(Drawing (1894) describing the concept of phrenology by Friedrich Eduard Bilz (1842-1922) published in Das neue Naturheilverfahren (“The New Treatment with Naturopathy”) in an edition drawn for the 75th anniversary of this concept.)
The philosophy of mind is the philosophical study of the nature of the mind (psyche), events, functions and mental properties, consciousness, and their relation to the body, particularly with the brain. The mind-body problem, that is the relation of the mind to the body, is commonly regarded as the central question of the philosophy of the mind, although other questions about the nature of the mind do not concern the physical body. Dualism and monism are the two main schools of thought that have attempted to solve the mind-body problem. The dualist conception is already found in Plato, in Aristotle, and in the Samkhya and Yoga schools of Atsika philosophy, but it was formulated more precisely by René Descartes in the seventeenth century. Substantial dualists argue that the mind is a substance independent of the body, while property dualists claim that the mind is a group of independent properties that emerge from the brain but can not be reduced to not an independent substance. Antonio Damasio, in his book The Error of Descartes, shows that body and mind work inseparably and he explains that reasoning can not be done without emotions.
Monism asserts that the mind and body are not two ontologically distinct kinds of entities. This position was first preached in Western philosophy by Parmenides in the fifth century BC. J. – C., and was later adopted by Baruch Spinoza, rationalist of the seventeenth century. The physicalists maintain that there exists only what is postulated by a physical theory, and that the mind will one day be fully explained in terms of such entities through the evolution of physical theories. Idealists maintain that the mind is all that exists and that the outer world is either itself mental, or an illusion created by the mind. Neutral monists consider that there is another substance, neutral, and that matter and spirit are two properties derived from this unknown substance. The most common monisms in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have all been variations of physicalism, including behaviorism, identity theory, anomalous monism, and functionalism.
Most modern philosophers adopt a physicalist position, reductive or not, supporting each in his own way that the mind is not separated from the body. These approaches have been particularly influential in science, particularly in sociobiology, computer science, evolutionary psychology, and the various neurosciences. Other philosophers, however, advocate a non-physicalist position, rejecting the idea that the mind is a purely physical construct. Reducing physicalists claim that all mental properties and states will ultimately be explained by scientific advances in the understanding of physiological processes and states. Non-reducing physicalists argue that even though the brain is all that exists in the mind, the vocabulary used in descriptions and explanations of mental phenomena is indispensable, and can not be reduced to the language and explanations of physics. Neuroscientific progress has helped to clarify some of these issues. However, they are still far from being resolved, and modern philosophers of the mind continue to wonder how the subjective qualities and intentionality of mental states and their properties could be explained in naturalistic terms.
The mind-body problem consists in determining the relations between the mind, or the mental processes, and the bodily states or processes. Although this problem appeared almost from the beginning of philosophy (see Plato), it is recognized since the twentieth century (especially since Gilbert Ryle, The Notion of Mind) as a fundamental question, or even as the central question of the philosophy of mind under the mind-body problem. The main goal of philosophers working in this field is to succeed in understanding the nature of mind and mental processes and states, and how thought – if it does so well – affects and can be affected by the body. For example, it is obvious to the human that sensory experiences originate in stimuli, which come from the outside world through its sensory organs, and that these stimuli produce changes in mental states, ultimately causing the perception of sensations that may be pleasant or unpleasant. It also seems obvious that the body can move in order to satisfy a need or a desire. Yet, “how is it possible that conscious experience can arise from a mass of gray matter, endowed only with physicochemical properties? How can we want to be the cause of the functioning of the neurons and the contraction of the muscles, so that they realize what we propose to do?” These are some of the main enigmas that epistemologists and philosophers of the mind have been confronting since Descartes.
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