Rene Descartes was a French mathematician, writer and philosopher. He is recognized as the father of the contemporary philosophy. In addition, most of the western philosophy is a reaction to Descartes’ writings that are studied closely today. His writings, especially Meditation on First Philosophy, continue being a standard text in most departments of philosophy in many universities (MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey, 2009). His effect on mathematics is also apparent in the Cartesian coordinate system that allows reference to a point in space. His contribution to the field of mathematics allowed expressing of algebraic equations as geometric shapes in two-dimensional system of coordinate. As such, the present coordinate system was named after him. Most importantly, Descartes often separated his views from those of his predecessors. Many of Descartes’ philosophy have been examples in the late Aristotelianism, which was the revived stoicism of the 16th century (Bennett & Hacker, 2012). Descartes differed from the schools on two key points in his natural philosophy. He rejected the assessment of corporal substance into form and matter (MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey, 2009). He also rejected any appeal to natural or divine in explaining natural phenomenon. In the regard, this paper discusses Descartes’ views on the mind, body and neuroscience.
Descartes overtaken a colossal task in his writing referred to as Meditations on First Philosophy. In his writing, Rene wanted to respond to the tough questions concerning the existence of God, his existence, and the truth concerning the world around him (Baker & Morris, 2002). He used simple logic steps in building up the difficult conclusions he arrived at. By depending significantly on his previous findings, he eventually proved whether material things exist or not. He also determined whether his body and mind are distinct from each other or not. Descartes, in Meditation Six, provides the basis for dualism that has become one of the most significant arguments in contemporary philosophy. It is important to first understand what Descartes concluded in Meditation Six (Baker & Morris, 2002).
According to Descartes, if the hypothesis or premises are true and the argument in question is valid, then the conclusions are acceptable. In Meditation One, he presumes, for the sake of his study, that material things do not exist (Bennett & Hacker, 2012). Descartes deploys the Dream Argument to free him of all the things he perceives to know. By not trusting everything, he starts with those objects or things he is sure of and builds a solid basis for knowledge. Traces of dualism began in Meditation Two. Descartes establishes that he can only be certain of one thing and that thing is thinking. Initially, it appears that by closing himself off from the universe, Descartes would not be capable of arriving at any true statements. Nevertheless, Descartes’ first conclusion appears not possible to refute (MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey, 2009). Because Descartes understood that he was thinking, then it implied that he must be existing. Descartes’ popular notion, “I think, therefore I am,” provides the basis for his dualism of mind-body. According to Descartes, he has a mind without having to presume that he has a body. Therefore, he was certain of his mind. However, he was not certain of anything he perceives through the senses (MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey, 2009). Descartes argued that he could be under the influence of an evil spirit, which might be deceiving him into incorrectly believing what he takes to understand as reality.
In meditation three, he wanted to prove God’s existence. According to him, if he can assert that God exists then he can commence establishing other facts (Baker & Morris, 2002). In proving God’s existence, Descartes begins with the idea that God is all-good and all-powerful. He argued that this idea might have not originated from him. As a result, the idea must have come from God. From Descartes line of argument, he is strongly convinced that God exists. According to MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey (2009), this line of argument cannot be comprehensively convincing to an individual who has never heard of any idea concerning God. As such, these individuals might argue that God does not exist because they do not have the same idea as that of Descartes. Nevertheless, the big question is how God can exist for some individuals, and not for others. This led him to conclude that God must either be existing or not existing (Bennett & Hacker, 2012).
Descartes’ line of reasoning appears convincing to an individual who already or strongly believes in God. However, it does not appear to be capable of proving the existence of God to an atheist. Atheists believe in God, but they do not think that God’s existence relies on them having an idea concerning him (Bennett & Hacker, 2012). Simply, because some individuals seem not to believe in God does not imply that he does not exist. This logic can concur with Descartes’ line of reasoning. According to MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey (2009), because Rene believes in the existence of God, it does not imply that God actually exist. MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey (2009) believe that it is extremely bad idea to establish beliefs on God’s existence by using philosophy. Descartes admitted that God transcends limited knowledge of human beings.
Descartes had to prove first that material objects actually exist before speculating on the association between body and mind (Bennett & Hacker, 2012). Descartes first sets out to respond to these tough questions in Meditation Six. According to the argument in Meditation Six, God has the ability to cause the existence of anything. Because Descartes believes in the existence of God, then it implies that that the rest of the material world also exists. Because God is all-good and all-powerful, he would not have made the judgment of human beings concerning the world around them to be faulty. However, Descartes faced the problem of the world and the existence of evil. According to MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey (2009), God can make the universe any form he wishes, and therefore he cannot choose to allow evil things to happen.
According to MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey (2009), God made the world, which was good, though he decided to give human beings the free will so that they could love him. In addition, the nature of God is true love. This nature requires a choice. Descartes might have wished to say that the mind of God is infinitely larger than his mind. As such, he could not begin comprehending the logic behind God allowing evil to take place in the world. With some regard, according to Bennett & Hacker (2012), this is agreeable. However, God does not leave man in the dark concerning the question why evil exists in the world. This is the price man has to pay for the original sin committed by the first human being in the planet: Adam and Eve. According to Baker & Morris (2002), God must have wiped both Adam and Eve and started other. However, MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey (2009), likens God with an artist who does not destroy his creations. As such, God loved his creations too much to destroy it, which is similar to what an artist does.
Descartes deals with the problem of imagination. According to him, he could be imagining the things around him that he chooses to know. For Descartes to understand that things exist around him, he had to rule out any likelihood that he is merely imagining. He rules out this likelihood by claiming that imagination is not necessary to his existing. As a result, Descartes can distinguish himself from this faculty for this exercise (MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey, 2009).
As such, Rene sets out to establish whether the body exists. He began by itemizing the beliefs that he has concerning the outside world. Descartes had the understanding concerning the own body such as their appetites and pleasurable effects (Bennett & Hacker, 2012). In addition, he had the understanding of other bodies that he had observed in nature. He recognized that he has to sense them if they are existing. According to MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey (2009), Descartes also understood that it is not possible to sense these bodies if they do not exist. However, Descartes makes the difference between other things and the body. According to him, the body is different since it is usually present. The body has a unique association with the mind since it is the seat of feelings, appetites, pain and all pleasures (MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey, 2009).
Descartes used the preceding premises he established n Mediations Three and Four to claim that his body and mind exist unconnectedly (MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey, 2009). According to him, what God makes disjointedly varies from other things. His mind is difference, and hence unconnected to his body. Rene also uses his Truth Rule established in Meditation Four in establishing the distinction between the body and the mind. According to Descartes, each decision he made about matter that are distinct and clear to him is confidently true. He acknowledges that God has made him to comprehend distinctly and clearly that his body and mind are separate (Bennett & Hacker, 2012). He suggests that his mind is different from his body because he can perceive himself as different from it. His essence is only a thing, which perceives and not an extended thing. As such, he established a valid case for dualism. An individual who believes in Descartes premises concerning God’s existence and his Truth Rule to be true must accept that the body and the mind are very different (Baker & Morris, 2002).
According to Baker & Morris (2002), Descartes wished to say that his body and mind are two distinct entities. Indeed, according to him, his mind is not essentially located in any single space. The mind is a non-physical and non-measurable entity, which is much similar to the way people perceive their soul. According to Bennett & Hacker (2012), this Cartesian mind forwarded by Descartes is independent of the body. However, it has a unique association such that they are usually joined. Descartes’ feelings, appetites, thoughts, pains and pleasures are a form of both the body and the mind.
The strongest opposition to Descartes’ mind-body dualism is the scientific evidence that points out that the mind and body are joined. According to MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey (2009), the mind is not the mystery force that makes human beings who they are. It is a function of neurological and chemical makeup present in human brain. Rene made an interesting claim by pointing out that the human personality, the essence of who human beings are, is more than a function of the tissue from the body to explain the dynamics of human being. According to Baker & Morris (2002), it is the soul, which is the one thing that can be distinguished from the physical being. The reason why the body and mind are not distinct function is the science, which has proved the source of human emotions and thoughts (Baker & Morris, 2002). The interdependent workings of human physical body is an indication to the fact that there are must be a creator, who assigned such effective machine.
The human brain is a mystery organ. This is because it provides humans with some more something more different from any other creature. Human beings have knowledge, emotions and intellect that other animals on the planets do not have. According to MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey (2009), the brains of human beings are unique because God gave humans a soul. The soul is the only thing that can be separated from the body. The claim that it is the soul, and not the mind, that departs the body to the afterlife is a testimony of the fact that the soul can be separated from the body. However, Bennett & Hacker (2012) refuted this claim by asserting that the idea of the mind is one that comprises of this idea of an individual soul. Descartes’ Cartesian mind seems to be something, which was provided to human beings by God, and it is something that will remain with humans after their death (Baker & Morris, 2002).
Descartes’ Contribution to Neuroscience
According to MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey (2009), the speculations about or the study of the behavior physiology has its major roots in ancient times. Since the movement of many cultures is essential for life, many of them, such as Indian, Egypt, and Chinese, view the heart as seat of emotions and thought. The ancient Greeks also believed that the heart is the seat of emotions and thought. However, the Hippocrates believed that the brain was the seat of emotions and thoughts. Not every Greek scholar concurred with the Hippocrates. For instance, Aristotle did not agree with the Hippocrates because he believed that the brain had the purpose of cooling the passions of the heart (Bennett & Hacker, 2012). Rene Descartes, though not a biologist, speculated about the role of the mind and the brain in the regulation of behavior. These speculations provided a good starting point in the history of neuroscience. According to Descartes, the world was an entirely mechanical entity that was once set in motion by God. Therefore, for an individual to understand the universe, he or she need to understand how it was constructed. According to Descartes, animals were mechanical devices that were controlled by stimuli from their environment (MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey, 2009). Descartes’ view of human beings was much similar to his view of animals. Descartes observed that some body movements occurred automatically and involuntary. Involuntary body movements, according to Descartes, do not need the participation of the mind. He referred to these body movements as reflexes.
Similar to most philosophers during his time, Descartes was a dualist who believed that every individual has a mind (MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey, 2009). The mind is special human feature that is not subject to the laws of the universe. However, Descartes’ thinking varied from that of his forerunners in one significant way. Descartes believed that the body sense organs provide the mind with information concerning what is taking place in the environment. Using this information, the mind regulates movements of the body. Descartes particularly hypothesized that the interaction between body and mind occur in the pineal body, which is a small organ located on top of the brain stem (Baker & Morris, 2002). The pineal body is buried beneath the cerebral hemispheres.
Descartes noted that the brain comprises of hollow chambers referred to as the ventricles. The ventricles are filled fluid that he believed is under pressure. In his theory, Descartes argued that when the mind chooses to perform a certain action, it slants the pineal body in a specific direction, like a joystick (Bennett & Hacker, 2012). This causes the pressurized fluid in the ventricles to flow from the brain into the right nerves. The flow of fluid causes the muscles to move and inflate.
In his young ages, the moving statues in the royal gardens impressed Rene Descartes. The moving statues serve as his models in theorizing about the function of the body. The pressurized water of the statues was substituted by pressurized fluid in the ventricles. The nerves substituted the pipes and muscles replaced the cylinders. The hidden valves were replaced by the pineal body (Baker & Morris, 2002).
In science, a model refers to a comparatively simple system, which works on known principles and is capable of doing some of the things that can be done by a complex system (Bennett & Hacker, 2012). Descartes’ model was significant since, unlike merely philosophical speculations, it could be tested practically. Indeed, biologists did not take long to affirm that that René was wrong. For instance, Luigi Galvani, one of the 17th century physiologists, found out that electrical stimulations of a frog’s nerve caused the contraction of the muscle to which it was attached. Contraction took place even when the muscle and the nerve were detached from the rest of the body. As such, the capability of the muscle to contract and the capability of the nerve to transmit messages to the muscles were aspects of these tissues (Bennett & Hacker, 2012). Therefore, the brain does not inflate muscles by directing pressurized fluid through the nerve. The experiment of Galvani opened up another research area concerning the nature of the message sent by the nerve and the mean through which the muscles contracted. The outcomes of these efforts resulted in the accumulation of knowledge concerning the behavior physiology.
According to Baker & Morris (2002), all scientists hope to clarify natural phenomena. From this perspective, the term explanation has two fundamental meanings that include reduction and generalization. Descartes argued that generalization referred to the classification of phenomena based on their essential features to allow for the formulation of general laws. On the other hand, reduction refers to describing a phenomena based on the fundamental processes (Baker & Morris, 2002).
Behavioral neuroscientists deploy both reduction and generalizations in explaining behavior. Generalizations largely use the traditional methods of psychology. On the other hand, reduction largely uses physiological events occurring within the body. Therefore, behavioral neuroscience builds upon the tradition of both experimental psychology and physiology.
The present neuroscience is grounded on significant developments of the past. Descartes proposed a model that was based on hydraulic activated statues. According to Bennett & Hacker (2012), this model stimulated observations, which resulted in significant discoveries. The outcomes of Galvani’s experiments finally resulted in the understanding of the nature of the message sent by nerves between the sensory organs and the brain, and the muscles.
The integration of biological phenomenon, like growth and nutrition, were among the prominent aims of Descartes as systematic scientist. In his various writings, such as Treatise on Man and Dioptrics, Descartes develops a mechanistic approach to psychology and physiology. Fundamental to Descartes’ approach to the understanding of human behavior is the idea that an individual should push mechanistic explanations. Descartes proclaimed that all the behaviors of non-human animals could be explained using mechanistic terms (MacDonald, Powell, Symbaluk, & Honey, 2009). Descartes defended his position by suggesting that the behavior of non-human animals uniformly fails two tests, which considers critical to establishing the presence of some rules other than the strictly mechanistic.
The writings of Rene Descartes, especially Meditation on First Philosophy, continue being a standard text in most departments of philosophy in many universities. His contribution to the field of mathematics allowed expressing of algebraic equations as geometric shapes in two-dimensional system of coordinate. Descartes overtaken a colossal task in his writing referred to as Meditations on First Philosophy. In his writing, Rene wanted to respond to the tough questions concerning the existence of God, his existence, and the truth concerning the world around him. According to Descartes, if the hypothesis or premises are true and the argument in question is valid, then the conclusions are acceptable. In Meditation One, he presumes for the sake of his study that material things do not exist. According to the argument in Meditation Six, God has the ability to cause the existence of anything. Because Descartes believes in the existence of God, then it implies that that the rest of material world also exists. Human beings have knowledge, emotions and intellect that other animals on the planets do not have. The speculations about or the study of the behavior physiology has its major roots in ancient times. Similar to most philosophers during his time, Descartes was a dualist who believed that every individual has a mind. The mind is special human feature that is not subject to the laws of the universe. Descartes’ model was significant since, unlike merely philosophical speculations, it could be tested practically. The present neuroscience is grounded on significant developments of the past. Descartes proposed a model that was based on hydraulic activated statues.
Baker, G., & Morris, K. ( 2002). Decartes’ dualism. New York: Routledge.
Bennett, M., & Hacker, P. (2012). History of cognitive neuroscience. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
MacDonald, S., Powell, R., Symbaluk, D., & Honey, P. ( 2009). Introduction to learning and behavior. New York: Cengage Learning.