If you have ever watched the film Freaky Friday you will have seen an example of Cartesian dualism. For those who haven’t, here is the trailer!
So, Ana and her mum swap bodies… but not minds. They are exactly the same person, but they are ‘inside’ each others’ bodies.
I’m sure this fantasy is what most people imagine will happen when they think about swapping lives with someone else; their mind will remain the same, but a new vessel will ‘carry’ it. They will look different, and they will feel different (maybe heavier or lighter or with longer limbs or wider shoulders) but they will not think differently.
This is a very simplistic view of the mind and body and it is comparable to the concept of Cartesian Dualism which states that the mind and body are separate entities. The physical brain is seperate from the non-physical mind.
In fact, I imagine that if you did a Freaky Friday and swapped bodies with someone, you would end up thinking differently because your body would be physically different (including your brain) and your senses would be different (maybe your eyes would have worse vision or your sense of taste would be more intense) and this would give you a different embodied experience to the one you had before, affecting the way you perceive the world and the way you think in general..
It is difficult to imagine something other than a dualistic view of the mind and body, because this dichotomy is embedded into our culture and our language.
Even when people recount memories of embodied actions such as sweating or the feeling of pain, they tend to report these actions as a momentary awareness of their
body which seems to be, “a temporary insertion of the body into our mostly ‘bodiless’ lives.” (Gillies et al, 2004 :106). The way in which the body seems to have been forgotten until something changes (sweating or pain in this case) shows a separation between the physical body and the non-physical mind. When people deal with pain they may separate the mind from the pained body to cope. The mind is seen to be actively controlling the pain of the body in a clear dualism (Gillies et al, 2004: 107).
This shows a functional use of a dualist perspective, but dualism can also exist in a restrictive sense that can limit the possibility of bodily experience and the feeling of being in the world. The concept of the mind being isolated seems to remove it from the material world, and as Merleau-Ponty states; “without the body there would be no possibility of experience”.
A monistic attitude doesn’t view the body as a vessel for the
mind, as a dualistic attitude does, but as an, “active and mutating form that permits and restricts particular modes of being in the world.” (McLeod, 2007.)
But again, there isn’t an answer to this philosophical debate, and many people, like myself, may go between monistic and dualistic attitudes depending on the situation.
And really, unless I want to have an existential crisis, I usually like thinking in a dualistic perspective, because to have a completely materialist or phenomenalistic view of the world and of my personal thoughts (to say that they are simply chemical reactions in my brain or that everything physical is reducible to mental objects) is not only confusing, but also different to what my society has taught me for most of my life…
Maybe people have dualistic views because it gives them a sense of control over the physical and seemingly “external” world, where as an embodied view doesn’t cause this separation between the external and the internal, or the physical and non physical.
-Gillies, V., Harden, A., Johnson, K., Reavey, P., Strange, V. and Willig, C. (2004). Women’s collective constructions of embodied practices through memory work: Cartesian dualism in memories of sweating and pain. British Journal of Social Psychology, 43(1), pp.99-112.
-Langer, M. (1989) ‘Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception’, A guided commentary. Florida State University Press.
-McLeod, S. A. (2007). Mind Body Debate. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/mindbodydebate.html