The Mental and Matter Exist and Interact

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Written by Dr. Nash Popovic

Dualism is based on a belief that there are two qualitatively different entities that interact with each other. A number of contemporary scientists and philosophers were acutely aware that the physicalist perspective is inadequate and advocated some forms of dualism.
Still, this view is now largely eschewed in both scientific and spiritual circles (albeit for different reasons). Very few are prepared to publicly support such a position, as this could expose their academic or scientific careers to ridicule and diminish the chance to publish their work. Hence, only already well established figures, such as Nobel laurates, John Eccles or Eugene Wigner, have dared to argue in its favour. Common sense, however, never fully abandoned this idea. The first who tried to establish dualism on a rational basis was philosopher René Descartes in the 17th century. For a couple hundred years after him, dualism had been the dominant view. He envisaged two entities, one consisting of the immaterial mind (with properties such as thinking, feeling, willing), and the other of the material body with physical properties (shape, size, mass). By recognising the specific quality of mental states, dualism can account for many phenomena that are an insurmountable challenge for materialists. However, it has its own problems:

  • The first difficulty is the very existence of mind. The brain, as a material substance, can exist independently from brain processes (as in the case of a corpse). However, this does not seem to be the case with the mind. One subjectively experiences mental events, but not the mind independent from those events. An individual in a deep sleep, for example, is aware of nothing, rather than an ‘empty’ or stagnant mind, indicating that the mind is just a term for the conglomerate of these processes. However, if this is the case, the mind cannot exist on its own and cannot interact with the brain. It can only be either a product of the brain activity or a product of an interaction between the brain and something else (we already considered the former and we will consider the latter shorty).
  • Descartes would not allow the possibility that animals have minds. This begs the question how and why would simple organisms (without mind) evolve into creatures that have it. And where from and why has this mind substance suddenly appeared?
  • Classic dualism also fails to explain how so qualitatively different entities can interact. Descartes suggested that all mental events are part of the soul and that the connection between soul and body is in the pineal gland (as it is the only part of the brain that is not duplicated). However, the pineal gland is definitely a part of the body, so the question remains how its physical nature can respond to that which is not physical. Popper proposes that it is a pseudo problem: after all, it is accepted that ‘non-material’ gravitation affects material objects without needing further explanations. This may not be a satisfactory answer for mind-body interaction, though. Few would doubt that there is a causal relationship between gravitation and matter. However, from the dualist perspective, neither matter causes mind nor mind causes matter, so in order to interact, the body and the mind would require a common medium and such a medium cannot be just assumed and left unexplained. Not surprisingly, some proposed that the mind and the brain do not interact all.