Thursday, April 1, 2010
Happy 414 Descartes -- Is there REALLY a mind/body problem?
Rene Descartes would have been 414 years old yesterday. (If only he had taken better care of himself!) He was born on March 31 1596. While his influence on philosophy is immeasurable, he is most famous for his pithy observation that he cannot doubt his own existence because such doubting requires him to exist: cogito ergo sum -- I think therefore I am.
This observation is a keystone in his theory that the mind is real (that it is immaterial substance) and that the body is real (that there is physical substance) and that the two meet somewhere (he thought it was the pineal gland). How the mind and body interact has since been one of the most problems in philosophy. Yet a new book I am "reading" (see my post "Are audiobooks making me A liar?") shows how exercise helps create a healthy brain. Spark argues that our brain and our ability to concentrate -- our ability to regulate psychological dysfunctions like depression, ADHD, addiction, and anxiety -- can all be managed with regular aerobic exercise, and the author goes through lengthy but accessible neurophysiological explanations as to why. He is very convincing.
Yet the upshot of the book is a rejection of the mind/body problem. The mind and the body are one -- the body creates the mind and the mind is a direct reflection of the body. This is certainly consistent with the notion that pills such as Prozac can affect people's minds not just their brains. In fact, my wife and I sum up the message of the book as follows 1 hour of exercise = 1 pill. Read this book. (Or listen.) It could change your life.
So, I ask you: is there still a mind/body problem? Does modern science's materialism reject the duality? And for those -- and there are many -- who feel uncomfortable taking psychoactive drugs because it distorts "the real you," does the mind overshadow the body? Is it somehow more than the physical parts?
This is a more technical post than usual, I know, but the issues here are really important to help us understand the modern world and its relationship to science. Happy birthday Rene!
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