Mind-Body Studies through Human Civilization

The study of conceptions of mind-body relationship is both intriguing and very important for understanding of the root and development of psychological science.  Throughout history the mind-body dualism had become the influential thought in the Western philosophy.  Originated by Pythagoras and enriched by Plato, the idea of mind-body dualism had been inherited, challenged, and modified by many philosophers thus various forms of dualisms were presented during different times of the history.   Regardless of the variations from one school to another, the core concept of mind-body dualism is that mind exists in non-physical forms independently from body.   Some dualism schools support the idea of immortal souls; others treated mind and its process as a biological or mechanical function.

The Renaissance, a glorious period of human civilization, was preceded by rediscovery of Aristotle’s lost works near the end of the Middle Ages.  Aristotle’s philosophy for emphasizing on observation and experience of sensation impelled creativity in development of arts, science, and new thoughts.  During this period, Descartes’ philosophy emerged and became an ever influential thought by its unique view of body, mind, and soul.  As a dualism, Descartes identified the mind with consciousness and self-awareness outside of body.  On the other hand, Descartes viewed human body, brain functions, and the world in the forms of materialism because he intended to attribute the universal as a material world which was regulated by mechanical and mathematical laws.

The success in science during the 18th-19th centuries brought hope to philosophers for resolving mind-body issues by methods implemented in natural science.  These approaches led to new philosophical ideas such as empiricism.  The British empiricists, the French sensationalists, and the positivists were in common that they believed that all knowledge could be obtained from experience, and they rejected the concept of innate ideas.  The positive aspect of empiricism was that it introduced scientific knowledge to study human behaviors through observations and experiments.

The review of historical ideas of mind-body relationship showed that philosophers started to study human nature through speculation, intuition, and generalization from inner experience. However, a foremost transformation gradually took place when subsequent scholars intended to wield the tools and methods already successful in the biological and physical sciences to address the issues about human nature (Schultz & Schultz, 2011).  This transformation encouraged researchers to apply well controlled observation and experimentation to study the human mind.  Because of the transformation, the science of psychology emerged when new empirical methods made mental research detached from its philosophical roots.


Schultz, D. P. & Schultz, S. E. (2011). A History of Modern Psychology (10th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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