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Mind And Body Essay, Research Paper

Much of the intellectual history of psychology has

involved the attempt to come to grips with the problem

of mind and body and how they interact.

While the philosophical distinction between mind and

body can be traced back to the Greeks, it is due to

the influential work of Ren? Descartes, (written

around the 1630’s) that we owe the first systematic

account of the mind/body relationship. When Descartes’

friend and frequent correspondent, Marin Mersenne,

wrote to him of Galileo’s fate at the hands of the

Inquisition, Descartes immediately suppressed his own

treatise. As a result, the world’s first extended

essay on physiological psychology was published only

well after its author’s death. In this essay, he

proposed a mechanism for automatic reaction in

response to external events. According to his

proposal, external motions affect the peripheral ends

of the nerve fibrils, which in turn displace the

central ends. As the central ends are displaced, the

pattern of interfibrillar space is rearranged and the

flow of animal spirits is thereby directed into the

appropriate nerves. This is the reason he has been

credited with the founding of the reflex theory.

Descarte was the first to talk about mind/body

interactions, and thus had a great influence in later

psychologists and thinkers. He proposed that not only

body can influence mind, but that mind could also

affect body.

Years later, the work of Nicolas Malebranche was

probably the most influential provider of

occasionalism. Occasionalism deals with the

contradiction that if the nature of causality is such

that causes and effects must have a necessary

connection and be of a similar type, then mind/body

interactionism is unsound. He argued that both of

Descartes’ substances, mind and body, are causally

ineffective. His belief was that G’d is the one and

only true cause. There is no influence of mind on

body or of body on mind.

“In order to retain the notion of God as the one true

cause without sacrificing the idea of causality as

operative in both the mental and the physical spheres,

Benedictus de Spinoza abandoned Descartes’

two-substance view in favor of what has come to be

called double-aspect theory.” Double-aspect theories

are based on the notion that the mental and the

physical are simply different aspects of one and the

same substance. Nonetheless, he agreed with Descartes

that the world of consciousness and that of extension

are qualitatively separate. He believed that

substance, G’d, is the universal essence or nature of

everything that exists. In other words he believed

that mental incidents can determine only other mental

incidents, and physical motions can determine only

other physical motions, “mind and body nonetheless

exist in pre-established coordination, since the same

divine essence forms the connections within both

classes and cannot be self-contradictory.” These

dual-aspect theories go went through a resurgence

during the 19th century.

Another view introduced by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

was that of psychophysical parallelism, which holds on

to both the dualism of mind and body and the notion of

a regular correlation between mental and physical

events. This view, however, avoids any assumption of

an underlying mind/body connection. It believes that

mind and body are so different, that they cannot

affect one another. They do, however, recognize the

fact that every mental event is correlated with a

physical event.

During the 18th century, the problem of re-relating

mind and body arose. George Berkely talked about the

view of immaterialism in which “he denies even the

possibility of mindless material substance. For

something to exist for Berkeley it must either be

perceived or is the active mind doing the perceiving.

>From this perspective, there is no mind/body

distinction because what we think of as body is merely

the perception of mind. While Berkeley had few

contemporary adherents, immaterialism was to resurface

in the later 19th century in the guise of mind- stuff


As the 19th century progressed, the problem of the

relationship between mind and brain became

increasingly present. This is palpable especially in

texts after 1860. To a large extent, this directly

reflected two major developments that converged to

impress philosophers and psychologists with the

centrality of the mind/brain problem. “The formal

beginning of psychology as a modern science came in

1879 when Wilhelm Wundt founded, in Leipzig, Germany,

the first laboratory devoted to experimental

psychology.” Together with Hermann con Helmholtz and

Gustav Fechner, they founded the school of psychology

now labeled determinism. Determinism is based on the

idea that behaviors have causes that can be

investigated, and the causes of behavior are, to a

certain extent, beyond the control of the individual.

Determinism was proceeded by a school of psychology

called structuralism, which focused on the structure

or contents of the mind, and analyzed it in parts, in

other words, events can be understood when broken

down. Structuralism relied heavily on introspection.

Edward Titchener led this school of thought.

“Structuralism represented the early development of


The American John Dewey developed the school of

psychology called functionalism, which gave utmost

importance to learned habits which enabled organisms

to adapt to their environments and function

effectively, believing that an organism’s goal is to


Since then, psychologists have taken different

approaches such as the biological approach, the

psyhodynamic approach, and the cognitive approach,

amongst many others. Psychology itself has grown in

popularity and has been therefore analyzed to a fuller

extent. An important issue directly related to the

field of psychology is the development of an

individual, which has been dealt with various


Developmental psychology is “the branch of psychology

that is concerned with the changes in physical and

psychological functioning that occur from conception

through an entire life span.” Developmental

psychologists study physical, mental, and social

changes occurring throughout the life cycle.

Throughout life, there is never a period on which

change does not occur. Something is always changing.

Some psychologist view development as change is

essentially continuous. Other psychologists view

development as “a succession of reorganizations:

behavior is different in different age-specific

periods, such as infancy, childhood, and adolescence.

Thus, while development itself is continuous,

particular aspects of it are discontinuous.”

Because a great deal of who people are was determined

since before they were born, in order to fully

understand the development of an individual, we have

to go back to the origin of that person, the time of

conception. As soon as a zygote has been formed, it

contains genetic information “that will determine not

only the physical make-up, but many of the

psychological characteristics of the new individual.

For that reason, the study of behavior properly begins

with the study of mechanisms of heredity,” which is

why members of the same family have similar genes and

traits, and why brothers and sisters will resemble

each other as well as their parents. Genes are what

make each of us a distinctive human being, and yet

they are also what determines the characteristics that

make us human beings, rather than any other species.

What human beings have in common, nonetheless, is an

orderly sequence of biological growth processes

predetermined by our genes. This process is called

maturation. The genetic growth tendencies are innate.

Although fraternal twins are no more alike genetically

than ordinary siblings born at different times, their

environments are more similar, and thus their

development is more similar as well. All differences

between identical twins are due to environmental

factors. Everyday experiences shape human development

and maturation. It is still under discussion,

however, how much of behavior is due to heredity, and

how much is due to the environment.

The British philosopher John Locke believed neonates

are born without any knowledge or skills, as though

they were born with a blank tablet which, throughout

life gets filled with experiences which shape

development. “What directs human development, Locke

claimed, is the stimulation people receive as they are

nurtured by experience and education.” The French

philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought otherwise.

“He argued the view that nature, the totality of

predispositions and abilities we are born with, shapes

development.” People are noble savages corrupted by

contact with society. Since then new discoveries have

been made and contemporary developmental psychologists

now acknowledge that both, heredity and the

environment shape development and that neither one is

sufficient alone. The epigenetic model, with which

most psychologists agree with, states that

“development is influenced by the forces of both

nature and nurture.” It is a result of the

interaction of our genes and our past and present


In 1801 a young boy around the age of twelve was

discovered in Aveyron, France. Animals had apparently

raised this “wild boy”. Because he was uncivilized,

he became known as the Wild Boy of Aveyron. Children

like him are called feral (meaning wild) children, and

the majority of times they are “completely unable to

cope with human society and usually die soon after

they are recovered from the wild, either from human

illnesses to which they have no immunity or dietary

shock, or psychological trauma… Feral children are not

the same as those tragic children raised in extreme

isolation or locked in cupboards and cellar for years

at a time by mentally disturbed parents.”

Plasticity is “the capacity of a developing organism

to be molded and shaped by the environment, nurture,

and experience.” Individuals themselves differ about

the extent of plasticity. Plasticity differs as well

according to different stages or periods in

development. “Your heredity establishes you

potential, but is your experiences that determine how,

and how much of, that potential will be realized.”

Each person is an individual with his or her own

developmental schedule and pattern, however it is

convenient to group the occurrence of various

developmental changes into stages. Nonetheless, one

must not forget that there is no one specific point at

which a task suddenly appears or disappears, because

each area of development is continually interacting

and influencing the others. The basic stages of

development are childhood, adolescence and adulthood,

and sometimes late adulthood is considered a separate

stage. Only recently has the neonate period of

development been carefully examined and considered.

In spite of this, there are some general principles

of development. Development follows a predictable

pattern with common characteristics such as the early

physical development of infants. In babies

development spreads downward from the head, which

develops first, to the feet. The individual first

develops general responses and then proceeds to

specific responses. A third characteristic of

development is that it is a continuous process. A

fourth principle is that some individuals have a

different rate of development, and each stage has

unique features, depending on the society and the

period of development involved.

The neonate is the newborn through the first two

weeks to a month of life. Neonates, within a few

hours of life, given certain stimulus are capable of

various responses. Almost all of these behaviors “are

reflexive—simple, unlearned, involuntary reactions to

specific stimuli. Many of these responses serve the

purpose of helping to respond to a basic need.”

Because different psychologists name certain stages

differently, Jean Piaget named the first stage the

sensory-motor stage, which involves the neonatal stage

as well as infancy. It is during this stage in which

infants learn by concrete actions; they learn

opposability. This “grasping” usually takes takes

place between the age of three and five months.

Opposability is of utmost importance in aiding the

processes of the mind. The first schemes involve its

senses, actions and abilities, in which opposability

plays a major role. “It seems that babies start to

build up their knowledge of the world by observing

relations between connected sensory events.” It is

in this manner that they learn to survive. Approaches

for survival and/or success begin to develop in


“Regardless of the rate of one’s motor development,

there are regularities in the sequence on one’s

development.” Children grow very rapidly, both

physically and cognitively and they develop certain

intellectual abilities. It is during childhood that

individuals acquire language skills, which are

presumed to have been forming since infancy. Human

beings are presumed to be born with language learning

abilities, and “social interaction motivates children

to learn language so they can communicate with

others.” It is believed that learning abilities are

innate because all individuals are born with vocal

chords, and even as young as newborns, they already

babble and make certain sounds. Children all over the

world seem to go through similar steps of learning

language. Reinforcers as well as punishers play a

vital role in the development of language.

“Piaget say the human mind as an active biological

system that seeks, selects, interprets, and recognizes

environmental information to fit with or adjust to its

own existing mental structures.” Jean Piaget

greatly influenced the trying to successfully figure

out a way to understand the mental processes

(including the process of opposability) children go

through to understand physical realities. He named

the mental structures or programs that guide

developing sequences of thinking schemes.

Although Piaget’s theory has greatly influenced

developmental psychology, since then more research has

been made, and thus has caused some questioning of

some of his basic ideas. “The two major criticisms of

Piaget’s theory are that (1) the borderlines between

his proposes stages are much less clear-cut than his

theory suggests, and (2) Piaget significantly

underestimated the cognitive talents of preschool

children.” Another important disparagement is that

his theory focuses solely on the development of

children, and as we have already proven, development

does not stop until the day we die. He also gives

little consideration to the influence that language

development has on an individual. He also did not

elaborate much about the capacity of a child’s memory.

Erikson, on the other hand, proposed a theory which

he divided into eight stages of human development, his

first stage beginning at age zero and the eighth stage

referring to late adulthood. He too included the

characteristics of cognitive development, however, he

focused on much more than that. Also, “many of his

observations had more of a cross-cultural basis than

did Piaget’s.” Unlike Freud, Erikson decided to

emphasize the social environment, and thus his theory

is referred to as psychosocial. To Erikson,

development is not so much periods of time, but a

series of crises that need to be resolved. In

whichever way these conflicts or crises are resolved

affects greatly the development of the subsequent

stages. According to Erikson we “naturally go through

the resolution of each conflict or crisis in order and

that facing any one type of crisis usually occurs at

about the same age for all of us.”

Piaget agreed that moral development is closely

related to one’s cognitive awareness, yet it was

Lawrence Kohlberg who assembled a theory of moral

development. The theory is based on standards of moral

judgement. According to Piaget these cognitive

abilities develop only as the child progresses through

developmental stages. Kohlberg’s theory is too

divided into stages. He proposed three major levels

of moral reasoning, or development. According to

Kohlberg, his three stages occur in that same order in

all cultures.

Development is closely related to socialization,

because as we have discussed earlier, nurture, or the

environment plays a major role in the development of

an individual. Socialization the perceptual “process

of shaping an individual’s behavior patterns, values,

standards, skills, attitudes, and motives to conform

to those regardless as desirable in a particular

society.” Sexuality is closely related to


Psychologists differ in their approaches towards

development because the view it from distinct points

of view. Piaget, for example, proposed a theory of

the cognitive development of children, while Erikson

proposed a theory based on the psychosocial

development of individuals. Although Kohlberg based

his theory on Piaget’s, his theory focused on moral


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