Monday, January 08, 2007

Don't blame it on René

Here's a passage I meant to quote quite a while ago, from the Nov. 20 issue of The New Yorker: "Think Again," by Anthony Gottlieb, a review of recent books on Descartes:

'Descartes’s dualism is certainly not quite what it is often taken to be. In the 1994 best-seller “Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain,” the neurologist Antonio Damasio reports that Descartes believed in an “abyssal separation between body and mind . . . the separation of the most refined operations of mind from the structure and operation of a biological organism.” This is actually the opposite of what Descartes believed. He held that we “experience within ourselves certain . . . things which must not be referred either to the mind alone or to the body alone,” and that these arise “from the close and intimate union of our mind with the body.” In his best-known writings, Descartes stressed the differences between matter (which occupies space) and thought (which does not). But he also maintained that, in human beings, mind and body are mysteriously and inextricably combined, as he tried to spell out in letters to Princess Elizabeth. (She kept pressing him on the point.) He could not explain how it is that mind and body are united, but he was sure that they were.'

No comments: