Dualism in psychology

When psychology was born at the end of the 19th century, there was a long talk of something called the mind. In fact, in many ways, the psychological theories and methodologies used by early psychologists are based precisely on in what, at that historical moment, was meant by “psyche”.

In a way, psychology has relied on positions that are not as scientific as they are philosophical, and that they had a lot to do with a doctrine known as dualism.

What is dualism?

Dualism is a philosophical current that there is a fundamental division between body and mind. So while the body is material, the mind is described as an incorporeal entity, nature is independent of the body and therefore does not depend on it for existence.

Dualism creates a frame of reference widely used by various religions, as it opens up the possibility of the existence of spiritual life outside the body. However, this doctrine is not simply religious and has had a very important influence on psychology, as we will see.

Variants of dualism

The ideas i beliefs based on dualism are not always easy to detect and can sometimes be very subtle. In fact, it is very common for people who claim in principle not to believe in the existence of a spiritual dimension to speak of the spirit as if it were independent of the body. This is not strange, because the idea that our consciousness is one thing and that everything we can see and feel through the senses (including our body) is another is very intuitive.

that’s why it is possible to distinguish different types of dualism. Although they are all based on the idea that body and mind are independent realities, the way they are expressed is different. They are the main and most influential in the West.

Platonic dualism

One of the most developed and oldest forms of dualism is that of the Greek philosopher Plato, closely related to his theory of the world of ideas. this thinker he believed that the body is the prison of the soul, Who in his passage through mortal life is limited and aspires to return to the immaterial place from which he proceeds through the search for knowledge and truth.

later, the philosopher Avicenna continued to develop a similar dualism to that of Plato, and identified the soul as the “I.”

Cartesian dualism

The French philosopher René Descartes is the type of dualism that has most directly influenced psychology and neuroscience. Descartes believed that the soul communicated with the body through the pineal gland, and that the latter is practically indistinguishable from a machine. In fact, for this thinker, an organism could be compared to the irrigation system: the brain has made a substance travel through the nerves to contract the muscles.

Dualism in neuroscience

Although modern science rejects the concept of soul to explain how the nervous system works, there are still arguments that can be considered transformations of dualism. For example, the idea that consciousness or decision making belongs to a specific entity located in a specific area of ​​the brain. very much reminiscent of the myth of the “ghost on the machine”That is, a kind of autonomous entity that lives cloistered in the brain and uses it as a set of buttons and machines that can control.

The problems of dualism

Although dualism is a very common way of thinking when talking about the nature of the mind, in recent centuries it has lost its popularity in science and philosophy. It is partly because it is a philosophical current which raises many more questions than it answers.

If our actions and consciousness are explained by the existence of a soul in our body … where does the consciousness and the ability to perform the acts of this spiritual entity come from? How can an incorporeal entity express itself through a body and not through anything, since the intangible being cannot exist in time and space? How is it possible to assert that something intangible exists within us if the intangible is defined as being outside our ability to study?

Its role in the birth of psychology

The nineteenth century was historical coverage which in Western countries has been marked by the rejection of dualism and the triumph of the idea that the mind is not something independent of the body. That is, materialistic monism has been assumed, according to which everything related to the psyche is an expression of the functioning of an organism.

However, in the world of psychology one has not always acted consistently with this idea, partly because of the ease with which it is to fall into dualism and partly because of inexperience, in having no precedent in psychological research.

For example, although Sigmund Freud declared himself an atheist and despised dualism, in practice his theories were based on such a marked metaphysics that it was difficult to distinguish his ideas from those of a person who believed in souls.

Likewise, most of the early experimental psychologists they relied on the introspective method, Accept the idea that the mind is something that can be best studied “from the inside”, as if in someone’s head there was someone capable of looking up and describing what he sees in a neutral way (since mental phenomena would be a kind of what happens in the machine which functions independently of itself). Outraged, other figures in the history of psychology refused to exclude dualism: For example, William James and Carl Jung.

In all cases, the dualism remains a thought path that we usually use automaticallyRegardless of what conclusions we have come to by reflecting on the nature of the mind. He may at some point disappear completely from the research world, but other than that, he’s unlikely to do so.

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