Descartes Essay Can you make any sense of the notion that you might continue to exist in a disembodied state? The question regarding the possibility of disembodied existence raises one of the oldest problems of philosophy -the mind body issue - which concerns the precise nature of the relationship between mind and body. The relationship between mind and body has been the subject of philosophical debate since the emergence of sustained philosophical inquiry, and has spawned distinct branch of philosophy- the philosophy of mind. In order to answer the question it is first necessary to define what is meant by existence in disembodied state. I have taken the notion of the disembodied state expressed in the question to be the idea that I the individual that I am at this moment might be able to exist independently of my corporal body.
Therefore the question concerns the possibility of my being able to exist without a physical body. In order for me to continue to exist without a physical body my existence would necessarily have to be more than a property of my physical body, consequently the only means by which I could continue to exist is if the essence of my existence is not an attribute of my physical existence but of my mind. Therefore to make sense of the notion of disembodied existence it is necessary to establish that the essence of my existence, my sense of self, resides in my mind and is distinct from my physical corporal body. However merely establishing that my mind is distinct from my body is not itself sufficient to affirm the possibility of disembodied existence. My mind maybe distinct from and fundamentally different from my body yet I may still be dependent on a physical body for existence, identity, and experience, therefore I must demonstrate not only the distinctness of mind and body but also that my mind would be capable of functioning independently of my physical body. The means by which the possibility of disembodied existence can be summarised as follows.
If my mind can be said to be distinct from and independent of my body then disembodied existence is possible. The first step to affirming the possibility of disembodied existence therefore is to affirm or acknowledge at some level the distinctness of mind and body and deny materialism / physicalism - that theory that all processes are ultimately physical and that the mind therefore cannot exist independently of the physical body. Arguments postulating that the mind is distinct from the corporal body are well established and usually take the form of dualism which is essentially the view that mind and matter are fundamentally different. Of all the various forms of dualism substance dualism is perhaps easiest to reconcile with the notion of disembodied existence. Traditional substance or Cartesian dualism states that the world is comprised of both material (physical) things and immaterial (non-physical) mental things - minds - and all mental states (beliefs, experiences) are states of such things; since our awareness and consciousness are mental states, we are ourselves immaterial mental beings, who happen to be in contact with material bodies Evidently this idea of human beings as mental things is compatible with the notion of disembodied existence for if it is true that I am essentially an immaterial- mental being then it would certainly be possible for me to survive in a incorporeal state. This idea that my mind might be distinct from my corporal body despite my natural impulse to see my body as an integral part of my existence, does not appear to be wholly counter intuitive and a strong case can be made for this kind of dualism.
If one reflects on ones perceptions and emotions appear to be quite distinct from the raw sense data gathered by the senses. The rich world of conscious appears to be far more than a matter of physical sensation, my ideas, thoughts and imagination seem to transcend simple physical experience. I am not only capable of having experiences but also able to comment on and analyse these experiences which implies that I am possessed of a consciousness which is distinct from my physical experiences. It seems inconceivable that a purely mechanical entity could be possessed of degree of self awareness and capable of conscious experience, and it is this capacity for conscious experience that seems to undermine the physica list position that I am simply a mechanical being. Although the brain identified as the organ that governs mental processes there are no structures in the brain that can account for my emotional experiences and memories in the way that my heart can account for circulation or my lungs for respiration.
There appears to be little tangible connection between the mass of grey matter in my brain and the rich world consciousness, memory, ideas and experience that is my mind. For although certain brain states and activity in certain portions of the brain appear to correspond to certain mental functions and states, it cannot be proved that these brain states are in fact the cause of my conscious experiences- the brain might nothing more than a receiving / transmitting device that receives ideas from immaterial world of mind. It is possible therefore that my mind is more than physical mind is more than simply a matter of brain states and physical stimuli which implies that my consciousness is a distinctly mental property separate from my corporal body. Conscious minds exist.
consciousness cannot be simply a matter of physical phenomenon. Therefore, conscious minds cannot be physical. Therefore conscious minds must be non-physical things- mental. A second argument for distinguishing the mind from the body is Descartes argument that the mind and body are fundamentally different in terms of their properties and that as such they cannot be the same. Descartes argues that all matter is extended and that it therefore exists in three dimensional space while the properties of the mind- thoughts, emotions etc. do not exist in the world of extension and do not exist in three dimensional space.
It follows therefore that the properties of mind and matter are different from those of the body and the mind and body are therefore mind and body are necessarily different. This argument can be summarised as follows. If two things possess different properties they cannot be identical The objects of the mind is indivisible the body is extended matter Therefore the mind cannot be the same as the body A further argument for the distinguishing between mind and body is the modal argument which states that anything that can be imagined is possible. As it is impossible to doubt the existence of my mind where it is possible for me to doubt the existence of my body it is possible that I do not possess a physical body.
Anything that can be imagined is possible It is possible to imagine existing without a physical body Therefore disembodied existence is possible This argument relates to the cogito which it self supports the notion of disembodied existence as it states that all I can know with certainty is that I am a thinking. For if all I can know with certainty is that I am a thinking then it is possible that mine could be a disembodied existence. The above arguments for making the distinction between mind and body though by no means sound establish that it is at least possible that the mind distinct from my body. Given therefore that it is possible that are distinctly mental then that these could continue to exist without a physical body. It is conceivable therefore that I or some part of me might be able to exist without my corporal body. We can conclude therefore that: If it is possible that my mind is different from my body then disembodied existence is conceivable It is possible that my mind is distinct from my physical body therefore some sort of disembodied existence is conceivable It might be possible that my ideas and thoughts could be isolated that after my thoughts it could for example be the case that my thoughts and memories could persist independently of my physical body in a world of pure of mind.
Or that advances in technology might make it possible or my thought and memories to be downloaded into a virtual world or I could indeed be something akin to Descartes brain in a jar- a thinking thing lacking any corporal properties. Therefore it can be said that the mind might be able to survive without the body and that therefore some sort of disembodied existence maybe possible. However the question does not simply concern the possibility of disembodied existence but asks more precisely whether I (the being that I am/ my sense of self) might be able to survive in such a state. For although it is possible that my mind might be able to exist in a disembodied state what sort of existence would this be and would this disembodied existence- as pure mind be compatible with my current sense of self. How could I function as a disembodied entity? All my life and experience I have been I am possessed of a physical body therefore my sense of self my, my perception of myself as an individual is inextricably entwined with my physical body. My physical appearance, the fact that I am a being with arms and legs the ability to perceive and respond to physical feeling and my senses are all integral aspects of my sense of identity.
As a disembodied being I would no longer possess these qualities and would be deprived of sense experience, I would not be able to look at anything, listen to anything, or feel anything. As I am at the moment a seeing, hearing, feeling thing according to the argument that two things with different properties cannot be the same cease I would cease to be the same self I was prior to becoming disembodied. Therefore it is not possible for me (as I am at this moment) to exist in a disembodied state as my disembodied self would be quite different from my embodied self. I am as far as I know reliant on my physical body for me to continue to have sensory experience and in dualist world composed of mind and matter how as a being of pure mind it would be impossible for me to have knowledge of the physical world- and as all that I know emanates from the physical world how would it be possible for me to acquire new knowledge in a disembodied state.
Therefore a disembodied existence would necessarily be a very lonely one as I would ultimately be nothing more that a thinking thing unable to interact with other minds or with the physical world- at best a disembodied akin to a dream world. There it can be said that disembodied existence may be possible but that such an existence would be an extremely limited one and not one I could indentifdy with my current existence.