Rene Descartes is perhaps one of the most prolific human beings to have ever walked the earth. While he wasn’t using his ingenious mathematical intuition to create foundational concepts that served as building blocks for geometry and calculus, Descartes studied the psychological aspects of our existence from a philosophical standpoint. In fact, some of his most important musings centered on the relationship between the mind and the body (Hatfield, 2014; MIT, 2019).
Descartes studied what has since become known as the “mind-body problem.” From a conceptual standpoint this problem is both complicated and extensive. The problem itself asks several questions: “What are physical states? “What are mental states?”, “What is the mechanism by which these two concepts interact?”, “How does something as complex as the mind get stored in the body?”, “How can a nonphysical entity be stored in a physical location and much more (Robinson, 2020).
While many of the questions still lack definitive answers, there exists many theories backed by scientific evidence to answer them. For many years, they believed that the physical mind and illustrious soul were completely separate. Today, we believe that our mental experiences can be explained by the physical interconnections of nervous tissue. It is the way that different neurons connect, fire, and interact that creates the perceptual and introspective experiences (Berrios, 2018).
The initial separation of mind and body have led to continued public misconceptions. This is most clearly seen in mental health. All around the world, people still see the mind and body as separate and afford ailments of the body more important due to their physical nature. However, as we’ve seen in recent years, mental health is physical health. It stems from physical changes in neurotransmitters, neurocircuitry, and developmental biology and is as physical as it gets (Glannon, 2020; Moeira-Almeida et al., 2018). Deficits in our mental health are not moral or due to a weak will, in the same way that arthritis is not a failure of character. By understanding the physical nature of our mental processes we make progress toward solving the mind-body problem and creating a system that supports individuals suffering from all ailments!