MIND, LIFE AND BODY

by     Reginald O. Kapp

PART I - THE PROBLEM IN GENERAL TERMS

Chapter I - SOME BASIC QUESTIONS


MIND, life, body. Each of these three words is in daily use and each may occur with half a dozen different meanings in as many sentences. Some of the meanings belong, moreover, to different universes of discourse so that mention of mind, life and body may evoke associations connected with psychology, philosophy, religion, or, perhaps, with just trivial mundane affairs. Small wonder then that statements in which the words are brought together often lead to profound misunderstanding and heated argument.

To avoid both let me begin by establishing the universe of discourse with which these pages are concerned. This is all the more necessary because, more often than not, the context in which the three words occur together is a philosophical one and I do not, in these pages, propose to discuss them within the universe of discourse of the philosopher. Nor do I propose to discuss them within that of the theologian. For reasons that will become clear as I proceed, I propose to discuss them within a universe of discourse in which they have hitherto been brought together less often, namely, that of science. So any ethical or religious associations that the words may evoke, any metaphysical speculations, any discussion of values, will have no place here. The relation between mind, life and body is to be discussed only in terms of causality.

Much in science is discussed in these terms. For whenever a scientist observes a change of any kind in a material system lie looks for the cause of the change. Usually this is complex; so he analyses it into its sundry component causes and is not satisfied until he has traced every one of them. Then, and only then, can he give a complete and rational explanation of the change.

Let an example illustrate this:
The path of a projectile, called its trajectory, is observed to be nearly, but not quite, a parabola. Among the causes of this curved path are the force with which the projectile is expelled from the gun barrel, the force of gravity, the force exerted on the projectile by air resistance, forces set up by gyroscopic action, and possibly other forces. Only when these are all known can a satisfactory explanation of the trajectory be given. In this example the explanation can be put into a mathematical formula in which all the forces are expressed.

Similar complete and satisfactory explanations can be found for the paths of the planets, for the tides, for the formation of valleys and mountains, for the sun's radiation, for chemical reactions, for the colours of the rainbow. Thus are scientists slowly and surely completing their analysis of the causes of all observable changes and giving thereby a more and more complete statement about the nature of reality.

In the Seventeenth Century the progress of science speeded up largely because the part that physical forces play in all material changes came to be recognised. That realisation led to a much deeper understanding of the nature of causality. Indeed, in the examples that I have just quoted all the component causes of each change are physical forces, a physical force being rate of change of momentum. It is now elementary knowledge among physicists that a physical change can only occur under the action of physical forces. For the benefit of non-physicists I shall explain the reasons in Chapter VII.

The importance of looking for the forces that contribute to every material change is so great, and science benefited so enormously when causality came to be discussed in terms of physical forces, that there is now a risk of overstatement. From the proved fact that some of the component causes of every physical change must be physical forces it is a small step to the unproved assumption that all the component causes must be physical forces; but it is a dangerous step. True, there are very strong reasons for this assumption, as I shall show in Chapter VII, but they are not quite conclusive. The assumption remains a hypothesis and is severely shaken by certain observations on the behaviour of living substance. These are not difficult or recondite observations. They are facts of common knowledge and if their bearing on the nature of causality has not yet been properly appreciated it can only be, I feel sure, because the juxtaposition of the words mind, life and body has hitherto been assumed to provide a theme for philosophers only and not one for scientists. These observations suggest very convincingly that some of the causes that constitute a change in organic substance are not physical forces. It is very important to our understanding of many scientific facts to know whether this is true or not. If it is we shall have to alter our conception of causality quite radically. Hence this book. I want to show that it is necessary, in the interests of scientific progress, to apply scientific method to the following very basic question:
Does a complete list of the component causes of a physical change necessarily contain only physical forces?

In that form the question is rather too general for discussion in terms of concrete facts. And as it is only raised by events in the organic world it can usefully be replaced by two other, rather more specific, questions:
Do our non-material minds control our material bodies?

Is there a non-material influence to which the name life can be given and does this control the structure and behaviour of living substance?

The answer "yes" to either of these two questions can only mean that some of the causes of a physical change in our bodies have a non-material origin. I shall show in due course why, with such an origin, these causes cannot be physical forces. To answer "yes" is, therefore, to deny the hypothesis that all causes of a physical change are necessarily physical forces. And there are many who do answer "yes", though I doubt whether they are aware of the implications of their answer.

Common sense takes the answer "yes" for granted. According to its judgement the power of thought is a reality; there can be no doubt that our non-material minds control our material actions. But then common sense is a fallible instrument, as science has proved over and over again.

The theologian will also answer at least the first question with an unhesitating "yes". That mind controls body is with him a matter of faith to which he will hardly admit the possibility of doubt.

And the scientist? He is often influenced by common sense and sometimes by theological considerations. He may be inclined to answer "yes" until the implications of that answer become apparent. Then he may reverse his opinion. For the unproved assumption that all causes are necessarily physical forces has become with many scientists a matter of faith that will hardly admit the possibility of doubt. But both the answer "yes" and the answer "no" raises some formidable problems, as I shall show later on, and a facile solution of these simply won't do. So it would be a bold man who ventured to assert that as much is known about causality as scientists need to know. Let me add a few more basic questions to those already formulated. They will help to define the scope of the present enquiry.

Are mind and life active realities?

Active is the operative word here. For there are schools of philosophy according to which mind and life, though real, are not active; they are said to be no more than convenient words with which to express the sum total of a collection of attributes common to certain living things. One of these schools declares that mind and life "emerge" from the specific relatedness between the atoms that constitute the living body. If adherents of these schools are right it is wrong to say that mind and life control the body, for a mere attribute cannot, of course, control anything.

To distinguish attributes from active realities one would I have to call them passive realities. An active reality can do something; it can run, or fight, or eat or build things; it can exercise choice; sometimes it can apply a force and cause things to move. Anything that, by the common use of language, can be called a cause must also be called an active reality. But a mere attribute can do none of these things; it is meaningless to speak of what it does; one can only speak of what it is.

Are mind and life distinct from the body?

The answer depends, of course, on how the word distinct is to be understood. It has been argued, perhaps rightly, that our minds cannot exist without our bodies, nor our bodies without our minds. From this interdependence one might assume, rather carelessly, that they cannot be distinguished. But interdependence is not a synonym for identity. In the above question distinct is to be understood in the sense in which the head is distinct from the trunk and also in the sense in which the driver is distinct from the motor-car. They are distinct, even I though the head cannot exist without the trunk or the trunk without the head, just as the driver and the car cannot each perform his or its proper function without the other. Those who believe that mind and life are distinct in this sense probably also believe that they both have a controlling function. And those who believe that they are not distinct in this sense will deny them any controlling function.

Are mind and life material or non-material?

The meaning of this question cannot be clear unless the meaning of the words material and non-material has first been defined; and this will not be done until the next two chapters. However the common use of language limits any possible uncertainty to some extent. It would not conform to the common use of language to say that mind and life were non-material if one thought of them as tenuous fluids suffusing living tissues, as vitalist philosophers seem at one time to have done. If they were they could be the origin of physical forces and there would be no need to doubt the hypothesis that all causes are physical forces. It is only if they are non-material in a truer sense, in the sense that they cannot be the origin of physical forces, that any doubt arises.

The more sophisticated among those who believe that the mind controls the body do not think of it as a tenuous fluid. They think of it as truly non-material. So they believe that what is non-material can contribute to the causes of material events. But it is just the more sophisticated, particularly if they. have some knowledge of physics, who are also convinced that the only possible causes of material events are physical forces. Hence they believe that what is non-material can exert a physical force. This belief, we shall find, is untenable. So those who hold it must either revise their belief about the nature of mind or their belief about the nature of causality. They can retain the belief that the mind is a non-material influence or they can retain their belief that all causes are physical forces; but they cannot retain both beliefs.

I am afraid that they will not find the choice attractive. But then scientific conclusions are not to be tested by the criterion of attractiveness. That is the reason why laymen sometimes disapprove of science.

Is the universe a monistic or a dualistic one?

This question has been debated by philosophers for a long while. It is odd that those most concerned to understand the nature of causality, namely scientists, have contributed so little to the discussion. For the question has an immediate bearing on the nature of causality. A monistic universe is one in which matter, in the widest sense of the I word, is the only active reality. In such a universe all causes are physical forces. On the other hand part of a dualistic universe is, by definition, distinct from matter. This part is assumed also to influence the course of events; so it is assumed to be a source of causes, causes that are not physical forces. A dualist cannot accept the hypothesis that all causes are physical forces.

If and when an integration of all knowledge has been achieved will all the scences appear as branches of physics?

There is a sense in which chemistry now appears as a branch of physics, for its laws are only special applications of the laws of physics, of the laws according to which matter acts on matter. If the universe is monistic all laws are, in the same sense, special applications of the laws-of physics; for all of them are laws that define the way in which matter acts on matter. The laws of biology and psychology must then be among these. But if the universe is dualistic the laws according to which matter acts on matter are not the only ones. There must be others that could not, without unduly straining the use of language, be described as laws of physics. The laws of biology and psychology may, in that case be distinct from those of physics.

The above eight questions are all basic and, though they differ greatly in form, they hardly differ at all in content. They all amount to much the same question, they all have the same bearing, on the nature of causality, and they all serve to distinguish between the monistic and the dualistic views of reality. Those who would give the monistic answer to one would give the monistic answer to all; those who would give the dualistic answer to one would give the dualistic answer to all; those who would give an evasive answer to one would give an evasive answer to all. And they are all questions to which no one with a sense of responsibility ought to give a hasty answer, though hasty answers are, unfortunately, all too frequent.

Nor are they questions to which philosophical method is very appropriate. I say this although I am well aware that philosophers have been debating them for several centuries and that sundry rival schools have always claimed to possess the key to the door behind which the answers are to be found. But I am also aware that each key unlocks a different door. After all those years of intensive effort philosophical method has not produced an agreed answer to a single one of the above eight questions. Perhaps it could do so after a few more centuries; but scientists need to improve their understanding of causality now. Where philosophical method has failed scientific method is at least worth trying.

At this point it may be helpful, even at the risk of a. little repetitiveness, to summarise very briefly the answers that can be given to the above questions. The monistic answers are that all causes are physical forces, that in so far as mind and life are realities they are what I have called passive realities, that they do not control the body but are only manifestations of its structure and composition, that they are not distinct from the body in the sense in which the driver is distinct from his motor-car, that they are in no sense of the word non-material influences, that they cannot be called the causes of anything but rather effects resulting from certain specific configurations. As monists believe that the universe consists only of what, sufficiently widely defined, is called matter, they would also say that physics, being the study of matter in all its aspects, will some day embrace all the other sciences.

The dualistic answers are every time the exact opposites of these. Though answers have occasionally been attempted as a compromise between the extreme opposites, none of them will bear criticism. When an attempt is made to answer one of the eight questions in one sense and another in the opposite sense the inconsistency is glaring. And those compromise answers that claim to say neither yes nor no but something between these simple alternatives are meaningless. What they really do, I have noticed, is either to dodge the questions and answer others instead or to be so verbose, obscure and confusing that they might mean anything.

One of the unpleasant truths that have to be faced is that both sets of answers, the monistic and the dualistic ones, raise formidable difficulties. The pillars that support the roof of monism and those that support the roof of dualism appear, on close examination, to be equally insecure. Only painstaking scientific study can reveal which are really the strong ones. And this is why so few, even among scientists, have the patience to consider the objections to their favoured doctrine. Whether they find their spiritual home under the monistic or the dualistic roof, they are, unknown to themselves, apprehensive of the safety of the pillars that support it; they dare not allow those pillars to be shaken lest they should collapse. Such is, after all, human nature.

In this book I have set myself the unpopular task of attempting to shake all the pillars. I shall begin in Chapter VII with those that support the dualistic roof. I shall try to show how justified those seem to be who declare that monistic answers to the eight questions are the only tenable ones. Later on I shall attack the pillars that support the roof of monism with equal ruthlessness. I shall show that they depend for their apparent stability on the ignoring of many facts that every one knows to be true.

And the net result? Will it be the conclusion that both roofs must collapse on us when their pillars are shaken by criticism? Must we resign ourselves to one of those compromises between yes and no with all their verbosities, their obscurities, their ambiguities? I do not think so.

If I may try to announce in a few words a conclusion that will only be reached after much ground has been laboriously covered, it is this. We shall find that the pillars supporting the monistic roof look comparatively strong. But we shall also find on closer examination that the pillars supporting the monistic roof are, nevertheless, quite unequal to their duty, and that there is a reasonable prospect that those supporting the .dualistic roof are really stronger than they seem to be, so strong that they can withstand the severest criticism.

Let us now leave metaphor and tackle the hard facts on which alone it can be decided whether science will, in future, take causes into consideration that are not physical forces.

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