Descartes proposed his’Ontological Dualism’: that some things such as the brain are material, and others such as the human mind and God are spiritual. So what’s wrong with that? Isn’t it just obvious, unproblematical and commonsensical, almost by definition of the words used? But it was the one fraction of his thought that later philosophers weren’t impressed by.
‘Cartesian Dualism’ became the basis for ‘The Mind-Body Problem’ for subsequent philosophers (from here). Didn’t they think it ‘clear and distinct’ that the brain is material and resides in the skull, and that the mind (consisting as it does of feelings, thoughts, dreams, nostalgias, behaviours, desires, cultures, civilizations, tastes in reading, tastes in carpets, ironies and responsibilities) isn’t material. Yes, it resides in the brain, develops from it in the course of evolution, is damaged if the brain is damaged; but is itself a great ethereal bubble of non-materiality. Did they seriously believe that everything is material, and that the mind or ‘self’ is just the brain? Were these only the grim materialists of modern times but earlier philosophers too? Have philosophers got an impoverished self-experience of Mind and Self’? To me, the idea that all these constituents of the mind or self will one day be explained as electrical impulses in nerve cells is the product of minds with an impoverished inner life of mind and self.
To me, it is the one right thing Descartes said.
It seems that this ontological dualism wasn’t something already accepted as obvious in Descartes’ time! It was a revolutionary idea! Descartes hoped it would satisfy the clerics of the Church that they could continue to act in the spiritual world of Mind and God, and leave scientists to do empirical investigation of the material and mechanistic world (from here).
Contrary to some thinkers, others –for example Paul Dean on Leavis — think that ‘the mistaken equation of “brain” with “mind” is one of the most insidiously misleading examples of modern sophistry’. And I wonder: what do the minds of today on the whole think on this subject?
Some moderns think that Artificial Intelligence (which seems to do mathematicking, and logicking too ) is like the human mind! Perhaps it is because so many modern humans have a mechanical intelligence and have banal ideas of human life (from here).
The positive Law that countries have, is one institution that still assumes the self to be independent of physical and biological causes in much of its activity, and to be responsible for much of what it does, and therefore can be found guilty and sent to jail.
To continue with Descartes: because he was generally materialistic and mechanistic, he even needed to find an exact spot where brain and mind interacted!. He picked on the pineal gland (hanging off the floor of the brain) as the place where intentions from the mind crossed into the brain to initiate muscular movements, and where pain sensations in the nerves and then in the brain crossed into the mind.
To me, why is there a necessity to postulate exactly where they interact? – just leave it at the everyday experience that there is thinking mind and a material brain and that the exact nature of their interaction is unfathomable. To pick on the pineal gland or anywhere else is the sort of thing a rationalistic mind would do to satisfy its need for an answer to something unfathomable.
For me, if I am correct in this philosophical term, it has always been a gigantic ‘Category Mistake’ to think that verbal logicking can solve the conundrum of the relationship between brain and mind.
And why on earth ‘solve’ it? One has to have a simplistic understanding of the misty universe of ‘mind’ to think one can ‘solve’ it.
Philosophers use logic to try to solve what are imponderables to logic, but these imponderables remain imponderables by the very nature of imponderables and of logic (as I’ve already said here). Descartes himself in a letter late in his life (from here) wrote that ‘the union of mind and body is best understood by not thinking about it, and that it is just one of those mysteries that has to be accepted without being comprehended’. Yes,exactly! but moderns think that neuro-science will one day solve it.
Later philosophers didn’t think much of the pineal gland for where Brain and Mind interacted, and thought up other theories such as Materialism, Idealism, Behaviourism, Occasionalism, Epiphenomenalism, Pre-Established Harmony, Double Aspect Theory, etc. Look these up; they are amazing.
It seems that Descartes believed that our minds carry on after our brains have died. Modern scientists don’t, which is another reason they believe that brain is mind.