In Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, his philosophy on the mind established a conclusion that the mind and the body are two separate entities that work intricately with one another to form who we are as human. He reaches this through explaining how the body is something that can be extended but does not think, and the mind is something else that cannot be extended into the physical world and can foster imagination and free thought. Because the nature of the mind is fundamentally different from that of the body, he concludes that the mind can exist without the body. This creates a dualism where the interaction of the two entities, mind and body, is unsolved, creating a new problem as to what the mind actually is. However, this cannot be true, since if the mind was its own entity apart from body, it would violate many of the natural and physical laws of our world.
In order to better understand why Descartes’ conclusions are flawed, one must understand the concept of natural selection and how this has bred the human race into what it is today. Darwinian natural selection is defined by the change of heritable traits of an organism over time based on the survivability and reproductive chances of those particular traits. Undoubtedly, humans (homo sapiens sapiens) have not always been like we are today. At some point in time, we evolved from clusters of cells and began to develop limbs and other physical features that increase our survivability in that particular environment. From this we gained hands and feet, while fish gained fins and gills. Not long ago, in relation to the existence of the universe, the homo sapien specie did not have the neuro-physiological capacity to think as we do now, much like a fish. All of what occurs through natural selection is very physical. The fact that humans have larger brains is because of this physical change over thousands of years. Therefore, there is no possible way such a physical process could fabricate something as immaterial and non-physical as the mind described by Descartes.
An argument against this view could be that since the human mind does not have any direct effect onto the physical world, it could not have originated from natural selection. However, even if it did not directly originate from natural selection, it could be a byproduct, or accessory, of a more direct trait that is inherited for survival. For example, male peacocks developed large but colorful feathers that seem to slow them down if a predator attacked. However, by having these colorful feathers, they would be more successful at courting a female peacock in order to breed for survival. Having these heavier feathers which may slow them down is a byproduct of a more significant trait for survival. The human mind could be just something created by the evolution of some other more significant part of the brain.
Another major flaw occurs when dealing with how the mind interacts with the body if the mind were independent. Imagine a bowling ball rolling toward a pin. In order for the bowling ball to have enough force to knock over the pin on a flat surface, there must have been some sort of physical energy that gave the ball enough energy to reach and knock over the pin. In other words, the energy must come from somewhere. Based on the principle of Conservation of Energy, no energy can be created or destroyed. When a person has a desire to raise a hand in class, some form of energy must have fired the neurons within his or her brain in order to trigger the raising of the hand. However, assuming that the mind is nonphysical as Descartes’ pointed out, where does the energy to fire the physical neurons in one’s brain come from? Since the creation or destruction of energy is impossible in terms of physical law, the mind cannot be separate from the body; all energy must originate from somewhere.
Because Descartes’ argument is inherently dualist, by claiming that the body and mind are separate he introduces many more variables which contradict the basic laws of physics. It leaves the mystical features of the mind unsolved, such as what causes self-awareness and thought. This dualist explanation only complicates the discussion of the mind and offers no further explanation as to what generates this consciousness. Even though dualists may offer valid counter arguments, we shall apply Ockham’s Razor in this situation to stop complicating the issue with a spiritual aspect of the mind. It is undoubted that the body exists, as Descartes has put, but if we assume that the mind is its own entity, it not only refutes the laws of physics, but also unnecessarily complicates the issue.
A dualist might reply to these arguments saying that there might be some other form of matter that defies these laws but has not been found yet. Many physicists believe that there is such thing as dark matter, but have yet to show tangible proof. However this in itself is dualistic, opening up discussion to whether physics as we know it is wrong. This assumption splits physics, just like Descartes split the mind and body, into two separate fields, and overcomplicates things. If this assumption were to be true, then physics as we know it would all be wrong. However, Ockham’s Razor, which is at the foundation of the philosophy of mind, goes to show how making these assumptions only serve to complicate the problem at hand. The assumption of another type of matter is build on top of another flawed assumption that the mind is not part of the physical world. Therefore, there is no advantage to making these assumptions.
Descartes’ implication that the mind is independent from the body, and that it is possible for the mind to exist without the body, could not be true since it would oppose natural selection and the laws of physics. Natural selection is a physical process dealing with genetics and how each organism has evolved. Humans have not always had self-awareness and free thought, but such a physical process could not have created something as immaterial and non physical as the mind Descartes discusses. Even assuming the mind is separate from the body, it does not explain how it can defy Conservation of Energy and produce the physical energy needed to fire neurons triggering the body to raise its hand. If it were to be true, physics would be shaken at its foundation. Insofar as how much we understand the world and our minds today, this Cartesian dualism made popular by Descartes only complicates the discussion about the philosophy of mind and conflicts with Ockham’s Razor. Therefore, Descartes may have showed that the body exists, but his argument that the mind is its own entity is fundamentally flawed.