By Alhassan Darboe
The discourse on the relationship between the body and mind, how they affect each other as a result of their association or lack of it, has been a debate among philosophers for a pretty long time.
Philosophers, many of them, have devoured over the nature of ‘human nature’ and the possibility of our duality as human beings. While many expounded that human nature consists of dual natures like the relationship between the body (physical) and mind also known as the non-physical or immaterial mind some scientists believe that the idea of duality of human nature is bogus and inconsistent with the principles of science.
Dualism expounded by Modern European philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) argued that human kind is made up of two things, a material self (physical) and immaterial self or soul which transcends the death of our bodily self. He expounded further that this could be evidenced by the sight of a physically strong man and a mentally wmaterialismr a mentally weak person but physical strong individual. He argued that this points to an evidence of the existence of the physical self and immaterial mind which initially struck some accord with the views of other scientists of the day like Nicolas Malebranche(1683-1715) and a German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716). However Descartes theory was not readily accepted without challenges as fore- most thinkers of the time like Thomas Hobbes, argued that only physical bodies exists and the thought processes and feelings we attributed to our so-called mind or immaterial body are just the workings of our physical or material body. Hobbes argued further that since mental processes could be reduced to physical processes the ideas of an immaterial mind is bogus at best since it’s not in tandem with scientific principles and accepted standards at the time. Hobbes’ assertion that the operations of the mind could be explained in terms of the body failed to find much forum among thinkers of his time as it didn’t come across as too sound and thus failed to find much enthusiasm and acceptance among the influential philosophers of the time.
The mind/Brain identity theory of human nature was also much in the center of academic discourse expounded by the British born Australian philosopher J.J.C Smart (1920 -2012). J.J.C smart, a professor of philosophy at Adelaide University in Australia at the time, argued that states of consciousness are identical with states of the brain which is physical or material organ. He added further that when we have a mental experience this is nothing other than the material brain working. Smart based this theory on the fact that, when we do feel pain in one of our organs we feel it in our organs and the process of that pain is not felt in the brain and therefore there is nothing like dualism in human nature. However, Smart’s brain identity theory was rubbished by the American philosopher Norman Malcolm (1911-1990) who argued that it is a no brainer to “assign spatial locations to mental phenomena” or thoughts, on the other hand he says brain phenomena must have a specific spatial location. So brain phenomena have a property (spatial location) that mental phenomena does not. He argue that brain phenomena are all explicable in terms of physics and does do not require a background of social practices, agreements and assumptions. So therefore, mental phenomena have a property that brain phenomena does not so one cannot be identical to the other.
The behaviorist perception of human nature is a branch of Psychology that restricted the study of humans to the plainly observable behavior. Behaviorist argued that whatever could not be observed, touched and felt must and should not merit to be looked at by Psychologists and philosophers alike. Behaviorist Philosophers like United Kingdom born Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976) believe that mental states and activities can be explained in terms of the externally observable behavior and therefore the mind is nothing more than the bodily behavior and disposition to bodily behavior.
Functionalism is another contemporary view of materialism. Its chief proponent is D.M Armstrong, the Australian born philosopher (1926-2014) who believes that mental states and activities are much better explained by perceptual inputs and behavioral outputs. Functionalists believe that the input of human mind are the stimulation that affects the human nervous system-what we see hear, feel, taste and feel. Functionalists believe that the out puts are the behaviors that results from the input like walking, running and standing up. Functionalists believe that all conscious mental states and activities are short terms for complex connections that the body and its brain make between sense inputs and behavioral outputs. To functionalists the mind is anything but the very complex set of functions within the body and its brain.
While most western philosopher disagreed on so many things but one things they have all agreed on is the existence of self or individual. This thought and philosophy however; was denied by Eastern philosophers who believe that there is nothing like the existence of self and in fact the primary source of all our pain is the so called indulgence and search for self which is not possible and therefore we should strive to live beyond our selves than being self-indulgent. Buddhism is based on the belief the practice of extricating ourselves from all materialistic and luxury things and live and transcend beyond ourselves. Buddhists argued that, instead of looking for happiness and equanimity elsewhere, we should generate happiness and good health by meditating and reaching a state where ourselves and our selfish thoughts don’t exist anymore and therefore we then reach a state of enlightenment where pain and worry becomes a thing of the past and therefore non-existent .Buddhists believe that all things are transient and nothing or being exists permanently as an individual since we are always in a constant flux and dissolution. Buddhists believe that unless we come to terms with the idea that all that we think to be ourselves and me is fleeting and temporal and that to achieve salvation and equanimity and joy we should just understand and know the nonexistence of self and shun permanence and search for the so-called self which is pretty much delusional.
The Scottish Philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) also waded in, in support of the Buddhists theory of the nonexistence of self, Hume asserted that all real knowledge is based on what we can see, hear ,touch, smell, taste and feel and since true consciousness and knowledge depends on prior self-experience ,assertions that are not based on self-experience cannot be genuine knowledge. Hume added that since we never really perceive the self then there is nothing like self because we cannot feel or touch or taste the so-called and overrated self.
Aristotle, one of the fore-most Philosophers of his time and a one time student of Plato, dismissed the idea that form exists in separate world apart from the separate world around us, instead things do exist in visible thing themselves. Aristotle added that characteristics that make a thing what it is and that all things of that kind have in common are the form of a thing.
Metaphysics, a philosophical and human search for what is real has also kept so many philosophers busy assessing what is real and what is not. Can we feel and touch reality? Is reality even real? Can we all agree on what is real and what is not? Is what is real to a farmer in the small town of Gunjur in West Africa real to a sophisticated banker in New York? Metaphysics and the search for the reality of reality is as elusive as anything else in philosophy.
Alhassan Darboe is a US based Gambian Journalist and passionate lover of philosophy. He was the winner of maiden Black History Essay competition organized by the American embassy. Alhassan had worked with Today newspaper in Banjul.
To be continued …