Chapter 6 : The Mind-Body Problem

Section Two: The Problem

human head with mechanism for a brain  imposed over it   Machine-or-Spirit?   photo of brain

No doubt about it, we are acculturated with the idea that we have minds. Yes, MIND!  We are taught in many different ways that we have both minds and bodies. Very few doubt this and very few think much about the meaning of this belief that we have both a body and a mind. We learn of this view from many sources and as those around us appear to share in the same view, we have no reason to doubt it or question it.  However, there are problems with the view and more and more people are changing their beliefs and positions as experience, critical thinking and science appear to provide reasons and evidence that challenge the popular belief. 

We believe that we have a body and a mind and that they are some how different from one another.  Our language reinforces this view as well.  Many common expressions assume this view that humans have minds.  Consider the following fairly common expressions in the English language:    

What’s on your mind?

Are you losing your mind?  
Are you out of your mind?   A mind is a terrible thing to waste.  

You are always on my mind.

Great minds think alike!
Free your mind.   What are you a master mind or something?  

It is a matter of mind over matter.

I have a mind to …  

He has a mind like a steel trap.

back of one's mind

bear in mind

blow one's mind

boggle the mind

bring to mind

call to mind

cross one's mind

change one's mind 

come to mind

frame of mind

go out of one's mind

great minds

half a mind

have a good mind to

in one's mind's eye

in one's right mind

know one's own mind

load off one's mind

lose one's mind

make up one's mind

meeting of the minds

never mind

of two minds

one-track mind 

on one's mind

open mind

closed minded

piece of one's mind

presence of mind

prey on one's  mind)

put one in mind of

read someone's mind

set one's mind at rest

slip one's mind

speak one's mind

to my mind.

its all in your mind

don't mind

put your mind to it

mind bending

narrow minded

messing with your mind

mind games

mind boggling

state of mind

out of sight (out of mind)

peace of mind

mind over matter

no doubt in my mind

wrap your mind around this

in my mind's eye

set your mind to it

get your mind out of the gutter

a meeting of the minds

great minds think alike

peace of mind

beyond my mind's comprehension



put your mind at ease


·         IDIOMS some are Explained  at

Back of one’s mind:

·         Bear in mind:

·         Blow One’s Mind:

·         Boggle the mind:

·         bring to mind:

·         call to mind:

·         cross one’s mind:

·         change one's mind:

·         come to mind:

·         frame of mind:

·         go out of one’s mind:

·         great minds*: [def’n from Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed]

·         half a mind:

·         have a good mind to:

·         in one's mind's eye:

·         in one's right mind:

·         know one's own mind:

·         load off one's mind*: [def’ns from McGraw-Hill and Cambridge Dictionaries of American Idioms]

·         lose one's mind:

·         make up one’s mind:

·         meeting of the minds:

·         never mind: [note: in the list “never mind” is two words but in the definition it is only one]

·         of two minds*: [def’ns from McGraw-Hill and Cambridge Dictionaries of American Idioms]

·         one track mind:

·         on one's mind:

·         open mind:

·         piece of mind: [note: link is to “piece of one’s mind”]

·         presence of mind:

·         prey on one’s mind*: [def’n from A Dictionary of American Idioms]

·         put one in mind of:

·         read someone's mind:

·         set one's mind at rest:

·         slip one's mind:

·         speak one’s mind:

·         to my mind:

·         out of sight (out of mind):

  (Can you add to this list?  If so, send the additions to your instructor.)

 There are a number of movies that have been made that contain in them ,as themes or as devices, the exchange of minds or the migration of a mind from one body to another.  In these movies the idea is clearly in view and assumed that the mind is an entity that is not physical and can move from one body (brain) to another and along with it goes the person.  There are movies in which minds are switched between two persons of opposite sex, or skin color or ethnicity or social or economic status.  Consider these:

  • Big

  • All of Me

  • 17 Again

  • Vice Versa

  • Like Father Like Son

  • Dream a Little Dream

  • Man with Two Brains

  • Prelude to a kiss

  • Ghost

  • Chances Are

  • Family Man

  • Mr. Destiny

  • Frequency

  • Freaky Friday

  • Wish Upon a Star

  • Source Code

  • Travelers

(Can you add to this list?  If so, send the additions to your instructor.)

 In all of them there is the common element that the mind of a person is the seat of that person’s being and identity.  Further, the films appear to teach us that the mind of a person can "move" from one site or physical human body (brain) to another.   We shall not consider whether or not such "switching" is possible. (At least not as a planned part of this course.) Instead just focus on the idea of a mind as something that can, at least in theory and in the movies, occupy one or another human body.  It is not something physical and can move right through matter, the brain, the wall, and the atmosphere and arrive inside of another head, skull and brain.   The are many films that depict minds or soul moving through physical barriers and entering another human body.  Now people viewing these films don’t generally get up a leave the theatre or change the channel because they believe that such events are not possible and are preposterous.  No, quite the contrary, audiences are prepared to accept the possibility that such events might occur and they remain to follow the rest of the action in the film.  These films tend to be comedies.  They are part of the culture.  The result is that we have a great number of people who believe that they possess a mind and that it is something that makes them what they are or it is what houses their personal identities.  Further, they believe that the mind is not a physical entity but that it is non-physical, even spiritual, and can survive outside of the physical body and somehow can survive the death of the body and over half of the world’s peoples believe that it is capable of entering into another body and having another life (reincarnation, metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls).  This view that we have both a non- physical mind and a physical body is known as dualism.

Now there are some that have come to doubt and disbelieve in such a view.  They have been brought up with another belief system or have come to disbelieve in dualism due to a consideration of evidence and the implications of the claims of the dualists.  Of those who do not believe that we have both a body and a mind are those who do not believe that we have bodies.  These are known as idealists.  Another group, growing larger all the time, believes that we do not have mind at all, at least not as a separate and non-physical entity apart from our physical bodies.  What  we have are  only physical bodies, which include the brain, which is responsible for what previously was thought to be the work of the mind. 

How is it that there is a problem with the commonly held belief that human beings have both minds and bodies?  How is it that there are a number of different views on this?  What is the correct view?  If there is a problem, what is the solution?

The problem comes about once you really consider what the implications are of believing that minds are not physical objects and that they do still somehow or other influence the physical object that is our brain in order to get our bodies to do what they do.  Nothing seems more obvious to most people but that our minds do interact with our bodies.  I make up my mind to type something and my mind gets my brain to stimulate the neurons that continue to excite other neurons through my body down to my arms, hands and fingers which strike the keys according to the ideas and the plan that my mind is directing them to follow.  It is quite obvious.  But wait.  Lots of things have been obvious at one time or another and then have turned out not to be true.  Could this be one of them?  That sun looks not so big, not so hot, not so far away and that it is moving and yet I know now that despite how it appears and how I thought of the sun, that it simply isn’t true.  The truth is quite otherwise.  Could this be the case with the idea that I have a mind?   More and more people are coming to think so.  Why?  Well consider.

What is a mind?  Do you have a mind that is separate from your brain? Are you sure? How do you know this?

Rene Descartes thought he had proven that we have minds and that they are not material and that we do not need to have a body to have a mind.    He arrived at the following idea as his first indubitable idea or clear and distinct idea or obvious truth.

Cogito, Ergo Sum:  I think, therefore I am   (Rene Descartes)

Ok, so you know you have a mind. You must have one because you think.  Because you think you also know that you exist in some way. But, is the mind -the thing you think with -the same sort of thing as the body, or is it different?   If it is different, how is it different?   According to Descartes there are two very different sorts of things that exist or SUBSTANCES: the physical and the spiritual or non-physical.  Brains are part of the physical realm and minds are part of the non-physical realm.  The two realms make up all that is real. DUALISM.

Physical Realm-Matter Non-Physical Realm -Spirit



have mass, density

Have no mass, density

have location

Have no location

have tactile properties

Have no tactile properties

have taste, smell, etc.

No taste, smell, etc.

have duration

No duration

They are physical!!!

They are non-physical !!!




 So, for Descartes and many people before and since his writing the Mind is distinct from the body - they are two different sorts of things.  Dualism : The view that there are two sorts of substance in the universe - physical and non-physical.  With Dualism comes many problems concerning the existence and relation of the two substances.  One of those problems is the one we focus one here. So, how does the non-physical mind bring about a causal change (motion) in a physical substance?

Finally, we have it!  This is the PROBLEM!

How does the non-physical mind bring about a causal change (motion) in a physical substance?

VIEW:  The mind-body problem: problem of interaction

Think of it this way: a mind, being non-physical, would not be able to contact, touch, move, tingle, excite, push, shove, a physical object such as a brain, a neuron, a synaptic fluid or molecule of any type because they are all physical.  Consider it this way: in the films that show minds being changed or that show non-physical or spiritual beings, these entities are shown to move right through walls, skulls, windows, brains and all other physical objects.  So, if a mind is not physical and moves through physical objects, then how does the mind get the brain to react or act or to do anything, for that matter.  The mind is not made of matter, the brain is.  How can something not made of matter or energy cause something made of matter and energy to do anything????

Descartes thought that it was through the Pineal Gland! (He thought it was the master control unit where the soul contacted the brain (body) because it was singular and not doubled as are other parts of the brain.) Scientific investigation has now proven that the pineal gland does not function as a central control unit for the brain.

PROBLEM! : the Pineal Gland is still a physical thing - how does the mind excite it? Or excite the neurons, for that matter?   Suppose you would think that it is through a Harmonic Vibration!  PROBLEM! : How does a non-physical thing, Vibrate?

PROBLEM!: How do we explain the interaction of the mind and body?

Mind certainly seems to effect the body:  just move your fingers, toes, etc. and  some evidence suggests that mind can heal the body.  Body certainly seems to effect the mind:  Strokes are physical, yet effect the cognitive. Drugs and a high fever can disturb our abilities to think, to focus, concentrate, calculate etc…  Mental states can effect changes in the body.  There appears to be plenty of evidence from experience in support of some type of interact going on between the mind and the brain!  Or is it the brain and the body?  

PROBLEM!: If the mind is a non-physical entity and not the physical brain then harm to the physical brain should not cause any changes in the functioning of the mind.  Yet when the brain suffers a physical change from:

  • physical blow to the brain

  • electrical shock to the brain

  • disease growths in the brain

  • chemical imbalance in the brain

  • chemicals induced into the brain

all of these physical events produce a change in the way people remember, feel, think and act.  If the mind is not physical and not the brain then why do these changes in the brain make any difference to how the mind operates?  We know that the physical events o make those changes but how can that be explained if the Dualists are correct there should be no consequence to the mind if it is not physical it can not be touched by physical agents and acts.

Think of all the stories you have read and heard about the mind and what it is supposed to do or to have. Is it your mind that thinks and hopes and dreams and has memories and feelings and calculates and can imagine things ?  Our own experiences and the careful study of scientists challenge the part of the story that claims that the mind is non-physical and separate from our bodies.  Neuroscience and research is indicating that the entire list is accounted for without need of postulating or claiming or believing in some non-physical mind.  Memories, hopes, emotions, plans are all being located in electrical and chemical and physical entities in the brain.

Chemicals influence the physical brain.  Chemical enter the brain cells and alter emotions and alter perceptions and alter moods and alter abilities and more. When they do so it is evidence that there is no non-physical mind. Why?  The chemicals are physical , they influence the physical brain, the brain influences the feelings and memory and thinking of the person.   In this there is no non-physical mind involved.  If there was a non-physical mind it would not be influenced by physical blows or chemicals in the brain since the non-physical mind can not be touched by physical agents.

So the Mind Body Problem is located in this precise question of how is it that non-physical entities called minds can have any influence over the physical brain or interact with it or cause it to do anything?

3 Traditional and Most Logical Options:

·1. Dualism: Two kinds of substance Mind and Body (brain) that Interact or are coordinated in some way.

·Monism: One kind of substance.

·2. Materialism - only material substance exists, there is no spirit.

·3. Idealism - only spiritual substance exists, there is no matter.

We shall examine all the options and then you shall decide for your self what you should believe.

Possible Approaches to the Mind - Body Problem  

I. Dualism  MIND and BODY both Exist  

There are the ESSENTIALISTS who believe that MIND does exist.  They believe in such concepts as the SELF, the I, the EGO and other ideas indicating that there is in the human being an entity that exists and yet is not physical but occupies or associates with the physical body.  Among philosophers who have thought so are: PLATO ARISTOTLE DESCARTES LEIBNIZ  


A. Interactionism - minds and bodies exist and interact in some way

B. Epiphenomenalism - body acts on mind but minds do NOT act on bodies

C. Double Aspect Theory-there is one substance with two aspects (mind/body)

D. Parallelism -minds and bodies exist in separate dimensions and are coordinated

i. Pre-Established Harmony-minds and bodies are set in motion and coordinated from the beginning of time by a deity that creates the universe

ii. Occasionalism- on the occasion of the mind making a decision the body is moved by the creator (deity) to do whatever the mind has decided to make the body do.  

II.  Monism :Materialism - only Body exists there are no minds.  The brain accounts for the activities previously associated with the Mind. Among those who have thought this way: B.F. SKINNER, HOBBES, DENNENT  


  • A. Behaviorism

  • B. Logical behaviorism

  • C. Semantic behaviorism

  • D. Folklore

  • E. Functionalism

  • F. Structuralism

III. Monism: Idealism - there are no bodies only minds.  All that exists is ideas.  All is idea in the MIND of the Creator. Each human is a subset of ideas in the Mind of the Creator.  We have similar ideas at similar times and think that we have bodies and are experiencing the same computers and rooms and chairs as other people because all is coordinated in the mind of the creator of all.  The divine creator thought of the creation and there it was, as ideas in the mind of the creator. 

In this world Hinduism holds for a form of this and Christian Scientists hold similar views.

These questions are part of a branch or sub area of Philosophy known as Philosophy of Mind.  It is one of the most modern of the areas within Philosophy.  Today it has been influenced by questions being asked in Computer Science, Psychology, Neurophysiology, etc.   Why?

First computers could do amazing things:

·once programmed, more accurate than humans

·faster at complex computations than humans

These devices raise interesting questions, such as:  What was the machine doing? Could a machine think?”  

To assist us we have a variety of disciplines, each with a great deal of knowledge and a number of theories and each with its own problems.

·Neurophysiology - Knows a lot about how the brain works as a biological mechanism, but can not find thought anywhere.

·Computer science - A great deal of information with respect to the computer, but no knowledge of how to program "thought" into the machine.

·Psychology - Knowledge of how people behave, but not of consciousness itself or internationality.

·Philosophy - Many theories about all of the above- no consensus  

So now we shall examine each of the options.


For some the Mind-Body problem has been split into two different problems:

The problem of "qualia" and the problem of "intentionality." Both problems use similar intuition pumps: For qualia, we imagine a robot that is indistinguishable from us in every objective respect, but it lacks subjective experiences; it is mindless. For intentionality, we again imagine a robot that is indistinguishable from us in every objective respect but its "thoughts" lack "aboutness"; they are meaningless. - -Steven Harnad

See how this is explained and then reduced again to a single problem in There Is Only One Mind/Body Problem by Steven Harnad (1992)



VIEW: Dr. Richard Brown Contemporary Philosophy of Mind: Dualism and Materialism

Suggested: MIND BODY PROBLEM: Overview: 

See also this material on the problem

If you are interested in Science and Computers and Artificial Intelligence you might want to "get into" this subject by examining the material at this site listed below:

Science Fiction Setting the Scene:

Cyberspace and Neuroscience

Cyberspace and Philosophy

Bridging the Gap between Philosophy and Neuroscience

Proceed to the next section.

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