Before the election sidetracked this blog with 1, 2, 3, 4 political philosophy posts, I was in the middle of explaining how exactly you can know thyself through evolutionary philosophy. I looked at the past by asking, "Where Did I Come From?" I kicked off an examination of the present by asking, "Where Am I?" And I continued the tour of thyself by beginning the "What Am I?" questioning with a brief look at our bodies. Next up in our tour: the mind.
By splitting the tour of thyself into a body and a mind, I do not mean to imply any kind of Cartesian dualism: the belief espoused by Descartes that the material body and immaterial mind were separate from one another and that "animal spirits interacted with the body through the pineal gland in the center of the brain." Taking the evolutionary history of life into account and finding only natural (no supernatural) causes for actions along the way, I clearly side with the physicalists in the question of the mind-body problem. The life of the mind arises from the physical structures of the body. This was hard to see in the 1700's when Descartes saw no evidence of the body changing when the mind changed, but today's many brain scanning techniques put that question to rest. (It's a pity our heads don't noticeably swell when we are thinking. We could have thoroughly rejected dualism a long time ago.)
Today, neuroscientists and psychologists are mapping the areas of our brains and learning about their functionalities and abilities to change. Philosophers are arguing over what this means for our definitions of consciousness. Is it emergent? Is it a hard problem? These will surely be answered as the scientific facts roll in. In the meantime, it is just important for us to recognize that:
Internal mental processes of thought, consciousness, perception, memory, language, imagination, logic, reason, judgment, ethics, and aesthetics have evolved that allow life to use a brain to understand the sensory perceptions that come from the body. These mental processes allow life to make decisions on how to act in the best possible manner to perpetuate the species.
The individual mind is developed through education. Strengthen the mind to help it make the best choices. Use it, expand it, do not let it atrophy. Be aware of its biases and susceptibility to illusion. Be open to the use of chemical remedies for severe chemical imbalances in the brain. Be open to the use of cognitive behavioral therapy, neuro-linguistic programming, psychotherapy, and philosophical counseling to remedy faulty decision-making.
Since I wrote that, an important review of a disturbing new book has come out that makes me leery of being "open to the use of chemical remedies for severe chemical imbalances in the brain." Big Pharma may have sold the American public on chemical treatments for mental illnesses that have no real basis in fact and actually cause terrible and long-lasting side-effects. Abandoning this treatment will make the exploration of psychological and philosophical treatments for mental illness all the more important. This is a topic I will discuss in more detail in my next posts when I explore the interactions between the mind and body.