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The Mind/body Relationship

Term Paper for PSY 150 IN1

Submitted to Professor Steve Turner on March 9, 2011
Josh Landon

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It is often treacherous to claim to understand the actions or processes of a being without
first understanding what the being is. This principle rings true for humanity as much as any
other observable phenomena. Since Psychology is concerned with the study of human behavior
and mental processes, the psychologist would be wise to grapple with the nature of mankind.
Before understanding what humans do, it makes sense to find out what humans are. This task
has largely been taken on by human biologists. Science allows us to see what the nature of
humanitys physical being is. In addition to the material, there seems to be another aspect or part
of mankind, one which is somehow immaterial. Being of an extra-physical nature, this spiritual
part of humanity cannot be studied through science alone, for science becomes useless outside
the material realm. In its place, philosophy seeks to understand the nature of the human spirit.
Despite the confounding problems and challenges posed by each of these approaches
individually, there are those who have attempted to understand how these two parts interrelate.
Seeking to discover the deepest secrets of humanity, these brave thinkers must consider both the
most metaphysical of concepts and the grittiest biological facts in their quest to see how a spirit
could somehow be united with a body. This paper examines the historical views on the
mind/body relationship and then offers a view that reflects the most likely scenario.

The Nature and Existence of the Soul and the Body
Any proposition of a soul/body relationship assumes certain things to be true of both the
soul and the body. So, before an examination of the relational views may proceed, it must first
be established that there really is a spirit and a body, and the meaning of such terms ought to be
carefully considered. To frame this discussion, two extremes may be used as reference points.
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While extreme materialism proposes that mater defines all of existence, idealists suppose that
there is nothing beyond the spiritual.
If someone believes that everything real is physical in nature, then they typify
materialism. If a position suggests that a soul or spirit exists, but gives it the same attributes as
material existence, then it is also materialistic. Materialism proposes that all of reality is
reducible to physical being. If this is the case, then there isnt much of a mystery surrounding
the minds relationship to the body, since both are more or less made of the same stuff.
There are several major problems with a materialistic position. For one thing,
materialism contradicts our natural intuition, bringing us to the conclusion that our dog, the air
we breathe, and the love we claim to have for each other is all essentially the same. Another
problem is that numbers and logic are real, yet they are clearly not observable or scientifically
understandable, as materialism implies. Then there are a host of philosophical arguments against
it, including the Cosmological Argument for Gods Existence, which shows that the time/space
universe had a beginning and must have had an immaterial cause.
Idealism represents the idea that reality, instead of being reducible to material, is in fact
reducible to spirit. Like materialists, proponents of this view dont have much of a problem with
the mind/body relationship because they think that the mind and the body are essentially the
same sort of being. This sort of extreme spiritualism has a number of problems, including
humanitys extremely strong intuition to the contrary. The way in which we are able to analyze
physical sensations like pain, even while we feel them, suggests that there is some sort of
difference between the sensation and our knowledge of it. Few serious scholars take this
extreme idealistic view.
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With materialism and idealism lacking logical support, it would appear as though there is
both a body and a soul and that the two are actually distinguishable. There do seem to be two
different kinds of beings, with one being knowable to the other (Descartes, 1641). Those who
propose that there are two distinguishable parts to humanity are called duelists. Unlike
materialism or idealism, dualism creates a real puzzler when it comes to the relationship between
the body and the soul. Because the body and the mind consist of totally different stuff the idea
that the two could affect each other or even be united into a person is mysterious indeed.
From a duelists perspective, the human spirit may more easily be defined. None the less,
there is great disagreement as to what functions and processes are spiritual and which are bodily.
Nearly all agree that some things are spiritual, such as deep religious decisions. There are a
gracious plenty of interpretations for other mental events, such as common thinking, choosing,
and emotions. Some would propose that all thoughts and emotions are spiritual. Others claim
that only religion and heart related events are spiritual.
While the specific functions of our beings may be difficult to attribute to our soul or
body, a general understanding of what is meant by the human spirit or soul is achievable. It is
generally agreed among duelists, that the soul is the ultimate internal principle by which we
think, feel, and will and by which our bodies are animated (Lamar, 2008, pg. 185). Every other
part of our being, it is presumed, is our body.

How the Spirit and Soul Relate
Now that a general understanding of human spirituality has been presented, it remains to
show how this soul might relate to the other part of our being. The traditional views on this
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relationship may be split up into monistic views, which generally propose that spirit and body are
very similar and dualistic views, which suppose that the two elements are diverse.

Monistic Approaches
The extreme materialistic and idealistic views discussed above are relatively unpopular
due to their obvious weaknesses. Instead, the modern monistic camp is dominated by the
identity theory, and the double aspect theory. The identity theory makes use of the distinction
that may be made between meaning and reference. To illustrate this principle, one might say that
there is a full moon and a half moon. Full moon and half moon are two different connotations
for the same object. They have different meanings, yet both expressions have the same
denotation or referent (Geisler, 1980, pg. 182). Identity theorists say that the distinction between
the spiritual and the physical is much the same, that the spirit may not mean the same thing as the
body, but that they refer to the same thing (Smart, 2007).
Despite being rather sophisticated, the identity theory proves to be little more than an
advanced form of materialism and, as such, is subject to the same criticism. Additionally, the
theory rests on certain scientific phenomena, such as the brain states correlating exactly with
mental events, which have not been scientifically shown. Identity theorists also struggle to
explain why the mental event is exclusively accessible to the subject who has it and how the
location of the mental and physical events could be the same (Geisler, 1980, 183).
Some monists have attempted to avoid the problems associated with materialism by
saying that the physical and the mental are simply different aspects of something that is itself,
neither physical nor mental (Geisler, 1980, pg. 184). According to these double aspect
theorists, the body and the spirit do not offer an exhaustive explanation of humanity. It is said
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that there is something else to our being which unites the allusions of mind and body. The
problem with this view is that no one seems to be able to explain exactly what this mysterious
part of our being is. Such thinkers are also infamous for not defining their terms. Some critics
have even called the theory useless, saying that it does not offer any new information, but rather
gives us pointless verbal baggage (Geisler, 1980, pg. 185-186).

Dualistic Approaches
As can be seen, monistic theories have difficulty adequately explaining the supposed
relationship between the human psych and the physical body. As a result of this, a number of
dualistic theories have been developed in an attempt to show how a real spirit and a genuinely
material body might be united into one person. While some dualistic propositions are of little
help, others are very insightful, and at least one seems to offer a viable explanation for the
mind/body relationship.
Parallelism is the view that there is a real spirit and a real body, but that the two dont
have any sort of causal relationship. It is supposed that the mind and the body are like two
tracks, running alongside each other, but never touching each other (Geisler, 1980, pg. 189). It is
said that spiritual and physical events happen at correlated times by chance. So, while it appears
as though one is affecting the other, each part of a persons being is actually running on its own,
literally unaffected by the other.
The obvious objection to this view is that there seems to be no explanation for the
correlation. Chance cannot be credited, because there just isnt much of a chance that chance
would synchronize the two by chance alone. Some thinkers have tried to avoid this problem by
saying that God synchronized the two at creation. Thus there is no need to appeal to
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uncontrollable chance, because God is the missing link. However, this still leaves the
relationship between mind and body extremely weak, and gives the added problem of a
deterministic universe (Geisler, 1980, pg. 189).
Another theory, called Epiphenomenalism, supposes that there really is a causal
relationship between spirit and body, but that it is only one way; from the body to the spirit
(Geisler, 1980, pg. 191). This theory would suggest that the mind doesnt really have any
control over the body. However, many would object that the mind does indeed cause the body to
do things. While it is agreeable to say that the body causes spiritual events, it also seems as
though the spirit ought to be able to cause physical events, as when someone chooses to walk or
sit and then does it. The arguments for and against these propositions, though, are complicated
and consume a great deal of time to explain. For the present, it will suffice to say that this
theory, although relatively popular, does not appear to line up with all available evidence.
Some thinkers have supposed that God is the connection between the body and the soul.
When a spirit chooses to do something, like open its eyes, God causes the eyes to be opened.
Likewise, if a man stubs his toe, God causes his spirit to suffer. The problem with this view is
that such a strong view of Divine providence appears to be theologically unsound.

I nteractionism: A Balanced Approach
All theories considered thus far seem to fall short of establishing, without complication, a
knowable relationship that may exist between a humans spiritual and material parts. At this
point, a form of the dualistic theory Interactionism may be presented as the best view
considering all the available evidence. Interactionism has been objected to in many ways
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throughout the centuries, but it remains a popular approach because those objections can be
answered and because simple reasoning leads to an interactional conclusion.
In its most general form, Interactionism is the view that the human mind and body have a
causal relationship. This relationship is said to go both ways, with the mind causing physical
reactions and the body affecting the psych. This is the most common sense view that many
casual thinkers easily arrive at (Geisler, 1980, pg. 180). At first glance, this seems to be a simple
and inevitable explanation, since our linguistic structure is built in agreement with such a
perspective. People commonly speak of reacting to physical pain in a spiritual manner or of
experiencing a physiological response to a spiritual feeling. When someone begins to sweat and
shake before a speech, their bodies are reacting to the spiritual sensation of fear. When someone
stops reasoning well after being seriously injured, their mental operations are being influenced
by the physical pain being experienced.
This seemingly simple idea, however, can quickly become more complicated when the
implications are thought through. For example, some have asked how exactly spiritual substance
might cause physical phenomena (Geisler, 1980, pg. 187). If mind and matter are so radically
different, it is hard to imagine one causing the other. In answer, an interactionist might point to
the way that God created and sustains the physical universe. As Theistic philosophers have
shown, there is nothing illogical about an infinite being holding a physical being in existence. If
God can sustain a being, it is presumed that He may also manipulate and change the being, thus
illustrating that a spirit may have a causal relationship with an existing physical being. If it
cannot be shown that a non-sustaining spirit can have a similar sort of influence over mater, then
the objection fails.
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Others have argued that Interactionism doesnt work because energy would be lost or
gained in the exchange from spiritual to physical and from physical to spiritual, which would
violate the principle of the conservation of matter and energy (Geisler, 1980, pg. 187). As for
the idea that energy would have to be lost to affect the spirit, this need not be the case. To make
such a claim would seem to reflect a misunderstanding of the nature of a spirit. The idea is not
that physical energy is somehow transformed into spiritual energy (whatever that is), but rather
that the spirit is somehow made aware of the sensations of the body and that this causes an extra-
physical reaction.
In answer to the claim that spiritual causation of physical events requires that new energy
be created, it may be suggested that the manipulation of existing physical substances is not an
additive process but simply one of mobilization. In other words, the spirit might cause physical
act by moving and manipulating the energy and material that already exists, without causing
any new energy. In this way, the spirit actually brings neurological events into actuality without
creating any new neurological substances. Thus, the spirit can have certain amounts of control
over the body by operating the natural neural system with an uncreative, manipulative process.
To oversimplify the issue, one might imagine a spirit telepathically moving along neural
messengers. Naturally, a scientist could give a more technically correct explanation for this
complicated, but apparently possible operation.
Even within the interactionist camp, there are many views on the exact way that the spirit
controls the body. Such discussions are best left to those who find themselves well informed on
scientific matters, neutralizing this papers ability to participate in the debate. None the less, it
does seem as though some form of Interactionism represents the best explanation for the
puzzling problem of human nature. Having a developed and clearly defined understanding of the
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mind/body relationship rewards the subject with an increased appreciation for the study of
human behavior in general and of psychology in particular. Seeing how an immaterial spirit
unites with a physical body is enlightening and inspiring and leaves the thinker with a feeling of
awe and wonder. With this foundation to build on, other, less fundamental, yet equally
gratifying discoveries may be made and, ultimately, mankinds place in reality might be

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Descartes, R. (originally written in Latin in 1641). Meditation II: Of the Nature of the Human
Mind; And That it is More Easily Known than the Body in Meditations on the First
Philosophy. Retrieved March 8, 2011 from

Geisler, N., Feinberg, P. (1980). Introduction to Philosophy, A Christian Perspective. Baker
Books: Grand Rapids, Mi.

Lamar, L. (2008) Soul in The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Harvest House Publishers:
Eugene, Oregon.

Smart, J. (2007) The Identity Theory of Mind, on The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Retrieved March 7, 2011 from