Over on theknifeyousee (click on my title above to get there) Arkayeff writes most clearly and interestingly about the so-called "mind/body problem." He observes that of course the mind influences the body and vice versa - for him this is an important question because it has a lot to do with his state of health, in a very real and immediate sense. He accuses the famous French philosopher of putting Descartes before de 'orse (come on, don't tell me you couldn't see that coming) and thinking that one gland joins two separate things, mind and body, to each other. Well, Descartes was a clever bloke, sans doute, but he got that wrong.
But - since we can prove that mental states affect our physical well-being, (glands, hormones, bodily reactions to states of mind, immune systems, all that) I think the real problem is actually the mind/brain problem. I'll return to that in a moment. Or two.
Does this philosphical/psychological stuff matter? Seems to me it very much does. A lingeringly mechanistic view of health leads us to label an illness "psychosomatic," almost as a sort of sneer - usually prefaced by "just a.." or "only a..." i.e. it's not a real illness, like flu or a broken femur. I think that this separate view of mind/body, mind/brain, is an obstacle to a balanced view of self and a mindful view of the present moment, it hinders the development of a well-integrated personality.
Arkayeff is thinking through the degree to which his characteristic states of mind may have contributed to, even caused, his condition, and he takes us back to his school days. "Psychosomatic" seems to me nowadays an almost useless term, because it implies: mind, over there; body, over here. Mind causes illness over here. But it's separate. We're still stuck with Descartes.
The way round this one may be to concentrate on the brain. Now, at this point I tend to piss off people with certain kinds of belief. An old friend of mine jeers at the idea that the mind is the same, or comes from, the brain. He is interested in more metaphysical, or supernatural, models. Fine, I'm not being narrow-minded about all that, I just want to sidestep it or we'll get stuck. So I'll just say for now that many psychologists see the unique mind as being what the brain develops (starting from very very small) as a child grows up, using what genetics and the environment gives us.
So the mind can be seen as an aspect of the brain's function (whatever else it may be.) It makes sense, I think, to say that the conscious mind is one aspect of the brain's activity, and that area of brain activity is where the consciousness of self comes from. Self-consciousness seems not to be a static thing you can find somewhere in the brain, it's a thing the brain does all over, much (but not all) of the time we are awake. (Thanks to Sue Blackmore, Susan Greenwood, Antonio Damasio, for the little I know about neuroscience and the "problem of consciousness.")
An aside: Look, if you want to think that the mind is related to the immortal soul and nothing to do with the body, help yourself, but I'm on a different track here, a more mundane but I think important one. OK?
Other aspects of the brain are not part of the conscious mind. Breathing - not really a choice, though we can affect it a bit as it goes on. Heart pumping - an absolute. No brain= No heart pump. No pump, no blood to brain. What we loosely call death..a neat feedback loop. Brain needs heart needs brain needs heart needs.... for however long you live. I emphasize this because it seems helpful to me to remember that the brain is as much part of the body as a hand - and vice versa, since when my hand hurts, that's an event not in my hand (although it feels like it) it's an event in my brain. The inter-relationship is absolute. There is no "psychosomatic" illness. There's just illness - dysentry, depression - and there's just health - being able to walk ten miles, being able to find contentment.
Consciousness of the self, of my personality, changes over time, in endless and complex interactions with the internal and external environment. This only looks like a reductive view of human beings if you have trouble accepting that the brain is the most wonderfully complex thing in the known universe, and that is not separate from the body, it is "simply," part of it, in an endless feedback loop as long as we live. And that we have much more to learn about ourselves, and the way the world moves through us as we move through it.
Now serendipitously, just as Arkayeff was posting his thoughts, up comes a poem from the wonderful Digital Cuttlefish, see
which is bang on the issue.
If we can accept that the mind is an aspect of the brain (to put it very very loosely) and the brain is part of the body, then as the DC suggests in his poem, a lot of the problem might be simply how we describe these things. We are still stuck with the ghost of Descartes - dualism.
We don't, it seems to me, need to accept the wilder shores of "alternative" or "holistic" beliefs to take a whole-systems approach to how we think and feel. Nothing against mysticism - likes a bit of it meself at times - but not just now please Swami.
And now I will wave the mindfulness flag. Arkayeff's preferred route is hypnosis, mine is mindful meditation - same objective: increased levels of calm, of living in the moment, of not anticipating, not regretting, planning, worrying, judging, polarising, criticising to excess- all useful and necessary states of mind, when and only when needed. Like the famous "flight or fight" hormone responses - handy if ambushed by an angry bull, self-destructive if suffered before and during every business meeting.
Why do we make things complicated by defining them unhelpfully? Arkayeff has been ill. His state of mind, affected by his early experiences (and no doubt other things, as he says) have had much to do with the development of his illness. Mind is generated by brain. Brain is part of body. What's good for brain is good for body, what's good for body is good for brain.
Yes. Why are you oversimplifying this complex stuff - neuroscience, theories of mind, psychology, philosophy?
I speak as I find. The clever guys working at the cutting edge bring back exciting and fascinating news - from the profound meditators, from the neuroscience labs, from the deep thought days. I try to understand it when I read it. But me, I need to make sense of all this. So I try to keep it simple. OK?