made of one dimension, either the body (or matter) or the spirit. For monism questions the explanation offered in the dualism spectrum. To a certain extent, dualism is more metaphysical than logical or scientific. In both forms of monism, empiricism is the basic foundation.

So, what are we, and what is the universe, according to monism?

The materialistic monism:

As commonly known, materialism on a larger scale is the matter as foundation. It can cover for example economy as a basis for a political system like Marx’ historical materialism. As much as it can be the physico-chemical analysis of all that exists. Democritus found that any matter is made of atoms. So materialism takes matter as the only explanation.

For decades, medical science considered humans (or any living being) are the result of their genetic heritage, their DNA. Now we know that there is more to that with epigenetics. Western medicine is still somehow biochemical in its diagnostic and prognostic. It all relies on chemical, hormonal and metabolic reactions. Same goes for neuroscience; it studies what is referred to as the mind as a secretion of the brain.

Without digging deeper in materialistic monism, one can observe that its analysis is brutally realistic, all in a causal reaction, which helped science in general to evolve. Scientific empiricism and invention of tools go hand in hand: tools let science became more accurate and precise and science helped tools to be scientific and smart, better known as technology (techné = tools; logy= logos= reason and science).

The more enigmatic is the immaterialist monism.

The immaterialist monism:

Georges Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, “was one of the great philosophers of the early modern period. He was a brilliant critic of his predecessors, particularly Descartes, Malebranche, and Locke. He was a talented metaphysician famous for defending idealism, that is, the view that reality consists exclusively of minds and their ideas. Berkeley’s system, while it strikes many as counter-intuitive, is strong and flexible enough to counter most objections. His most-studied works, the Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (Principles, for short) and Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (Dialogues), are beautifully written and dense with the sort of arguments that delight contemporary philosophers. He was also a wide-ranging thinker with interests in religion (which were fundamental to his philosophical motivations), the psychology of vision, mathematics, physics, morals, economics, and medicine. Although many of Berkeley’s first readers greeted him with incomprehension, he influenced both Hume and Kant” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

As an early empiricist himself, Berkeley’s theory was about the spirit/the mind and not the matter. In a counter-intuitive objection to his contemporary philosophers and peers, he believed that matter in itself is unknown. We know what exists through our perception. Had we perceived things differently, we would’ve had a different knowledge. To Berkeley we are a mind. Not that he denies the existence of outside matter nor our own body, but all our knowledge of them is perception based and subjective.

The influence of Berkeley nowadays, to a certain extent, would be epigenetics or how we perceive and interact with the outside phenomenons. To extrapolate a bit, the yogic philosophy is more about energy, perception, chakras and meditation.

In conclusion, what is the mind body connection? Does the mind control the body or is it the other way around? Let’s say that one won’t work without the other; they are both in a complete fusion. This is where psychosomatic explanation comes into hand: if my mind is not ok, my body will react; also, if I am sick, my mind won’t be alert. The importance of this very old dilemma of the mind vs. the body is not only for the sake of knowledge but for ethical treatment. It’s not about who is right and who is wrong; it is about perception, perspective and action.

 

 

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.

The mind body connection (part I)

photo by techpinion.com

This phrase is so common in the world of fitness and sports, when one is asked to establish the mind body connection to activate muscles or to fire the brain into activating some muscles in a specific exercise. Anyone who works out is familiar to this idea. However, the mind body connection or relationship is not new in philosophy; it is actually a very old dilemma that is found also in religions. Therefore what is the mind and what is the body? Is the mind inside the body or vice-versa? Are we made of both or are these two the same dimension? In this dialectic dissertation, two potential answers are found: dualism and monism. For the depth and complexity of this subject, the study will be developed through multiple posts.

Definitions and etymologies:

Before digging into dualism and monism, the everlasting starting point of any analysis must take into consideration etymologies and definitions of the two main concepts, the mind and the body, as in the spirit and the matter, to give a frame to our study. Here are the conceptual ramifications of each one:

Spirit → mind →consciousness

Matter → body → brain

At a first glance, these concepts appear to belong to different categories which will be shown later on in the common definitions. But, scientifically speaking and in certain philosophical schools, they are not as different as they may sound. We will start with matter then with spirit.

Matter:

Matter is a physical substance in general, as distinct from mind and spirit; (in physics) that which occupies space and possesses rest mass, especially as distinct from energy. Albert Einstein proposed a definition of the matter that was, and maybe still, confusing to the non-specialists: matter is energy, better known in his formula E=mc2 where E is energy, m is mass, and c is the speed of light. This new definition of the matter transformed the latter into a non-perceptible phenomenon. Put is simply, matter is for the common people what is tangible or perceptible with a form, dimensions and content. For physics since the 20th century, it is energy for Einstein and a complete uncertainty of movements in quantum physics. In both definitions, there is no mention of the spirit.

To make things more complicated, some ancient and current tribes believe that matter is animated by a spirit; a belief better known as animism.

So, as one can see, the problematic concept is spirit.

Body:

The body is made of matter, of physical interacting substances that can form an organism or a structure of organs. In a living body, organs are made of tissues and cells where each cell is subdivided and has a certain function. That’s why the body functions as a whole.

Spirit:

The spirit has many definitions but to this study, the main one will be retained. The spirit is the non-physical part of a person which is the seat of emotions and character, known as the soul.

Spirit comes also from the Latin word anima, which is the principle of animation. As aforementioned, some people believe that nature is animated, that means has a spirit as spiritus, breath (the word animal comes from anima). Aristotle believed that animals had a spirit. Of course, later on spirit as a concept will have a different meaning.

Mind:

The mind is the invisible and non-perceptible element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought. The correlation between mind and thought can be seen in the origin of the word:

Old English gemynd ‘memory, thought’, of Germanic origin, from an Indo-European root meaning ‘revolve in the mind, think’, shared by Sanskrit manas and Latin mens ‘mind’.

Therefore the concepts of mind and consciousness are synonyms.

After a long platonic influence and a long religious tradition, precisely monotheistic religions, only humans have a spirit and a mind; the rest of creatures are only determined by their instincts. The questions remain the same: what is the mind and what is the body? Is the mind inside the body or vice-versa? Are we made of both or are these two the same dimension? In this short dialectic dissertation, two potential answers are found: dualism and monism on more upcoming posts.