The spirituality of the material body

In order to find a link between mind and body, Descartes was able to identify a physical point in the body through which the immaterial mind could actually operate to effect changes in the physical world. He believed the pineal gland,4 located between the left and the right brain, made this function even more likely. He understood the process as follows:

Although the soul is joined with the entire body, there is one part of the body [the pineal] in which it exercises its function more than elsewhere . . . [the pineal] is so suspended between the passages containing animal spirits (guiding reason and carrying sensation and movement) that it can be moved by them; and it carries this motion on to the soul. Then conversely, the bodily machine is so constituted that whenever the gland is moved in one way or another by the soul, or for that matter by any other cause, it pushes the animal spirits, which surround it to the pores of the brain.

(Descartes 1954: 357)

It is important to point out that the recognition of mind-body unity was also the departure point for Descartes' philosophy, as emerges clearly in The Passions of the Soul. For instance, he wrote:

I am not only lodged in my body as a pilot in a vessel . . . I am besides so intimately conjoined, and as it were intermixed with it, that my mind and body compose a certain unity. For if this were not the case, I should not feel pain when my body is hurt.

(Descartes 1937: 135)

With this statement he explicitly recognized that the soul could not simply be reduced to that abstract 'something' confined within a physical body. As I will argue in greater detail in the following section, this more integrated conception of mind-in-the-body has been increasingly recognized today in the so-called 'new science of consciousness' (see, for instance, Damasio 1994). As Yuasa observed, 'it has taken three hundred years . . . to return to the bon sens behind Descartes' theory' (1987: 193).

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