In the 1988 comedy Big, you may recall, a 12-year-old boy is transported into the body of Tom Hanks – a nightmarish twist on Kafka’s Metamorphosis, in which the protagonist gets off comparatively lightly by being transported into the body of a giant beetle. Neither story’s believable, of course, but as the psychologist Paul Bloom points out, what’s interesting is that they don’t strike us as meaningless, either: on some level, we can imagine how it might feel to wake up in another body. That’s because most of us are what philosophers call “dualists”: intuitively, we think of mind and body as two different entities, neither reducible to the other. What this means, in practice, is that even those of us who aren’t religious tend to rely on some notion of a soul. After all, “waking up in someone else’s body” only makes sense if the “real you” is distinct from your body. Even the phrase “your body” is sneakily dualist: who’s the “you” to which the body belongs?
Brain scientists find this dualism frustrating, since to most of them it’s obvious that somehow – even if nobody knows how yet – everything that happens in the mind must arise from the spongy grey tissues of the brain. (This is “physicalism”, the opposite of dualism.) Still, you’d be entitled to dismiss this as philosophical navel-gazing with little bearing on real life: dualism, physicalism, who cares? Or at least you would if it weren’t for a fascinating study by researchers at the University of Cologne, to be published in Psychological Science, who concluded that dualism might be a rather unhealthy way to live.
Read the whole story: The Guardian
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