Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reality of Mind and Body

As very young children we may not have considered the mind/body duality of our existence. Our needs were simple—food, sleep, comfort, amusement, and interaction with other people. The desire to fulfill those needs exceeded awareness of how the mind functions within the framework of material matter.

We might ask when a young child becomes conscious of the interface between two realms of existence—mind and body. Children may be more conscious of the duality than we think. Over the Christmas holidays the answer became clearer to us. Under the category of Art Linketter’s “Kids say the darndest things,” we illustrate our point with an amusing story about our granddaughter, not quite three years old. Her uncle asked her a question. We do not remember what the question was, but we vividly recall the essence of her answer: “I haven’t thought about that yet.”

Philosophers and theologians have long investigated mind/body dualism. Historically, some scientists, philosophers, and even theologians have embraced a concept termed monism which denies the distinction between mind and body. Most modern theologians would conceive of mind and body as separate. Similarly, most theologians would distinguish between God and his created works. They caution that God is separate from His created works. The concept of unity and separation of realms has generated many philosophical, scientific, and theological discussions.

With respect to the workings of the human brain, some of the most fascinating speculations arise from the ongoing research concerning how the brain functions in contrast with the behavior of ordinary matter. The autonomic nervous system controls, for example, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. These events are coordinated by centers in the brain. Such functions may be more easily understood than brain activity producing high order, creative thinking. High order thinking surpasses purely cause and effect phenomena which are sometimes explained by the term “reductionism.” Even more complex effects are creatively described by a phenomenon termed “emergentism.” In the latter, effects are spontaneously generated or “arise” mysteriously from other properties but are not merely the sum of the previous properties. These statements describe an effect. They do not come close to explaining the causes.

The Stanford Encyclopedia has an interesting description: “Emergence is a notorious philosophical term of art… There has been renewed interest in emergence within discussions of the behavior of complex systems and debates over the reconcilability of mental causation, intentionality, or consciousness with physicalism.” We wonder: Is the concept of free will reducible to the actions of atoms and molecules (reductionism) or to a spontaneously generated effect (emergentism) which arises mysteriously from other properties?

Lisa Zyga, in an article in, states, “But perhaps the ultimate example of emergence is in the brain where thousands of randomly firing neurons spontaneously reach a coherent state of collective, periodic firing that underlies all brain functions. Despite significant progress, the mechanisms responsible for the origin and maintenance of spontaneous neuronal activity are still poorly understood.”
Our previous post on emergence may be of interest to our readers. Creative scientists speculate on the concept of emergence as it may relate to the behavior of both mind and matter.

We recognize the physical causation of conditions such as insomnia, anesthesia, or coma, and dysfunction or mental disease such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. The physical basis of brain activity in the above-mentioned phenomena as well as the volitional, creative, and free will capability of the human mind are all relevant, wonder-provoking subjects for contemplation and study. Our physical bodies are subject to deterioration while our minds are still capable of enormous imagination and creative power.

Scripture is clearly dualistic referring to the dichotomy between managing our intellectual activity and spiritual choices in contrast with the physical world surrounding us. In each realm, mind and body, God has gifted us with free will choices to live in a manner pleasing to Him. 2 Timothy 1:7 is a favorite verse for advocates of free choice. I quote the traditional King James translation for its emphasis on the gift of a sound mind. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

Other translations of 2 Timothy 1:7 translate sound mind with other terms of personal behavioral choice—self control, self-discipline, sound judgment, sobriety, and discretion. Let us give thanks to the Creator who provides his people with opportunities to serve and please Him freely.