Tag Archives: dualism

René Descartes — an apology

Recent posts on this blog may have given the unwary reader the impression that Monsieur Descartes was an outdated Platonist with pagan ideas of a  free-floating soul taking up a short-term tenancy in the body during its current incarnation. We may have seemed to imply that Descartes’ dualism means that mind and body are distinct to the extent that their co-occurrence in a single person was little more than a happy coincidence and that as disembodied minds, we are free to desert our bodies at will.

A more careful reading of the Sixth Meditation has now been brought to our attention the following passage:

Nature also teaches me, by these sensations of pain, hunger, thirst and so on, that I am not merely present in my body as a sailor is present in a ship, but that I am very closely joined and , as it were, intermingled with it, so that I and the body form a unit. If this were no so, I , who am nothing but a thinking thing, would not feel pain when the body was was hurt, but would perceive the damage purely by the intellect, just as a sailor perceives by sight if anything in his ship is broken (AT VII 81).

Clearly, this embodied Descartes not merely accepts but asserts the orthodox view (endorsed by the sainted Aquinas) that the body is more than just a vehicle for the soul – this latter view erroneously held by Plato. We can only apologise and lay the blame squarely at the feet of the notorious Cartesian Duellists (sic), a shady terror network that has as its sole aim sowing the seeds of discord and disharmony in a despicable attempt to divide minds from bodies everywhere.

And if further proof were needed that Descartes is not a dualist (in this sense), here is a diagram drawn by Descartes himself, illustrating the connection between perception and action.

Descartes' diagram

Descartes' very non-Cartesian image of the union of mind and body


Finnish words that don’t translate 2: löyly

Having the pleasure of showing a friend from North Wales the joys of Helsinki, I knew that I had to take him to a sauna. I also wanted to try out the wood sauna on the second floor at Yrjönkatu Swimming Baths which I had heard was a particularly pleasant place to hang out.  We were not disappointed. The place itself is a a delight, well cared for with a lovely twenties classicism interior. The impressive stove (or kiuas) in the sauna gave off a subtle aroma

René Descartes would almost certainly have reappraised his philosophy had he experienced löyly.

of wood-smoke and also, when someone threw water through a letter-box slot near the top, good löyly .

OK, so what does löyly mean? Well some people say that it’s just the word for the steam that comes off the stones. But my Finnish Language teacher explained that löyly is something that happens not in the physical world at all but in your head. There is a moment a few seconds after the steam rises (so long as it doesn’t drive you to dive for a lower shelf or out of the door) when you experience a sublime sensation of heat so overpowering that every worry or thought in your mind is banished by it. For me, it is a hit that surpasses anything else – a moment of shock and overpowering of the senses that, so long as you surrender to it, turns to state of complete relaxation, calm and contentment.

So perhaps löyly is a phenomena that confounds the both the dualist and the physicalist. It is something which is neither mental nor physical but both — a transitory place,  an event where the distinction between mind and body dissolves.