Throughout history, mankind has struggled with the epic question: “who am I?”, and each time this question has been posed, we have been presented with the same troubling answer: “I am a thinking body. I am soul, in the flesh.” At first, this statement seems to satisfy man’s burning desire to know himself, but upon further reflection, this proposed solution may pose more questions than it provides answers. After all, what does being a thinking body really mean? Is the existence of such a paradox in a single entity even possible?
Many think not. To them, the idea of such categorically different concepts as soul and body contained within one atomic entity is logically impossible. To say that an individual person is both spirit and flesh is to state the necessarily irrational. Two such concepts cannot both refer to the same indivisible thing. Accordingly, in order to incorporate both the concepts of soul and body, those who do not accept the mind-body paradox are forced to split the individual person into two separate parts; the self of the soul and the self of the flesh: two separate and distinct entities. But such a solution does not provide an explanation for the required convergence of mind and body that is necessary to being a person. Nor does it explain the deep and profound desire within mankind to declare ourselves as individuals, whole and undivided persons until death has cleaved the physical consciousness in two.
The key to understanding this paradox has already been uncovered in the world of physics. Logical revolutions in scientific thought reveal a pattern by which the mind-body paradox can be understood to represent a single whole being, rather than two separate ones. Before addressing the mind-body paradox in such a way though, let us consider further the recourse taken by those who do not accept the indivisible thinking body by examining the reasoning for presuming a split self.
In his essay “Predicability” Fred Sommers describes the split-self solution to the mind-body paradox. If we are to assume that it is logically unacceptable to predicate at thing to be both a soul and a body, then we “cannot mean the same thing by ‘Smith’ in the statements ‘Smith thinks’ and ‘Smith is fat’… it is no longer possible to consider ‘Smith’ univocal in statements predicating weight and consciousness of him." The root of the mind-body paradox, and the basis of this solution, is the concept that spirit and flesh are of two different logical types. A body is a physical type of thing; height, weight, color: all can be predicated of body because all are predicates of the physical category. Consciousness, or spirit, on the other hand, is of a different type. Spirit is not a physical entity but rather a product of thought. Things which exist in thought-space cannot be predicated with the same terms as the things which are of physical-space. It would be nonsensical to speculate on the weight of the number seven, just as it would be irrational to enquire as to the reasoning capacity of a stone. Seven is a thing of thought, while a rock is a thing of the physical world. Because, the logic behind the split-self solution runs, it is impossible to assert one predication across both something physical and a product of thought the thinking self and the physical self must be two separate entities.
This evaluation of the self, however, rests of the premise that the categories of thought and physicality are radically different, and never could a thinking spirit be a physical entity or visa versa. This is the case in most instances. Numbers, squares and logical arguments, like rocks, tables and chairs do not challenge the category segregation; neither, for that matter do ghosts or dead bodies- but what of thinking, living persons? Can this strict separation of thought and the physical world continue in the face of a person’s existence? We do not call a ghost a person, we call it a spirit. We do not call a dead body a person, we call it a corpse. A person can only exist when both these components come together to make one whole, living, conscious being. If neither of the separated components can be said to be a person, then the combination of the mind and body must synthesize and entirely new thing: one to which the old category separation does not adhere. In other words, to accurately understand a person, we cannot break him or her down into separate pieces; this only strays farther and farther from what defines an individual. Rather, we must understand a person through a new category, one which respects his or her status as a conscious, thinking, physical being.
This is the same logical move made in physics when transitioning between Newtonian and Relativistic systems of mechanics. In the Newtonian model, space and times are experienced as two separate phenomena. An object’s trajectory through space does not affect the way in which it experiences time. This way of categorizing space and time works for almost everything we interact with on a daily basis. It enables us to catch a ball, drive a car, and ride a bicycle. Similarly, considering thought-space and physical-space to be two different logical categories allows for correct predication and understanding of almost everything we see or think- the moon and stars, ideas and mathematical theorems.
In physics, however, when we observe something traveling at relativistic speeds, like an electron or light, space and time no longer act independently of one another. In fact, they behave as a single phenomenon, and must be thought of as a single entity: space-time. Thus Newtonian mechanics can no longer be accurately applied, and me must instead turn to quantum mechanics. By extension, when presented with a person, some one who is both a consciousness and a body, with regards to this entity we can no longer assume that thought and physicality belong to separate categories. Just as light is neither wave nor particle, but it has the characteristics of either, so too a person is neither a body nor a soul, but instead is the synthesis of both, in which the whole is more than the mere sum of its parts. Therefore, in order to understand the conscious body that is a human being, we must come to think of ourselves as of a new type: thinking bodies, singular, atomic beings without ambiguity or equivocity.
Certainly at first this idea feels uncomfortable. We are much more familiar with our Newtonian world in which space and time, thought and physicality, are separate. This is because for the vast majority of situations we encounter this system of logic works. Understanding that rocks and sevens are fundamentally different allows us to function. But these systems of logic should only be used where they are applicable. In the unique case that is a person, the anomaly of a conscious body, like a black-hole which distorts the space-time continuum around it into non-Euclidian patterns of geometry, separating thought from body is no longer a viable logical option. Here, in the miracle that is human live and consciousness, we must recognize and explore a new logical type of being, one in which we are finally able to know ourselves as we feel we are meant to be: as individual and indivisible embodied spirits.
“Predicability” By Fred Sommers, in Max Black ed., Philosophy in America (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1965) pp 262-281