Throughout the ages, people have tried to comprehend the world and understand their own place in this unique system. From the time the ability to think critically and analyze events first appeared, individuals used their brains not only to come up with ways to survive but also to improve their comprehension of the mechanisms that exist in nature and the ways these impact the conscience. In this regard, many questions appeared that demanded answers.
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People began to investigate the universe using their brains, the most powerful tool they possessed. These attempts gave rise to the development of philosophy as a way to fathom the world and find answers to the crucial questions that preconditioned the further evolution of society and human thought. Today, we can observe a variety of theories that try to explain the peculiarities of our existence and create the basis for further exploration of the Universe and the mysteries that remain unknown.
The above-mentioned diversity of theories come from the peculiarities of our heterogeneous society and various ideas unique to human beings at different stages of their evolution. Clearly, the mentalities of people who represent different epochs differ greatly. As a result, numerous perspectives of the world and its nature have been suggested. Moreover, most of these evolved along with society and gained new features, reflecting new approaches, and providing improved tools for cognition.
The modern age is no exception. We continue to investigate the Universe, both suggesting new ideas and improving old ones. However, the most important questions remain almost unchanged as we continue to strive for understanding of the unique nature of our conscience. In this regard, numerous philosophical theories abound that are related to the distinction of mind-body, our identity, logic, etc. They remain significant because of the importance of the issues they raise.
Cartesian Dualism and Mind-Body
For instance, people have long been trying to understand the nature of the brain, soul, and body, and the way these unique elements interact with one another. Numerous theories have been suggested. In the ancient world, Aristotle and Plato offered the idea that such abstract concepts as mind or soul could not be identified in a human body (Heil 16). For a long time, this idea dominated philosophy. However, we cannot exist separately from our mind and soul.
Thus, some misunderstanding is apparent. This was noticed by Descartes, who also suggested the idea of dualism later known as Cartesian Dualism. He was sure that minds and bodies are different “substances,” but in the case of living human beings, they are closely connected (Heil 16). In other words, the philosopher introduced another pattern that presupposed the existence of body and soul within the same entity. This became an important step toward a better understanding of human nature and the way the abstract soul and physical brain cooperate with our physical bodies.
In general, the appearance of Cartesian Dualism could be considered a significant step toward an improved understanding of the nature of human beings and consciousness. In fact, the body-mind relationship has always been one of the main spheres of interest and has triggered vigorous discussions, resulting in the appearance of numerous ideas regarding how these are related. In his attempts to explain these specific concepts, Descartes claimed that an individual could be considered a human being because he or she is conscious (Searle, “Mind” 14). Moreover, every human being always remains in some state of being conscious.
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This fact is extremely important to an understanding of the nature of human beings and the way they cognize the world. Moreover, the theory suggested by Descartes turned out to be an important step in the division of religion and science. The idea that the body contains all these abstract components helped to develop other theories to describe the nature of mind-body relations.
Furthermore, continuing to cogitate about the nature of these relations, Descartes suggested the idea that any physical body depends greatly on the mind (Descartes 23). It seems obvious that no one is able to exist if deprived of motifs that make a person do something or act in a specific way. However, this simple idea was rejected because of differing religious beliefs and other values cultivated by society at different stages of its evolution.
Now, we can assume that the mind and body are two crucial elements that comprise any human being and precondition an individual’s evolution in a certain way. Thus, Descartes introduced a new perspective on dualism that later became the dominant frame of reference because of its ability to meet the new requirements that appeared as a part of the rapid rise of philosophical thought and its focus on the cognition of the Universe.
The great importance of the character of relations between the mind and the body could also be evidenced by the fact that there have been numerous attempts to create a philosophical background to explain the nature of these relations and the impact one notion has on another. In addition, the Identity theory also delves into the peculiarities of this issue. This theory asserts that the mental state characteristic of a person could be identical to brain states (Heil 73).
In the course of its development, the theory acquired a new meaning that maintained that all mental states are identical to physical ones (Heil 73). Nowadays, we know that a person acts as the individual’s brain or conscience dictates. This means that a certain mental state results in an alteration of the physical peculiarities of a body. For this reason, it is evident that the physical state comes to resemble the mental one.
Therefore, today, many people want to associate the mental state of a person with the individual’s brain as the organ that is responsible for thinking. Biologically, signals from this organ allow a person to move and perform different actions. In this regard, the brain could be considered a place where the uniqueness of a person’s peculiarities might be concentrated. It manages both physical and mental states, which means that the brain could be considered the place where all processes peculiar to a human being’s existence happen. However, not everything is so simple. In fact, the brain is a difficult organ to characterize (Churchland, “The Brain and It’s Self” 43).
Today, our understanding of the way it functions depends on our comprehension of electricity. In other words, our cognition tools remain limited, and we can only guess what factors comprise our identity and what sort of relations join our mental and physical states in the way that we are able to live and cognize the surrounding world.
Nevertheless, in speaking about the brain as the hypothetical place where the self may be concentrated, the concept of the soul should also be mentioned. In fact, the soul is considered to be the most important element in all that comprises a human being and is responsible for an individual’s life and actions. Nowadays, we know that the brain performs similar functions. As a unique organ, greatly altered in the process of evolution, it remains one of the most powerful tools of cognition.
However, it also performs an additional function. Every person forms specific neural combinations, or maps, that can be considered responsible for the modes of behavior a person possesses and all actions that the individual performs. Thus, the brain of a person can be considered to make up the self as it contains emotions, memories, reactions, experiences, etc.—all aspects that differentiate one person from another and contribute to the formation of identity. Using modern technology, we are becoming aware that sophisticated social behaviors and other peculiarities of social intercourse can also be found in the brain (Churchland, “Touching a Nerve” 17). In this regard, we might state that mental and physical states come from the brain, which determines the way they appear and evolve.
In discussing the concept of self, the idea of self-knowledge arises as well. In fact, it is often difficult for a person to differentiate or even to determine the aspects that comprise the unique self and contribute to the individual’s existence or evolution. The problem is not new; even Descartes stated that the self is not identical to the body or any other physical aspect of our existence (Churchland, “Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us” 3).
In other words, the sensations that come from limbs, eyes, or other parts of the organism cannot be associated with the feeling of self because of the complexity of the definition and the lack of experience related to the differentiation of this unique phenomenon. We can easily admit our existence, peculiarities of our bodys functioning, and signals that come from neurons. However, we cannot say for sure whether these comprise the feeling of self or not. For this reason, self-knowledge remains a significant question for both investigators and philosophers; if one is able to understand the character of this unique notion, it might also be possible to determine the nature of the self and the ways it is formed.
The above-mentioned considerations could also be formulated in terms of the functionalist approach to thoughts about our nature. In general, functionalism is a philosophical doctrine that states that the way certain individual functions, the role the person plays, or other actions that he or she performs determine the individual’s mental state when the internal constitution or some peculiarities of the person are not so important.
The idea could be traced back to Aristotle’s concept of the soul; however, it could hardly be applied to the modern environment. The functionalist approach tries to eliminate such important factors as identity or the unique self of a person. This means that if two persons perform identical functions, the people themselves also become similar to each other. Thus, this idea contradicts the previous theories that state that our mental and physical states determine the way we exist and act. In this regard, the functionalist approach turns out to be inapplicable in a modern, diverse society where individuals might perform the same activities but remain different because of the mental and physical states unique to each of them.
Another theory related to the way we cognize the modern world is the Representational Theory of Mind (RTM), which asserts that our intentional states come from an already existing background that was formed because of past experiences and important information. To be able to understand the smell of roses, we should possess previous experience related to this flower and its properties. In other words, to enter a certain mental state intentionally, a person should already know the main features peculiar to this state (Heil 73).
Such states are considered mental representations, and they also determine the way the brain of a person functions. The given approach turns out to be more applicable to modern knowledge of the function of the brain and the concepts of body and mind relations. These representations obviously impact our physical and mental states and make people behave in a specific way.
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In other words, the combination of these representations as well as the unique self that can be found within every individual will determine the person’s life and precondition his or her evolution. This could be compared to a specific program that is contained in our minds and is activated when needed (Searle, “Minds, Brains, and Programs” 419). In this way, the brain can be considered a container where all these programs are stored.
At the same time, in accepting the idea that our self is a part of these programs, we can also prove our assumption about the brain as the embodiment of our mental and physical states along with self. In other words, it determines the way we behave and the way we feel. For this reason, our identity is concentrated in the brain, which manages the choice of programs needed to evolve and cognize the world.
However, it is crucial not to forget about external factors that might also affect these programs and make a person act in a certain way or demonstrate specific behaviors. In this regard, the theory of Behaviorism states that the majority of actions performed by an individual could be considered that individual’s response to a certain stimulus (Heil 43). This could be partially true; however, accepting the idea completely would imply that human beings are deprived of a mind that regulates their actions by introducing different mental and physical states. However, one cannot completely deny the influence of the environment. For this reason, the influence of our surroundings can be considered just one of the factors impacting our conscience.
All of the above-mentioned theories were introduced by philosophers to create a basis for the investigation of the mind and peculiarities of its functioning. None of the theories is perfect; however, they contribute to an improved understanding of the identity problem and our self-determination. From this perspective, the idea of dualism could be accepted to justify the combination of both mental and physical states within one body and explain the peculiarities of relations between them.
At the same time, it is crucial to remember the fact that the self—or the combination of all experiences, feelings, emotions, values, and beliefs—can be found within the brain in the form of neural maps and form links under the impact of different actions and behaviors, which, in their turn, are triggered by the peculiarities of the environment in which a person lives.
Churchland, Patricia Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells us About Morality. Princeton University Press, 2011.
—. “The Brain and Its Self.” Proceedings of the American Philosophic Society, vol. 155, no. 1, 2011, pp. 41-50.
—. Touching a Nerve: The Self as a Brain. Norton & Company, 2013.
Descartes, R. Meditations On First Philosophy. Watchmaker Publisher, 2010.
Heil, John. Philosophy of Mind: A Contemporary Introduction. Routledge, 2014.
Searle, John. Mind: A Brief Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2004.
—. “Minds, Brains, and Programs.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 3, no. 3, 1980, pp. 417-457.