The Mother

Abstract

This chapter turns to philosophers and artists, seeking their views on the dilemma of consciousness and the self, as well as the related mind/body problem. Does consciousness – and personal experience – arise from the neurological functions of the brain (and if so, how), or is it but a shard of the flow of universal consciousness – and if so, is the mind only a channel of energy and should we forget about our cognitive functions, or train to use them in a different way? What does it mean to have a strong sense of personal identity – where does the ‘true self' lie? Having learnt from neuroscientists and most psychologists that our self seems to exceed the scope and depth of both body and mind, we hope that philosophy and art might guide us towards this ‘other' realm where our sense of identity emerges from.
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That the soul is united equally to all the parts of the body.

(…) the soul is in a very real sense joined to the whole of the body, and (...) it cannot strictly speaking be said to be in one of its parts to the exclusion of the rest, first, because the body is a unity and in a sense indivisible, on account of the disposition of its organs, which are so closely connected with one another that, when one of them is removed, the whole body is rendered defective; and, secondly, because the soul is of a nature that has no relation to extension or to the dimensions or other properties of the matter of which the body is constituted, but relates only to the total combination of the body’s organs. This appears from the fact that we cannot form the idea of half a soul, or a third of a soul, or of the space occupied by the soul; nor does the soul become smaller if some part of the body is removed; but it is completely separated from the body when the combination of the body’s organs is dissolved.

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That there is a little gland in the brain in which the soul exercises its functions more particularly than in the other parts of the body.

(…) This is commonly believed to be the brain, or perhaps the heart: the brain, because the sense-organs are connected with it; and the heart, because that is where we seem to feel our passions. But, having examined the matter with care, it seems to me that the part of the body in which the soul immediately exercises its functions is by no means the heart, or the brain as a whole, but only the most inward part of it, which is a certain tiny gland situated in the middle of the substance of the brain, and suspended over the channel through which the spirits of the anterior cavities communicate with those of the posterior cavity in such a way that the slightest movements that take place within it can do much to change the flow of these spirits; while, conversely, the slightest changes in the flow of the spirits can have a major effect on the movements of the gland. (Descartes, 1649/2015, pp. 207-208)

Commentators often give more weight to Descartes’ claim about the pineal gland, than to his integrative views of body and soul. Blackburn, for instance, considers that the mystery surrounding the brain and our inner world “led Rene Descartes to postulate a part of the brain (he fixed on something called the pineal gland) as a kind of gateway to the soul. The you, or self, resided behind this portal, and the brain brought messages to you, while you could issue dictates to it, thereby initiating a train of events that might lead to your walking or talking or even becoming irritated at the problem of consciousness. This is the model that Gilbert Ryle, in the 20th century, called that of the ‘ghost in the machine’ (Ryle, 2000). The brain-body system is a giant machine; its function is to bring information to the ghost, and to transmit back instructions from him. Descartes actually denied that he wanted a model of the self residing in the body like a pilot in a ship, but basically that is the image he has left us.” (Blackburn, 2012, p. 7). I am not sure Descartes gave any indication that he believed the whole self resided in the pineal gland; what he did say is that, in this specific area of the brain, “the soul exercises its functions more particularly than in the other parts of the body”. (Descartes, 1649/2015, p. 208). The question that arises for us is, did this exploration of emotions, understood as ‘passions of the soul’, from Descartes’ later work, lead him to believe that the soul might be the centre of consciousness, the core of personhood?

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