The idea that we can separate mind from body, as Descartes claimed in the seventeenth century, has fallen out of favour recently.
However, Oxford Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Richard Swinburne, has developed his dualist theories in his book, Mind, Brain and Free Will.
His work is partly based on the theories of the American logician, Saul Kripke, born in 1940.
Kripke, in turn, based his work on semantics, frames and models which together are the tools of “modal logic” – which is “the logic of notions such as necessity and possibility,” explains Jeremy Harwood in Philosophy – 100 Great Thinkers.
Sally Latham, Philosophy and Anthropology lecturer at Birmingham Metropolitan College, in her article “Swinburne’s Separations” in Philosophy Now, explains that Swinburne claims, “The mind is a distinct entity that can exist independently of the brain.”
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Swinburne’s belief is the possibility of moving from the idea “…that a mind without a body is logically coherent, to the idea that it is realistically possible. This is a metaphysical possibility, he claims, because there is a non-physical element which constitutes ‘me’… something is logically possible if it is not discoverable ‘a priori’ (ie through thought alone) to be metaphysically impossible.”
The above is a brief and much-simplified overview, and the Swinburne’s argument engages with a number of complex theories explained in his book, of which we will talk a little more later.
The concept of dualism has a complex history that has its roots in the ancient world.
Plato’s Perfect Forms
Materialists believe that physical states bring about mental states, because we live in a physical, empirical world, based on sense-perception. Dualists deny this, saying that these two states cannot be assimilated one with the other.
Howard Robinson, Professor of Philosophy at Central European University, in his article “Dualism” on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy website, refers back to Plato (c.427 BC – c.347 BC), whose philosophy is firmly based on his idea that the material world is illusory and misleads us. Plato claims, instead, that there is a perfect world of unchanging entities.
“In Phaedo Plato presents a variety of arguments for the immortality of the soul… the intellect is immaterial because Forms are immaterial and intellect must have an affinity with the Forms it apprehends. This affinity is so strong that the soul strives to leave the body in which it is imprisoned and to dwell in the realm of Forms. It may take many reincarnations before this is achieved. Plato’s dualism is not, therefore, simply a doctrine in the philosophy of mind, but an integral part of his whole metaphysics.”
Cartesian dualism originated from the thinking of the rationalist philosopher René Descartes, (1596-1650) who also claims that mind and matter are two distinct and separates substances.
Howard Robinson explains:
“In the philosophy of mind, dualism is the theory that the mental and the physical—or mind and body or mind and brain—are, in some sense, radically different kinds of thing. Because common sense tells us that there are physical bodies, and because there is intellectual pressure towards producing a unified view of the world, one could say that materialist monism is the ‘default option.’ Discussion about dualism, therefore, tends to start from the assumption of the reality of the physical world, and then to consider arguments for why the mind cannot be treated as simply part of that world.”
So – Does Our “Thisness” Mean We Have a Soul?
From the starting point of assuming that humans have both physical and mental properties, Richard Swinburne attempts to develop his own theory about the mind’s independent existence of the human body.
He does this by questioning, among other things, the reality of personal identity and the necessity for continuity. Sally Latham says:
“The complex view of personal identity states that personal identity is analysable in terms of degrees of continuity, whether the emphasis concerning what continues is put on memories, character or bodily matter (usually the brain.) The simple view is that each person has a ‘thisness’ apart from their brain matter, memory or character, and this ‘thisness’ is what makes him or her a person and continue to be the same person over time.”
The matter of personal identity might be compromised if a person had a brain disease and loses a proportion of their memory over a period of time.
At what point do they stop being that person? A loss of 10% may make little difference, but consider a loss of 99% – would that person be the same person as before?
Likewise, if doctors separated two parts of a brain and implanted them into two separate people, so that each acquired the same memories as the other – then the implication is, says Latham, that the “dual possibility is only possible if what constitutes me is something other than my brain matter memory or character.”
This “thisness,” says Latham, “we may call a ‘soul.’”
If Swinburne is right, then can we, in reality, assume that death may not be the end? Many people believe this is the case.
Can We Exist Independently of our Bodies? Let’s Ask the Scientists
What implications might the theory of dualism have for the human concepts that continually grip our imaginations and fill our hearts with hope for eternal life? If Swinburne’s theories have substance, then are the convictions that accompany religious experiences or paranormal experiences much more than wishful thinking on the part of those who long for immortality?
Some scientists and philosophers are seriously beginning to question the possibility that death is not the end.
The Objective Observer-Independent Existence is False, says Robert Lanza
Robert Lanza, MD, chief scientific officer of advanced cell technology, begins his excellent article “Is Death an Illusion?” with a quotation from Albert Einstein:
“After the death of his old friend, Albert Einstein said ‘Now Besso has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us … know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.’”
The problem is that we believe what we were taught, what we have experienced, what we “know” to be the case. We live and we die and, basically, that’s that!
“We think life is just the activity of carbon and an admixture of molecules…. We live awhile and then rot in the ground,” says Robert Lanza.
Or do we?
Not according to Robert Lanza: “The answer is simple – reality is a process that involves your consciousness.”
Biocentrism – A New Theory of Everything
So did all those great early thinkers get it right – that mind and body are distinct and separate entities – a concept reached without the benefit of our modern-day sophisticated experimentation and scientific technology? It seems so.
Lanza explains how, with a little modification of genetic engineering, you could be made to see a red or green sky, even though everyone else sees blue. Your brain can be fooled into seeing dark where there is, apparently, light.
Whatever you see or experience, it is because you have consciousness. Without consciousness, there would be no observation. All the information is within the confines of your mind.
The bizarre behaviour of particles in Quantum Physics shows us that events cannot be predicted accurately. “Instead there is a range of possible observations each with a different probability,” according to Robert Lanza.
The behaviour of particles depends on whether you watch them or not – this has been proven, repeatedly, by experimentation in strict laboratory conditions. This experiment is the ‘dual slit’ or ‘two-slit’ experiment.
Lanza is convinced that this behaviour, which we know to be present in the microscopic worlds, is also present in our own, everyday world. “Space and time are tools to bring everything together,” explains Lanza.
It is all about our perception, which is responsible for everything we understand to be real, including time and space, past and present.
Could this groundbreaking theory change the way we think about our very existence?
New Philosophy: Complex But Convincing
Lanza’s article is complex but convincing; I recommend that you read it carefully in order to begin to grasp the concepts – concepts that were, to some degree, embraced by some of our early philosophical thinkers, although they were often derided and attacked for their convictions.