The Mind Body Theory in the Face of Life and Death

“Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.”

Albert Einstein

The duality of Life is Death, the Mind, and the Body

The purpose of this article is to explore multiple philosophical theories on the mind and the body, with the intention of exposing a myriad of beliefs on the duality that is embedded in our human nature.

It is my joy to express diverse perspectives to you, and this article is intended to be informational, educational, insightful, and will hopefully serve as a catalyst to spark your own curiosity about life and death, finding that place of ease and grace within yourself as well as in the lives of those whom you love.

The perspectives I wish to share with you include several mind-body theories that some of the early philosophers exposed to society, and thus offer you different ways in which to think about the relationship between the mind-body identity.  Regardless of what any philosopher has exposed as a theory throughout history about our innate duality, know that you have the right to choose whatever belief appeals to you, and whatever belief that gives you a sense of facing life and death with an enhanced sense of peace and well-being.

The duality of life (mind and body philosophy) has been a question that has plagued man throughout time, offering so many answers and which all may be true.  Many believe that the physical “end” of life is the end, and the beyond is an unsure place if any, except for what our beliefs dictate that the other side holds.

Let’s come in closer to understanding the deeper meaning of how the duality of life is death.  It’s best to begin by stating what is meant by the mind-body theory and how dualism fits in.

Dualism generally maintains a rigid distinction between the realms of mind, what is mind thought and thinking, and matter, which is the physical, material aspect.[1]

A philosophical belief called Monism maintains that there is only one unifying reality, substance or essence, in terms of which everything can be explained.[2] In Dualism, there are two kinds of realities: physical, which is characterized by a material existence which can be quantified, and the mental. The mental is characterized by nonphysical and immeasurable qualities.  When you say, “I love you,” can you measure how much?

The mind-body problem was addressed by René Descartes[3] in the 17th century, resulting in Cartesian dualism[4], and by pre-Aristotelian[5] philosophers, [3] in Avicennian philosophy[6] We’ll explore their views later in this essay.

As humans, however, we are just trying to make some sense of our life and death experience.  Most of us want to justify the reason for dying.  We want a tangible reason with the hope that we may be able to see the light as to may come afterward.

The Mind Body Heart Spirit/Soul Dynamic

The Mind Body Heart Spirit/Soul Dynamic

Human beings live through a body, along with a mind, a heart and a spirit/soul.  The body is the obvious physical part.  The mind, the heart, and the spirit/soul are the nonphysical aspects that cannot be quantified on a scale.  No one knows how many thoughts one has, how much love one feels, or how much spirit/soul energy is activating within individuals while living in a physical body.

So, what does the relationship between the mind, the body, the heart, and the spirit/soul must do with facing the notion of death, and how can this knowledge bring a sense of healing to the experience?

First, in reviewing other people’s thinking, it’s easier to identify with one school of thought or another or pick a part of one and a part of another.  Sometimes it’s important to can see you are not alone in the way in which you think about the mind-body dynamic related to life and death.

Basically, the parts that make you a human being are your physical body, mind and heart, spirit and soul. These components all determine the quality of life that you are living, and will most likely predetermine the quality of life you will experience when facing the notion of death, whether it is your own death experience or someone else’s that you love. Investing in how to have a healthy relationship with the mind, body, heart and spirit/soul of being human is the greatest gift you can give to yourself and to others.

Do our thoughts only come from the brain/head?

The Mind Body Theory - Do our thoughts only come from the brain/head?Today, more and more scientists[7] believe that emotional intelligence exists in the heart. The more we are connected to the heart, the more the heart and the brain work together in harmony, the more we live in a state of optimal clarity, perception, and performance.

Many people today believe that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, navigating the human part. However, navigating the human part with a sense of ease and grace can be quite challenging, particularly when facing the notion of death and dying, as well as the challenges that life and living offer.  Talking about the mind-body theory in the face of death gives us an opportunity to make up our own minds about this intricate and complex relationship.

Reconciling the Mind and the Body Theory

We are mystified by what we cannot knowingly understand, and because of the mysterious nature of life and death, we naturally ask questions and come up with theories, beliefs, studies.  Does the mind die when the body dies? Einstein’s statement that, “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another,” gives us a sense of hope that there is no death.

Making Sense of the Mind-Body Problem

It was the quest of philosophers to connect the rational mind to become a whole person, to reconcile, and to make sense of the life and death dynamic, offering a way to accept our existence and non-existence in a way that brings us peace.

Plato (428-348 B.C.E was recognized by scholars as the first to distinguish between the mind and the body. Plato also said the mind/soul and the body was not an ideal relationship.  The body is a “prisoner” of the mind or soul, (which is the true person), and in death, the mind and soul are separated from the body.  The body decomposes into its original elements and the mind/soul cannot decompose, because it is not a composed material substance.  Therefore, Plato believed the mind or soul couldn’t die, much like Einstein’s theory that, energy never dies it only changes form.  This philosophy provides hope for the survival of the person after the death of the body.[8]

Making Sense of the Mind Body Problem

Even before Plato was born, a philosopher named Pythagoras, (570-495 B.C.E.) believed in a “transmigration” (the movement of a soul into another body after death, related to reincarnation)[9] of the soul, where the soul is immortal and bound up with the divine soul, to which it returns after separating from its temporary physical house (the body).  The probability of several transmigrations of the same soul was possible (which led to the idea of reincarnation in religions like Hinduism).

Plato’s dualistic approach had a great influence on Christian thinking, but was not consistent, because Plato agreed with Pythagoras in transmigration of the soul.

Then Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) disagreed with Plato, believing the soul is the “form” of the body. He rejected many of Plato’s theories, including rationalism.

Aristotle then argued that “the mind does not have innate ideas and compared it to a blank tablet where the forms are concepts devised by people to categorize things.”[10]  He said the mind is a part of the human body and rejected the mind-body dualism.  As the father of the study of logic, he was the first to develop a formalized system for reasoning. However, he did believe that intellect is different from any other part of the body because our conscious range does not appear to be restricted in the way that our physical senses are.

Three philosophers, three different theories, which only means they could all be true!  Perhaps none are true.

A great early Medieval thinker, theologian, and philosopher, Augustine of Hippo (354-430) said, “Man is not a body alone, nor a soul alone, but a being composed of both… the soul is not the whole man but the better part of man; the body is not the whole, but the inferior part of man…and when both are joined they received the name of man.” [11]

Rene Descartes, (1596-1650) was known as the first modern philosopher and mathematician of his time, and probably one of the most well-known proponents of the origin of the Mind-Body “Problem”, dividing the world into the dualistic model: the mind – the ideal realm of thoughts which is undeterminable, and the body – the material world which is deterministic. [12]

Rene Descartes’ famous statement, “I think; therefore, I am,” triggers the question whether thoughts trigger emotions or emotions trigger thoughts.  Descartes said sensory perceptions could be deceptive and were not to be trusted.  So, when you are faced with the end of your physical life, it’s important to know what you believe/feel to find that peace of mind that is so needed at that time.

Monism on the Mind and Body Philosophy

Monism and the Mind and Body Philosophy

“Monism” as I mentioned earlier, is the view that attributes oneness or singleness to a concept of existence – monistic view assumes the unity of the origin of all things and all existing things return to a source that is distinct from them.  Monism is also known as materialism, where everything is reduced to one kind of stuff or matter, which can only be artificially and arbitrarily divided into many things.[13]

The term “Monism” came to be recognized in the 18th century by Christian von Wolff (1679-1754), a German philosopher, to designate types of philosophical thought where he attempted to eliminate the dichotomy of body and mind and explain all phenomena by one unifying principle or as manifestations of a single substance.[14]

What? Invisible atoms?

What? Invisible atoms?In the 5th century BCE, the Greek philosopher, Leucippus, was known to be the one to develop the theory of “atomism,” the idea that all things are composed of indivisible particles of matter, various, imperishable elements called atoms[15].  According to Leucippus’s theory, the notion that there is no space, even though we “perceive” space means that nothing happens in a vacuum and that all space is made up of atomic matter, whether we physically see it or not.  The human soul is composed of “soul-atoms”, which may be different from each other, but atoms, nonetheless.  By believing this theory, death is nothing to be feared, since it is simply the dissolution of the soul into its original atoms.

The Roman poet and philosopher, Titus Lucretius Carus (99-55 BCE), developed “materialism: to rid human beings from religious fears by arguing against any nonphysical soul and therefore proposing the mortality of all human beings.  In his epic poem, called, “De rerum natura,” which translates as “On the Nature of Things,” he talks about Epicureanism.[16] Lucretius postulated that the external world is a series of fortuitous combinations of atoms with the highest good being a pleasure.[17]  The mental pleasure was regarded more highly than physical and the ultimate pleasure was held to be free from anxiety and mental pain, especially arising from needless fear of death.

Thomas Hobbes, (1588-1679), an English philosopher, scientist, and historian was impressed by the progress of science and mathematics, and said, “true knowledge seeks to observe and understand true reality” (to study bodies in motion).  He defended materialism, viewing that only material things are real.[18]

Then Charles Darwin, an English naturalist, in his “Origin of Species,” doctrine in 1859, wrote about the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection, laying down a framework for the theory of evolution.[19]

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), an English biologist, educator and advocate of agnosticism (the view that the existence of God or the supernatural are unknown and perhaps unknowable.”)[20] was a scientific supporter of Darwin’s theories of materialism and writes in his paper on “Man’s Place in Nature,” explaining the origins and development of life without resorting to any outside immaterial agency or deity.[21]

And, Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976) wrote, “The Concept of Mind” in 1949, writing that the workings of the mind should not be thought of as some separate entity in the same category as a body (or brain).  He critiqued Descartes’s notion of Dualism, believing that all mental phenomena can be explained by reference to publicly observable behavior, becoming a standard view for several decades.[22]

Different Mind-Body Theories Effect Views of Death

Different Mind Body Theories Effect Views of DeathThe philosophers and scholars hereto mentioned.. each believed in a different reality between the mind and the body, directly reflecting their beliefs about what happens when we die.  The mind-body issue has a crucial impact on questions concerning death.  In relation to death, the Materialist’s position is identical with his or her body, where the mind is identical with the brain and its functioning, and when the body/brain dies, there is no continuation of the person, no hope for an afterlife.  This question is primarily a religious question that cannot be resolved by philosophy or science.  The Dualist position does not identify the person with his or her body/brain and leaves the door open for a belief in an afterlife, which becomes a religious question.

Harvard Brain Death criterion[23] defines death as 1) absolute unresponsiveness to externally applied stimuli; 2) cessation of movement and breathing, including no spontaneous breathing for three minutes after an artificial respirator has been turned off; and 3) complete absence of cephalic reflexes, including a flat electroencephalogram (EEG), which supports the Materialists viewpoint.  The question is whether there is mental death separate from physical death, where someone’s brain is still functioning, but the forebrain is destroyed. Are we then just keeping bodies alive?

We can believe in whatever theories or beliefs that give us a sense of meaning and opens potentially creating a life we love living, according to the laws that exist in the universe.  Taking advantage of the Monistic approach, Wallace Wattles (American author 1860-1911) believed in the Monistic theory of the cosmos. He connected the Monist theory with universal laws, where only one basic substance or principle exists, and creating all that one desires in life, is inclusive with “that thinking stuff” of one’s thoughts.[24]

Sir David R. Hawkins, (1927-2012) a contemporary American philosopher, psychiatrist, physician, researcher, spiritual teacher, and lecturer, well renowned for his book, “Power vs. Force,” had his own unique perspective on the mind-body philosophy.

Hawkins believed in God, and in believing in this reality, he believed in advancing the state of spiritual awareness through surrendering to the core and essence of life and death.  He said that one’s time is limited and is preset, relating the idea that one’s life is like a karmic DVD, saying that you can change the story as it goes, but when the end of the tape comes, that’s the end. He continues by saying that you’ll be happy about the end, believing that it’s okay to leave, stating that contemplation is an ongoing thing on its own, far outweighing death.

It is not possible for life to die.  Does electricity die when you turn the light switch off? No. Life/energy is not capable of being killed. The intricate essence of life is indestructible. Life can change form, but it is impossible to kill life.  Life is ongoing and forever.  According to Hawkins, life itself is the expression of God.

As you see, exploring the mind-body theory through the lens of death and dying brings up many theories through various philosophers, scientists and thought provokers.  The one thing that humans have in common is that our physical bodies die.  We were designed that way.

Whatever we believe, we may share the fear of dying, whether it’s the fear of the unknown, the fear of being separated from our own bodies, or even leaving our loved ones.

What matters now is only what YOU believe about life and death, mind and body, heart and soul.

In conclusion, talking about death and dying through the mind-body Dualistic and Monistic theories, posed by the great philosophers and thinkers, offers an opportunity to pause, take a deep breath, and get in touch with your own belief about life, death, life after death and all the possibilities in between.

It’s your life. Enjoy the journey.  And remember to bring love into everything you do.

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