The erosion of ontological dualism

Ontological dualism

At the beginning of modern science, Descartes formulated an idea known as ontological dualism, according to which the human mind and body are built from two different substances. According to Descartes, the body is built from matter, the substance that the whole nature is built from and the mind is built from some kind of nonmaterial substance.

Descartes made body and mind different substances to reconcile the laws of naturediscovered by the development of physics with some characteristics of the human mind, that is, above all, with the ability to recognise the truth and with free will. The reconciliation was based on the premise that the laws of nature applied to the human body (built from matter, as the rest of nature), but not to the mind, that was discovering these laws. Descartes’ idea turned out to be very useful as until recently, the whole modern science was based on the premise that the object of studies is nature, and the tool to study nature is the mind that is independent from it. I stressed the phrase “until recently”, as in the last decades, this notion was called into question for several different reasons.  Below I am going to present the most important of them.

The arguments against ontological dualism

 1) The reduction (or collapse) of a wave function

This phenomenon belongs to the area of quantum mechanics and was discovered in the first half of the twentieth century. It indicates that measuring the location of a particle reduces the previously available set of possible results to one particular result, consistent with the measured result.  This phenomenon raises an important question: can the state of the physical reality depend on the fact that a scientist is studying or not studying it? Since the phenomenon of the reduction of a wave function has never been fully explained, the question regarding the potential connection between the physical state and the mind of the researcher has not been answered either.

2) Anthropic principle

It was formulated in the 70. It has a week and strong version but both state that if so called physical constant (e.g. the gravitational constant, Planck constant) had different values than they have, organic compounds that are the basis of life would not be created. Therefore one could argue that the laws of physics and the physical constants have their current form so that intelligent life, that is men, could evolve in the universe. This conclusion constitutes the strong version of the anthropic principle.

3) The embodiment of mind concept

It was proposed at the end of the 20. century and it has an interdisciplinary character.  It opposes the cognitive science and the so called computer metaphor of mind.  It states that:

  • the mind is the creation of the whole body, not just the brain
  • the way the mind functions depends on the structure of the organism of its owner (therefore “leaving” the body in course of the cognition process is impossible).


Modern science introduced the division between the human mind and nature, which made the mind the cognitive tool that was independent from the subject of cognition. Paradoxically, scientific research calls into question the division between the mind and nature more and more often. I believe that this process will continue and it will lead to important, perhaps revolutionary changes in the way we perceive the world. 

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