Are the Human Mind and Body Separate from Each Other?

Izbište-Eastern Orthodox Church
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Post Author: Darrell

Recently, I have been studying the Eastern Orthodox tradition of Christianity, and quite honestly, I have found it to be a very intriguing faith.  They have a rich history and their faith is filled with traditions that hark back to the early Church.  Their approach to the Christian life and worship is unique, refreshing, and in many respects quite inspiring.

The Orthodox view of the human person is especially interesting.  Many Western Christians hold to a dualistic view of the mind and the body, believing them to be separate types of reality with the mind being equivalent to the spirit and the body being purely material.  While there are many profound advantages to this view, it is not without some serious challenges.  For example, dualism fails to account for the dramatic change in personality and character that can occur from physical damage to the brain and/or chemical imbalances within the body.  If the mind and spirit are separate entities, why do such changes in personality take place when a purely physical entity such as the brain is damaged?  It appears that any rational explanation for this would have to account for a profound connection between mind and body, yet this connection is precisely what the dualistic view seeks to avoid.

The Eastern Tradition of Christianity takes a different approach to mind/body duality, essentially saying that it doesn’t exist.  Instead, Orthodox view human personhood as a unity between the mind and the body.  In The Orthodox Church, Timothy Ware says:

The west has often associated the image of God with the human soul or intellect.  While many Orthodox have done the same, others would say that since the human person is a single unified whole, the image of God embraces the entire person, body and soul as well. . . . Our body is not an enemy, but a partner and collaborator with our soul. [emphasis mine]

This is not to say that Orthodox believe that God has a body… they don’t.  They hold to a very traditional view of the Godhead, believing the Father to be spirit.  However, to the Orthodox, Christ’s incarnation united the physical and the spiritual.  Fourtenth century Saint of The Eastern Orthodox Church, Gregory Palamas, has been quoted as saying, “By taking a human body at the Incarnation, [Christ] has made the flesh an inexhaustible source of sanctification.”

This unified view of the body and soul has a few similarities (although there are still many stark differences) to the mind/body theory known as Emergentism.  Emergentism says the human mind is not wholly separate from, nor entirely connected to, the body.  Instead, the mind, while produced by the brain, is entirely distinct from the brain.  As an analogy, we can look at magnetic fields and gravitational fields.  Both fields are produced by a generating physical object; however, they are also distinct from the generating physical object.  In the same way, Emergentism says that the mind emerges from the body (brain), but is still distinct from the body.

While this view has its challenges as well, it does appear to answer some of the questions left unanswered by the dualist.  Perhaps we Westerners have something to think about?

  • The interrelationship between spirit or mind and body, or matter, has long held my interest. I have come to especially distrust our western 20th century compartmentalization. Among of the blessings I have found in my journey to Anglican Christianity is that worship is provided that the whole man can enter into –the job of the body is not to be a mere chauffer who carries the spirit to church, and sits quietly until needed again for the trip home.

    I have forgotten the name of the early heresy (I expect you will recall it) where a sharp distinction was made in the incarnation of our Lord, in that the fleshly man “Jesus” was the body inhabited by the second Person of the Trinity. He put it on, He can take it off, as one would a suit. It formed a way of insulating the perfection of His deity from the messiness of the body. Of course, the problem is that “What He did not assume, He did not redeem.” Thus, the body, the whole material realm, is left outside the kingdom of God.

    As I keep going one about the nature of God being “plural unity” in the Trinity, I keep noticing the fingerprints of two (or three) things being many and one totally and at the same time. It is so prevalent that it is almost the “background radiation” left over from creation. Just as the discover of the background noise from the “big bang” went a long way towards establishing that theory, I think this body/mind/soul multi-dimensional existence can be seen, not as an analogy, but more as an artifact of our creation by such an entity.

    I believe that, as important as our individual responses to God are, we miss a lot when we decline to hold the two poles (One/Many – Brain/Mind, etc.) in tension.

  • Christoffer Green

    In the west this view of mind and body unity was developed further by the scholastics and now goes under the name hylemorphic dualism. It is a dualism even though there is a unity, this since it proposes that we consist of matter (hyle) and form (morph). The unity between the human form of the matter is what the human mind is.

  • Now, my mother could make her meaning VERY clear by simply saying my name. But Jeff, I’m afraid I am not quite as clear on what you intend.

  • Jeff

    Sorry Eric, computer glitch at work – I was trying to write that I felt you were describing modalism in the “putit on, take it off example”.

  • Jeff, I hear you re the glitch.
    Apollinarianism was the heresy I was looking for. At its simplest, it proposed that the Messiah consisted of a human body with a divine spirit, as opposedto the idea that Jessus was “fully God and fully man”
    If you will, an organic, human body, with the soul soul excluded replaced by the second Person on the Trinity.

    I understand Modalism to mean something more like The “ice, water, steam” analogy of the Trinity: What “Mode” God appears in depends on what cirmumstances we encounter Him under.

  • Dennis Sabre

    I believethat “Fully man, fully God” means that Jesus, while possessing all the attributes of God, voluntarily accepted the limitations of the human body at His incarnation.

    I have a nephew who had a brain injury from a four-wheeler accident; he seems to be a different person.

    This troubled me greatly, but I believe this posting along with reflection on the odt-used phrasee, “body, mnd and spirit” has enabled me to sort it out.

    I believe the soul and body are separate and that the mind is the manifestation of the soul as influenced by the body and the influence of the world. After death the soul will be given a new body without blemish and that will not have any negative or limiting effects – much differet from the body we inhabit as “fallen man”.

    If you’ll recall, Paul speaks of different kinds of flesh and Jesus Himself admonished Mary Magdeline for clinging to Him because He had not yet gone to the Father. It is also evident that Christ took on a “different body”, one that could enter a room without opening the door.

  • Seth B

    What if the word “soul” actually meant what is indicated in the Bible. Any living creature, God (through Mosses-Genesis) refers to living creatures as living souls walking the ground. (not in reference to specifically humans) Let flesh and blood, be flesh and blood, we are dust and nothing more. Why try to inculcate an eternal soul when we have an eternal, all remembering, knowing you before you were in the womb, hair on your head counting, loving God. GOD IS LOVE.

  • Seth B

    Also, Jesus is not God. He is the son of God (God says so himself). Jesus had conversations with him in heaven way before taking the form of man here on earth. Jesus is the first-born of all creation, born even before the angels, and the angels had witnessed earth being created(and cheered), Jesus was made first by the eternally existing God. How can you create yourself when you already exist?… The word “Trinity” is Pagan on many origins brought on by certain pagan adoptive(false worship)churches and the word Trinity is NEVER used once in the bible. Pray to yourself? Yes myself-(father) pour out myself-(holy spirit) on myself(son)? Why can’t we believe Jesus is who he says he is? The son of God!

  • Matt Salmon

    John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word (the Word/Christ was not created), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (the Father and the Son are the same being). 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (if Christ created everything, then he himself cannot be created)
    When we mesh this passage with Colossian 1:15 “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” to avoid contradiction, we have to change our interpretation of some of the words. First-born cannot mean born first if he is an uncreated being, so first-born most likely means heir, favorite son, and ruler. In that region of the world, the first-born was responsible to his father for his younger brothers (Christ is the ruler of and responsible for all creation). The first-born was generally (as long as he was fairly obedient) the heir to most of his father’s possessions and to his place as patriarch (which is one reason why Christ is depicted as a king). In effect, all creation is God’s gift to Christ.

  • Matt Salmon

    I hope that helps, but I apoligize for getting off topic.

  • Seth B

    Colossians 1:15…How did Jesus Create himself being the firstborn of all creation? It means that Jesus was created first also it means he is to be the inheritor of the ruling of Gods kingdom once God makes them his enemies his footstool (acts 2:35). Why not “avoid contradiction” in the first place and listen to Jesus when he mentions being a completely separate consciousness (mark 13:32). The ranking of heaven is simple and separate. 1st Corinthians 11:3…Seperate

  • Paradox

    Hi Seth, hi Matt! I’m new here, but I think I have a biblical solution for the both of you. I’m hoping that if you have any insights, you’d come back to this long-dead conversation, as I hope this will be a productive exchange.

    Jesus: First-born or what?
    I’ll probably get in trouble for referencing an Apocryphal work (Sirach), but I think that some insight is available. It is said that Wisdom is an eternal creation of God. Let’s take this, and add some insight from the Ancient Near East. They believed that words were living beings capable of causal agency, and could exist, even without being spoken. Jesus, the Word of God, is a necessary expression of the attribute known as `wisdom`. Hence, Jesus was with God at the beginning, while still being the first born. This, as I understand it, is the doctrine known as Eternal Generation.

    Jesus’ Divinity
    By calling Himself the Son of God, He angered the people, for making Himself equal with God. So it seems to me that Jesus is definitely a divine being (and it also seems you both agree on that). It turns out, the answer to the above helps us to resolve this as well, by giving us additional insight. But we also need data from outside of the Bible. First, in Hebrew, the word “Elohim” is the word for God (el), and the suffix for three (him). However, when God is doing something, the verbs are singular. Second, in the Hebrew Schema (Hear, O Israel! The LORD your God is one), the word for ‘one’ indicates COMPOUND unity (echad), as indicated in Genesis (And the man shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be one [echad] flesh).
    My resolution is that as an expression of God the Father (as is the Holy Spirit), He can be both ontologically equal, and functionally subordinate to God the Father.
    Seth, I think that you misunderstand when you say that the Trinity demand that Jesus pray to Himself. The Trinity can be formulated by this set of statements: “i. The Father is God, ii. The Holy Spirit is God, iii. The Son is God, iv. The Son is not the Father, v. The Son is not the Holy Spirit, vi. The Holy Spirit is not the Father.” Jesus would pray to the other members in the Trinity, who are not the same person, but of the same essence.