Relationship between Physical and Mental


The mind-brain problem, or mind-body problem as it is sometimes called, is an age old one. It refers to the relationship between the physical and the mental and has been debated by philosophers since the times of Plato in ancient Greece. Does the mind influence behaviour or is it the brain and biological processes which determine how we act? Is there some sort of relationship between them? Theories which have been put forward generally fall into the classifications of monism, dualism, and compromises.

This is the view that there is only one kind of existence or reality.

Mentalism (Idealism, Subjective Idealism) - this view states that only the mental world exists. The physical world is only in existence in our minds, a bit like a dream. Although it is impossible to disprove this view, it is not appealing to scientists.

Materialism - this view claims that only the physical world exists. Reductive materialism holds that mental states are the result of physical events.

Phenomenalism - this perspective implies that neither the mind nor body are able to be substantiated and so only ideas exist.

Several other forms of monism exist which tend to debate how mind and consciousness may exist as part of the properties of physical matter but ultimately being the same thing.   

This is the view that the mind and the brain are separate entities. Physical and mental substances are fundamentally different.

Interactionism - this view holds that although mind and brain are separate they interact and thereby influence each other. The brain could influence mental states and mental states could influence physical events. It emerged from the French philosopher, Descartes. The problem is how can there be a non-physical substance - a mental substance - which controls the brain? Many scientists struggle to accept this could be the case because it defies scientific truths.  

Parallelism (psychophysicalism) - this is the standpoint that whilst the mind and brain are separate, they are correlated. However, this agreement is predetermined and they do not influence each other. It emerged from the views of the Dutch philosopher, Spinoza. The problem is that should a person experience brain damage e.g. in a car accident, does this mean that this was always going to happen at this precise moment?  

These combine some monist and dualist ideas.

Double aspectism - this is the view that neither the mind nor the body are independent entities. Rather, minds and bodies are intertwined into a single existence, and neither could exist without the other.

Epiphenomenalism - this view suggests that the physical world is the basic kind of existence and that the mind exists only as a consequence of the material world.  

Clearly there is no easy answer to the mind-brain problem. In many respects, the philosophy someone holds will depend upon how they approach the problem. Some people prefer to look at empirical data from studying biological processes, some base their views on religious thinking, and others are more pragmatic.


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