The Body of the Mind & the Mind of the Body

I struggled with the problem of the relation of the mind to the body for decades. When at last I felt as though I had finally figured it out, I had a hard time seeing in retrospect what the problem had been.

Panpsychism, holism, hylemorphism, and control system theory had all helped. But they did not quite suffice. For, how do the trillions of bits of awareness that, on panpsychism, constitute my body, combine together to make *my* awareness? This is the binding problem of cognitive philosophy: how is a report from the heel bound up with a report from the visual cortex in a single moment of experience? On holism, the whole subvenes and precedes its parts, which is cool so far as it goes: the whole is not reduced to the parts, nor are the parts reduced to the whole, so that the notion agrees with our mereological experience. But how does my mind – the whole, presumably (at least now and then) – affect its parts, the little minds that (on panpsychism) together make up my body (and for that matter the other subsidiary components of the psyche)? Both the bottom up and top down causal vectors looked problematic.

It is easy to see *that* the lower levels of a control system hierarchy behave in pretty good accord with the acts of the higher levels, and vice versa. Control theory can shed light on *how* they do that. But it is not easy to see *why* they do that. Again, hylemorphism integrates final and formal causation with the material and efficient causal sorts, but it doesn’t help with the binding problem.

Dualism seemed like a step back. For one thing, it demolished the tidy, elegant, deeply satisfying and intellectually parsimonious integrations accomplished by hylemorphism, panpsychism, and holism, by splitting the ontological integrity they had achieved into radically disparate categories: extended things and mental things (or (depending on the dualist scheme) material and ideal, or concrete and abstract, or real and apparent).

Things fell into place when I realized that I had been treating the state of the mind and the state of the brain at time t(n) as aspects of the same thing. When I finally got it through my thick head that facts are artifacts of acts, it dawned on me that the state of the mind at t(n) influences the state of the brain a moment later, at t(n+1), and vice versa. Ditto for all the components both of mind and of body. Thus the state of my body and the state of my mind at t(n) are states of *disparate things.* What feels to my mind right now like the state of my body right now is actually a feeling of the way my body was a moment ago. And vice versa: what feels to my body right now like the state of my mind right now is actually a feeling of the way my mind was a moment ago.

Notice first that, as still under construction, the present moment of any entity is inapprehensible to any other entity. As being yet still incompletely specified, and therefore not yet quite definite, *it does not yet actually exist to exert influence.* It cannot be known (or even known of) by any other until its process of becoming is completed, and it is passed, and wholly in act.

Notice then also that “moment” – the duration of n – is undefined. Perhaps it is a second or two long; perhaps only a femtosecond. That is not pertinent to the ontological distinctions being here drawn. It seems likely that different sorts of entities have different characteristic periods of quantal evolution, different characteristic durations, intervals, times, epochs, moments. Perhaps moments of some sorts of entities last many millennia. Perhaps not. It doesn’t matter.

Notice finally that while the state of my mind at t(n) is a huge influence upon the state of my body at t(n+1), there are many others, urged by other completed events of becoming – from events passed, from its past – both within and without the body (e.g., the burp incipient at t(n) and the gunshot in the next room at the same instant, neither of which could have been accounted for by the mind at t(n)). They affect the state of my body at t(n+1), which in turn influences the state of my mind at t(n+2).

In short, the state of an entity is a function of events in its past and of its operations upon those data. Thus the past of the body and of the mind influence the character of the present moment of the mind; the character of the present moment of the mind in turn influences the future both of the body and of the mind. Put differently: the past of the mind is integrated in the present both of the body and of the mind; the past of the body is integrated in the present both of the mind and of the body.

To complete the picture – or, at any rate, this painfully abbreviated version of the picture – qualia are aspects of present moments of becoming. Phenomenal experience per se is what it is like to become.

This scheme smells a bit dualistic, in that it has the occasions of mind and body cooking alongside each other and disparate, the past and present of each influencing the futures of both. But it isn’t. Rather, it is a hierarchical network, in which each node is an integration and synecdoche – and thus, both a resonance and a hologram – of its whole past. Think of the king and his subjects: they cook along together, disparate, and the past and present moments of each influence the futures of both. But they are fundamentally the same sorts of being, and so there is no difficulty in seeing *how* they influence each other.

No more difficulty than we have in explaining causal influence per se, anyway.

Which looks like a lot of difficulty, prima facie. But which may not be that difficult when we dig into it. A topic for another post, perhaps. Suffice for now to point out that entities can be concretely actual, and indeed material, without being massive – or, by the same token, energetic.

18 thoughts on “The Body of the Mind & the Mind of the Body

  1. Thought that came to mind reading this. Adam, David, and Christ all used the kingly language of “Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” but did not say “Mind of my mind”. This calls to mind the unity of a husband and wife, a king and his people, God and His creation. But does not imply dissolution of us as individuals. Could even argue it implies a perfection of us as individuals.

    More relevant to your post: If the causal faculties of the mind participate in the Divine, then would it be fair to describe a person as a feedback loop into this causal microcosm? God, as The Causetm, is outside of time and so doesn’t need to perceive because He is creating every moment. But if we can imagine a subordinate causal entity existing within time, we would need some way for that entity to perceive effects. It makes sense to me that something cannot both cause and perceive effects simultaneously. At the moment of cause, there is nothing to perceive anyway. Effects start at t(n+1). A causal entity could not cause anything that mattered if it could not perceive it’s own effects. Neither could a non-causal entity react to anything other than new stimulus.

    So if we anchor this causal power into a human body, then the body is just another aspect of the cosmos which our subordinate causal faculties can perceive. and we can only perceive effects that happen after a moment of causation, and effects start at t(n+1).

    • Could even argue it implies a perfection of us as individuals.

      Indeed: individuals make no sense other than as involved in relations.

      I’m afraid you were going a bit too fast for me in your last two paragraphs. I think what you were trying to ask is whether the body is a way for the mind to apprehend the effects of its prior acts. It is. But the past of the mind is also directly available to novel occasions thereof, without the mediation of the body.

      I should clarify first that a person is a substance composed of a temporally extended congeries of disparate occasions that all instantiate the same essential form. The Scoot of right now is different than the Scoot of yesterday at 3:00 PM, so that the two Scoots are disparate occasions. But we – including Scoot – can tell that they are both occasions in the career of the same substance because they both partake and express the same essential nature, the form of Scoot. The accidental properties of Scoot change from one occasion to another – he sleeps, then wakes, then loves, then hates, and so forth – but his essential properties are reiterated at each occasion of his career.

      I should mention in passing that one essential aspect of a person is the basic character of his interface with the world. Literally: interface. Scoot acts and reacts, perceives and understands, in a manner unique to Scoot. That’s how we can tell we are dealing with Scoot, rather than something else altogether. And, Scoot’s interactions with other entities – their causal effects upon him, and his upon them – are all mediated by that veil which both separates and connects them. Within that veil is the subjective aspect of Scoot, his phenomenal experience: this is what it is like to be Scoot knowing his world. Without that veil is the objective aspect of Scoot: this is what it is like to know Scoot from the outside. “Person” captures this aspect of the substantial form that is a person, for it derives from the Greek “prosopon,” literally “for + know;” thus in usage either “face” or “mask.” Interface.

      As a novel mental occasion in the career of Scoot arises ex nihilo, one of the first things it does is decide whether to be a personal occasion: a member of a personal order. If so, it then decides which person to be. If it decides to be an occasion in the personal order of Scoot, then it emphasizes its prehensions of past occasions of Scoot above those of all other actual persons in its past. It prehends all the past occasions of such other persons, too – for, if a world is to cohere, each novel occasion thereof must take some causal account of all its previous elements, even if only to pass over them as importantly influential for its own purposes – but in deemphasizing them in favor of Scoot, it effectually excludes them from essential influence upon its final form. In emphasizing past occasions of Scoot, it includes them. So each new occasion of Scoot is informed by all the past occasions of Scoot, and especially by his more recent occasions.

      New occasions of Scoot emphasize past occasions of his body as well, and include them emphatically.

      All this is a long winded way of saying that the body of Scoot is not necessary for the reiteration of his mind, even though his essential nature can be fully expressed only as embodied. This is how the mind – the living rational soul – can survive the death of the body. The soul of an animal is not completely actualized – is not fully alive – when it is not carnate (as with our separated souls post mortem, or with a mind suffering an out of body experience). Reciprocally, the soul of an animal is not completely actualized and fully alive if it is not mental (as is the case with a brain dead body).

  2. I’m always puzzled by the automatic and unqualified rejection of dualism. After all, dualism is fundamental to Christian teaching. It may be that particular dualistic theories are unacceptable, but that’s a horse of a different colour.

    Confronted by any such implicit or explicit anti-dualistic idea, I always ask, “How does this work with Jesus of Nazareth from Good Friday through to the Ascension?” Any theory about human beings must perforce be applicable to Jesus from the moment of his conception through to the present moment.

    • Indeed, a competent anthropology must work for Jesus – and Elijah, and Enoch, and Mary, and the rest of us for that matter – up to and then even beyond the General Resurrection. It must give us a way to understand both the separated soul post mortem and the Resurrection Body at the eschaton and beyond. A tall order.

      Is dualism fundamental to Christian doctrine? To the generally Thomist theology of the Catholic Church, it is not. Unless, that is, we take the life of the rational soul post mortem, and amputated from its naturally proper carnal embodiment, as being something categorically different from the full and thus corporeal implementation of that same soul. Thomist hylemorphism takes the separated rational soul to be the same sort of thing as the embodied soul – expressed, NB, as the ensouled body – in exactly the way it takes the soul of a squirrel to be the same sort of thing both before and after he loses a leg.

      Ontological dualism – as distinct from heuristic, analytical or methodological dualism, that analyzes an integral individual into its disparate parts or aspects, functions or modes (as, e.g., consciousness, the unconscious, the ego, the id, etc.; or as the intellect, the will, etc.) – labors under suspicion because it came to prominence first under Descartes precisely because his metaphysics tried to do without final and formal causation of mundane events. All that remained were material and efficient causation. He had to find a way to account for life, mind, volition, and so forth, given the lifeless deterministic world that resulted from that untoward bit of theoretical parsimony. Having deleted final and formal causation, he was forced as it were to add back an epicycle – the res cogitans – in order to leave room in his system for things like René Descartes, in whom final and formal causation are stubbornly, obviously at work.

      Modern materialists are forced to the same sorts of unwarranted exceptions, in order to avoid eliminating themselves from their accounts of reality.

      Notwithstanding all that, there is a sense in which hylemorphism is indeed dualist (or rather, pluralist): namely, that forms are categoreally different sorts of things than the actual substances they form. Nevertheless, forms are not things in their own right; for, in that case, they’d need formal causes of their own, which would need formal causes of their own, and so on ad infinitum. Forms are to be found only as characters of actual things, in which such minds as ours can first notice them and then treat of them abstractly.

      Ideas can’t have themselves. They can exist only as properties of concretes.

      • The Platonist take (the proper Platonist take, not their friendly competitors’ assessment of their ideas), is similar . . . but instead of forms’ being properties of concretes, concretes (the world of sights and sounds) are manifestations of forms. What is a concrete thing? Well, it’s the showing up of formal reality. Particulars are forms expressed in time and space. Reality is ultimately unified. The heathen Peripatetics could not account for the unity of the cosmos . . . or for the unity of the ideas that inform matter in disparate substances. The Christian Peripatetics resolved this Aristotelian aporia with God Almighty . . . whom the Platonists had glimpsed more clearly.

      • That works. That forms are properties of concretes *just means* that concretes partake forms. That’s why Aristotle has been called by some the greatest Platonist. But then, to elaborate: that concretes partake forms which are properties of concretes means that *concretes partake each other.* So, being is communion. Nifty.

  3. MindReflectsItsAuthor-ism

    Genesis 2:7 “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

    An unforeseen Eden fly-in-the-ointment “must have” entered the good homunculus mold dust batter causing bad breath to enter the firstborn earthy candidate. It infected the candidate’s thought INPUTS. It’s been congenital mind-thought-word confusion ever since.

    “Must have” because “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints (1 Cor 14:33).

    This must have been a typo:

    Gen 11:9 “Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.”

    Inputs=outputs. Artificial intelligence.

    This his-story makes the Author Responsible for the Mind Authored.


    If we are uncreated immortal spirit beings then we are responsible for our originary power of mind over matter thought crimes and our predicament of paying the price to remember our way out of this Babel-labyrinth.

    • An unforeseen Edenic fly in the ointment must have entered the good homunculus mold dust batter …

      The Tradition since long before the Intertestamental period has been that the fly in the ointment of Eden was Satan, who had already Fallen. It is difficult to account for his role in the drama in any other way.

      But that both Adam and Satan were likely to Fall could not have been unforeseen to El Elyon. In the first place, he’s omniscient. In the second, he’s eternal, so that no created moment is either before or after him (it runs the other way: he is before and after all things, and they live and move within him (this is why all his knowledge of us is introspective)); so he sees neither before nor behind. Rather, he simply sees. It is metaphysically incoherent to suppose either that he might foresee, or that he might not see.

      One of the things he knows must be true metaphysically, and thus necessarily (via introspection, as with all his knowledge; so that this knowledge is just of himself, and is logically prior to all worlds) is that finite intelligences are by definition prone to err, precisely because as finite their knowledge is but partial, thus imperfect and incomprehensive. Indeed, because there are infinitely many ways that any particular creaturely occasion might err in its understandings and acts, while there is only one way for it to be in them perfect, God knows from before all worlds that all possible worlds and all possible creatures, being finite, are infinitely likely to err, and to Fall. So he could not have been surprised when even some of his seraphim and cherubim, who stood about his very throne and knew the Truth of him better than any other possible creature, went ahead and defected.

      It was not God who caused the confusion of Babel, but rather the Icarian pride of the Babylonians. The whole project of the Tower was founded on their confusion about the structure of reality. To build a tower to heaven is absurd on its face (it is almost as absurd and confused as the notion that there are no essential differences between male and female; yet many quite intelligent people honestly believe this sort of nonsense). The confusion of their tongues followed logically and ineluctably from that confusion of their minds. In that confusion – first of their minds, then of their tongues – God was nothing more than the medium of the Justice that consists in his very being. It is by and in virtue of God’s Justice that the consistent regularity of mundane causation is reliably ordered, and our world – and our selves – to us furnished. That order feeds back pain to error is no defect of order.

      If we are eternal uncreate spirits then Lucifer is correct, as are Nietzsche, Crowley, Sartre and all the Gnostic moral nominalists: as coeternal with God, and nowise originate in him, we owe him nothing, for he is but a being categorically like us, and so can exert no nomological authority; so that we may order and do things as we like, without moral penalty, scruple or qualm. Since there is no eternal moral Law subsisting in God, there is no such thing as sin. So, there was no sin in Eden, there was no Fall, and there is no Hell, nor any Heaven either. Religion per se – and with it all such things as truth & morality, justice (so mercy) & order, virtue & vice, good & evil, beauty & deformity – are then all the fruits of a simple and foolish misprision, and the Nietzschean Will to Power expressed in violence and magic is the appropriate thing. Indeed, it is the only thing.

      There is then no ordered cosmos, no coherent world, but rather only coeternal substances – that, as each eternal, have no more to do with each other than they have to do with God, so that they are at bottom mutually incompatible, and are then jostling competitively, incongruently, and so, at last, chaotically: a ceaseless war of each thing against all.

      Since in that case no occasion of being can be ordered to any other, there can be furthermore no reason or purpose to any acts, nor any such thing as a fulfillment or satisfaction. The Will to Power then, and indeed all motions, are utterly without motive.

      The notion that we are uncreate eternal spirits then turns out to be tantamount to Democritean atomism.

      We find however that we are animals living in a world. So, fortunately, it cannot be true that we are coeternal with God.

      • How I imagine this “co-eternality” with God is as a “radical autonomy” a-part from objective Supremacy. So, satan is not trying to “best” God, rather, he is attempting a parallel “perfection” per “co-eternality.”

      • My heart cheered throughout this, Kristor, but this is quite a delicious cherry on the sundae:

        “The notion that we are uncreated eternal spirits then turns out to be tantamount to Democritean atomism.”

        An insight I’ve never had — profound.

      • Polytheism works great so long as everybody remembers clearly that the gods are creatures of the Eternal One, the Most High, and to him either vassals or traitors.

      • “Co-eternalism” implies a “universal egalitarianism” which necessarily collapses the Reality of the Most High. So, whereas big (s) satan seeks to exalt himself above God according to Scripture, the little (s) satans called “man” do not, in fact, willfully acknowledge God at all and so in their “co-eternallsm” is a perfecting of “universal equality.” So, these earth-bound “co-eternalists” do not, in act, seek any exaltation above God, rather, they seek a cosmic collapse into parallel eternities disappearing The Eternal One inside a radically egalitarian metaphysics.

      • Thank you for that explanation. Not that I agree with it, but I appreciate good faith discourse and tolerance for my possible error.

        The explanation re-confirmed to me the implied Solipsism of Acts 17:28 (“for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, For we are also His offspring”). Solipsism meaning nothing exists outside of El Elyon. He being the One-Only-Both Personage and Territory through and in which humanity is created to act out comedic and tragic drama for which it is “responsible”. El Elyon is the only originator and transmitter of thought, period. Humans and angelic hierarchies are thought containers, receivers and repeaters of El Elyon Thought.

        Speaking of Democritus, I just became aware of this Aeon Magazine article with 4 minute movie clip embedded:

        “‘Moving paintings’ evoke a quantum particle collision at the Large Hadron Collider
        Warning: this film features rapidly flashing images that can be distressing to photosensitive viewers.”

        “The London-based artist Markos R Kay works at the intersection of digital art and science, building bridges between the sometimes esoteric work of scientists and the public. For his piece Quantum Fluctuations: Experiments in Flux (2016), Kay set out to visually express a quantum interaction – a phenomenon that’s notoriously unobservable.”

        I express some hope that one day human-kind will seek and find the secret to non-collision of atoms in the void. Maybe there will be a transcended drivers safety test and licensing process for us deplorable “indivisibles”.

      • You are welcome, WT, and thanks for your engagement with these topics. I learned some good stuff from you, and in the process of responding to you. Every time I interact with commenters here, the surface area of my ignorance and error is more revealed to me. I certainly stand in much need of deep correction, and welcome it.

        A word of clarification: that God knows everything that can be known via introspection, that every creature lives and moves and has being in him, and so forth, does not imply that he is the only thing, as solipsism would suggest: if divine solipsism were true, Paul would not have bothered to quote the Stoics Aratus and Cleanthes, who said that we do, indeed, live, move, and have being, but instead said forthrightly that we creatures do not actually live, move or therefore exist (perhaps he would have quoted one of the Eleatics). It means rather that creatures do what they do, and so are what they are, in virtue and by means of God’s creative power – his grace – which enables their doing. Thus they are indeed responsible for their own acts.

        Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers is pretty good on the topic:

        (28) For in him we live, and move, and have our being. Better, we live, and are moved, and are. Each of the verbs used has a definite philosophical significance. The first points to our animal life; the second –from which is derived the Greek word used by ethical writers for passions, such as fear, love, hate, and the like – not, as the English verb suggests, to man’s power of bodily motion in space, but to our emotional nature; the third, to that which constitutes our true essential being, the intellect and will of man. What the words express is not merely the Omnipresence of the Deity; they tell us that the power for every act and sensation and thought comes from Him. They set forth what we may venture to call the true element of Pantheism, the sense of a “presence interposed,” as in nature, “in the light of setting suns,” so yet more in man. As a Latin poet had sung, whose works may have been known to the speaker, the hearers, and the historian:

        God permeates all lands, all tracts of sea, and the vast heaven. From Him all flocks and herds, and men, and creatures wild, draw, each apart, their subtle life. To Him they all return, when once again set free. No place is found for death, but all mount up once more on high to join the stars in their high firmament.
        Virgil: Georgics iv 221-225.

        In the teaching of St. Paul, however, the personality of God is not merged, as in that of the Pantheist, in the thought of the great Soul of the World, but stands forth with awful distinctness in the character of King and Judge.

        The same goes likewise for the creature.

  4. Once I had that kind of experience that time slows down when you are in danger. I was driving too fast on snow and my car did a full 360 pirouette. That probably two seconds really did feel like ten. Now, scientists are saying they ran experiments and it seems people do not actually experience their subjective sense of time slowing down during such events, but rather they just remember it as if they had experienced it slow. Just the memory of the event gets corrupted. But the point is, I distinctly remember not only having this feeling – which would be the predicted corrupted memory – but also remember remembering it a few seconds later, and saying “whew, what a slow-mo experience”. So if they are right, my memory of the event was already corrupted a few seconds later.

    The point I am trying to make is while your discovery that this causation isn’t instantaneous sounds like inventing cold water: how else are two things supposed to affect each other but with some amount of time delay? Causation is always happening in time, of course. And yet your discovery sort of predicts an interesting thing, and pretty much this thing: that what we experience is a memory of what we experienced a moment ago, we do not experience what is happening right now. It is always memory. Which can be corrupted.

    One possible explanation. Memory is pretty sure something in the body. Sensory experience too. So one possibility is that sensory experience gets written on to hard disk in the brain, and the mind reads it out from there, leading to time delay. This sounds like more economic design than directing sensory experience both towards storage and towards the mind for analysis. We lose a bit of reaction time, but that is okay, because it is fairly known that we have two systems, there is a fast but not too smart reaction system, which is supposed to get ourselves out of harms way until we make up our minds what to do, and the analytical mind, which is inherently slow, so a little delay in feeding sensory experience into it is not an issue.

    I don’t know how it explains the problem, though. But does the problem really need explaining? I on the verge of buying into what Feser is saying and what he is attributing to Aquinas, that almost everything about the mind, be that perception, memory, emotion or even a practical kind of intelligence is in the body pretty much how a scientistic worldview would put it, the big exception is the intellect, the abstract thinking capability of the mind, which differentiates humans from animals.

    • Does the problem really need explaining? In retrospect, no. If we construe the mind and the brain properly, the problem vanishes. It arises in the first place only on the supposition that the mind and the brain are fundamentally different sorts of things.

      It’s not just that the mind is mostly in the body, but that the body right now fully reflects the just past state of the mind (and of the rest of the world), and the mind now fully reflects the just past state of the body (and of the rest of the world). If I get what STA is saying, the intellect can subsist without its body – and, for a while, the body can subsist without its intellect – but these conditions are defective.

      The fully living human is a mindful body.

      … your discovery that this causation isn’t instantaneous sounds like inventing cold water: how else are two things supposed to affect each other but with some amount of time delay?

      Yes! In retrospect, it looks as plain as the nose on your face, right? Another way to put it: the mind is the process of implementing an instant of the body.

      … what we experience is a memory of what we experienced a moment ago, we do not experience what is happening right now. It is always memory.

      I would distinguish memory from what is apparent to us of the immediate past. When I experience one instant of the 360˚ spin as it is happening, I am feeling what my body first felt of that same instant. I am experiencing the immediate past of my body, which experienced the immediate past of its world (including the spinning car). When a few days later I remember the spin, I am experiencing the record present in the immediate past of my body of an experience in its fairly distant past.

      When Bo scratched my hand as I was trying to pill him a couple years ago, I felt the scratch right after my hand felt it. When I remember that scratching, I feel the record – the residue – of the effect it had on my body back then, which is reflected in the physical structure of my CNS. My feeling of that CNS memory is like my seeing the scar he left on my skin, which I treasure as a sign of our friendship.

  5. Pingback: Meaning or Nothing – The Orthosphere


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