Recently someone writing a paper on the mind body connection wrote to ask a few questions. Here is how she began.
I've just read through your book online and found it absolutely fascinating!! I am currently completing an essay whereby I have to agree with the idea of interactionism and against the ideas of physicalism of parallelism.
From what I have read, it seems as though I can suggest that how the mind and body interact is via the perception of time. Would I be right in suggesting that? I've been really struggling with this essay for the past week, not being able to get my head round it and now I think you've finally given me a break through!
My First Response . . .
Thanks so much for writing and for the positive feedback. I'm currently working with an editor to get the book into shape and my publisher expects to see it our early next year.
As for your essay, one thing which makes this kind of essay hard to write is that many important people make assumptions about the mind body connection without ever having realized they have made them. Take your family doctor, for instance. Ask him or her if a physical thing; medicine, affects the mind, and I am sure he or she'd would say of course. But if you asked what he thought of the placebo effect, he'd probably deny the obvious; that the mind affects the body.
Then take your teacher or professor. I'd bet he or she too has mind body assumptions albeit perhaps less medically closed minded.
What makes all this hard of course is that we experience the mind and body as if they literally are two separate things, just as Descartes said. They're not. They're one thing. Just as Spinoza said. But because we have a threshold of perception as Herbart said, we feel like they are two because where they connect falls below our ability to perceive.
In the end, for the most part, we line ourselves up with Descartes, in that the mind and body do feel like two distinct and separate experiences. On the other hand, because we also feel them interact, we also know that somehow, the mind and body connect. This is where the idea of time (and Leibniz's two clocks) comes in.
The most amazing thing here is that no one seems to have noticed how this all fits together. Yet if you simply vary the speed at which you speak to someone, you can directly alter their ability to think and or feel. Easily, empirically, and consistently.
In addition, because everything in our world is psychophysical (because the same laws rule both the physical world and the psychological world), if you were to progressively ring smaller and larger sized bells, this would also affect your ability to think and or feel and in the exact same way.
Anyway, if there's anyway I might help. do write again. And good luck with your essay.
And Her Response . . .
Congratulations on the book being out (hopefully) next year - I will DEFINITELY be looking out for that.
Thank you so much for your response to my email. I've actually only just picked it up and it has helped me an incredible amount. Your right - such essays are incredibly difficult!!! What you were saying makes complete sense, I'm just left with a few uncertainties which I had in the first place... if you are busy or you're not really sure, I won't be offended if you can't answer to my email!!
First of all, I can't describe what actually defines physical versus non physical in the first place. And how can physical laws alone not explain things like consciousness or free will?
I also looked into the idea of epiphenomenalism and how that explains the mind and body problem but I guess I can't really then explain how consciousness and the body stay in sync? How does someone function if their consciousness has the idea that there is no free will and therefore no personal responsibility? Does that make sense?!?!
I tell you what... this essay is pretty difficult!!!!!!!!
All the best,
And Mine . . .
I have to say, I love your questions.
Why can't you define physical versus non physical? Because the distinction is not physical versus non physical but rather physical versus experiential. Thus, while we are indeed physically one being, we also have two physiological brains, each with its own way of experiencing life.
What this means is, we collect (physically sense) and store (remember) sensation itself in one place; in the physical body. But we process and feedback these sensations from two other places; from our two physiological brains, as two different experiences of life.
My way of referring to this idea is to say we are a "two that are one." Moreover, were you to have sat in on my last Emergence Master Teachers group, you would have heard four hours of how this concept is the master fractal for the patterns beneath everything in our world. Including that you can find two that are one symbols in the symbols of every major religion and philosophy from Taoism and Christianity to ancient Persian astrology and Greek philosophy.
Digressions aside, without knowing we have two physiological brains, none of this makes sense. This is why the great philosophers could never put this together. They were missing a major piece of the puzzle; that we have a second brain in the gut.
What happens when you add this piece to the puzzle?
As soon as you combine this idea (that we have two inner experiences of life, not just one) with that the physical body is the storage vessel and collection point for all that we can be conscious of and remember, you realize that we have two, not one, circulating senses of self;  the physically sensed body to mind to physically sensed body circuit, and  the physically sensed body to gut to physically sensed body circuit. Moreover while both circuits revolve around what we physically sense, they both include two sources of physical sensation, one gathered externally and one internally.
What do I mean by two sources of physical sensation, an external source and an internal source?
Here, I'm referring to Fechner's way of dividing the two ways we can experience life. Fechner divided what others can see, including us, from what only we can see. In other words, to Fechner, there is an external world and an internal world, and they differ only in that what is experienced by the internal one, the mind, can never be seen by others, while what can be what can be seen and experienced by is the external one.
Add to this then that we gather physical sensations from both these sources, from what we sense of the external world and from what we sense only in our minds. Thus, while we obviously can focus, for instance, on the sensations we feel from sitting in a seat, we can also, through imagining, create alternate physical sensations which simultaneously get added to what we externally sense.
For instance, if you notice what your body is physically feeling right now with regard to that you are sitting on a seat, you will feel sensations. And if I suggest you imagine this seat has suddenly become quite hot (and if you can imagine this being true), then you will potentially add sensations from your two internal sources. Both internally generated mental sources.
Now realize both our physiological brains engage in this additive process; in other words, that we gather sensation from both the external world and from both of our internal worlds. Moreover, that the primary function of each of these two circuits is to combine what we physiologically sense from all three sources into one cohesive experience.
Does this sound like a complicated process? It is. Fortunately we each have a natural preference for noticing only one of these two potential internal experiences. Either we default to the experiences of the mind-in-the-head or to the experiences of the mind-in-the-gut. Moreover the nature of this preference is determined entirely by time, in that the rate at which we process the body's physical sensations determines which inner mind we prefer.
In other words, the faster we gather and process physical sensations, the more thought-like our experiences become, whereas the slower we gather and process physical sensations, the more we experience our physical sensations as emotion-like experiences.
Of course, there are also times wherein we experience leakage from our less noticed internal brain. And in extreme cases, the ambivalence which results from our trying to reconcile what these two brains tell us causes what we commonly call, ADD.
Then there is the idea that because we have two potential default internal lives, we have two potential kinds of ADD. The one therapists normally refer to as ADD is the one I call ADD of the mind. Whereas the one the opposite group of folks have is the one I call ADD of the body.
Said in other words, because we are designed to process life by defaulting to the experiences of only one of our two brains, we normally bypass much of the potential conflict. Moreover the nature of this conflict is simply that because we have two internal minds, whenever both brains send noticeable data, we experience confusion. And an inner conflict of sorts, the essence of which becomes the root cause of all struggles within human existence. What we commonly refer to as the battles between head and heart.
Now let's bring all this back to your initial question; how can you define the differences between the body and the mind? How? By adopting Fechner's idea that we have an internal world and an external world, and that the division between these two lies entirely in the idea of whether others can or cannot see the thing we are experiencing. Now add to this the idea that these two things are both the experiences of the mind and as such, are not the experiences of the body. Which this then amounts to that we actually have two minds and one body, and that we normally experience only the body and one of these minds, but sometimes we experience fragments of the second mind.
Can you now see where the confusion has been coming from? It's been coming from that we have been mixing up the experiences of the physical body with what we experiences of the mind in the gut. We've also been referring to the "mind" as what we experience in our heads, never realizing we also have a second mind; the mind in the gut.
As for why physical laws alone cannot explain things like consciousness or free will, to be honest, I believe this is just not possible. In other words, even with all we've recently discovered about the mind and body, we can't even describe in concrete words the beauty in a rose. How could we ever hope to put into words the beauty of being human.
What you might do though is realize that what we call consciousness might be roughly referred to as the sum of what we notice with our two physiological / psychological circuit. Noticed sensations in other words. Thus we might begin to define consciousness itself by dividing the sum total of the physical sensations we gather and store from those we notice. Then add to this all we internally think and feel about this noticed sensation and you have a rough starting point with which to define consciousness.
Finally, as to how all this applies to free will and personal responsibility, Donna, I defer to those more wise than I. That we have these two things; free will and personal responsibility I'd readily agree. But as to where they come from, here again, I'd say this is akin to putting into words the beauty in a rose. Or the innocence you see in a puppy rolling on a lawn in summer. Or the wonder in a baby's lit up eyes when he or she is learning to laugh with you.
I'd say then that attempts to technically describe this stuff are forever doomed to fail. And as such are best left to those specialists more qualified by art itself. Which after all, is why we both agree, your essay is pretty damn difficult.
Thanks so much for writing again and for provoking yet another digression into a subject I love.