Mind-body problem

Mind-Body Problem


            The mind-body problems form a key debate in the fields of psychology and philosophy (Amoroso, 2010). It raises pertinent questions on the matter, such as whether the mind is independent of the body or dependent on it? It further raises another question of how the two entities interact, assuming that they are distinct?. Towards this end, various theories have emerged over the years in an attempt to shed light on the relationship between mind and brain (Jaegwon, 2010). Nonetheless, a frequent explanation in the majority of the theories concerns if the body and mind are the same things or separate entities. 


            Dualism holds that humans possess a body and a mind. Dualism thus views the physical and mental as both real but independent of each other. Plato believed in the immortality of the soul based on his True Forms concept. He opined that true substances are eternal Forms and are a basis for intelligibility. The strong affinity of the Forms triggers the soul to leave the body to which it is bound and live in the confines of the Forms (Amoroso, 2010).  Descartes, courtesy of the Cartesian dualism to which he is credited with, identifies the material body and the immaterial mind as ontologically unique substances that share a causal relationship. 

            Dualism also identifies the mind as the acting unit of the mind-body problem, and that it corresponds to consciousness. The conscious mind is responsible for driving all actions and for this reason, dualism argues that we have free will. Brysbaert and Rastle (2013) contend that even though biological processes act as the foundation for mental process, the mind derives from the brain.  Dualism has however been faulted due to a number of problems. For example, it causes interaction problem in that it argues that the body is independent of the mind (soul). Critics have thus wondered how the material body could be controlled by the immaterial mind. It is also not clear yet how the mind and body might interact or run in parallel, thereby influencing each other.


            Monism hinges on the premise that there is can only be a single reality.  This doctrine thus seeks to deny the existence of dualism by arguing that physical and mental phenomena may be reduced to a single substance (Schaffer, 2010). Towards this end, Monism hinges on two theories: phenomenalism and materialism. Phenomenalism argues that only the mental phenomena exit. It further contends that physical phenomena only exist as an idea of the mind in the form of sensory stimuli or perceptual phenomena situated in space and time (Hirst, 2014). In this sense, we can liken phenomenalism to idealism, which contends that our knowledge regarding the world emanates from our senses.

            Phenomenalists are of the opinion that to believe in the existence of a physical or material object is akin to believing in the experience of sense-data of different forms.  On the other hand, materialism only believes in the existence of physical phenomena. The doctrine further holds that all phenomena, including consciousness and mental phenomena, are due to material interactions (Hirst, 2014).

            Materialism views the mind as the working brain and that in the absence of the brain, there can be no mind. Materialism views free will and consciousness as a mirage (Nagel, 2012), thereby relegating the idea of free will to folk psychology. Dawkins is in support of the lack of free will, arguing that humans are controlled by their selfish genes.  One of the problems of with materialism is that it does not explain does not explain the issue of identity. It does not explain, for example, how human may experience two events as one in case of divergent realisation in their brain (Nagel, 2012). In the same way, it does not explain how people with different encoding, may communicate about the same event. 


            Functionalism is a doctrine of both psychology and philosophy that hinges on the premise that what makes something a mental state of a certain form is not determined by its internal composition, but is dependent on the functions that it fulfills, and the manner in which it fulfills these roles within the system that contains it (Koons & Bealer, 2010).  The functionalism doctrine draws heavily from Aristotle's ideation of the soul, and has also been influenced by Hobbe's view of the mind as “a calculating machine”.  The neutral nature of functionalism in regards to both dualism and materials has rendered it to materialists, majority of whom believe that there is a high probability that any states with the ability to fulfil the functions in question would most likely be in a physical state.

            Functionalists perceive the mind as an information domain distinct from the machine that it is executed on. Functionalists further views information as a separate entity from the matter it is implemented on. This points towards the possibility of free will seeing as our mind is is not under the control of  information or genes (Benedetti et al., 2005). The functionalism doctrine has however been criticised  from the field of neuroscience for having likened the brain to computers.  The human brain is more sophisticated than the computer  There is also the problem of symbol grounding. In this case, humans have been shown to interact with the environment, which also acts as a source of information.

            On the other hand, computers have to be inputted with data by humans in order to process information. This is a further testament to the fact that humans are by far superior to computers. In order to obtain meaning from symbols in information processing, there must be a reference point, which often acts as the external reality. When humans interact with the environment, grounding ensues. For example, when one is trying to solve a certain problem, he/she needs to first test the options available to them in order to establish what works, and what does not work. 

Mind-Body Interactions

            The mind-body problems are usually manifested in such psychological phenomena as mind-focused treatments, somatoform disorders, as well as the placebo effect.

Somatoform  disorder

            Mind-body interactions have found wide application in the field of psychology, to explain various disorders and suggest the most ideal forms of treatment. For example, persons with somatoform disorder present with physical symptoms such as  fatigue, pain, and paralysis,  but there is no underlying cause for the illness (Frances, 2013). This disorder is usually associated with stress, emotional problems, and traumatic life events.  An understanding of mind-body problem is essential in implementing mind-focused treatment with the goals of improving the outcomes of such disorders as somatoform and stress. Examples of useful mind-focused treatments are cognitive therapy meditation, and guided imagery, among others.  Placebo effect

            The placebo effect is yet another testament to notion that such “subjective” constructs as value and expectation are characterised by identifiable physiological bases (Kihlstrom, 2008). The placebo effect demonstrates how our value and belief systems influence brain processes concerned with emotion and  perception and eventually, physical and mental health. These processes act as forceful regulators of fundamental motor, perceptual, and internal homeostatic processes.      


            In sum, the mind-body problems revolves around the relationship between the brain and the mind. Various theories tries to explain this relationship. Dualism views the brain and the mind as distinct substances, while materialism views the mind as   a by-product of the brain. On the other hand, functionalism perceive the mind as an information domain. Such psychological phenomena as the placebo effect, somatoform disorders and mind-focused treatment are perfect examples of the psychological phenomena that is the mind-body problem. 














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Brysbaert, M. & Rastle, K. (2013). Historical and Conceptual Issues in Psychology (2 nd

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Frances, A. (2013). The new somatic symptom disorder in DSM-5 risks mislabeling many

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Hirst, R.J. (2014). The Problems of Perception. London: Routledge.

Jaegwon, K (2010). Essays in the Metaphysics of Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Nagel, T. (2012). Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature

            is Almost Certainly False. Oxford, Mass.: OUP USA.

Schaffer, J. (2010). Monism: The Priority of the Whole. Philosophical Review, 119(1),31-76.



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