Cartesian dualism stated that body and mind are fundamentally different, as the former is made of physical matter and the latter isn’t. This created a division that is still, to some extent, sustained by some today. In more psychological – and recent – terms: the mind cannot be reduced to neurobiology and physics.
These theories all arise from the assumption that body and mind are fundamentally different in nature.
Today, progress in neurobiology has increased our knowledge of how, in fact, much of what we call ‘the mind’ comes from the physical realm. Nonetheless, psychology has predominantly relied on the mind, leaving the body aside, in treating mental issues and emotional discomfort.
This reluctance to associate mind and body might very well derive from our inability to accept the finitude of our body, which we know is subject to pain, decay and death. While our mind can represent freedom, self-determination, fulfillment, the body reminds us of our animal and mortal nature. Christianity and other religions have rendered the pleasures of the body a source of guilt, due to their inherent ‘inferior’ nature when compared to the spirit.
Western societies are widely permeated by these morals to this day, and this has enhanced the division between our true and purest self (the mind) and the inevitably precarious and shameful container of it (the body).
Luckily, psychology today increasingly includes the body. And that’s what we will see this month: how the body interacts with and expresses mental processes, how it’s included in therapy, what it can help us with and where it’s, instead, perceived as a limit, and much more…
(See a previous post about this relationship).