An old essay by Andrei.
The Illusion of Perception
8 June 2009
8 June 2009
The Illusion of Perception
Humanity always has had an overblown ego. No matter what religion prostrates its self, claiming otherwise, it sticks to its assumptions as the truest, or the most pure. Generally, those assumptions place humanity on a pedestal under only God. And complementing this ego is how easily humans fall prey to illusion – the illusion of creation, the illusion of a monopoly on intelligence and language, and perhaps most infamously the illusion of a soul, or even a separate ‘mind’. Typically, a common belief through Judeo-Christian religion is that a soul is unique to humankind, but what even constitutes a soul? Is a soul constituted by the ability for self-awareness? Various animals such as elephants and non-human primates have demonstrated this capability through scientific testing (Jha). Is it through language, moral behavior, empathy, and opinion – distinctly ‘human’ concepts? Again, non-human primates have demonstrated the capability for genuine care for others, as well as opinion: all expressed through human sign-language (“Koko’s World”). The last true vestige of the idea of a soul may very well be that of an identity, but as Phineas Gage demonstrated with his traumatic head injury – a railroad spike through his skull – and an equally traumatic change in personality, identity has much to do with the neural connections of the brain (O’ Discroll, Leach). Indeed, it seems that philosophers’ questions and ponderings on the matter have been related explicitly to the scientific knowledge of the day and age, and whether or not they subscribed to materialism. There are two primary groups of thought, each with their own subgroups and deviations – that of monism, the soul or mind being one with the body, and that of dualism – that of separation.
Monistic philosophers can be generally best thought of as materialistic. The mind is part of physical reality, rather than a ‘soul’. Amongst the Greeks, Democritus, living around the time of 450 BCE, theorized essentially on the nature of reality – atoms and ‘the void’), and Lucretius, living from 94 to 55 BCE, also held this view. Lucretius went a step further, however, theorizing that the nature of the mind must inherently be physical, for as the body ages, so too does the mind wither. Aristotle, while holding a belief in the idea of a soul, has a different definition than most would expect. Rather than confining the idea to a particular set of attributes – such as language, identity, et cetera – he confines it to one, all encompassing attribute – that of life, existing in all things organic. Furthermore, under Aristotle’s philosophy, the soul is in fact inseparable from the body. Just as an eyeball does not hold the power of sight alone if removed from the body, neither does the soul. A non-materialist, metaphysical form of monism was espoused by pantheist Benedict Spinoza, a Dutch philosopher born 1632 and dead in 1677. Spinoza holds that all is God, and everything is within God, and that there in reality is no separation between the physical and metaphysical – rather, all is of the latter. This view holds similarity to the earlier Buddhist and Hindu philosophers, who held the idea of the ‘self-God’, and mind as an illusion.
Dualistic philosophers instead hold that the soul and body are, in fact, inherently separate, and the former being immortal when compared to the latter. The infamous Greek philosopher Plato – circa 427-347 BCA – elaborated on his dualistic philosophy through a Socratic dialogue, arguably representing Socrates’ view on the matter as well, having been a student of his. Plato held that the soul contained the ‘moral’ traits of a human, and thus was limited to humankind. The soul exists both before birth and after death in Platonic philosophy, a view shared with slight alteration by British philosopher Anne Conway, born 1631 and dead 1678. A differing form of dualism, almost a middle ground between itself and monism, is elaborated upon by French philosopher Renè Descartes, born 1596 and dead 1650. The ‘mind’ is a separate entity, representing only some of the physical, bodily impressions, connected to the brain through the pineal gland.
Despite an inherently atheistic view, I do not hold an objective concept of reality. Though I am a skeptic, nothing has proven to me that the ‘supernormal’ (as in, actions within nature not yet proven for, nor against, nor yet explained by science) does not exist. The fundamental nature of metaphysics is not yet known, and there is still much unexplained. My own monistic opinions concerning the mind-body problem fall somewhere between materialism, with the mind simply as an illusion purported by the brain’s senses, or Aristotle’s idea of the soul being powered by the body. I do not believe in a soul, nor afterlife, but see the mind as simply the energy generated by a very much physical brain. Though, unlike a machine that has been damaged, the brain may rebuild its connections, resulting in an altered and very different mind.
Jha, Alok. “Elephants Pass Mirror Test of Self-Awareness.” The Guardian. 31 Oct. 2006. 8 June 2009. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2006/oct/31/uknews>.
“Koko’s World.” The Gorilla Foundation. 2006. 8 June 2009. < http://koko.org/world/>.
O’Discroll, Kieran and John Paul Leach. “No Longer Gage.” British Medical Journal. 19 Dec. 1998: 1673-1674. 8 June 2009. <http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1114479>.