Such questions have troubled philosophers as well as psychologists from time immemorial. Western philosophers give credit to Rene Descartes (17th Century) for proposing that mind is not physical matter, since it has no spatial (or physical) dimensions, and it is identified with consciousness and self-awareness.
For, it is noted that the 'mental moods' of passions such as love, hate, jealousy, fear, happiness, sorrow, etc, and sometimes even strong emotionally rooted beliefs, can have notable and significant interactions at body level. Mental depressions can affect physical health.
There is a theory called 'Substance Dualism' that states that mind is an independently existing substance separate from the physical matter constituting the body (the brain), but its substantive is not known.
In the dualistic models, starting from that of Descartes, mind is considered as 'consciousness' or 'self-awareness' or at least 'somehow' related to consciousness. Hence mind-matter duality is ultimately reduced to consciousness-matter duality.
To enhance the contemplativeness of the mind certain foods, called sattvika, are recommended, while certain others - rajasika and tamasika - are to be avoided. Similarly, for the mind to be active or aggressive, e.g. for warriors, rajasika foods are recommended.
Consciousness and mind are considered separate by some philosophers while others consider ‘conscious mind’, where the mind is conscious of objects as in the waking state, to be equated to consciousness.
What exactly is the relation between the two or the three is not known, although there are many theories and postulates. A person can be made unconscious by chloroform or placed into different degrees of unconsciousness by addictive drugs like morphine.
Is consciousness a special property of matter that arises when certain conditions are met, or is it the other way, i.e. does matter arise in consciousness? The former is more acceptable for physical or material scientists, but the latter may be closure to the truth.
Is there really matter separate from the conscious mind? There is a philosophy called Idealism, which maintains that the mind is all that exists, and the external world is either a mental projection or an illusion created by the mind.
Another important question is whether consciousness of 'an object' or of 'the world' is different from self-consciousness (i.e. awareness of one's own self, where the subject itself is an object of consciousness, i.e. I am conscious of myself).
These are called dharmi j~nanam and dharma bhuta j~nanam, respectively.
Fundamental to this classification is that the subject, 'I', is different from the object, 'this'. The self-consciousness (dharmi j~nAnam) is always present, since it is intrinsic to oneself, while the object-consciousness manifests in a conducive environment, when there is an object present of which one wants to be conscious.
This subject-object duality forms an essential ingredient of the mind. Can I have awareness of the subject 'I' without the associated object awareness of 'this' in the mind? If there are no 'this' thoughts, could the mind still be called mind?
That is, does the mind always operate in the subject-object dualistic mode or can it have just subject alone without an object. Can there be a thinker (subject) alone without having thoughts (of objects) or does the thinker ceases to exist without the thoughts of the objects? Rene Descartes stated 'I think, therefore I am' implying first that 'I am' is associated with thinking faculty.
Can the conscious entity that 'I am' exist without having to think? Since the subject-object relation arises with the mind or in the mind, the ontological status of each or both of them is a philosophical question that is closely related to the analysis of the mind.
Unfolding the Subtle: Matter and Consciousness
F. David Peat
So many scientists begin, in their childhood, with a deep sense of wonder and mystery at the universe. Yet somewhere along the line we tend to become guarded and no longer so free with our speculations.
In the end creativity begins to dry up, for it is so much easier to swim in safe waters than to venture into the ocean of the unknown.
The ideas that are meeting to talk about at the Center lie right at the frontier of modern science. They are particularly subtle and difficult, and if we are to make a creative breakthrough in our work together then we will need to rely upon that sense of freedom and security the Center provides.
One of the questions that we have all been puzzling about has been the mind/body problem and its connection to health and healing. For centuries people have banged their heads against this fragmentation of mind and matter, our inner and outer experience.
One can perhaps take the hardnosed position that human consciousness is nothing more than an epiphenomenon of matter, the idealist position that all is mind, or attempt to retain both through some uneasy alliance.
But, like husband and wife in a messy divorce case, mind and matter seem forever fragmented from each other so that the best that the new sciences can do is to force some form of reconciliation through mysterious new forces and interactions.
I don't want to pursue that particular line of argument because I don't really find it very profitable - for my own thinking at least. Rather I'm going to begin in a different way by looking into the nature of our experience of the world.
The English poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins coined the word Inscape to refer to the deep-down in-dwelling of things and I want to contrast this Inscape, or inner voice that calls to us from the heart of nature, with our more traditional way of seeing the world as Landscape.
The individual was given pride of place in the universe (Man is the Measure of All Things) and from that privileged position looked out onto a world that could, in principle, be exhaustively described, predicted and controlled.
A paradigm instance of this world-view is the rise of perspective in painting; a system in which every object in a landscape is made to conform to the unifying geometrical rule of projective geometry whereby each line runs towards the observer's vanishing point.
Perspective integrates and unifies landscape but at the considerable expense of distorting the appearance and size of every object. Indeed, to perceive nature as Landscape is to see it as composed of objects, all external to ourselves.
And all this, I am suggesting is nothing but an elaborate illusion, an illusion that has been dignified by the particular historical developments and successes of Western science; developments, moreover, that led us to isolate ourselves from a world that was perceived as Landscape.
Of course analysis, in thought and through experiment, has its value, a considerable practical value at that, but it also has its place for, after all, every act of analysis is provisional and limited.
I believe that the time has come to bring analysis into balance with that other aspect of nature that is seen as Inscape. For to see the world exclusively as Landscape is to fragment outer from inner and to divide mind from matter.
Once we begin to admit the world as a limitless Inscape we no longer sense ourselves as isolated or needing to control the world around us. Rather, we begin to listen to inner and outer and discover our own road to harmony and integration.
Let me give an example of what I mean when I say that Inscape demands a new order to thought. To obtain the correct visual perspective in a landscape the sides of a building are portrayed as no longer parallel and corners do not form right angles.
Armed with these considerations let me return to the original question of mind and matter, no longer as separate substances that require reconciliation within a conceptual Landscape but as different reflections that can be perceived within the one Inscape.
In a similar way, I suggest, mind and matter are complementary aspects within a single Inscape. Depending upon our disposition to perceive and experience we may relevate that which we call mind, or conversely what we term matter.
Examples like the plasma, superconductor, super-fluid, as well as the various cooperative and coherent processes that take place within living organisms, suggest that systems evolve their own order of cohesion and that their authentic structures are not exclusively reducible to something supposedly logically more primitive.
This brings us to the question of the laws of nature. Traditionally we have seen these as proscriptions on the movements and transformations of matter - something absolute that acts on the world from outside the material domain.
We also believe that laws operating at one level should be reducible to a more fundamental law that applies at a level below.
But now, instead of laws being proscriptive I want to suggest that they are limited expressions of certain tendencies within the domain of material experience, or rather the laws themselves point to that area of experience that we call matter.
All is transformation, a vision that I also see revealed by the quantum theory in which the material world is an arising of form, a clinging to form and a dying away - in fact this clinging to form is nothing less than the expression of the laws of nature.
But I would also suggest that the orders of matter have the same range. Inscape speaks of the inexhaustible nature of all experience in which matter can range from the mechanical and clinging into the infinitely subtle.
To put it in yet another way, every time we perceive or relevate a material process we must be aware that it has a complementary mental side. Similarly every mental process or activity has its complementary material side.
It is not that these are two processes existing in parallel but more that mind and matter are two aspects of the one reality, two different colors that flash into our eyes as we rotate the one diamond in our fingers.
But this implies that mind extends beyond personal consciousness into the vegetative state and beyond - into rocks, stars and atoms. Likewise matter for its part extends into the infinitely subtle and mysterious.
The human mind that an infinite capacity for abstraction and reification. To give a name or circumscribe a category of thought is to bring it alive within the mind, to objectify it and make it manifest.
In the process it has created a fragmented world in which our inner feeling and experiences do indeed seem to be separated from our body, in which individuals are separated from society and in which society is cut off from nature.
There is a fairly general consensus amongst the sorts of scientists who are attracted to our Center of Frontier Sciences that the next important breakthrough in health is going to come about through the reintegration of mind and body.
It is my own feeling that one step in this process will be to return to that initial mystery, the mystery we all experienced as children, the direct perception of Inscape. Theory, analysis and reason can only go so far in understanding the healing of the body.
In the last analysis we are left with that essential mystery of what happens between healer and patient, or the sick person and their own inner life. This, I believe, is irreducible and unlimited by anything thought can create.