In Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes argued that the mind and the body are independent but inter-correlated while the mind can exist without the body; what is known as essential dualism. Based on this theory, the mind is not a material thing because it has none of the properties that material things have such as spatiality and divisibility. However, there are some facts that challenge Descartes’ idea of the immateriality of the mind as well as its independence from the body. One of those facts that dualism cannot explain is what happens to some brain damaged people (Descartes, 2008, p. 14).
In cases like Gage or Elliott, the brain damage not only affected the patients’ brain tissue and their sensation, but their other mind faculties such as mentality, reasoning, remembering and conceiving as well. In Cage’s case, whom an iron bar entered into his skull in a construction explosion, he survived the injuries and infections. He showed no problem to hear, speak, touch and see the aftermath of the accident, however, after a while his mental instability became apparent. Similar mental imbalance happened for Elliott, another case that had an enormous tumour in his head.
Brain damage cases raised the speculation that the things that define humanity in terms of mentality are dependent on our brain, while in dualism humans’ ability for abstract reasoning is one of the mind faculties and presumed to be independent of the brain. In other words, if mind and body are distinct and mind is independent of material then changes and damages to the brain should not have any effect on human mentally and intellectual reasoning. Later some theories emerged and attempted to address the issue that dualism was faced, like Parallelism, Occasionalism, Epiphenomenalism, Behaviourism and Identity Theory.
In contraryto dualism, behaviourism expresses that there is no mind but is behaviour. Ryle, as a behaviourist, claimed that the Cartesian dualism was wrong about what mind and mental activities are, therefore dualism asked the wrong question about the mind properties. Ryle explained the dualism’s wrong approach by articulating it as Category Mistake. He argued that mind is nothing except a convenient shorthand for all one’s actions and dispositions, such like a university which is nothing further that its buildings, students, staff, activities and other things which happen in it, mind is nothing more than its activities. Therefore, the mind is not a thing beside other things, and it has no need for a nonphysical substance to fulfil its activities (Ryle, 2009, pp. 1-13).
Based on behaviourism, the mind is the brain, and it leads to Eliminativism which expresses that there is no mind. It means human actions and behaviours emerge from the brain and its states. Therefore, upon any damages to the brain, behaviours, mental balances and other psychological properties may vary. This view can answer the problem Cartesian dualism was faced in the way that there is no differentiation between the body and the mind as the later is just a name for some human activities. Therefore, similar to damages that may paralyse other organs, damages to the brain can affect mentality and behaviour.
Descartes, René, and Michael Moriarty. Meditations on First Philosophy with Selections from the Objections and Replies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Ryle, Gilbert, The Concept of Mind. 60th Anniversary Edition, Routledge, 2009