The Mind / Body Solution

The problem of how the mind relates to the body arises only if we presume – as perhaps is only natural for moderns – that bodies are prior to minds. If you think that minds somehow derive or emerge or supervene upon bodies consisting of mindless stuff, then you’ve got a problem: you’ve got to figure out how lifeless mindless stuff generates living minds. It’s an impossible project! Almost always, the effort to square this circle involves a lot of vague grandiloquence and handwaving.

The problem vanishes – is not there to begin with – if you presume the contrary: that bodies derive from mental processes. In that case, the body we now apprehend is as it were the record or fossil of the mental procedures of a moment ago. Just take mentation as fundamental, and bodies as derived from it, and hey presto, no problem.

I admit of course that the notion that the mental is procedurally prior to the corporeal is a stretch at first. I mean, it is one thing to think that my body as I now apprehend it reflects my mental acts of a moment ago – this is after all *exactly what our lives are like* – but what about all those other bodies out there in our sensoria? What about that rock? Is *it* a relic of some mental procedure?

Why not?

I do not mean to suggest that rocks have inner lives. But then, rocks are more like heaps than they are like entities. Does a heap have an inner life? It seems silly to think so. Heaps do not act. They seek their proper angle of repose, but they are not homeostatic: flatten them, and they do not scramble to regain that angle. They just lie there. They are patient, only. So they are not selves, at all, any more than a dead man’s body is a self. It would seem then that they are not really any such thing as a they, but that rather we only speak of them that way as a heuristic of diction.

So it seems that some “things” in our sensoria are entities, properly speaking, and some – such as heaps, or rocks, or dead human bodies – are not. Instead, heaps and rocks and dead bodies seem to be agglomerations of entities.

They do not, as such, maintain themselves. They weather, or wither.

Interesting then that rocks so often, like the dead bodies of men, are records of the past acts of living organisms. Indeed, it is from rocks that we get the very idea of fossils.

Boulder Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge – and, for that matter, Beethoven’s Ninth and Tallis’ Canon – are not themselves alive. They are relicts of the acts of living creatures, and of their active appropriation for themselves, and thus in their acts, of forms never before realized in the world. No acts of active minds, then no corporeal relicts thereof.

What about the Grand Canyon or the Grand Tetons? Are they mere heaps, or are they corporeal relics – which is to say, bodies – of the acts of active minds?

I don’t know. I’ve lived in the Grand Canyon, and all I can tell you is that watersheds seem to me to be entities, sometimes. They are not *simply* or *only* dead heaps, even assuming that they are that: heaps of tiny relics of tiny little living acts. No, the Canyon herself has moods; I know her. She is not just a heap.

No place, properly so called, can be nothing but a heap. If a there there be, then for it there must be someone who is there.

It gets quickly squirrelly and spooky, I admit. “Primitive” animism, with its dryads and naiads, begins to seem conceivable, or even mere common sense. How can things *not* be alive? Yet this seems to fly in the face of our modern lives, which have the character of a movie projected upon an inert screen – or, as earlier generations stretching back to the Paleolithic might have said, a shadow playing on the wall of a cave.

But is modern life *true*? Does it feel solid and full and right? No; of course it doesn’t. The whole predicament of the modern is that his life feels dead, meaningless, and stupid.

This means precisely that modernism *cannot be correct.* The difference between us moderns and our ancient ancestors is that we have convinced ourselves that the screen upon which the moving image appears to us is in fact totally inert, whereas they remembered it was alive, and had to be if it was to work properly as a screen in the first place.

So, give credence to the pre-modern. Just think of stuff as the product of mental life. The mind/body problem will then vanish. You’ll see. Then, the reenchantment of corporeal reality will commence for you, and you will remember the confidence of your forefathers in their world, and their confraternity with it, and their affection for it.

16 thoughts on “The Mind / Body Solution

  1. Pingback: The Mind / Body Solution | Neoreactive

  2. It may be that every place has its genius loci, although the modern sensibility registers only those that are flamboyant and bold. A place like the Grand Canyon is equivalent to the brightest stars that can penetrate in the sky shine of a modern city. Elsewhere, the spirit of a place can be as elusive as a nymph, but those who sense it sense it nonetheless. I think the so called argument from design places too much emphasis on mechanical design, as if God is simply an engineer and the world is simply cogs and wheels. The genius of a place (which is to say the guardian angel of that place) is much more than a sort of maintenance guy. A place is an entity, not because it hangs together like a clock, but because it hangs together like a decorated room.

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  4. There had been a strong tendency in Christianity – in pre-Reformation Catholicism and still in Orthodoxy – to acknowledge that the material world was administered by angelic spirits. That each element, each place, each river, each thing, had an angel in charge of it … sometimes even suggesting a rather profound unity between the angel and the thing. Not that the angel was a rock, or vice versa, but that the angel was in charge of rocks, the rocks’ existence was administered and sustained by God through the angel, and without the angelic ministry there would be no rock.

    I do make the effort to keep this in mind, and try to acknowledge the numberless myriads of ministering spirits that go to and fro in creation, causing everything to bless the Lord. I think of the Benedicite (Canticle of the Three Youths), which I sing every morning at Lauds:

    … BENEDICITE, sol et luna, Domino, benedicite, stellae caeli, Domino.
    BENEDICITE, omnis imber et ros, Domino, benedicite, omnes venti, Domino.
    BENEDICITE, ignis et aestus, Domino, benedicite, frigus et aestus, Domino.
    BENEDICITE, rores et pruina, Domino, benedicite, gelu et frigus, Domino.
    BENEDICITE, glacies et nives, Domino, benedicite, noctes et dies, Domino.
    BENEDICITE, lux et tenebrae, Domino, benedicite, fulgura et nubes, Domino.
    BENEDICITE terra Dominum: laudet et superexaltet eum in saecula.
    BENEDICITE, montes et colles, Domino, benedicite, universa germinantia in terra, Domino.
    BENEDICITE, maria et flumina, Domino, benedicite, fontes, Domino …

    If a star is just a gigantic fusion reactor, if dew and frost and cold and ice and snow and hills and mountains and seas and rivers are all just heaps of matter, how do they bless the Lord? How is it that our Lord said the stones themselves would cry out, if no man could be found to do so? It’s eminently Catholic, to presume that there’s something more than empiricism sees.

    • [Earl: In writing what follows, I took you to be asking me this question, but now I see that perhaps your inquiry was directed to CuiPertinebit.]

      Not quite. I mean, yes, the mind of God is indeed prior to and reconciles everything. But what I meant rather is that the mind of man is prior to the body of man. More precisely: the state of your body, including the state of your brain, is the outward aspect of the state of your mind. Not that you think of something and then in the next moment the brain rearranges itself accordingly, but rather that the arrangement of the brain at time t is just what it looks like to others when you think what you think at t.

      The priority of mind to body is not temporal, NB. A mental act must, it is true, be complete in order for it to find corporeal expression, but the mental act does not come before the corporeal expression in the order of time. This is because until the mental act is complete, it is precisely not yet completely actual, but rather is still becoming. Only events that have finished becoming are completely actual, and can therefore have outward aspects and properties, such as causal relations to other events, bodies in particular states, locations in time and space, and so forth. So until a mental act is complete, *it is not in time or space.*

  5. The whole discussion puts me in mind of the Sophiology of Bulgakov, et al.

    The fundamental intuition of sophiology is relatively easy to enunciate. It is that the gulf between the uncreated God and creation, brought into being out of nothing, does not put creation in opposition to God; rather, Wisdom constitutes a kind of metaxu ‘between’: between God and man/creation, for Wisdom is that through which God created the universe, and it is equally through wisdom that the human quest for God finds fulfilment.23 Wisdom, one might say, is the face that God turns towards his creation, and the face that creation, in human kind, turns towards God. Creation is not abandoned by God, it is not godless, for apart from God it would not be at all; it is not deprived of grace, for it owes its existence to grace. Rather, creation is graced, it is holy; in creation God may be encountered. — Andrew Louth

    This hierophanic betweenness is treated extensively in Islam by Ibn Arabi (vide Henry Corbin’s opus), in Buddhism by in the Huayan school (The Huayan doctrines are also said to have brought about a kind of philosophical revolution in the history of Mahayana: the Absolute is no longer only the terminal goal, the terminus ad quem, of philosophical and soteriological inquiry, but its ter­minus a quo as a point of departure. The world is not only an illusionary veil to be discovered and transcended but also and furthermore a manifestation of this very Ab­solute in which it is in a relationship of mutual, or more appropriately, indissociable dependence. — Robert Gimello) and quite extensively in the tradition of St. Dionysius, especially in the work of St. Maximus the Confessor. I would suggest looking at Eric David Perl’s Theophany: The Neoplatonic Philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite.

  6. I have several issues with your idealist claims:

    1) Given free will, why can’t I alter matter with pure mental process? Do you think this could be done through prayer, perhaps?

    2) I don’t ‘will’ my thoughts in any way; they arise out of the blackness for my consciousnesses to seemingly ‘process’ them.

    3) How can I account for there being a physical *before* my mind manifested?

    4) if the mental comes first, why is it so completely seemingly dependent on physical conditions e.g. age, biological healthiness, brain structure?

    5) Why can, given current technologies, others can directly influence my thought patterns through physical manipulation?

    As for physicalism having a hard time explaining away consciousness, you might find this comment by S. C. Hickman of interest:

    “To me the issue is Language at the moment…

    Philosophy is caught in a double-bind, its inherent tools limit it to a narrow spectrum of heuristics, namely our linguistic and mathematical heritage: a long growth in environmental testing, both empirical and non-empirical theoretic and abstraction. The history of philosophy is between our turn outward, realizing that our empirical data and that which cannot be brought to bare under sense-data; and, our theoretic and abstract data, mathematic and symbolic, etc. We’ve battled for two centuries over naming this ill-defined territory of the Mind: What is it? Can it be mapped? Can it be reduced to categories of the Mind (Kant), functions of the Brain (neuroscience), etc. All of it bound to the myth of the given (Sellars), as if we could define the “blank” or “blind spot” in our own knowledge, with the very knowledge that was originally used not to question our Minds but our environments. We go in circles over and over again, just as you are in holding to the spiritual and mental worlds of philosophical speculation.
    To me both are nice fictions to discuss what is actually again as Nietzsche once said “perspectives on the impossible in thought”.

    Nihilism stepped in because all these systems of description failed us, failed to produce any actual positive knowledge. Where does that leave us? Are we like those blind mice in the maze, learning new tricks, being fed by the unknown drives, filters, blanks in our Mind? Pragmatism takes the path of “what works”, what can be put to work… So neuroscience is not explanatory, it only produces what works, what cures illness, what delimits and controls our behaviors, our modes of literal perception. So yes it does not try to explain consciousness. I doubt that nut can be cracked (my opinion).”

    • It’s not idealism. It’s hylemorphism.

      1. You move the matter of your body with your mind. That’s telekinesis. I have long thought it like prayer. I see no reason to think it does not work at all with entities not participating our own bodies.
      2. The will is *posterior* to the intellect. The intellect understands, evaluates and judges. Its outputs inform and guide the will. Inapposite, then, to suppose that the will might somehow determine the character of our intellection. We understand as well as we can – this nisus to understanding being given in intellection as such, and thus nowise a function of any adventitious willing – and then determine our will on the basis of that understanding.
      3. Every new contingent event arises in some world of prior events, which it takes as causal data. Its mental act is prior only to *its own* outward corporeal aspect.
      4. See 3.
      5. See 3.

      As for Hickman, all he is doing in the quote you provide is point out the inadequacy of his own philosophical understanding, and represent its impotence as a virtue.

  7. All materialists, which means most modern people, simply take it for granted that matter can influence mind; but when they confront the complementary claim that mind influences matter – they go into a supercilious spasm. It’s as though they have never heard of alternating current!

    • You don’t understand materialism if you think there are two different things called “mind” and “matter” that have mysterious relationships of influence between them (in either or both directions).

      If mind is a purely material phenomenon then it is a full participant in causal relationships with the rest of the material world without the need to posit special mysterious connections.

      • If mind is purely material then matter is mental. This is not a conclusion that perturbs me. It is implicit in the gist of the original post. It might perturb some materialists, although there are quite a few physicists who think it makes sense (Penrose, Stapp, Wheeler, et al.).

        Panpsychism does not however eliminate the question of the relation between mind and body. All it does is render it answerable, at least in principle.


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