INTRODUCTION

The common sense view of mind and body is that they interact. Our perceptions, thoughts, intentions, volitions, and anxieties directly affect our bodies and our actions. States of the brain and nervous system, in turn, generate our states of mind. Unfortunately, the common sense notion appears to involve a contradiction. The brain and nervous system seem clearly to be part of the physical world: tangible, visible, public, extended in space. Thoughts, feelings, consciousness, and other states of mind strike us as mental: intangible, invisible, private, arrayed in time, but not in space. If brain and mind are of fundamentally different kinds and if, in addition, the laws of causality require causes and effects to be of a similar kind, then it is clearly impossible for brain to generate mind or mind to affect brain. So phrased, this contradiction constitutes one half of the mind/body problem -- that of the relation of mind to brain.

If the distinction between intangible and unextended mind and tangible and extended physical nature is maintained, however, the mind/body problem is also the problem of the relation of the mind to the world around us. The natural environment, after all, is just as much a physical entity as is the brain, and how we become conscious of the environment is no less obscure than is the relation of consciousness to the function of the nervous system.

Much of the intellectual history of psychology as both a scientific and a clinical enterprise has involved the attempt to come to grips with these two problems of mind and body. Through this exhibit and in the discussion to follow, we will trace this history as we identify major contributions to theories of mind, body and their relationship. Starting with Descartes, whose formulation of the problem has in one way or another affected all later views, we will note the way in which 17th and 18th century ideas developed in direct response to the Cartesian challenge, and then relate 19th century mind/brain theorizing to progress in understanding the brain as the "organ of mind" and the mind as a powerful source of physical illness and cure.

With this as background, we will outline the rise of experimental psychology as it occurred at the interface between philosophical analyses of the mind/world relationship and physiological conceptions of the nervous system as a sensory-motor device mediating between the mind and the world. In this regard, we will focus not only on European but on early and often overlooked American contributions. We will conclude with a brief discussion of some of the most important influences on the thought of William James, whose Principles of Psychology (1890) gathered all of these various threads together in what is probably the greatest single work in psychology.


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Citation:
Wozniak, Robert H. "Mind and Body: Rene Déscartes to William James"
http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/Mind/;
Bryn Mawr College, Serendip 1995
Originally published in 1992 at Bethesda, MD & Washington, DC by the National Library of Medicine and the American Psychological Association.



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