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An Oversimplified (and Likely Inaccurate) Outline of the History of the Mind–Body Problem

Andrew Dao '24

Mind and body, are there any distinctions?

Philosophers, since time immemorial, have struggled with this question.


First on the scene were the Ancient Greeks,

Who thought a single substance was all that exists.

For Thales it was water,

Anaximenes, it was air he preferred,

And Parmenides believed in a boundless, constant, spherical Being, so to speak.


This position of the Greek came to be known as monism.

It would take on many forms, and inevitable were schisms.

Spinoza made the claim

Extensions of God, mind and body the same.

Heretical for his time, his view is now known as pantheism


Also a monist, yet it was the mind Berkeley emphasized.

Beyond ideas and perception, he argued, nothing lies.

Your phone isn’t real,

What’s real are the phone-qualities you feel.

“To be is to be perceived”—commit this to your mind!


Pushing this narrative to its finale,

Were a group of idealists whose homes were in Germany.

One of them, Hegel, described

Reality as constituted solely by Geist,

Which is the world’s collective mind, shared both by you and me.


Discontent with such idealism were the physicalists,

Who has grown in number since the advent of explanations neuroscientific.

All mental states, they argued,

Are dependent on physical states, or even reduced to.

Moderates accept supervenience, while the radical embraces positions eliminativist.


So far, the monists were all we’ve covered,

Yet they are but one side of the matter.

Descartes, in his Meditations,

Held the brain and its thoughts in complete separation.

Hereafter, mind–body dualism we said he fathered.


David Chalmers, a dualist, proposed the zombie argument

“Zombie” is understood as an exact replica of a human, but consciousness deficient Seeing a clown, a zombie puts on a big smile

But, inside it, no happy feelings arise

If such zombie can exist, then the mind cannot be physical, that’s apparent.


Another anti-physicalism thought experiment was made by Frank Jackson

In which a color expert, Mary, is locked in a black-and-white room—not fun
Mary knows all the science behinds sight

Yet when she sees a red apple for a first time,

If physicalism held, would not her knowledge be undone?


Ending the poem, I hope your attention I’ve drawn.

Which stance would you take on this debate that’s raging on?

Art by Isabella Wang '24

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