An Attempt to Argue Against Mind-Body Dualism

Opinions on Debatable Issues #45

The encyclopedia defines mind-body dualism as the philosophical view that mind and body are fundamentally distinct kinds of substances or natures. It implies that the mind and body are different kinds of entities, so one can exist without the other. This belief opposes any theory that identifies the mind with the brain and physiological responses, conceived as a physical mechanism.

Boston Review

According to the more modern theory by Descartes, “the mind controls the body, but the body can also influence the otherwise rational mind, such as when people act out of passion”, according to SimplyPsychology. This argument does not take the law of physics into account.

According to Stanford Encyclopedia, the idea that two different substances can still interact, which was argued by our opponent, violates the rule of physical closure, which states that “all physical states have purely physical causes”. So a purely mental event can’t contribute to a purely physical one. An example is that we cannot use physical technology or object to stop, slow, or mess with time because time is a completely different substance than a tangible material. However, our mind is easily influenced almost every second by our environment and physiology. Hence interactionism violates physical closure and does not stand. 

So far, numerous psychology studies and today’s relatively developed understanding of anatomy and medicine have shown that the connection between the mind and the body is more nuanced and intimate than many philosophers have previously known. Brain abnormalities are associated with extreme personality and psychological disorders. Antisocial personality disorder or sociopath has a different size of the amygdala, which is responsible for controlling fear and aggression, than normal people. They also experience a different level of neurotransmission and brain size changes. They have impaired the prefrontal cortex, superior temporal gyrus, amygdala-hippocampal complex, and anterior cingulate cortex”. Meanwhile, they experience decreased “fractional anisotropy and axial diffusivity in multiple major white matter fiber bundles, which connect the frontoparietal control network and the frontotemporal network”. Those brain parts are responsible for emotional management, decisionmaking, sensation processing, etc. Change of personality after brain damage also attests to the conclusion that the material substance of our brain dictates our behaviors. For instance, according to the AP Psychology textbook, a man named Phineas Gage was injured as a blast propelled an iron pole struck straight through his head due to an accidental explosion. He had a transformation of his personality. Massachusetts Medical Society described him as “fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom),” lack of deference, is impatient of restraint, capricious and vacillating. In this regard, his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was “no longer Gage”. The drastic change caused by brain damage shows a close causal relationship between the mind and body. Other examples include blood infusion and organ transplants.


Another example is emotions. We feel emotions like anger, nervousness, and fear while our body reacts automatically with dilated pupils, rising heartbeat rates, sweaty palms, etc. According to NCBI, “The most obvious signs of emotional arousal involve changes in the activity of the visceral motor (autonomic) system Thus, increases or decreases in heart rate, cutaneous blood flow, sweating, and gastrointestinal motility can all accompany various emotions”. Increasing evidence indicates “one source of emotion is the sensory drive from muscles and internal organs”. Those scientific findings further support that the physical body makes our mind act in this way it does and ensures humans have those full sensational and emotional experiences. Furthermore, one can think oneself into physical distress. American Psychiatric Association defines Somatic symptom disorder as “when a person has a significant focus on physical symptoms, such as pain, weakness or shortness of breath, to a level that results in major distress and/or problems functioning.” This interaction between our cognition and physical wellbeing demonstrates mutual influences that show that it is unreasonable for us to assume body and mind are fundamentally different substances by nature. 


Now consider drugs and medication like anesthesia. If your mind is separate from the body or is of a completely different immaterialized than the brain, then any of those medical substances should not meddle with one’s mind and should only influence the physical body. However, humans are capable of getting sedated and hyped, have our minds altered or completely blanking, which means our mind is still subject to the influence of physical substances, So mind and body have something in common and are not completely different from each other. 

Some argue that the mind can be 90% associated with the physical body, but are still of different substances. However, little evidence demonstrates positively that the mind can exist on its own and function independently of the body. There is no other possible explanation besides that, at least for now, they are different parts of one entity.

Some people argue that our minds interact with others’ minds while bodies interact with others’ bodies. This does not make sense. If that is true, you will not have a good impression of someone physically attractive just by looking at that person because technically your bodies are not interacting. It is your mind that processes this image and makes the decision of going up and starting a conversation. Also, if the body does not influence one’s thoughts of others, then hormones should not fluctuate when you are in love. But humans go through physical changes when they are mentally in love, so they are not completely separate. 

Even though we cannot quantify our mind using current understanding and technology, it does not mean it is for sure unquantifiable and is an immaterialized substance. The arguments presented here are my humble attempt to explore mind-body dualism in this intricated topic. As science is being refined every day and theories being debunked or corrected every once in a while, our understanding of the relationship between mind and body is also everchanging.

The Emotion Machine


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