What Is Dualism Psychology?

Updated February 15, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Dualism psychology has been hotly debated for many years, with philosophers, biologists, psychologists, and other scientists weighing in on the subject. The entire dual discussion revolves around the question of whether the mind and brain are two separate entities or the same. In proponents of dualism, there is a philosophical understanding that brain and mind are distinct from each other, being neural and mental in nature respectively. For dualists, the brain can be seen as a physical object only, while the mind is seen as something beyond the strictly physical. Continue reading to learn more about this subject and ways to get help through BetterHelp online therapy.

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Mind-Brain Dualism Explained

Mind-body dualism psychology is a more descriptive term for dualism in psychology. The phrase refers to the idea that the mind and body are two different things that can be separated. To understand this concept better, it is helpful to know at the outset what the concepts “mind” and “brain” mean. While the distinction in psychology is focused typically on the brain only, philosophically speaking the discussion involves if there is a distinction between the mind and body. 

Dualism In The Mind

The mind includes everything in your consciousness. It includes thoughts, reasoning, judgment, and emotions. As you experience something, your mind processes the new information, which ultimately helps you to form conclusions. At the center of your consciousness is your ego, or your subjective conception of yourself.

Dualism In The Brain

The brain is a physical, biological object. It is a part of your body, whether you are conscious or not. It is a mass of soft nerve tissue inside the skull. Although science has proven that mental processes are coordinated in the brain, the dualism/monism debate questions whether there is a mind that is separate from the physical output of the brain.

Monism Vs. Dualism Psychology

In a sense, the monism vs. dualism psychology debate has been going on since Aristotle and Plato disagreed on whether the soul continued after the death of the physical body. Since Rene Descartes wrote about the relationship of the mind and body during the 1600s, the focus of the debate has shifted to dualism during life. With so many philosophers and scientists interested in this subject, several different types of dualism and monism have developed.

Types Of Monism

There are two main types of monism. The first is materialism. In the materialistic view, nothing exists at all unless it is a part of the material, physical world. In the materialistic view, the brain exists, and the mind is just a set of processes that happen in the nervous system.

The second type of monism is subjective idealism, also called phenomenalism. Subjective idealism is the opposite of materialism. Instead of saying that there is only the physical world, it says that the only things that truly exist are the perceptions of the mind.

This idea that perception shapes physical reality has been tested in many research studies. In one study, people with multiple sclerosis who were depressed behaved as if their disability was greater than what was shown on the tests.

Types Of Dualism

The different types of dualism in the mind-body debate recognize both the physical object, that is the brain and the mental processes that make up the mind as two different entities. However, different types of dualism offer distinct perspectives.

One is substance dualism. This view assumes that the mind and the physical world are fundamentally different. Rene Descartes was a substance dualist. In Descartes’ view, the mind could exist without the body. The body could exist without the mind, but it could not think.

For Descartes, the mind and body were distinct entities, but they were connected through the pineal gland, an endocrine gland located deep inside the center of the brain. While the pineal gland does exist and has several identified functions, the idea that it connects the mind and body is still questionable.

The second type of dualism is predicate dualism. This view is based on the language used to describe phenomena. It states that descriptions of the world cannot be reduced to physical formulas. For example, no simple formula describes what a storm is in physical terms in the same way as the common words: tornado, thunderstorm, or hurricane do.

Another type is property dualism. Property dualism assumes that the quality of consciousness is more than a description of brain states. Many decades ago, property dualism was commonly used to explain the difference between the biological reality of life and the life force that started life and allowed it to continue. However, in recent years, this term has been used more often to distinguish between physical phenomena like brain states and behaviors and mental phenomena like thoughts and emotions.

Questions In The Monism Vs. Dualism Debate

The debate about whether mind and body are the same or not brings up several related questions. If all these questions could be answered conclusively, the debate would likely be settled. As research continues to look into the physical and nonphysical origins of the mind and brain, these questions may come closer to being answered definitively.

Are Mental Phenomena Different From Sensory Phenomena?

The sense organs, including the eyes, ears, nose, taste buds, and skin, bring in information and enrich the experience. These sensations may stimulate many different thoughts. For example, think of how smell and memory are tightly correlated. If you smell chocolate chip biscuits and think of your mother’s kindness, is that merely a physical reaction to the smell? Or is there a thought that is more than a simple physiological response?

Does The Mind Control The Body Or The Body Control The Mind?

If you believe dualism is the correct view, you are faced with the question of whether the mind or body is in control. Three main answers have been proposed. The interactionist view is that the mind affects the body and the body also affects the mind.

A second view is called epiphenomenalism. This theory states that physical stimuli or events cause mental phenomena. However, mental events may not affect the physical state of being. To most people, this view makes no sense. After all, when you feel sadness, your body responds to that sadness, and you find yourself crying. When you see a car speeding towards you in the crosswalk, you move away as fast as you can. In each case, the thoughts and emotions of your mind have a physical impact.

The third view is parallelism. In this dualistic view, mind, and body both exist, but they are not connected in any way.

Is Knowing The Same As Experiencing?

You can gather facts and information until you have a very clear idea of what something is. If factual knowledge is the same as experiencing something, you have nothing new to learn. Yet, someone who has studied love all their life may have a very different understanding of it if they fall in love for the first time.

They may know all the details about how love affects the body and mind, but until they experience it themselves, they don’t know what it’s like to be in love. They may have known the physical facts before, but now they have a different kind of understanding of the quality of being in love.

Does Observation Explain Everything?

Unless they are doing a thought experiment, scientists typically study observable behavior. Monism assumes that all mental processes are a part of the physical realm. If so, they should all be observable on some level. The concept that thoughts could be observed was an outlandish idea years ago, but it’s gaining credibility.

What Is The Difference Between A Zombie And A Conscious Being?

One common argument for dualism in psychology is the zombie argument. Here’s how it goes. You imagine being a zombie. You have no conscious thought or experiences at all. Yet, your body still exists and can perform basic functions. The argument states that if you can imagine a state in which there is no consciousness at all while the body continues to function, consciousness (or mind) must be separate from the purely physical.

Can Thoughts Be Reduced To Physics?

Although it is becoming clearer that at least many if not all the mental activity can be observed, there is still the question of whether the thought might be more than the observable physical phenomenon. Physics can describe any physical object or event. What has yet to be determined is whether physics can explain the way thoughts come up and what people do about them.

Is A Physically Identical Twin Also Psychologically Identical?

Even identical twins are not identical. Their environment changes them from the time they are in the womb. What if identical twins were psychologically identical, though? Would they have all the same mental activities? If this question could be tested, it could potentially help scientists understand the relationship between mind and body.

Why Can Brain Damage Cause Mental Changes?

Some theorists suggest that the fact that brain damage often leads to some form of mental change proves that the mind is the same thing as the brain. Is this true? Perhaps. Or, maybe it is that the physical brain can no longer interact with the nonphysical mind in the same way as it did before the damage.

What About Freedom Of Choice?

If you believe that your mind is the same thing as your brain, it may suggest that everything that happens to you would produce a specific reaction. You would have no freedom of choice because every behavior would simply happen automatically. However, if your mind is distinct from your body, as dualists see it, you can think about what happened, use your moral judgment, and choose between several alternatives.

Are Mental Health Problems Physical Or Psychological?

So, what are the practical implications of monism and dualism for mental health? No matter how you look at the debate, there are two different types of treatments you can pursue if you have mental health issues.

A first step you can take towards mental health is by improving your physical condition. You can do this in several ways:

  • Get enough sleep

  • Eat healthy foods

  • Exercise

  • Avoid drugs and alcohol

  • Take prescribed medications to improve your brain chemistry

Secondly, you can work on your behavior through psychotherapy. For the strict proponent of monism, behavioral therapy makes the most sense. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you change your behavior starting with your mental processes, whether they are a part of your brain or not.

Mental Health Therapy For The Mind And Brain

If you have not been able to overcome mental health challenges on your own, a therapist can help you work towards overcoming them by teaching you new ways of coping, behaving, or understanding yourself, your problems, and the world around you.

In the realm of psychology, much work has been done on psychosomatic disorders. The term psychosomatic means relating to both the body and mind. A range of physical symptoms might derive from mental health issues. For example, anxiety can trigger psoriasis, heart disease, high blood pressure, or eczema, among others.

In these instances, psychological counseling using methods like cognitive behavioral therapy has shown high rates of success. Additionally, CBT is becoming more accessible with the advent of online counseling. A review of scientific literature published in 2017 found that remotely administered CBT was not only effective, it was also far more affordable than traditional therapy. Plenty of online resources is also available to help you learn more about dualism—for example, the entry from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

If you believe you experience anxiety-induced psychosomatic symptoms or live with other mind-body disconnects, online therapy can help. If you are dealing with a psychosomatic symptom, another issue relating to psychological problems, they will be able to help. Read thoughts others have to say about their experiences below.

BetterHelp Dualism Reviews

“Aly is amazing. She has helped me understand the depth of growth that consoling can bring. She is an excellent listener, and great at helping lead you to discoveries and self-growth without obviously pointing them out. She also gives me activities and literature to help my continued reflection in between our sessions. Focus on mind/body/spirit connection. Would recommend her!”

It Can Be Hard To Navigate The Path Toward Improved Mental Health

Final Thoughts

Talk to a dualism counselor at BetterHelp.com for help with a variety of different dualism concerns. In the end, the things that matter most in dualism are things that you can do to improve yourself through dualism.

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