Tuesday, March 01, 2011

the mind/body divide is meaningless

We often think of our minds as something that inhabits a body. We think of the mind as separate from the body that it inhabits. Literature is full of this idea. In Freaky Friday, a mother and her daughter exchange bodies. Apparently, the only thing that changes is their bodies. Their personalities remain intact. In Harry Potter books, wizards and witches can transfigure, turning themselves into an animal or a piece of furniture. Prof. McGonagall is known to turn herself into a tabby cat. But even as a tabby cat, she still remains Prof. McGonagall. Her essence, her mind remains intact in this new body.

This kind of mind/body divide is artificial. Minds cannot be separated from bodies in this fashion. Let us do a thought experiment. Suppose that you suddenly acquire a sixth finger on one of your hands. Do you remain the same person, albeit with six fingers on one hand? I think not. You are now a person who has six fingers. You are person who knows how to use this sixth finger. When you hold something, your perception of that object has changed. Your perception of the abilities of your body has changed. All of this is also part of your 'mind'. Bodily sensation cannot be separated from the mind.

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