Saturday, June 09, 2018

Mind-body relation

Further to my previous post in which I mentioned Charles Myers, I came across a lecture he gave in 1932 entitled ‘The absurdity of any mind-body relation’. (1) What he meant by this was that life has direction and is more than blind mechanism. And, “[c]onscious mind is essentially a specialization, a distillation of that directive activity” (p.8). So mental activity and living bodily activity are identical and it doesn’t make sense to talk about a mind-body relation.

Physical concepts of mechanism are incomplete for a total description of nature (see previous post). The primary distinction is between life and inanimate matter, not life and consciousness (see previous post). To quote from Myers’ lecture, “In no form of life is directive activity wholly absent.” (p.21) As Kant said in the Critique of Judgement,
there will never be a Newton of the blade of grass, because human science will never be able to explain how a living being can originate from inanimate matter

Directive activity is still inherent in plants, even though, as Meyers said, “locomotion and plasticity are minimal” (p.25). This doesn’t mean that there can be no causal explanations for an account of the physical nature of organic matter. But, mechanistic explanations are insufficient for an account of the totality of human and living nature. As Myers concludes, “There is no separable mental or vital force: and the mental must be regarded as identical with the vital.” (p.26) Psychiatry needs to recognise its mistake in reducing mental illness to inanimate brain disease.

(1) Hobhouse memorial lectures 1930-1940 OUP: London

4 comments:

Richard Gipps said...
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Richard Gipps said...
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Richard Gipps said...

I like this thought. I also wondered if we really do best say that it's meaningless to talk of a relation between mind and body, or whether we should stick to saying that the relation is not between two separate things, and is not often helpfully described as causal? (We might instead want to say there is something like a mereological relation between a person and his or her mind and body.) On the one hand we surely want to avoid: substance dualism; interactionism; interpreting 'conversion' (when thinking of hysteria) in a literal, causal, fashion; etc. On the other we don't (in talking of 'identity') want to court the nonsense that results from committing the so-called mereological fallacy (the nonsense of ascribing to the human body what can only be ascribed to the human person). I find it helps if I resist thing-ifying talk of 'the mind', as if there really was here some discernible, banally physical or spookily immaterial, entity under consideration - and instead go back to thinking about the sentient thoughtful human being and his or her sundry psychological attributes, which attributes (thinking, seeing, being aware, being conscious, feeling, etc) are sensibly ascribed neither to minds nor to bodies, but instead to plain old people.

Eric Setz said...

Human beings are beings inhabiting bodies and they have minds.