One of Rene Descartes’ more interesting contributions was what they call mind-body duality.
The body, it’s clear to see, is made of matter.
But what’s the mind made of?
You can point to the brain, of course. The hardware that runs you isn’t hard to find.
But what about the software?
The animating spirit that makes you move, while rocks stay put?
Descartes didn’t know about biochemistry or bioelectricity. All he knew was something kept living things moving.
And living things could turn into not-so-living things, even while keeping all their components.
So he separated the mind and the body into two distinct components. There was no reason to suppose the body – being nothing more than matter – could influence the strange stuff of the spirit. Or that the ephemeral ghost in the machine could change the mechanical nature of the body too much.
Most folks see this as a mistake. We now are rediscovering just how tightly intertwined the mind and body are. If we’d never separated them in the first place, we’d be so much further alone.
I’m not so sure.
Viewing the body as a simple machine allowed scientists to study it as one. They probed each part of it in isolation to see what makes it tick.
This led to all sorts of advancements and new understandings… even though the driving paradigm was wrong.
Your mental state can alter your brain’s chemistry, which can influence your body from head to toe. Likewise, your neurochemistry can alter your mental state.
And your nervous system and immune system interact all the time – the entire field of psychoneuroimmunology is dedicated to that.
Your brain can even upregulate or switch off genes. While it can’t change your genetic blueprint, it can change how it expresses. Which leads to a modern koan: if you have the genes for a disease but never express them, aren’t you actually healthy?
So, yeah, Descartes was wrong. The mind and the body are deeply intertwined.
Like I say, I suspect this was a useful error. It’s a wrong premise that led folks to rightly think they could understand life.
You might not agree with that, which is fine.
What we can all agree on is if, in the 21st Century, you think the body is separate from the mind…
Well, there’s no excusing that.
Of course, that doesn’t apply to you… right? You know about mind over matter and the placebo effect.
But lemme ask you this:
If you have a headache, what do you do?
Do you treat the pain as a valid and useful part of your experience?
Do you wonder what conditions caused it – say, dehydration or a lack of fresh air?
Or do you reach straight for the aspirin?
I’m not saying pills don’t have their place. Not everyone knows the thought-based ways to reduce discomfort, whether it’s acute or chronic.
But if your first (or only) instinct is to pop a pill, it doesn’t matter what you say you believe. You treat your body like a machine – like pain is a bleeping smoke alarm and you’re jamming the mute button.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
You can learn to use your mind to influence your body like never before.
You’re capable of more than you can imagine.
The mind is exceptionally powerful – and the mind-body connection runs deeper than you think.
I’m not promising miracles. Just normal things that seem miraculous.
Stop being a passenger and start being a pilot: