Author Topic: Mind and Matter Part 1  (Read 1327 times)

Dr. Sadananda

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Mind and Matter Part 1
« on: February 17, 2010, 11:36:25 PM »
Mind and Matter Part 1

Is mind matter, or is it separate from matter, or does it matter in our pursuit of happiness?

Such questions have troubled philosophers as well as psychologists from time immemorial. Western philosophers give credit to Rene Descartes (17th Century) for proposing that mind is not physical matter, since it has no spatial (or physical) dimensions, and it is identified with consciousness and self-awareness. Even though it is not physical matter, it closely interacts with physical matter, particularly with the physical body. For, it is noted that the 'mental moods' of passions such as love, hate, jealousy, fear, happiness, sorrow, etc, and sometimes even strong emotionally rooted beliefs, can have notable and significant interactions at body level. Mental depressions can affect physical health. Psychosomatic diseases are common. Addictions and drugs can bring about mental imbalance and strong mental disturbances can generate poisonous chemicals in the body.

Thus mind and matter appear to be interconnected, since each affects the other. What exactly is the relation between the two is not known although many theories have been proposed. There is a theory called 'Substance Dualism' that states that mind is an independently existing substance separate from the physical matter constituting the body (the brain), but its substantive is not known. There is another theory called 'Property Dualism' which states that the substance of the mind is not different from physical matter, though its properties are different. There is also a theory called 'Monism' that states that body and mind are ontologically the same. Thus many ‘-isms’ have been proposed, each postulating the relation between the mind and matter. From the clinical side, it is evident that mind can be affected by certain chemicals and addiction to drugs has become a world-wide problem. In the dualistic models, starting from that of Descartes, mind is considered as 'consciousness' or 'self-awareness' or at least 'somehow' related to consciousness. Hence mind-matter duality is ultimately reduced to consciousness-matter duality. The current western thinking is that consciousness 'somehow' arises in matter in just the same way as the mind operates in the physical body. Many of these concepts are really not new and are borrowed from age-old philosophies, but are presented in an acceptable form to be marketable as new theories.

From a Vedantic perspective (philosophical truths discussed in the end part of the Vedas called Upanishads), mind is considered to be subtle matter different from gross physical matter. The subtle part of the gross food that we eat sustains the mind. Hence the food that we eat can also affect the mind. For example, mind can be made be aggressive, passive or lethargic, etc, depending on the type of food we eat. To enhance the contemplativeness of the mind certain foods, called sAttvika, are recommended, while certain others - rAjasika and tAmasika - are to be avoided. Similarly, for the mind to be active or aggressive, e.g. for warriors, rAjasika foods are recommended. Thus it was recognized that gross matter does affect the subtle mind and its properties.

Consciousness and mind are considered separate by some philosophers while others consider ‘conscious mind’, where the mind is conscious of objects as in the waking state, to be equated to consciousness. It is recognized, therefore, that there is an interrelationship between (or among) consciousness, mind and matter. What exactly is the relation between the two or the three is not known, although there are many theories and postulates. A person can be made unconscious by chloroform or placed into different degrees of unconsciousness by addictive drugs like morphine. Is consciousness a special property of matter that arises when certain conditions are met, or is it the other way, i.e. does matter arise in consciousness? The former is more acceptable for physical or material scientists, but the latter may be closure to the truth.

Is there really matter separate from the conscious mind? There is a philosophy called Idealism, which maintains that the mind is all that exists, and the external world is either a mental projection or an illusion created by the mind. (This theory of Idealism, which is somewhat similar to the vij~nAna vAda philosophy of Buddhism, is different from Advaita Vedanta, although there are some who vehemently argue that they are the same.) For the mind to exist, there has to be a locus for its existence, which has to be the body made of matter. This will reduce to a circular argument if, according the Theory of Idealism, matter is a projection of the mind, since mind then depends on matter while matter is a projection of the mind.

Another important question is whether consciousness of 'an object' or of 'the world' is different from self-consciousness (i.e. awareness of one's own self, where the subject itself is an object of consciousness, i.e. I am conscious of myself). Some Vedantins (particularly vishiShTAdvaitins) argue that there are two types of consciousness: one is self-consciousness and the other is object-consciousness. These are called dharmi j~nAnam and dharma bhUta j~nAnam, respectively. Fundamental to this classification is that the subject, 'I', is different from the object, 'this'. The self-consciousness (dharmi j~nAnam) is always present, since it is intrinsic to oneself, while the object-consciousness manifests in a conducive environment, when there is an object present of which one wants to be conscious.

A question that arises at this juncture is whether I can be conscious of myself, that is self-awareness that I am as 'I am', without having an object of consciousness. When I am conscious of an object 'this', I am conscious that 'I' know 'this' where the subject thought 'I' and the object thought 'this' are present simultaneously in the mind. This subject-object duality forms an essential ingredient of the mind. Can I have awareness of the subject 'I' without the associated object awareness of 'this' in the mind? If there are no 'this' thoughts, could the mind still be called mind? These are some fundamental philosophical questions in trying to understand the structure of the mind.

The above question boils down to: can the mind operate having just subject consciousness or self-consciousness, without simultaneously having object consciousness? That is, does the mind always operate in the subject-object dualistic mode or can it have just subject alone without an object. Can there be a thinker (subject) alone without having thoughts (of objects) or does the thinker ceases to exist without the thoughts of the objects? Rene Descartes stated 'I think, therefore I am' implying first that 'I am' is associated with thinking faculty. Can the conscious entity that 'I am' exist without having to think? Since the subject-object relation arises with the mind or in the mind, the ontological status of each or both of them is a philosophical question that is closely related to the analysis of the mind.
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